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Bravehearts and Coronets: Images of William Wallace and the Scottish Nobility1

Alexander Grant

As Mel Gibson’s Braveheart shows so vividly, the modern perception of William Wallace is not just as the great Scottish leader; it is also as an ordinary ‘commoner’ heroically maintaining his country’s cause in the face of selfish feuding, craven submission and treacherous collaboration by despicable Scottish nobles, who are as much the enemies of a free Scotland as the English. Like the English, indeed, the Scottish nobility constitutes an ‘other’ against which the modern image of Wallace’s career has been constructed. But what images lie behind this dichotomy? That is the subject of the present chapter.


The first issue to explore is Wallace’s own status. His Braveheart portrayal encapsulates a twentieth-century trend in which Wallace, ‘the man of the people’, becomes ‘a proletarian hero who – according to the modern reworking of the myth – was a victim of the class conflict’; it is, indeed, even possible to contemplate considering him as ‘Scotland’s first working-class hero’.2 On the other hand, virtually every serious modern account of Wallace’s career states that he came from Elderslie in Renfrewshire (or occasionally Ellerslie in Ayrshire) and that his father was the local landowner3 – which would give him a far higher status.

At first sight, though, that would not affect the fundamental commoner–noble contrast, since in Britain lairds and gentry usually count as commoners and only titled peers (dukes, earls, and so on) are nobles. It is wrong to apply that in a medieval Scottish context, however. Restricting nobility to members of the titled peerage is a uniquely English concept (derived from the fourteenth-century division of parliament into separate ‘Lords’ and ‘Commons’, with gentry belonging to the latter).4 This was not the case elsewhere in Western Europe. There, instead, ideas of status followed the traditional theory of the ‘three estates’, made up of clergy, nobility and ordinary people, all defined by function, which for the nobility was protecting the others through military expertise; hence, from the twelfth century the noble estate consisted of knights. But it also became established that normally only sons of knights could be knights. This produced the concept of inheriting knightly, or ‘noble’, blood, which meant that the descendants of knights, even if not knighted themselves, came to be considered noble. Since knights were invariably landowners, the eventual result was that throughout most of late-medieval Western Europe all members of landowning families with knightly ancestry were regarded as having noble status, belonging to what is often termed ‘the noblesse’.5

In this respect, Scotland conformed as usual to the west-European norm.6 Indeed, even nowadays those who are not peers but possess coats of arms belong, technically, to ‘the noblesse of Scotland’.7 As for the Middle Ages, despite the emergence of a Scottish parliamentary peerage in the mid-fifteenth century, lairds who attended parliaments thereafter still belonged to the second, noble, estate, along with the peers.8 Moreover, there are countless examples of late-medieval lairds being explicitly called ‘noble’ – including, in 1410, John Wallace of Elderslie.9 Thus in later medieval Scotland the family of Wallace of Elderslie was certainly regarded as noble; so, ironically, the modern Scottish image of William Wallace as a commoner despite being a son of the laird of Elderslie follows the English concept of nobility and rejects the Scottish one.10

Wallace’s problematic status is not, however, purely a modern issue; it is also evident in medieval sources. The first known account of his origins – from the contemporary Annales Angliae et Scotiae associated with William of Rishanger – called him a man ‘of ignoble family’, and ‘born and brought up from a most lowly and poor family’; when he was knighted, ‘it was like making a raven into a swan’.11 The Lanercost Chronicle similarly disparages Wallace’s knighthood: ‘When William the Welshman was made noble, the Scottish nobility became utterly degenerate.’12 Of course, since these chronicles are English and vehemently hostile to Wallace, their remarks could simply be typical smears. Yet the earliest Scottish chronicle comment on Wallace’s status, the later fourteenth-century Gesta Annalia II (formerly attributed to Fordun), also uses ‘ignoble’: that, it records, is how Scottish magnates regarded Wallace.13 The English statements may therefore not be smears after all. Or, less extremely, the Scottish magnate perception may have stemmed from resentful jealousy coupled with the snobbish assumption that Wallace, like all non-magnates of whatever status, belonged among the led not the leaders. But whatever the case, the Gesta’s author strongly disagrees. The whole passage reads:

Though among the earls and great men of the kingdom he was considered ignoble, yet his kindred shone with knightly honour. His older brother was also a belted knight who held a patrimony in lands in keeping with his status, which he bequeathed to be held by his descendants.14

This obviously counters the idea of the ignoble Wallace by stressing his knightly lineage and especially his brother’s status as a hereditary landowner.

That image was developed by Wyntoun in the 1410s and Bower in the 1440s. According to Wyntoun, Wallace:

In sempill stait thocht he wes then,

Yit wes he cummyn of gentill men;

His fader wes a manly knycht,

And his moder a lady brycht,

And he gottin in mariage.

His eldare brother the heretage

Had, and ioisit in his dais.15

This echoes Gesta Annalia II, but omits what the magnates thought about Wallace, emphasises that his father was a knight (which the Gesta does not state explicitly), and adds the lines about his mother, possibly to counter any suggestion of bastardy. Subsequently, Bower’s rewriting of Gesta Annalia went further.16 He changed its introductory sentence about Wallace – ‘In the same year, William Wallace raised his head as if from his hiding-places, and killed the English sheriff of Lanark’17 – to read: ‘In the same year, the famous William Wallace, the hammer of the English, the son of the noble knight [space left for the name] raised his head.’ Then he inserted a long passage about Wallace’s appearance and character that is not in the Gesta at all. Next, on the Lanark episode, he added that Wallace was ‘a young knight’ when the sheriff was killed. And finally, when Bower came to the Gesta statements about Wallace’s social status, like Wyntoun he deleted the magnate perception of Wallace, replaced it with the statement that Wallace ‘came from a distinguished family’, and provided the name ‘Andrew’ for Wallace’s brother.

