Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Hunt for William Wallace

Wallace emerged from obscurity with the brutal murder of William Heselrig, the English sheriff of Lanark, in May 1297. Tradition ascribes this act to revenge for Heselrig?s treatment of Wallace?s lover, Marion Braidfute: the truth is more likely to be found in the political situation in Scotland. In the previous year, Edward I had invaded Scotland when defied by John Balliol King of Scots over the matter of suzerainty. Edward defeated and imprisoned Balliol and imposed his own government on Scotland under Earl Warenne and Hugh Cressingham, the treasurer, whom the Scots came to know as ?the treacherer?. Edward then left for the Continent, believing that Scotland was pacified.

In this, he was quickly shown to be mistaken. Rebellion against English rule broke out across the country. In the north, Andrew Murray led the rebels in a series of attacks on centres of English power. Further south, Wallace became the focal point of resistance. His murder of Heselrig, whether motivated by patriotism or passion, drew the disaffected to him. If not previously an outlaw, he was certainly one now.

At once, he demonstrated the vigour and military skill which were his trademarks. Soon after Lanark, we find him at Scone, eighty miles to the north, where he almost captured William Ormsby, Edward?s justiciar. He then swept the English out of Perthshire and Fife, and by August had laid siege to Dundee. In the vicinity of Stirling, he joined forces with Andrew Murray at the head of what the English called ?a very large body of rogues?.