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The Real Braveheart: William Wallace


William Wallace


If you read my article about the historical Robert Roy MacGregor, you know I’m into Scottish history. I’ve always liked the movie Braveheart, which is about another highland hero, William Wallace. After researching my family tree, I discovered a connection to Wallace. My maternal grandmother was a Kilpatrick, and the Kilpatricks hail from Scotland. The Kilpatricks were a major sept of the Colquhoun clan of Dunbartonshire, and they were also a sept of the Douglas clan. Roger de Kilpatrick fought with both William Wallace and Robert de Bruce for Scotland’s independence from the English.


Early life of William Wallace


Little is known about the birth and early life of Wallace, but it’s believed that he was born around 1270 in Ayrshire. Is father, Sir Malcolm Wallace, was Lord of Elderslie and Auchenbothie. Sir Malcolm was a knight and a landowner. William’s mother was most likely the daughter of Ayr’s sheriff.William had an older brother named Malcolm, and as the titles and lands were bestowed upon the eldest son, William received neither from his father.


William grew up near Stirling, under the tutelage of his uncle, a priest. He was undoubtedly taught battle strategies and swordsmanship as a youth, but it’s widely held that William was learning to become a priest.


The warrior


In 1286, Scotland’s king, Alexander III, was killed as the result of a fall from his horse. Alexander had fathered three children, but they had all died before he did. He had named his granddaughter, Margaret, as his heir. Margaret lived in Norway and was on her way to Scotland to be crowned when she died in the Orkney Islands. As a result, there was no obvious heir to the throne of Scotland, and thirteen nobles came forward to claim it.


During this time, Scotland was in a state of great upheaval. The noblemen who served as Guardians of Scotland fought among themselves and sometimes aligned themselves with King Edward I of England, who was called “Longshanks.” Little was done to protect the common people or to maintain order.


Also at this time, English troops occupied much of Scotland. The Scottish commoners were often abused by the soldiers, and the Scottish aristocrats rarely intervened. When Wallace’s father was killed in a skirmish with English troops in 1291, William’s desire to rid his land of the English escalated, ultimately branding him as an outlaw.


William was a fierce opponent. He supposedly stood six foot six, which made him a giant among other men at the time, whose average height was just over five feet. John Donald Carrick, in Life of Sir William Wallace of Elderslie, describes Wallace:


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“His visage was long, well proportioned, and exquisitely beautiful; his eyes were bright and piercing, the hair of his head and beard auburn, and inclined to curl; that on his brows and eyelashes was of lighter shade. His lips were round and full. His stature was lofty and majestic, rising head and shoulders above the tallest men in the country. Yet his form, though gigantic, possessed the most perfect symmetry, and with a degree of strength almost incredible, there was combined such  an agility of body and fleetness in running that no-one, except when mounted on horseback, could outstrip or escape from him when he happened to persue.”


Carrick also describes Wallace’s ability as a warrior:


“All powerful as a swordsman and unrivalled as an archer, his blows were fatal and his shafts unerring: as an equestrian, he was a model of dexterity and grace; while the hardships he experienced in his youth made him view with indifference the severest privations incident to a military life.”


According to these words, William Wallace seems like the perfect fighting machine of the historical period! Anyway, back to the story at hand: Since the nobles could not decide among themselves who should be king, they asked King Edward I for his input. The choices for king of Scotland were narrowed down to three men: John de Balliol, Robert de Bruce, and John de Hastings. Ultimately, Balliol was chosen.


Longshanks, however, had a secret agenda. He wanted a Scottish ruler that he could control. When King Edward demanded that Balliol accept a military post in England’s war with France, along with the demand that three Scottish castles be turned over, Scottish rulers turned against England.


A five-month long war ensued between England and Scotland. When Longshanks won, he imprisoned Balliol and declared himself the ruler of Scotland. Needless to say, Scotland was not happy about this. There was widespread chaos and hatred for the English. Skirmishes were breaking out all over the countryside. When one of these skirmishes resulted in Wallace’s killing of several English soldiers in Ayr, he was imprisoned and held without food. Local villagers rescued him and fed him, however, and he joined with other rebels to overthrow the English.