Thus Wyntoun and Bower significantly embellished Gesta Annalia II’s already positive image of Wallace. The Gesta–Bower contrast is particularly illuminating: Bower removed two potentially derogatory passages and (presumably reacting against ‘ignoble’ in the Gesta text) laboured Wallace’s knightliness and called his father a noble knight. Moreover, Bower subsequently twice applied ‘noble’ to Wallace himself; while the final story of a hermit’s vision of souls en route from Purgatory to Heaven waiting while Wallace’s (by implication saintly) soul flew straight into Paradise is the ultimate in image-building.18 With that, Bower was in fantasy land – but is his general image of Wallace any more valid? Wallace is known to have been knighted some time after Stirling Bridge;19 so when Bower called Wallace a ‘young knight’ at the time of the attack on Lanark, he was either inventing or following an inaccurate (perhaps ballad) tradition. Also, he was wrong to call Wallace’s brother Andrew – and indeed deleted the name from the abbreviated Scotichronicon, possibly because the source was unsatisfactory.20 And the blank left for Wallace’s father’s name is most illuminating. As Donald Watt remarked, Bower had apparently been collecting Wallace material for some time,21 so his failure to name the father indicates that reliable details about Wallace’s parentage were not available in the midfifteenth century. Bower’s embellishment of the Gesta’s image, therefore, cannot be regarded as deriving from sound information.

In the 1470s, however, abundant information about Wallace’s family was at last presented, in Blind Hary’s Wallace. According to Hary, his father was ‘Malcolm Wallas . . . That Elrisle than had in heretage, / Auchinbothe and othir syndry place’; his elder brother was ‘Schir Malcom Wallas, a full gentill knycht’; and he had two uncles, Sir Richard Wallace of Riccarton and Sir Reginald Crawford, sheriff of Ayr.22 This is the first time that Wallace is associated with Elderslie, and Hary also links him with two baronial families: in the late thirteenth century, Sir Richard Wallace23 and Sir Reginald Crawford had a similar status to lords such as Sir William Douglas. Hary, therefore, completes the process of situating Wallace within a clearly noble kin.

Unfortunately – as is commonly pointed out but insufficiently appreciated – none of Hary’s information can be believed without independent corroboration. His technique was to pack his story with authentic-seeming episodes and names that mostly turn out to be anachronistic plagiarisms from Barbour’s, Wyntoun’s and Bower’s narratives of post-Wallace Anglo-Scottish warfare; the purpose was to give the strongest impression of verisimilitude and reliability24 – but only in the way that including real events and people in modern thrillers does. Hary’s account of Wallace’s kin cannot, therefore, be accepted uncritically, as has happened so often, especially regarding Elderslie; yet nor can it be automatically dismissed. Consider, for instance, Sir Reginald Crawford. He is not mentioned by Gesta Annalia II, Wyntoun or Bower, but occurs in Barbour’s Bruce as being hanged in a barn at Ayr – which gave Hary a famous but fictitious story.25 Barbour, however, did not call Crawford sheriff of Ayr, so Hary obtained that, correct, detail elsewhere26 – probably from Crawford’s heirs, the Campbells of Loudon. But does that mean Hary was correct about Crawford’s relationship with Wallace? Perhaps – but equally possibly he invented the relationship to flatter the Campbells.

The same applies to Wallace’s other ‘uncle’. The Wallaces of Riccarton survived throughout the fifteenth century, although they were then usually ‘of Craigie’ – and Hary definitely knew Sir William Wallace of Craigie.27 Although Riccarton is not recorded in Wallace possession until the 1370s,28 it was almost certainly one of their early estates, and the Sir Richard Wallace found (without territorial designation) in the later thirteenth century is probably Hary’s character.29 Hary gave him three sons, Adam, Richard and Simon. Although there are no independent references to Richard and Simon, Adam was doubtless modelled on the Adam Wallace who fought in the fourteenth-century wars and was executed in 1337 by Sir Thomas Rokeby; significantly, Hary fictitiously included ‘ald Rukbe’ among Wallace’s victims.30 It therefore appears that Hary had some good family information about the Riccarton Wallaces. In addition, he mentioned another branch, the Wallaces of Auchincruive, who are first recorded in the twelfth century but died out in the late fourteenth.31 Hary’s accurate reference to them shows he had quite wide information about the kindred – and Sir William of Craigie is surely the most likely source.

But what of Wallace’s immediate family, which Hary said possessed ‘Elrisle’ and ‘Auchinbothe’? In the late fourteenth century, the Renfrewshire estates of Elderslie and Auchenbothie both belonged to John Wallace of Elderslie; these must be what Hary meant.32Auchenbothie subsequently went to a cadet line, but Elderslie, on the death of a later laird in 1444, escheated to the superior, namely Sir John Wallace of Craigie, father of Hary’s contact Sir William – and during Hary’s lifetime, Elderslie was held of the lord of Craigie/Riccarton by George Wallace, Sir William’s younger brother.33 Unfortunately, that does not mean we should believe Hary and associate his hero with Elderslie. Instead, the reverse is more likely, because, when Hary was writing, the laird of Elderslie had the same relationship to the lord of Riccarton as in Hary’s poem. That coincidence looks too good to be true, especially since linking the hero with the Craigie/Riccarton family would have enhanced Sir William of Craigie’s own image. Moreover, if Wallace’s immediate family details were well known in the Craigie/Riccarton family, why was Bower ignorant of them? Bower’s contemporary as lord of Craigie/Riccarton, Sir John Wallace, was probably prominent enough to marry a daughter of the seventh earl of Douglas,34 and it is surely inconceivable that Bower did not consult him about Wallace’s family. The likelihood is, therefore, that Hary’s description of Wallace as son of the laird of Elderslie and nephew of the lord of Riccarton was an invention, designed to promote the hero’s namesake, Sir William of Craigie. That may have been especially relevant in the 1470s, since by then the main Douglas line could no longer present itself as the chief upholder of Scottish independence;35 did Sir William of Craigie (with a likely Douglas mother or stepmother) hope to step into their shoes?

