By Calum on Aug 28, 2005
Last week saw the 700th anniversary of the execution by the English of William Wallace, a cultural icon to Scots around the globe.
Forget what you saw in Braveheart; most of that was Hollywood tosh-- if nothing else, Mel Gibson is about a foot shorter than the real thing. (Hence the in-joke in the movie about him "not being tall enough".)
Wallace did lead the Scots to an unlikely victory over the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, but almost certainly without having painted a saltire on his face. The English won the return leg at Falkirk the following year, however, though Wallace escaped. In the aftermath, he relinquished his title of Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland and Leader of its Armies, which had been deferred upon him by Robert the Bruce (later of spider fame) after Stirling Bridge. He was jointly succeeded by Robert himself.
In 1305, Wallace was betrayed by Scottish baron Sir John de Menteith, who delivered him to the English near Glasgow (in an area ironically called Robroyston). He was marched down to London, and tried for treason. "I cannot be a traitor", Wallace said, "for I owe (Edward I) no allegiance. He is not my sovereign; he never received my homage."
Unsurprisingly, Wallace was found guilty, and, at Smithfield, on August 23rd, 1305, he became only the second person to be hanged, drawn and quartered. His head adorned a spike on London Bridge, and his limbs were separately dispatched to Perth, Stirling, Berwick and Newcastle, so that no shrine would be available to his followers.
Needless to say, the Scots were a bit peeved about this, and in the following 10 years, under Robert the Bruce (who became King of Scotland in 1306 following another victory over Edward I), they finally saw off any English pretensions to control the northern British kingdom, most notably at Bannockburn in 1314. In 1328, the English conceded that Robert was king of an independent nation, which Scotland remained until 1603, a year which saw James I of England and VI of Scotland become the United Kingdom's first monarch. Despite that small setback, we're still just about holding 'em off to this very day :)