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They Were Here :
This charismatic figure in Scottish history has been portrayed by Hollywood, but the reality is a far more interesting individual. At a time when Scotland's destiny appeared bound to England, he briefly fought his way to eminence, then as swiftly his life was ended. In that respect, Wallace is more intriguing than Bruce, his kingly successor in the fight. Not being a crowned King, Wallace was possibly easier to dispose of by being hung, drawn and quartered, than would have been the case with King Robert.
Stripping away the mythology surrounding Wallace is not easy; his exact date of birth is uncertain, but he was born in the Elderslie area, some miles south and east of Paisley, a rural area in those times. By rank he was the younger son of freeborn landholders, but not a knight, so it is fairly true to say that he came from the people of Scotland. As against that, his initial reason for fighting and outlawry was a brawl in which the Sheriff of Selkirk was killed. Wallace took up refuge in the Forest of Selkirk, an extensive woodland and moorland area covering the lands between Moffat, Selkirk and Langholm, in all honesty more as a successful bandit than a freedom fighter.
The division of Scottish families between those supporting Robert Bruce of Carrick and John Balliol of Galloway saw William Wallace upholding the cause of John Balliol and the Comyn family. John Balliol tried and failed to keep the Kingdom of Scotland independent, at the cost of ignominiously being stripped of his position, imprisoned, then later exiled to France. Wallace and the Comyns attempted to keep the Balliol cause alive, Wallace's efforts culminating in the 1297 battle of Stirling Bridge, where the inept English commander Warenne was soundly beaten by better tactics by William Wallace Andrew Murray. However, most of Wallace's efforts amounted to little more than border reiving and raiding on an extensive scale; his light horsemen and spear-armed foot soldiers were no match in open pitched battle with the armoured knights and longbow archery of the English armies. Despite success at Stirling Bridge, Wallace and Simon Fraser were defeated in a 1303 battle at Happrew on the Tweed and forced into Selkirk Forest again.
During part of the time whilst Wallace was fighting the English, he was fighting Scots who had sworn allegiance to Edward I of England - largely to protect their own lands from wasting or themselves from banishment. Robert Bruce and Wallace were thus on opposite sides for much of the time. Edward I made the capture of Wallace a condition of peace
The significance of Moffat in Wallace's life is that his sister was married to Thom Halliday, the Laird (Baron) of Corehead Castle, about four miles north of Moffat at the base of the 'Devil's Beeftub'. He is said to have rode forth from there to honour and glory, but this saying may cover regular visits from the Forest of Selkirk for supplies and support. Wallace may never have had more than a few hundred men under his command at any one time; in military terms, he knew that 'power was at the point', so used his men on effective raids and skirmishes in Border reiving tradition.
The minstrel 'Blind Harry' had several things to say regarding Wallace in 1297, one regarding his having given up his then intention to marry :-
"A man in werr may noucht all plesance haff."
In other words, a warrior had no time to enjoy married life.
The second quote regards his travels from Lanark to Lochmaben, where he may have had an intention to take service with Robert Bruce the Elder :-
"Syne to Gilbank he passed or it was nycht,
Apon the morn, with hys four men, him dycht;
To the Cor-hed without restng he raid,
Quhar his neve Thom Halliday him baid."
In other words, Wallace rode all night with his four men past Gilbank to Corhead Tower where his brother in law lived.
Touching on the portrayal of William Wallace by Mel Gibson, the writer considers the best comment that made by Peter Traquair, in his scholarly Freedom's Sword - Scotland's Wars of Independence:-
In a world of small men, Wallace stood out from the crowd. His family came from Shropshire and moved to Scotland in the eleventh century as followers of Walter FitzAllan, progenitor of the Stewarts. His father held land in Elderslie as a vassal of the Steward. It is a long way from his farcical representation as a wild and hairy highlander painted with woad (1,000 years too late) running amok in a tartan kilt (500 years too early).
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All text and images © 1999 Richard Edkins of Dalbeattie Internet.
Moffat Town Website started 9th June 1999.
Last updated 23rd June 1999.