A further problem about Hary’s account of Wallace’s family is A. A. M. Duncan’s demonstration that his father was called Alan, not Malcolm as Hary states. However, Hary was correct to name Wallace’s brother as Malcolm.36 It is difficult to see this as a lucky guess, so presumably Hary had found accurate material somewhere. But since Bower did not know the brother’s name, it probably did not derive from straightforward family information. Instead, Hary was probably using a different kind of source (possibly a ballad) that Bower either did not have or discounted; but if so, it was hardly very sound, given that Hary was wrong about the name of Wallace’s father and about the brother’s death in battle before Wallace’s revolt began (also, he did not mention Wallace’s other real-life brother, Sir John, whom the English executed in 1307).37 Despite the accuracy over the elder brother’s name, therefore, it is surely unwise to give credence to Hary’s most significant statements, namely that Wallace came from Elderslie and was a cadet of the Riccarton family. And if these can be discounted, so too can Hary’s specific location of Wallace within a baronial family. Like Bower, Wyntoun and the author of Gesta Annalia II, he must be regarded as engaging in deliberate – but unreliable – image-building.

It does not follow, however, that we must simply accept the English chroniclers’ depictions of an ignoble plebeian Wallace; after all, they too had images to construct and axes to grind. Instead, more neutral contemporary images of Wallace need some thought. For a start, there is his seal.38 Because this describes him as ‘son of Alan Wallace’ and does not depict a coat of arms, it might be thought to denote a much lower status than that given by the Scottish chronicles. Personal medieval seals, however, have laconic legends and usually omit descriptions such as ‘knight’; the bald ‘Alan Wallace’ tells nothing either way about Wallace’s status. Nor does the seal’s non-heraldic device, for until the fourteenth century only knights had heraldic arms on their seals; esquires (even with knightly blood) employed non-heraldic images.39 But if, as Duncan argues, Wallace’s father is the ‘Alan Wallace’ recorded in the Ragman Rolls, then although he was not a knight, he would have counted as a landowner; the Ragman lists go some way down the social scale but do not include plebeian peasants.

More generally, consider the actual names. In Scotland the surname Wallace belonged to a landowning family normally believed to have arrived in the twelfth century; since thirteenth-century peasants did not adopt landowning surnames, it can be assumed that during the period all Wallaces belonged to the same extended kin group. The first names Alan, Malcolm and William are perhaps illuminating too. The father’s is associated with the Stewarts, while the sons’ (taken together) are reminiscent of the royal family. The combination of Malcolm and William for brothers seems unusual in thirteenth-century Scotland, but can be found with the sons of Farquhar, Earl of Ross. Earl Farquhar presumably had Kings Malcolm IV and William I in mind when he named his sons;40did Alan Wallace too? That this question can be posed suggests Alan’s status – or self-image – was at least above the plebeian.

Be that as it may, the evidence for Malcolm’s name comes from a neutral contemporary source, the English spy’s report about a Scottish council at Peebles on 19 August 1299. This records that ‘Sir David Graham demanded the lands and goods of Sir William Wallace because he was leaving the kingdom without the leave or approval of the Guardians’; that ‘Sir Malcolm, Sir William’s brother, answered that neither his lands nor his goods should be given away’; that ‘the two knights gave the lie to each other and drew their daggers’; and that ‘Sir Malcolm Wallace [was] of the earl of Carrick’s following’.41 This is the only reference to Wallace having lands. Had he held them as a peasant, Graham should have complained to the immediate landlord; thus in August 1299 Wallace was a landowner. He might have received land to reward his achievement as Guardian, but if so, from whom? (Such a grant should have been made by the crown.) Conversely, it is not impossible that he already possessed land before 1297 – in which case, the bow and arrow on his seal might indicate that archer service or a token arrow was owed for it.42 Moreover, was Malcolm knighted alongside his brother in 1297–98 or subsequently – or was he already a knight? There is no sense in the spy’s report that Malcolm was an upstart; he stands up to, and is bracketed with, one of Scotland’s leading barons. Thus it is likely that Malcolm’s knighthood was well established.

But Malcolm followed Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, not the Steward. Since men tended to belong to their feudal superiors’ retinues, Malcolm may not have held his land from the Steward. In that case the identification of Alan Wallace, Malcolm’s father, as a crown tenant in Ayrshire might be especially significant.43 Late thirteenth-century Ayrshire consisted mostly of great lordships, and the crown tenants must have been concentrated in ‘King’s Kyle’, the hinterland of Ayr itself.44 Since Bruce was active there during 1298,45 it is perfectly possible that Alan Wallace’s son was in his retinue. And there is a later Carrick–Wallace link: Countess Eleanor, widow of Alexander Bruce, Earl of Carrick (died 1332), married Sir Duncan Wallace, who possessed Auchincruive in Ayrshire, the earliest known Wallace property in Scotland.46 This apparent Carrick connection makes it tempting to bracket Sir Malcolm and Sir Duncan together as belonging to the Auchincruive family – and while that must be resisted for lack of evidence, it is worth noting that although Auchincruive lay in the Stewart lordship of Kyle, it was on the edge of it and very close to Ayr. Thus it is not difficult to envisage a cadet of that family acquiring land close by, but within King’s Kyle south of the River Ayr.47Alternatively, part of the Auchincruive estate may have been south of the river, as with ‘Auchincruive Holdings’ on the modern map. It may be significant that, according to Hary’s story, after his father’s death Wallace hid in Laigland Wood beside Auchincruive Holdings, in King’s Kyle, and his nurse was from Newton of Ayr, only a few miles away.48

Considering neutral contemporary images, therefore, suggests the conclusion that Wallace and his brother William were more probably connected with the Auchincruive Wallaces than with the Riccarton ones. That completely contradicts what Blind Hary has led almost every student of Wallace to believe; but Hary knew the lord of Craigie/Riccarton, whereas the main line of Auchincruive Wallaces had died out a century earlier. However, the neutral images do not undermine every Scottish account. If Wallace’s father Alan was not a knight (although from a knightly family) but his brother Malcolm was, that is close to Gesta Annalia II’s statements that ‘his kindred shone with knightly honour’ (which avoids calling his father a knight) and that ‘his elder brother was also a belted knight’. Thus, while the embellishments by Wyntoun, Bower and especially Hary should be rejected, the Gesta image does need to be taken seriously – and it would situate Wallace marginally within the fringe of the nobility, according to the later medieval Scottish concept.

