Ewan J. Innes, MA(Hons Scot. Hist.) FSA Scot
Synopsis: This essay summarizes the history of the Scottish Wars of Independence up to 1329.
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The rising of Wallace in 1297, must be placed into some context.
Wallace's standing and ability to operate required that he have support
or at least no hostility from Sir James Stewart his lord. Moreover, as
the son of a knight and possibly a minor landholder, he would have the
ability to bring together some trained men for his struggle.
It is commonly assumed that Wallace led a band of outlaws and common men.
While there would undoubtedly have been many like this in his band, some
of his exploits required trained men with horses. Moreover, it should be
stated that Wallace was not alone in this struggle. In the north a young
knight Sir Andrew Moray, was engaged in a widespread and highly
effective campaign to rid the English from the north of Scotland. A
campaign Wallace certainly was not involved in.
After having cleared Scotland of the English, Wallace and Moray brought
their armies together to face the next threat. A huge English army was
being led north by the Earl of Surrey and the Edward's treasurer in
Scotland Hugh Cressingham. The two armies met at Stirling Bridge where
the English were routed. They were routed by an army predominantly of
foot soldiers, a fact that shocked many both in Scotland and England as
well as further afield.
After this victory, Wallace and a severely wounded Moray were appointed
Guardians of Scotland and promptly invaded England over the winter of
1297/8 causing widespread havoc. At some point around this time, Wallace
The only source for this is a reliable English one. The source states
simply that one of the great nobles had knighted him. At the time, there
were only three present in Scotland, the earls of Strathearn, Lennox and
Carrick. It is from this evidence that the story has grown that it was
the earl of Carrick, Robert Bruce who carried out the ceremony. However
it is equally possible that Lennox or even Strathearn did it instead.
A furious Edward marched north the next year, again with a huge army.
Wallace (Moray died of wounds inflicted at Stirling Bridge) met him at
Falkirk having burned most of Southern Scotland to try and starve Edward
out. The Scots were hugely outnumbered but Wallace had no option but to
fight it out. Despite initial success in beating off the English
knights, Wallace had no way to fight back against the thousands of Welsh
and English archers who poured arrows into the static Scots. After a
long period of this, the English knights charged again and the Scots
were wiped out. Wallace escaped the field, resigned the guardianship and
went to France to the French court.
In the meantime, the Scots had elected new guardians. Robert Bruce earl
of Carrick (grandson of the Robert Bruce who had claimed the throne) and
John Comyn lord of Badenoch and cousin of John Balliol. The two men
could not work together often coming close to blows during meetings.
Bruce was planning to marry Elizabeth de Burgh, a marriage which was
being held up by Edward's displeasure at him. So, in 1302 Bruce resigned
the guardianship, swore fealty to Edward (for the umpteenth time) and
One of the most decisive battles in the wars of independence took place
in 1302. The battle took place not in Scotland but in Flanders. At
Courtrai, the flower of the French army was destroyed utterly by an army
of Flemish foot soldiers armed with pikes who withstood the French
knights charges before butchering them. This battle is decisive because
up to that point the Scots had been if not winning certainly holding
their own against Edward. Edward was fighting a war on two fronts, and
was finding it increasingly difficult to do so. There were several
campaigns in Scotland which achieved nothing except the starvation of
the invading army. However with the French king now without an army, and
suing for peace with Edward, the Scots would be faced with only one
option. Stand or surrender. To their credit, they held out until 1305,
but when the crunch came, they packed it in.
Edward still wanted Wallace captured and had offered a fairly large
reward for this. It was not until 1305 however that anyone took the
bait. The Scot who did so was Sir John Stewart of Menteith. He sent one
of his men as part of Wallaces band and had him lead Wallace to a spot
where he could be apprehended. Wallace was then taken south with all
speed where he was tried, convicted of High Treason (amongst other
things), then hung drawn quartered and variously mutilated.
It is often stated that this act of barbarism on Edward's part was
unforgivable and illegal. While this may be so, it should be remembered
that while the high treason indictment was questionable to say the least
(Wallace had never sworn fealty to Edward, so couldn't be charged with
breaking that fealty), Wallace was also subject to a host of
other charges,some true others, such as murdering schoolboys unlikely.
The huge propaganda machine which was used in England to justify the
Scottish wars and to get support to continue them left little room for
leniency for a man who had soundly defeated a conventional army by
With Wallace now a decoration for London Bridge, Edward turned his hand
to the governance of his new lands. Various acts were passed for the
effective government of Scotland. None of them had any effect for,
within six months of Wallaces execution, there was rebellion again in
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