In 1296, Wallace and his army invaded northern England and had success in numerous small battles. When he returned to Scotland the next year, he was knighted and was proclaimed ruler in Balliol’s stead. Most of the commoners and knights gave their full support to Wallace, but the nobles offered him little support.


Wallace vs. Edward I


William Wallace killed one of King Edward’s knights in retaliations for his father’s death, thus making a sworn enemy of Longshanks. In 1297, Wallace and his men killed 5,000 English soldiers at the Battle of Stirling Bridge and captured StirlingCastle.


In July of 1298, King Edward’s army of 90,000 men marched to Falkirk, where they battled with a smaller force led by Wallace. Nearly 10,000 Scots were killed in the battle, and Wallace retreated to the forest. He gave up his guardianship role soon after and was succeeded by Robert de Bruce and Sir John Comyn.


Longshanks re-captured StirlingCastle in 1304, and almost all the Scottish nobles swore fealty to Edward. Even so, Longshanks continued to pursue Wallace, and in August of 1305, Wallace was captured when a Scottish knight betrayed him to the English.


Death of William Wallace


Wallace had been charged with treason to the crown, and shortly after his arrest, he was executed. He was dragged and beaten, and was then hanged by the neck until almost dead. At that time, he was cut open and his bowels removed. They were burned as he watched. He was then beheaded and quartered. His limbs were sent to different parts of the kingdom, and his head was placed on a spike on LondonBridge so that traffic on the River Thames could view it.


The aftermath


King Edward felt that with Wallace’s death, the Scottish rebellion was quashed once and for all, but the savage execution of the fallen hero actually had the opposite effect. All of Scotland was outraged at Wallace’s cruel treatment, and the effort for independence from England was renewed. And this time, the nobles were involved, too. Led by Robert the Bruce, Scotland won her independence, and in 1306, Robert was crowned king.


As for King Edward I, he marched north in an effort to reclaim Scotland, but he died on the way there, in July of 1307. He was buried in Westminster Abbey on October 27th.






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Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on November 18, 2017:

Interesting presentation Hollee. There's an equally interesting story connected to this one with regards to the de Brus (Bruce) clan. Robert's forbears were given land in my neck of the woods in East Cleveland, North Yorkshire at Guisborough and Skelton. When the last of the direct line died, an old woman who'd never married, the estate went to one of Robert's descendants, the current lord of Allerdale not only holds lands in Scotland but since 2013 also a sizeable chunk of North Yorkshire overlooking the North Yorkshire Moors and coast.

Robert 'the Bruce's' spider couldn't have foreseen that!

Seonaidh Ceanneidigh on May 09, 2014:

Greetings from Scotland - great to see the propagation of real Scottish history, rather than something that's been hacked and diluted by a script writer to fit a Hollywood-type narrative. Though the story of de Moray, Wallace and the Bruce demands a television series, surely?

Great writing, now off to read more!

skl biatchez on October 09, 2012:

thanks this will do for my essay

stars439 from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State. on May 31, 2012:

Wonderful hub. God Bless You.

wayseeker from Colorado on April 13, 2012:


This is my favorite movie of all time. The themes and the artistry with which it were made just grab at my heart every time I see it. It's a joy to learn some of the realities behind the film. Such great historical material.


Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 03, 2012:

JKenny, thanks so much for the comment!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 03, 2012:

Thanks, Eddy. Glad you enjoyed reading about William Wallace.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 03, 2012:

Hubber, thanks for stopping by!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 03, 2012:

Hubert, I love the Rob Roy movie!

James Kenny from Birmingham, England on February 07, 2012:

Fantastic article, about a true historical hero who fought against one of history's evil men, Edward I.

Eiddwen from Wales on January 19, 2012:

Wow what an amazing hub;thanks for all the hard work that went in to create it.


hubber088 from Baltimore, MD on December 12, 2011:

Great Hub. Very interesting. Mel Gibson is def. not 6'6"!