Taking Gesta Annalia II seriously, however, returns us to the perceptions of Wallace as ‘ignoble’ among the Scottish magnates and the English chroniclers. As mentioned already, these can be ascribed to Scottish magnate jealousy and general English hostility. Conversely, it should be pointed out that the broad concept of nobility was only evolving during the thirteenth century. In that period, knighthood was the essential test of nobility, and the idea of including ‘potential knights’ – men of knightly blood – had not gained the general acceptance that it had in subsequent centuries.49 Thus, whereas for the fourteenth-century author of Gesta Annalia II (and his successors) Wallace’s knightly lineage would have made him noble, in the late thirteenth century that would not necessarily have been so. ‘Ignoble’ may not, therefore, have been merely a smear; it might also reflect a thirteenth-century concept of nobility that focused sharply on actual knighthood – as indicated by the way the English writers regarded Wallace as (wrongly) ennobled when he was knighted.

Thus even in his own lifetime Wallace’s social status was probably unclear – which makes certainty about it impossible nowadays. Consequently, it is hardly surprising that in this respect his image has been constructed in so many different ways. But for my own part, I would argue that Wallace cannot be seen as plebeian or proletarian; he should be regarded as belonging, if only just, to Scotland’s landowning, knightly, and hence noble, class(es).


In Braveheart, Scotland’s cause is constantly undermined by its nobility – Wallace’s Scottish ‘other’ – including Robert Bruce, whose treachery at Falkirk is especially dramatic. This powerfully reflects modern anti-aristocratic prejudices: present-day Scotland’s landowning classes appear, to those who dislike them, to be firm Unionists with English public-school accents, so it is easy to portray them as enemies of the people in both class and nationalist terms, and to tar their medieval predecessors with the same brush.50Furthermore, since the nineteenth century Wallace’s depiction as a commoner betrayed by the nobility has, in Richard Finlay’s words, made him ‘a convenient icon for radical liberals to use against the landowning classes who owed their position to birthright rather than meritocracy’.51 That was expressed in unionist as well as nationalist terms52 – and (as Colin Kidd shows in this volume) Wallace was even presented as upholding popular ‘Saxon’ liberties against feudal ‘Norman’ oppression, making him an English as well as a Scottish hero! Thus, in the past two centuries, the dichotomy between Wallace and the Scottish nobility has had an exceptionally wide appeal – expressed at times in highly emotive language, as in Thomas Carlyle’s much quoted words:

It is noteworthy that the nobles of the country have maintained a quite despicable behaviour since the days of Wallace downwards – a selfish, ferocious, famishing, unprincipled set of hyenas, from whom at no time, and in no way, has the country derived any benefit.53

Academic histories also contributed to the nobility’s image. In the first research-based history of Scotland, dating from 1828, Patrick Fraser Tytler stated that ‘the patriotic principle . . . entirely deserted the highest ranks of the Scottish nobles, whose selfish dissensions had brought ruin and bondage upon their country’; and that ‘when an honest love of liberty, and a simultaneous spirit of resistance, could alone have saved Scotland, its nobility deserted their country, and refused to act with the only man whose success and military talents were equal to the emergency’ – namely Wallace.54 Similarly, in 1841 Joseph Stevenson called the Scottish nobles ‘a body of men, disunited among themselves, traitors to their country, and induced, by the private jealousies and prejudices of their leaders, to thwart [Wallace’s] exertion, and prevent his further interference’.55 Subsequent historians are more restrained, but their narratives nevertheless highlight noble infighting and submissions.56 Indeed, not until Geoffrey Barrow’sRobert Bruce – which calls Tytler’s comments ‘one of the hardest-dying half-truths of Scottish history’57 – were the Scottish nobility’s activities during the Wars of Independence presented more positively. And this still seems a minority attitude. Thus, although Andrew Fisher’s William Wallace is carefully judicious, the Scottish nobility is again contrasted unfavourably with its hero. Moreover, the most recent account highlights political dissension and feuding as much as nineteenth-century writers did, and hence in effect maintains the Scottish nobility’s traditionally negative portrayal.58

But there is no smoke without fire: the basic narrative does seem to support that image. The Balliol–Bruce succession dispute caused serious trouble in 1286 and 1290, meant that the Bruces refused to fight for the Balliol kingship and were pro-England for much of 1296 to 1306, and after 1306 caused a full-scale civil war in which the Balliol/Comyn faction joined the English against the Bruce usurper. Also, mass submissions did occur in 1296 and 1304, while in 1305 it was a Scottish noble working for Edward I who captured Wallace. Nevertheless, it is wrong to regard the Scottish magnates as different from the rest of the Scottish people. As the Ragman Rolls illustrate, lesser landowners, ecclesiastics and townsmen were just as ready to submit during crises,59 while countless Scots of all sorts collaborated in various ways after 1296. So if Wallace stands out, it is from the Scots en masse, not just from the magnates. Focusing predominantly on the Bruce–Balliol/Comyn feud significantly obscures the overall picture.

Interestingly, in this respect Blind Hary’s Wallace is more balanced. Admittedly, it describes several ‘bad’, pro-English nobles (especially ‘Amar Wallange’, concocted out of the English magnate Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, Edward I’s cousin!),60 and it narrates the story of Robert Bruce at Falkirk at considerable length.61 Yet several Scottish nobles, such as Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, fight consistently for Scotland; and although the Comyns are extremely jealous, others, like Stewart of Bute, reject them and back Wallace – whose followers include many with latemedieval magnate surnames.62 In general, Hary did not condemn the Scottish nobles as a whole: in his poem, they are not Wallace’s collective ‘other’.

Hary, however, is in a minority; the other late-medieval Scottish writers express generally anti-magnate sentiments. In its reflections on Falkirk, Gesta Annalia II presents the classic statement: ‘we rarely if ever read that Scots were overcome by the English except as a result of jealousy among their leaders or by guile and deceit on the part of natives going over to the other side’.63 Wyntoun says something similar, blaming the disaster on ‘falset and invy’.64 Bower repeats the Gesta passage verbatim and precedes it with a whole chapter of his own about the magnates’ ‘plot’, which describes them as ‘intoxicated by a stream of envy . . . saying to one another, “We do not want this man to reign over us.”’65 In the following century, Mair developed the theme: Wallace had ‘the universal acclamation of the common people’, but ‘the Scottish nobles pursued him with a deadly hatred, inasmuch as his conspicuous valour threw their own deeds into the shade’.66 Boece wrote much the same: in the words of John Bellenden’s 1531 translation, the nobles had ‘gret invy’ for Wallace, ‘throw quhilk raise grete sedicioun’, for they conspired with Edward I and at the time of Falkirk were ‘boundin to his opinioun’.67 Mair’s and Boece’s histories were printed long before the Gesta Annalia II andScotichronicon accounts,68and they – especially Boece’s Scotorum Historia (1527) in Bellenden’s Scots version – were what really established the negative image of the Scottish nobility so firmly in Scotland’s historical consciousness.

