Newsview: Why expatriate Scots gathered in remembrance at the other
INTEREST in the history of William Wallace, one of Scotland's greatest
Loading article content
patriots and national heroes, has been heightened by the Hollywood movie
Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson, which receives its European premiere in
Stirling on September 3.
Events at the National Wallace Monument at Stirling, to mark the 698th
anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge on September 11, will be
the focus of much attention.
However, the 690th anniversary of Wallace's death on Wednesday is also
likely to create interest in two lesser known but highly significant
monuments, some 400 miles apart. The Herald examines the backgrounds of
these memorials, one of which faces a less than certain future.
THERE are those who spend just a few moments in silent remembrance and
then lay flowers at its foot. There are others who cast a curious glance
in its direction as they rush past and then get on with a busy day.
Then there is the occasional person who finds the iron railings
underneath a convenient place on which to chain and park a bicycle.
Watching it all are some of the down and outs of London. They don't
seem too interested.
Those who have always known of the plaque to commemorate the cruel
execution of Sir William Wallace at Smithfield Elms on August 23, 1305,
are amazed to learn that few Scots know of its existence.
It is a handsome monument which is said to have convinced Mel Gibson
he should play the leading role in Braveheart, soon to be released in
the United Kingdom.
Even Nigel Tranter, whose excellent book The Wallace offers the most
authoritative account of the life of the greatest hero Scotland has
known, did not know about the plaque.
It stands on an outer wall of St Bartholemew's Hospital, under threat
of closure. Much of that hospital is a Grade 1 listed building and the
Wallace memorial is listed Grade 11. As a consequence, no matter what
the future holds for the medical aspects of the hospital, both should
The vicar of the only hospital parish in the world, the Rev Michael
Whawell, whose church, St Bartholomew the Less, is a few yards away from
the Wallace memorial, insists closure does not come into the equation.
''It would cost #250m to close this hospital and transfer specialities
to Whitechapel. When the public learns this there will be a revolt. In
any case, we have a judicial review which will take nine months before
it comes to court and that is nine months closer to an election.
''The Labour Party has said it supports Barts. No matter which party
wins the next General Election the hospital and the plaque will remain
The words on the Wallace plaque could not fail to move a true-blooded
Under a lion rampant shield, itself under a crown, they declare:
''To the immortal memory of Sir William Wallace, Scottish patriot born
at Elderslie, Renfrewshire, circa 1270 AD who from the year 1296 fought
dauntlessly in defence of his country's liberty and independence in the
face of fearful odds and great hardship, being eventually betrayed and
captured, brought to London, and put to death near this spot on the 23rd
''His example, heroism, and devotion inspired those who came after him
to win victory from defeat and his memory remains of all time a source
of pride honour and inspiration to his countrymen.''
It continues in Latin.
''Dico tibi verum libertas optima rerum nunquam servili sub nexu
In translation that reads: ''To tell you the truth, liberty is the
best of things. Son, never live under a servile yolk.''
And below that there is a message in Gaelic.
''Bas Agus Buaidh.''
The English translation Death and Victory shouts the message that the
influence of William Wallace lives on.
Nigel Tranter's deepest regret is that he did not write about William
Wallace before producing his trilogy on Robert the Bruce. They sold a
million each; his book on Wallace did not do so well.
''There is no question about it,'' he said. ''Wallace was Scotland's
''While Robert the Bruce fought Edward, the Hammer of the Scots, for a
crown, Wallace did it purely for the freedom of Scotland.''
Wallace taught Robert the Bruce everything about guerrilla warfare.
''It is very sad that Scots know little about William Wallace,'' he told
Betrayed by his squire Jack Short for 40 merks, Wallace was captured
as he lay asleep in a stable in the Garngad area of Glasgow at
Robberstone Loch (the area now known as Robroyston), and taken to
Dumbarton Castle. From there he was transported in chains and under
heavy guard to London.
In Westminister Hall, in the Palace of Westminster, he was mocked in
much the same way as Christ was after his trial.
A laurel wreath was placed on his head before the sham trial got under
way. Wallace was refused the right to any kind of defence. He was told
that as he was an outlaw he could not even speak.
Neverthless, to the anger of Lord Chief Justice Mallory, Wallace
declared: ''I cannot be tried on a charge of treason . . . not here, in
England. I could not be a traitor to the King of England, for I was
never his subject, and never swore fealty to him.''
King Edward's verdict and sentence had preceded the trial.
Wallace was taken from Westminister Hall where the mob, enjoying a
special public holiday for the event, ripped off his clothes. Naked, but
for the laurel wreath, he was attached head down to a wooden structure
and dragged behind two working horses through the cobbled streets of
London first to Tower Hill and then to Smithfield.