Hubertsvoice on October 29, 2011:

Thank you for another great story. I loved the movie Braveheart. The only problem with this story is now I have to read about Rob Roy.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 20, 2011:

Thanks, saif!

saif113sb on July 22, 2011:

Very very nice and great hub. thanks

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 07, 2011:

Excellent point, Charles. Thanks!

Charles Russell on January 06, 2011:

Congratulations on a true image of Wallace, unlike the romanticised one in "Braveheart". It is also noteworthy that Wallace was the first military leader to abandon chivalric warfare, mirrored by Bruce at Bannockburn and later by the English in the Hundred Years War, at Crecy and Poitiers, to achieve victories with greatly inferior numbers.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on July 05, 2010:

I agree, Garnet. I hate that he was tortured. Thanks for reading!

Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on July 02, 2010:

Heartbreaking, the torture of William Wallace. Unspeakable. Great Hub about a fascinating subject!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on June 18, 2010:

Pamela, thanks so much for reading! I had a similar professor for modern poetry - he was a hoot!

Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on June 17, 2010:

This was very interesting to read. I had to do a little quick investigating on google as I knew Kinnaird Castle had some Stirling history, but I see on the map (without digging out any family history boxes) that our heritage was up quite a ways from the area known as Stirling you have described -- even though Stirling is in our area somehow, too. (I know more about our lineage after they jumped over to Ireland. Which century that was, we don't know yet.) But like you, I have some Scottish lineages (other than Kinnaird). So I found this extremely interesting.

But, oh my, what a terrible death William Wallace suffered.

The first time I heard about 'hung, drawn and quartered' was in a history class in university in Victoria. I had the most unforgettable professor there. He drank a little bit, but he also put on a Shakespearean-like performance during every class. Each class was two hours long and he chose which character he would play and he acted everything out!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 23, 2010:

Glenn, I'm so glad you liked my hub!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 23, 2010:

Thanks, Esrom, for your kind words!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 23, 2010:

Epigram, that's cool! Have you seen it?

Glenn Raymond from Bailey, Colorado on May 22, 2010:

This is a marvelous article. You have really worked on this and it shows. Your writing and research are magnificent. I have always thought of William Wallace as a true heroe. This was a refreshing read. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

Esrom Aritonang from Indonesia on May 22, 2010:

I love this movie. I watch it several times. Mel Gibson is a great actor. I am his fans. Thanks Habee. Keep writing quality content.

epigramman on May 22, 2010:

My mum was born in Stirling Scotland where you can find the famous Wallace monument - and speaking of famous - your hubs are pretty world famous!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 22, 2010:

It's a great movie, huh, Katie!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 22, 2010:

Audrey, where can I find her books? Are they in any kind of order? Is there one I should read first?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 22, 2010:

Thanks for stopping by, Nancy!

Katie McMurray from Ohio on May 21, 2010:

habee, I can't count the times I've seen this movie, love your review very good! Peace :)

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on May 21, 2010:

Oh my gosh, Holle - once you get started on her books, you will not be able to stop - thankfully they are the 'old fashioned' kind that are hundreds and hundreds of pages. Start at the beginning and enjoy! I have all her books and I wait patiently (not) for her next one to appear. Her characters would be perfect for the screen because of course it is Scottish history - thrown in a little time travel back and forth, and of course the sizzling, sexy romance....what more could a girl ask for? She does manage to definitely give you the background, however, of so much of Scottish history which I happen to love (must be because I was a Helix Highlander in high school and wore Scottish garb while I marched in the band playing my clarinet). Let me know what you think of her reading one of these days!

nancy_30 from Georgia on May 20, 2010:

This was another great story. I learned a lot from it.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 20, 2010:

Too funny, Parrster! I often do that, too!

Richard Parr from Australia on May 20, 2010:

I'm humming 'Scotland the Brave' right now. Great hub

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 20, 2010:

Thank you, Charlie! I consider that high praise coming from you because I know that you're knowledgeable of such!

ralwus on May 20, 2010:

Awesome research Holle.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2010:

Mquee, thanks for stopping by!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2010:

Audrey, I'm not familiar with Gabaldon, but I'll check her out now!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2010:

Thanks, Oleha! And I think you're right about the Scots!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2010:

Thanks so much, Silver!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2010:

Bpop, glad you liked it!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2010:

Mickey, didn't we already cover this "ma'am" thing?? lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2010:

Thanks, Jen. I loved it, too!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2010:

Thanks for reading, Jacob!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2010:

Awww, thanks, chris!

mquee from Columbia, SC on May 19, 2010:

Hi, this is nicely presented. The movie version was excellent, but it is always nice to historically accurate facts. Very nicely done.

