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Braveheart's London beat

Newsview: Why expatriate Scots gathered in remembrance at the other Wallace monument

INTEREST in the history of William Wallace, one of Scotland's greatest 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 survive.

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 in situ.''

The words on the Wallace plaque could not fail to move a true-blooded Scot.

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 August 1305.

''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 vivito fili.''

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 greatest hero.

''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 me.

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 stage.

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 finally unveiled.

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 with them.

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 Wallace's Well.

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 for Wallace.''

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 visit it.

''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.''

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