Sir William Wallace, known often simply as ‘the Wallace’, is to Scotland that which Charlemagne is to France, Caesar to Rome, or Washington to America: an icon, a hero, a mythological warrior.
Born to a modest family of lesser nobility, somewhere on Scotland’s west coast, little is known about Wallace before his rise to renown as guerrilla freedom fighter, paving the way to Scottish independence one swing of his great two-handed sword at a time. Wallace first came to the attention of history with his murder of the English High Sheriff of Lanark in May 1297. Following this, he joined the rebellions of other Scottish nobles, enacted up and down the country against Edward I’s occupation; most notably, this includes Andrew de Moray, who would serve as joint-commander of the Scottish rebel army alongside Wallace. Outside of the many guerrilla campaigns led by Wallace, his most famous victory was that at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297. Following defeat (and betrayal) at the Battle of Falkirk the following year, Wallace was forced into hiding. Captured by English forces in 1305, King Edward I of England ordered Wallace brutally executed by the barbaric ‘hung, drawn, and quartered’ method. His various body parts were sent to the four corners of Edward’s kingdom, as a warning to any folk with a rebellious streak in their heart. His preserved head (dipped in tar) was displayed atop a pike on London Bridge, and one of his arms was displayed in the town of Berwick (now Berwick-Upon-Tweed).
Though Wallace’s most famous battles occurred north of the Forth-Clyde isthmus, his ties to the Borders are more numerous than one might think. Most famously, Wallace raised, sheltered, and trained his army in the denseness of the ancient Ettrick Forest, in Selkirkshire. From here he often led raids against English strongholds and bands of English soldiers in the Border area. Early in the year 1297, before his first meeting with Andrew de Moray, Wallace led an attack on the Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow’s Palace, on the east side of Ancrum Village. In a ceremony towards the end of that year, at the ‘Kirk o’ the (Ettrick) Forest’ near Selkirk, Wallace was knighted. Reputedly, he was even present in Hawick at one point; specifically, it is believed he visited Langlands (there exists a connection between Wallace and the Longueville/Charters family, who themselves were connected with the early Barons of Langlands). There, it is said, Wallace tethered his horse to a thorn bush behind the Lodge (now the Museum). A stone marks the site.
Wallace has been commemorated many, many times since his death (not excluding the wildly-inaccurate portrayal of the knight in 1995’s Braveheart), and at many sites across the country. In the Borders, he is remembered with an imposing thirty-one-foot high, red-sandstone statue, erected near Dryburgh Abbey in 1814, and in Hawick Wallace Court was named after him in
1970. He was further immortalised in literature by the writings of Borderer Sir Walter Scott.