Today on August 23, 1305, legendary Scottish hero, William Wallace, was savagely executed in the heart of London.
Today, William Wallace remains one of the greatest heroes in Scotland's history. His eventual execution sent shockwaves across his homeland. Born into the lesser nobility, he was a relatively unknown and obscure figure. Wallace lived during a tumultuous period of political unrest in Scotland. In 1286, King Alexander III of Scotland suddenly died without a clear succession plan. Alexander's infant daughter Margaret, Maid of Norway, was his only living heir. But, while traveling to Edinburgh, she too abruptly died at the age of 4. The country was subsequently thrown into a succession crisis, with several high nobles vying for the crown — including Robert the Bruce and John Balliol.
In 1292, King Edward I of England, nicknamed Edward Longshanks, was invited to arbitrate among the Scottish nobles. He selected the weak John Balliol to be their next king. But there was a catch — Edward managed to strong-arm the nobles into naming him Lord Paramount of Scotland. Within a few years, tensions between England and Scotland reached a boiling point, sparking the First War of Scottish Independence.
William Wallace became one of the first nobles to rebel openly against his English overlords. In May 1297, he committed the first act of defiance by assassinating William de Heslrig, the High Sheriff of Lanark. Wallace then joined forces with other local nobles. Together, they began raiding other English-held towns and garrisons in the region. Meanwhile, another serious rebellion was growing in the north under Andrew Moray. The highlanders assaulted English soldiers in and around Inverness. William Wallace and Moray soon amalgamated their armies — possibly during the Siege of Dundee.
On September 11, 1297, William Wallace rose to national prominence following a stunning victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. After the battle, Scottish nobles declared him as the Guardian of Scotland. But the English were now all too aware of Wallace — he had a clear target on his back. King Edward became more determined than ever to destroy the rebellious Scots. In the following year, he marched north at the head of a massive army. The Scots clashed with Edward's professional army at the Battle of Falkirk. The English heavy cavalry proved too much for the Scots and swiftly routed them from the field. With a tarnished reputation, William Wallace lost favourability among the nobles. Regardless, he continued fighting a guerilla-style campaign for several years.
On August 5, 1305, a Scottish noble by the name of John de Menteith betrayed William Wallace. Loyal to King Edward I, he arranged for English soldiers to ambush and capture Wallace while traveling through Robroyston (near Glasgow). Letters of safe conduct from Philip IV of France and John Balliol were found in his possession. They immediately transported him to London and imprisoned him at the house of William de Leyrer. English authorities held a 'kangaroo court' trial at Westminster Hall. William Wallace was tried for treason and atrocities against civilians in war. The jurors swiftly found him guilty and placed a garland of oak around his head — some suggesting he was a 'king of outlaws.'
"I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject." — William Wallace at his trial
On the morning of August 23, he was transported to the Tower of London and stripped of his clothes. Next, they dragged him through the city on the heels of a horse. Scaffolding had been set up in the district of Smithfield. Upon his arrival, the executioner began to hang and release him quite a few times. William Wallace was then emasculated and disemboweled while still alive and breathing. The executioner finally beheaded him and quartered his body. The head was dipped in tar for preservation and placed on a pike near London Bridge. Wallace's four limbs were displayed in the centers of Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling, and Perth.
In 1869, the Scots erected the William Wallace Monument close to the site of his victory at Stirling Bridge. A sword that is believed to have belonged to Wallace is now on display at the national monument. The City of London unveiled a plaque near the site of his execution in 1956. The plaque is written in Latin but translates to "I tell you the truth; freedom is what is best; sons never live like slaves." A famous statue by E. W. Stevenson stands near Edinburgh Castle.