Lanark can rightly celebrate its connections to William Wallace, a leader of the Scottish rebellion against King Edward I of England. From his stunning victory over the English army at Stirling Bridge to his violent death - hanged, drawn and quartered in London’s Smithfield – Wallace’s story has inspired poets, chroniclers and filmmakers alike.
Born around 1270, Wallace was the son of a Scottish knight. He was educated and likely to have had some military experience, possibly as an archer.
Scotland was at relative peace during Wallace’s youth but that changed with the death of King Alexander III in 1286. The King of England, Edward I, offered to help competing Scottish nobles decide who should become king, with John Balliol crowned in 1292 with Edward’s backing.
Over the following years, Edward’s increased interference in Scottish matters caused anger and resentment until, in 1296, the Scots signed a treaty with the King of France.
Edward’s response was swift and brutal. Berwick was sacked. The Scots army was routed at Dunbar. Other castles and towns surrendered. Many Scots nobles were taken prisoner and John Balliol was stripped of his crown and imprisoned. Edward believed he had subjugated Scotland.
He was wrong. By 1297, Scotland was in revolt, led by Andrew Moray in the north and William Wallace in the south.
To find out more about William Wallace’s life, we recommend an excellent article in the Scotland’s History section of the BBC website: William Wallace
Wallace and Lanark
Our focus here is on Wallace in Lanark. Most of this story emerges from sources who lived long after his death, most notably the wandering poet, Blind Harry. Their accuracy cannot be relied upon and local legends abound.
What is not in dispute is that Wallace slew the English Sheriff of Lanark, William Haselrigg, on 3 May 1297. How this came about is less clear.
According to Blind Harry and those local legends, Wallace met and may have married Marion Braidfute in Lanark. She was the daughter of the Laird of Lamington, whose town house was in Castlegate.
Marion’s brother had been killed on the orders of the Sheriff of Lanark. Whilst Wallace’s initial reaction was to build his support before avenging this killing, his hand was forced when he was taunted by English soldiers when leaving St. Kentigern’s Church just outside the town. A running fight ensued with many English killed or wounded.
Wallace and his men withdrew to Marion’s house, and then retreated to the nearby Clyde Valley to hide.
In a cruel act of vengeance, Marion was taken prisoner and executed on the orders of Haselrigg.
Wallace took his revenge, attacking Lanark Castle at night. Haselrigg was killed, his skull split in two by Wallace. Many English soldiers were slaughtered.
Whilst the truth of much of this account is questionable, indeed Marion may never have existed, the attack on Lanark Castle is not in doubt. Wallace became a focal point for the Scots revolt, with many flocking to join his army.
Thereafter, events moved on from Lanark. The Scots under Wallace were victorious at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Wallace was knighted and made Guardian of Scotland, governing on behalf of the imprisoned John Balliol.
In July 1298, Wallace’s army suffered a resounding defeat at the Battle of Falkirk and Wallace left for Europe, as an envoy for the Scots. In 1304, the Scots nobles made peace with Edward I. Wallace refused to comply and was declared an outlaw.
In August 1305, Wallace was betrayed and captured by fellow Scot Sir John Menteith. He was tried in London as a traitor, found guilty and executed. Parts of his dismembered body were sent to various places in Scotland as a bloody warning.
At the time, no one thought of Wallace as a hero. Blind Harry and later poets, writers and filmmakers turned him into the larger-than-life freedom fighter we know today.
Sites of Interest in Lanark
Events in Lanark in May 1297 helped spark the Scottish Wars of Independence. There are several sites of interest linked to Wallace including St Kentigern’s Church, St Nicholas Church, Wallace House, the site of Lanark Castle, Castlebank Park and Wallace’s Cave at the Falls of Clyde. These form part of a walking trail - In the Footsteps of William Wallace. You can download the trail HERE or pick up a printed copy at Tolbooth Lanark in High Street.
Of especial interest is Wallace House in Castlegate. This outside space has recently been transformed into an interpretation area for William Wallace, with particular emphasis on his time in Lanark. It features huge gable end murals by Rogue-One, a cartoon strip by illustrator Kate Sheppard, a welcome poem by Les Hunter, sword sculpture by Josef and Denisa Gara, kindly sponsored by the Rotary Club of Lanark, and interpretation panels giving a brief overview of Wallace’s life and historical significance.
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