In all these accounts of Falkirk, the Comyns are serious transgressors. Gesta Annalia II explicitly blames the Scottish cavalry’s flight on ‘the stream of jealousy which the Comyns directed towards the said William [Wallace]’,69 and this was copied and extensively developed by Wyntoun, Bower, Mair, Boece and Bellenden.70 In the Scottish narratives, therefore, the Comyns appear to undermine the Scottish cause. That is consistent with their demonisation, which has been such a prominent feature of Scottish historiography and which, according to recent studies, was caused by a strong pro-Bruce bias in the chronicles.71 Given that these were written under the Bruce/Stewart regime of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, this makes good sense.

But there is a problem: Gesta Annalia II and its successors actually condemn the Bruces as much, if not more, for the Scottish defeats. Consider, first, the Gesta’s remarks about Dunbar, in 1296:

For all the Comyns with all their supporters stood by Balliol; but the earls of Mar and Atholl with all the force at their command adhered . . . to the party of Robert de Bruce . . . It was for this reason . . . that, according to the common view, the aforesaid earls with their armies fled unharmed from the field on the day the . . . battle was fought, and thus a great disaster befell the opposing party, and the enemy of both of them gained such a welcome and pleasing victory. And, just as afterwards when King Robert Bruce was making war, all the supporters of Balliol were suspected of treason in his war, so also in this Balliol’s war, the aforesaid . . . earls with all the supporters of Bruce’s party were generally considered traitors to the king and kingdom.72

The Gesta’s explanation of Falkirk is even more remarkable.73 Initially, the Comyns’ malicious jealousy, which caused their flight, is highlighted. Yet a few sentences later it states:

Moreover, it is commonly said that Robert de Bruce, who was later king of Scotland but at that time supported the king of England, by his industry provided the opportunity for this victory. For when the Scots stood fast in their ranks and could not be broken by force or craft, this same Robert de Bruce, making a long detour round a mountain with a force commanded by Anthony de Bek, took the Scots in the rear from the opposite side; and thus the Scots, who at the earlier stage stood unbroken and unconquered, in the later stage were cleverly overcome.

Thus Bruce is also responsible for the crushing defeat. And, in addition, the Gesta comments, ‘alas! as a result of the arrogance and blazing jealousy of both, the noble community of Scotland lay miserably prostrate’. Since this follows a statement that both the Comyns and Wallace fled, it has been assumed that they are the targets here.74 However, Wallace is never arrogant or jealous elsewhere in the Gesta; and in discussing Dunbar, the Gesta employs the same term for ‘both’ (utriusque) to refer to the Balliol/Comyn and Bruce factions. When the author uses utriusque with respect to Falkirk, therefore, he was probably blaming both factions again and was thinking ahead to Robert Bruce’s treachery.75

Furthermore, in the Gesta account Wallace flees immediately after the Comyns, so the latter could not have run away early in the battle. Instead, initially the Scots ‘stood fast’ until the attack in the rear led by Bruce caused defeat and flight. Hence, in Gesta Annalia II most of the blame for the disaster falls squarely on medieval Scotland’s other great hero. Admittedly, the story about Bruce begins ‘it is commonly said’; nevertheless the author clearly believed it, because he continues immediately with the passage about the Scots losing only through magnate envy or natives joining the other side. Since envy is consistently attributed to the Comyns, the treacherous natives must be the Bruces. There is no Bruce propaganda here.76

The story about Bruce is one of the most devastating episodes in Scottish historical writing. And it is not confined to Gesta Annalia II; all other writers recount and elaborate on it.77 The most famous elaboration is Bower’s: that Bruce encountered the fleeing Wallace, who reproached him so bitterly that Bruce repented and eventually joined the Scots78 – a road-to-Damascus conversion that has been repeated in every account down to Braveheart. But this is not in the Gesta, and must represent Bower’s attempt to soften the main story’s effect by having Wallace show Bruce the light and so, implicitly, sanction his subsequent kingship. Here is another example of Bower’s image-building, this time on Bruce’s behalf. It was only partly successful, however: later writers narrate the episode in ways that give Bruce much less credit.79 And whatever the version, it is always preceded by Bruce causing Wallace’s defeat. Thus in all the late-medieval Scottish accounts the Bruces oppose Wallace’s leadership just as significantly as the Comyns do. Now, since Scotland’s political elite can then be seen (albeit exaggeratedly) as split between the Comyn and Bruce factions, it has been easy to conclude that almost the entire elite deserted Wallace. That is the fundamental basis for the modern image of the medieval Scottish nobles.

But is the basic story true? Recent Scottish historians mostly ignore or reject it, but do not confront it head-on80 – leaving the popular image of the treacherous Bruce virtually unchallenged. The problem is that Gesta Annalia II’s explicit statement is not contradicted by other direct evidence. Abundant circumstantial evidence, however, proves the story to be false. First, contemporary English accounts of Falkirk do not mention Bruce;81 had he fought for Edward I, surely they would say so, especially since he is later portrayed as England’s greatest enemy. Secondly, they record instead that when Edward marched south, he found Ayr Castle burned on the orders of the fleeing Bruce: strange behaviour if Bruce had been on Edward’s side (the texts might even imply that Bruce fled from Falkirk).82 Thirdly, in 1299 Malcolm Wallace was in Bruce’s retinue; would he have followed the man who brought about his brother’s defeat? Fourthly and most significantly, after Falkirk Wallace was replaced by joint guardians, including John Comyn and Robert Bruce; had Bruce fought for the English, it is inconceivable that the Comyns would have accepted him as guardian.83 It follows that the story about Bruce at Falkirk should be rejected absolutely.