When he became unconscious, they threw water in his face to ensure he
was awake for the next stage of his ordeal. They hung him, but the
executioner took pains to ensure his neck did not snap before the final
Taken from the gibbet still alive, his eyes wide, his stomach was slit
open and his entrails pulled out. They were burned in front of him.
Finally, they cut off his head before quartering the body.
The head was displayed on London Bridge. One quarter of his mutilated
body was sent to Newcastle-upon-Tyne for public display and another to
Berwick. Depending on which version you believe, another went either to
Dumfries or Stirling and the last to Perth or Aberdeen.
The plaque, a few yards from the hospital's Henry VIII gate (rebuilt
in the reign of Queen Anne in 1702 shortly before the Union of Crowns)
bears witness to these events.
It was unveiled on April 8, 1956. Strangely nobody knows much about
it. Certainly Barts hospital have not a clue, even though their
governors gave permission.
Herald research has discovered that the Scottish historian and
novelist, Dr Agnes Mure Mackenzie, who lived in Highgate, London, was
suggesting that a memorial should be placed at the site of Wallace's
death as early as the 1920s. It was a cause she continued to pursue
throughout her life.
However, it was not until the year after her death that a plaque was
We have learned that the not inconsiderable sum for these days of
#6000 was raised by expatriate Scots both in England and abroad.
Yesterday, the London branch of the Scottish National Party laid a
wreath at the memorial. A piper played a lament. They all then adjourned
to a pub across the square.
Because it was a Sunday, Norman Macleod of the Royal Scottish
Corporation, based in London, was not there. However, his thoughts were
The monument at Robroyston which marks the spot where Wallace was
captured by agents of Edward I of England may not be quite so anonymous
as the plaque in London, but there are still many Scots who are unaware
of its existence.
The monument, a 20ft stone Pictish cross with a sculpted claymore and
various inscribed plaques, is a suitably grand edifice.
But its location and the lack of signposts and information points mean
its existence and significance is lost on most passers-by.
The monument is situated just off Robroyston Road on the north-eastern
outskirts of Glasgow, half hidden from the road by trees and close to
two bricked-up semi-detached houses and several derelict farm buildings
at Robroyston Mains farm.
Sadly, it is so close to the road that most people travelling in cars
catch no more than a glimpse in their peripheral vision of what to them
could be just another stone monument of little interest.
That is, of course, far from the truth, for it was here, one night in
August 1305 that Wallace was captured by Edward's agents, before being
taken to London.
The main plaque on the monument states: ''This memorial erected in
1900 AD by public subscription is to mark the site of the house in which
the Hero of Scotland was basely betrayed and captured about midnight on
5th of August 1305 when alone with his faithful friend and co-patriot
Kerlie who was slain.''
A smaller plaque on the right side of the monument quotes Wallace at
Stirling Bridge saying: ''We are not here to sue for peace but to fight
for the freedom of our country.'' Another on the left side quotes Burns
and says: ''Who dared to nobly stem tyrannic pride or nobly die.''
Situated beside the main plaque on the front of the monument is a
smaller one with the same Latin words as used on the Smithfield plaque,
with the words ''Taught to Wallace in his boyhood'' inscribed below.
Members of the Wallace Clan Trust for Scotland, who research Scottish
history and hope to develop a heritage centre promoting Wallace and the
clan, point out that one common misconception about the area where the
monument is situated is that, as it is called Robroyston it is connected
with Rob Roy MacGregor, whose life was featured in another film released
earlier this year.
The area is, however, named after one of the servants of Menteith who
helped capture Wallace as he slept, apparently while journeying from
Glasgow to see Robert the Bruce at Stirling with important documents
signed by three Popes and recognising Scotland as a sovereign nation.
The servant, who was called Rau Raa, was awarded farmland for his part
in capturing Wallace. This land later became known as Rau Raa's toun and
is now Robroyston.
Seoras Wallace, who founded the Wallace Clan Trust in 1986, admits
that what happened that night in 1305 has become obscured over the
centuries, but believes Wallace broke free from the heavy detachment of
English soldiers who captured him and ran several hundred yards from the
stable to a well where he was recaptured. This point is now known as
Seoras Wallace said: ''Wallace was caught totally unprepared and
without weaponry and ran as far as the well where he was quickly
recaptured. Menteith is supposed to have handcuffed him and said: 'Look,
put these on just now and we'll get you past these English soldiers'.
''Of course, as soon as they were on that was the beginning of the end
Speaking at the monument, wearing the period Highland clothing that is
worn by Wallace Clan Trust members on the set of the Braveheart film,
Seoras Wallace added: ''This memorial is not a symbol of the end to
people like us. It's a symbol of betrayal and I hope more people will
''Wallace was set up by Robert the Bruce, who couldn't allow Wallace
to live because he (Bruce) would never be a rightful king, and, for me,
this monument has one clear warning for people. Watch your back.''