3.2 Scottish Wars of Independence: William Wallace

Sir William Wallace was a low ranking knight and Scottish patriot. He resented the interference of England in Scotland's affairs. Wallace played an important leadership role during the Wars of Scottish Independence. He was educated and spoke Gaelic, Latin and French. Interestingly, despite the important role Wallace played in the wars against England, he actually had no battle experience prior to England's invasion in 1296.

Wallace's activities before 1296 are undocumented. What we do know is he did had a number of confrontations with the English. For example, in 1297 William Wallace killed William Heselrig. Heselrig was the English Sheriff who had something to do with the death of Wallace's wife. After killing Heselrig, Wallace helped free a number of areas of Scotland from English control.

Popular support for Wallace grew with each one of his military victories. Although Wallace was popular among the common people, many of Scotland's lords didn't like him. Many nobles pledged their allegiance to Edward I as Lord Paramount. Wallace's activities made life more complicated for Scottish lords, i.e. on the one hand they had to at least appear like they were supporting the uprising and on the other they had to fulfill their obligations to Edward. These wealthy men preferred to leave things the way they were. The common people though had quite different ideas; they wanted England out and they wanted freedom.

Wallace was a popular figure in Scotland for his successful defiancandrew moraye of England. Another Scotsman named Andrew Moray (shown at right) likewise raised an army to defy the English. Wallace and Moray combined their armies jointly defeating the English at the Battle of Stirling in 1297. Moray was killed at this battle.

Wallace's army was smaller than England's. So he relied on hit and run tactics to bleed the English and make it expensive for them to occupy Scotland. Edward I responded to Wallace's unwillingness to fight him in a large pitched battle by executing Scottish nobles who were secretly supporting Wallace. Edward had these nobles hanged in the Spring of 1297 at the Barns of Ayr. Wallace avenged the murder of these Scottish patriots by killing the entire English garrison at Ayr. He and his men locked the door of the garrison's barracks and lit it on fire (burning all inside to death). He then withdrew to Selkirk Forest to escape the British.

Wallace's reputation as a patriot grew; and people from all over Scotland joined his army to fight the English invaders.