So what was the author of Gesta Annalia II doing? Historians of the Wars of Independence take the Gesta at face value, but since its version of mid-fourteenth-century Scottish politics is skewed in favour of David II and against Robert the Steward,84 its account of 1286–1306 needs to be examined in that light. When that is done, it turns out to have one overriding theme: the importance of strong kingship and the miseries caused by magnate feuding whenever that was missing. Thus, Alexander III – whose second marriage and subsequent death in 1285–86 are Gesta Annalia II’s starting point85 – was an ideal king, ‘because he ruled himself and his people rightly’, and dealt with rebels ‘with such harsh discipline that with a rope round their necks and ready to be hanged . . . they were subjected to his authority’.86 But after his sole heir, the Maid of Norway, also died, the Balliol–Bruce feud over the succession broke out and could not be settled because the nobles ‘had no superior who by the strength of his power could demand the execution of their decision or compel the parties to observe it’ – one reason for bringing in Edward I.87 Subsequently, John Balliol’s kingship proved unsuccessful, so ‘twelve peers or guardians were appointed for the protection and defence of the liberty of the realm and the community of the same’ – but the Gesta dates this to 1296, after Dunbar and John’s abdication, whereas the correct date is 1295.88 The misdating is generally treated as a slip,89 but it was surely deliberate: the Gesta’s author could not countenance a magnate-dominated council removing power from a king and therefore changed the sequence of events.

Next, there is the Gesta’s account of Dunbar (quoted above). The defeat is blamed on desertions by two pro-Bruce earls, Mar and Atholl, motivated by the Balliol–Bruce feud.90 In fact, in 1296 – when the Bruces were on Edward I’s side – both Atholl and Mar invaded northern England under Comyn leadership.91 Subsequently, Atholl missed the battle because he was garrisoning Dunbar Castle; he was captured there and imprisoned in England.92 Mar probably did flee the field, but so did the Comyns and the rest of the nobility; the Scottish cavalry was apparently chased for more than twenty miles.93 Later in 1296, Edward I took Mar to England, along with the Comyns and other magnates; there is no indication that he was treated differently.94 So whatever Mar did at Dunbar, anti-Balliol disaffection is unlikely to be the explanation. The Gesta’s statement about Atholl’s and Mar’s behaviour at Dunbar is another fabrication.95

After that comes the Gesta’s treatment of William Wallace. As James Fraser argues, it significantly overplays his role as sole leader of the Scottish cause in 1297, especially in omitting Andrew Murray almost entirely96 – but this fits its theme, because Wallace is portrayed as at last providing the strong leadership that the author admired:

he in a short time subjected all the magnates of Scotland willy nilly to his authority, whether by force or the strength of his prowess. And if any of the magnates did not gladly obey his orders, Wallace got hold of him, put pressure on him, and held him in custody until he submitted entirely to his wishes.97

No doubt that is overstated. But, for the Gesta’s author, it was exactly what Scotland needed and was how the ideal ruler should behave; there are significant parallels with his account of Alexander III. Wallace, however, was not a king, and the magnates would not accept his rule: hence their envy, and, at Falkirk, his desertion by the Comyns and betrayal by Bruce.

Then, after Falkirk, Gesta Annalia II’s political tone alters. For 1299–1305 it focuses on John Comyn of Badenoch in a highly complimentary way.98 Bruce is not mentioned, and the Scottish war effort goes well under Comyn; he defeats the English at Roslin in 1303. The Gesta states that, since the outbreak of Anglo-Scottish warfare, ‘there is no report of so fierce a fight in which the bravery of the Scots so shone out in warlike power’.99 Remarkably, it devotes more space to this relatively minor battle than to Bannockburn.100 Given what the Gesta previously says about the Comyns, this change of tack seems strange, but it does maintain the general theme. From 1299 to 1305 John Comyn is portrayed (erroneously) as the sole Scottish leader, and there is no Bruce complication:101 the Scots are united once more, so the war goes well. But, finally, feuding emerges again in 1305–6, this time between Comyn and Bruce – which sets the scene for Bruce’s coup d’état and Scotland’s eventual unification under his rule.102

Throughout its account of 1286–1305, therefore, Gesta Annalia II shapes and distorts its narrative in order to expound its overriding theme. But the author was not writing in a vacuum: for example, a lost pro-Comyn chronicle almost certainly lies behind his account of the period after Falkirk – probably the verse chronicle from which Bower preserved four extracts, all with a Comyn slant, including these lines on Roslin:

in the field of Roslin grace shone anew from on high,

and so, under John Comyn, leader of the Scots

it confounded the English and gave victory to the Scots.103

The story of Bruce’s treachery at Falkirk might also belong to a pro-Comyn chronicle.104 The Gesta, however, is pro-Comyn only after 1298; its account of Falkirk condemns them and by implication does so for Wallace’s whole career. The author’s main source for 1297–98, however, was presumably different – probably the (lost) ballads about the hero to which Wyntoun famously refers.105 The story about Bruce at Falkirk could have originated as easily in a Wallace ballad and perhaps derives from an actual event, such as Wallace’s ‘discomfiture’ near Peebles in March 1304 by an English force that included Bruce.106 Also, ballads about Wallace may have included stories about his harsh treatment of Scottish nobles who opposed him – which would have fitted the Gesta’s theme.

Yet, since Gesta Annalia II was written under David II, why does it relate anti-Bruce, pro-Comyn material? The answer partly lies in the absence of a specific Bruce history covering 1292–1305. Robert I ignored Balliol’s reign and presented himself as Alexander III’s immediate heir;107 accordingly, the ‘official’ Bruce view of recent history (as expressed in the Declaration of Arbroath and Barbour’s Bruce) leaps straight from Edward I’s choice of Balliol to Robert’s coup d’état, omitting the intervening years and not mentioning Wallace at all. That is hardly surprising, for although Bruce did not support Edward I at Falkirk, he was on the English side in 1296 and after c.1302; thus, the less said about 1292 to 1305, the better for Robert I. And because the Bruce history glosses over those years, the Gesta’s author would have to have used non-Bruce sources for them.