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on May 19, 2010:

I haven't ever seen the movie - can you believe it? I have seen parts of it but never watched the whole thing because of all the fighting. I love Scottish history - do you read Diana Gabaldon? If not OMG - I know it's fiction but it is such GREAT fiction. I thought I'd not like it but I'm addicted and think Gibson should play Jamie Frazier on screen...or Liam Neeson - both would be great in kilts!

oleha2365 on May 18, 2010:

I loved this piece! It amazes me that the English never quite understood the nature of the Scottish. If they had centuries of battles would have been avoided. The Scottish, like the other Celtic breeds had a natural aversion to being ruled by anyone. This was very informative and i enjoyed so much. Thanks.

SilverGenes on May 18, 2010:

Great hub! History is so much better than the movies :-)

breakfastpop on May 18, 2010:

Terrific read habee.

Micky Dee on May 18, 2010:

Very nice Habee. I saw the movie and I hate to see the hero martyred - but many, too many have been. Thank you Ma'am!

JenDobson27 on May 18, 2010:

Very's too bad Hollywood does a terrible job (in many cases anyway) of actually reporting real history. Love the movie though!

Jacob from Delhi, India on May 18, 2010:

I know about Wallace D. Wattles,

Thanks for sharing about William Wallace.


carolina muscle from Charlotte, North Carolina on May 18, 2010:

This is beautifully done.. and an interesting read!!!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 18, 2010:

Cool, Billy! thanks for visiting!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2010:

Rand, the movie did take liberties, of course, but at least much of it was accurate! Thanks for reading!

billyaustindillon on May 17, 2010:

Habee thanks I am off to check it out!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2010:

Glad you liked it, Tony!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2010:

Sam, I'm forever a teacher! lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2010:

So true, Mike. I guess Edward didn't think about that as he was blinded by revenge!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2010:

Billy, I already wrote the hub about Rob Roy!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2010:

Sheila, we have it so good now in comparison!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2010:

Hi, Kaie! I re-watch Braveheart every so often, but it always ends the same! lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 17, 2010:

Howdy, HH!

Rand Zacharias from Vernon, British Columbia on May 17, 2010:

Thanks, Habee, for once again showing how misleading Hollywood works are. The true story is always more interesting than Hollywood's specdiculous offering. Thanks for taking the time to research a fascinating topic.

Tony McGregor from South Africa on May 17, 2010:

Thanks for another great read on Scottish history.

Love and peace


samboiam from Texas on May 17, 2010:

habee, there was a lot in your hub I did not know. Thanks for such a great read.

Mike Lickteig from Lawrence KS USA on May 17, 2010:

History has never been my strongest suit, and so nearly all of this was new and informative to me. Your description of Wallace's death was quite vivid. It is not surprising that his death renewed the quest for independence. If you make a martyr of someone, others will rally around his cause.

Thanks for sharing.


billyaustindillon on May 17, 2010:

Great tribute - anyone with any Scottish blood in them will appreciate your prose. Mel did play parts up but the movie did endure passion. There was also the movie a bout another Scottish doyen of folk lore "Rob Roy" out not long after,

sheila b. on May 17, 2010:

Reading history such as this is always horrifying, the constant wars and deaths. Imagine living there, in those days...For a while, as I was reading, I felt as though I was there. A good read.

Kaie Arwen on May 17, 2010:

habee- I love the story of William Wallace, and I love the movie too; just wish it had been more historically accurate than it was...........

Thank you for this; I thoroughly enjoyed it!


Hello, hello, from London, UK on May 17, 2010:

UUUh I am the first. You wrote a wonderful hub there, habee, and I learned a lot from it. Thank you very much.

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