But, also, as long as the Bruce right to the throne was maintained (as Gesta Annalia II does, albeit ambivalently),108 David II would probably not have objected to a portrayal of Robert I as less than perfect. David had been defeated and captured by the English in 1346, and thereafter had compromising dealings with Edward III; so his Scottish opponents no doubt contrasted him unfavourably with his father. Thus, the Gesta’s story about Bruce fighting for Edward I at Falkirk might not have been unwelcome.109Moreover, David’s affinity had links to the Balliol/Comyn faction, especially in connection with his queen, Margaret Logie.110 Most strikingly, in the 1364 debate over whether John of Gaunt (Edward III’s son) should succeed if David died childless, one argument was that Gaunt’s wife had Scottish blood – being descended from the Comyn earls of Buchan!111 Clearly, the Comyns were not demonised at David II’s court.

That said, Gesta Annalia II is not consistently critical of Robert Bruce: its treatment of the period after 1305, for which pro-Bruce sources were available, is much more favourable, and John Comyn’s killing is blamed on Comyn’s wickedness.112 Perhaps, therefore, the author simply parroted whatever sources were available. Yet what made Comyn wicked in 1306 was breaking his oath to join Bruce in fighting for Scottish freedom. This, once more, fits the Gesta’s basic theme, the troubles caused by uncontrolled magnate quarrels and feuding – certainly a message that David II and his circle would have welcomed wholeheartedly. Perhaps, indeed, the whole of Gesta Annalia II was designed to support David II’s anti-magnate policy of the later 1350s and 1360s,113 which was at its peak at the time of the 1363 rebellion, just when the chronicle was being written. Be that as it may, the main point here is that the exposition of the Gesta’s overriding theme for the years 1285 to 1305 involves significant historical distortions – which include misleadingly negative portrayals of the Scottish nobility – and that this was followed and developed by all subsequent writers from the fifteenth until the twentieth centuries.

So, to conclude this section: although the modern popular image of the Scottish nobility’s unpatriotic behaviour during the Wars of Independence has a medieval basis, that itself should be regarded as an artificial construct, invented initially by the author ofGesta Annalia II, one aspect of whose theme was the creation of an image of William Wallace in which he alone acted like a proper ruler. The modern construct of a dichotomy between Wallace and the Scottish nobility already existed as early as the fourteenth century – but the images behind it were then just as artificial as they are today.


Finally, let us return to William Wallace himself and to a very different aspect of his image – as illustrated initially by the story in Wyntoun’s Orygynale Chronykil about his first main exploit at Lanark, which clearly comes from a ballad. In this story Wallace is depicted as wearing green, hiding in the woods, leading a small band of followers, and finally killing a sheriff.114 That makes him just like Robin Hood, or indeed ‘the Scottish Robin Hood’, as an English commentator explicitly describes him c.1500.115

Now, according to Bower, Robin Hood stories were popular among ‘the foolish common folk’ of Scotland.116 Wyntoun knew about them, too; he refers to Little John and Robin Hood under the year 1283–84.117 But Bower redates Robin to 1265–66 (the Simon de Montfort era), when ‘that most famous armed robber Robert Hood . . . raised his head’ from among those disinherited and outlawed by Prince Edward (subsequently Edward I). Bower’s story, not found elsewhere,118 of Robin finishing hearing mass before dealing with a sheriff has a triple relevance: that Bower knew ballads that have been lost; that Robin defeats one of Edward’s sheriffs; and that Robin’s raising his head after defeat by Edward Plantagenet parallels the Gesta’s first words about Wallace.119 Hence, when Wyntoun and Bower (and possibly the author of Gesta Annalia II) develop their images of Wallace, they surely had Robin Hood in mind – or conversely, as Stephen Knight suggests, ‘Wyntoun and perhaps Bower too had Wallace in the forests as an image in which to shape Robin Hood’.120

Subsequently, the images develop in opposite directions. Robin was originally a yeoman, but by the seventeenth century he had risen, becoming a wronged magnate,121 whereas Wallace originally belonged to a minor noble family and went downwards, becoming (in general belief) a commoner and peasant: that reflects interesting contrasts between English and Scottish popular culture. But there is, of course, a much greater difference: Robin is fictional, Wallace existed in real life. The fictional outlaw is benign except to enemies; a real-life outlaw threatens and frightens almost everybody.122 So, therefore, the question must now be asked: is that what Wallace was actually like?

English chroniclers had no doubt: virtually every one portrays Wallace as a robber or brigand. Guisborough states that ‘there was a certain public robber (latro publicus) named William Wallace’, and thereafter consistently applies latro to him. Lanercost and Langtoft both say he was originally ‘the chief of robbers’ (princeps latronum; mestre de larouns). As for Rishanger’s chronicle, it describes him first as ‘hitherto a public robber’, and then, hyperbolically, as ‘a shunned, deceitful criminal, a hater of piety, a sacrilegious plunderer, an arsonist, and a murderer crueller than Herod and madder than Nero’ – words with which Flores Historiarum largely agrees.123 This is what Fraser aptly calls the ‘chief of brigands’ image,124 and it obviously reflects intense English hostility.

Unsurprisingly, that English image is usually rejected in Scotland, but one piece of evidence suggests that it might be valid. In August 1296, Matthew of York was indicted by Christina of Perth for stealing ale worth three shillings from her house in Perth on 14 June, in the gang of a certain thief, William le Waleys.125 Scottish historians tend to ignore this episode126 – yet how many William Wallaces led bands of men in late 1290s Scotland? Moreover, outlaw activity can easily merge with freedom fighting, as happened in English-held Normandy in 1419–49.127 Was that what the Perth robbery was about? When it occurred, Edward I was in Stirling, thirty miles away; he reached Perth a week later.128 Wallace might, therefore, have been requisitioning provisions for guerrilla activity. But the alternative is at least equally likely: that Christina’s indictment should be believed and that the robbery should be attributed to a gang led by the subsequent hero.129 In that case, since outlaws commonly poached deer, might it be that the bow and arrow on Wallace’s seal denote his own real-life image before he became Scotland’s hero – that of an outlaw? Furthermore, one task of sheriffs was to catch outlaws; is that actually why Wallace killed the sheriff of Lanark?

Moreover, the image of Wallace as outlaw would certainly not be out of place in the Britain of his era. What has been called ‘fur-collar crime’ was rife in early fourteenth-century England;130 there were countless criminal gangs whose leaders were ‘for the most part . . . drawn from the gentry, the knights and esquires, the very members of society on whom paradoxically the task of preserving law and order increasingly devolved’.131 The classic instances are two early fourteenth-century outlaw bands headed by younger sons (like Wallace) of gentry families, the Folvilles from Leicestershire and the Coterels from Derbyshire;132 and numerous other examples could be cited.

There is no reason to believe that Scottish landowners were any better.133 Gesta Annalia II’s account of Scotland after Alexander III begins with the earl of Fife’s murder by minor nobles134 – illustrating not only the problems caused by the absence of royal power but also by elite criminality. And consider the Douglases. At Edward I’s request, the Guardians arrested Sir William Douglas in 1289–90 for abducting an English widow, with ‘a multitude of armed men’; and King John punished him in 1292 for illegally imprisoning three of his own men in Douglas Castle (one was beheaded and one died), and for imprisoning the justiciar’s baillies when they levied damages on behalf of his own mother.135 His son James – Robert I’s close companion – was equally violent.136 A generation later, William Douglas of Lothian is even more significant. Like Wallace, he rose from virtual insignificance to become a major Scottish leader during the long fightback after Halidon Hill in 1333. He did so by recruiting a band of armed men to wage guerrilla warfare from lairs in Selkirk Forest and the Pentlands; and although he fought the English, he also kidnapped and starved to death one of his Scottish rivals.137 Wallace did not do that, but he is surely a basically similar character. In that case, Gesta AnnaliaII’s statement that he ‘raised his head as if from his hiding-places’138 is highly relevant. Why did Wallace need hiding-places before his revolt began, unless he already was an outlaw? The Gesta implicitly supports the English chroniclers.

Furthermore, whether or not Wallace was an outlaw, he was certainly extremely tough and at times seems callous. At Falkirk, it was essential to stop the foot soldiers fleeing from cavalry attack, as normally happened in the thirteenth century.139 Wallace apparently found a remarkable solution. According to reliable English accounts, he arranged his spearmen into large circular schiltroms and in front of these had a fence made from stakes driven into the ground and tied together with ropes. Since the schiltroms were circular, the roped stakes presumably went all the way round – which meant that the Scottish foot soldiers could not run away because they were literally fenced in.140 Unlike the Scottish horse they fought valiantly, repelling several English cavalry attacks; but then, being immobile, they were slaughtered by the enemy’s archers and slingers. The result was horrific – but Wallace’s brutal strength of mind must be recognised. The flaying of Cressingham’s body at Stirling Bridge might also illustrate his mindset.141

As mentioned already, Gesta Annalia II applauds that strength of mind, stressing Wallace’s harshness towards recalcitrant magnates. No doubt it exaggerates, but corroboration can be found in what happened in July 1297 after the capitulation at Irvine by the bishop of Glasgow, the Steward and the young Robert Bruce, who had planned to join Wallace in rebellion:142 Wallace attacked the bishop’s palace and carried off his furnishings, arms, horses and ‘sons’.143 Barrow has remarked that ‘the emotion behind this act speaks of close relations between the two men’;144 perhaps, but it also demonstrates Wallace’s fury against those who let him down and a strong propensity for taking the law into his own hands – like any outlaw. Then there is the case of Michael Meigle, accused in 1305 of supporting Wallace. A jury of twenty-five Scottish landowners, mostly from Tayside, testified that (in Joseph Bain’s summary):

he had been lately taken prisoner forcibly against his will by William le Waleys; that he escaped once from William for 2 leagues, but was followed and brought back by some armed accomplices of William, who was firmly resolved to kill him for his flight; that he escaped another time from said William for 3 leagues or more and was again brought back a prisoner by force with the greatest violence and hardly avoided death at William’s hands, had not some accomplices of William entreated for him; whereon he was told if he tried to get away he should lose his life. Thus it appears he remained with William through fear of death and not of his own will.145

The jury’s statement is clearly consistent with the Gesta’s account of how Wallace treated Scots who defied him.

Yet in these episodes Wallace’s actions are not the kind that win friends and influence people, and suggest poor man-management skills. Furthermore, they contradict medieval theories of ‘noble’ behaviour.146 The concepts of ‘noble’ and ‘ignoble’ are discussed above with respect to birth and status, but behaviour is probably more important. If, as Gesta Annalia II states, Scottish magnates considered Wallace ignoble, that might have been not because of his birth but because of how he treated them – especially if he was the outlawed leader of a band of robbers. Certainly, if he did behave in the way the Gesta describes and the instances in the previous paragraph illustrate, then, despite his knightly family, they would not have regarded him as a brother noble.147

This must be borne in mind when we consider his tragic end. In 1304 the Scots submitted, just as in 1296. However, whereas after the 1296 submissions Wallace headed a widespread revolt, in 1304–5 he was hunted by English forces and led a band not an army.148 Eventually, Sir John Menteith captured him. Menteith has suffered lasting infamy, but he should be seen as an administrator who recognised whoever exercised effective authority;149 he worked for Edward I after 1304, but King Robert soon employed him, and he was a prominent signatory of the Declaration of Arbroath.150 Thus, in his own lifetime Menteith was not condemned in Scotland. The point is that by 1304–5 Wallace’s day was past. Although leading a popular revolt is admirable and indeed magnificent, if it is eventually defeated, what then? After eight years of fighting, the Scots had clearly had enough – so in 1304 hardly any of them would support Wallace against England’s might. It was time to admit defeat, recognise what had happened and bring peace.

That, expressed baldly, is an argument for defeatism, which is hardly praiseworthy. Normally what is praised is the image of indomitable fighters maintaining their conflict against all odds. In Wallace’s case we know, with hindsight, that Scotland did maintain its independence; therefore we can applaud his ‘No Surrender’ attitude. Yet surely we would generally condemn such an attitude in our contemporary world – as, for instance, most people condemn the ‘Real IRA’. Moreover, if Wallace is viewed dispassionately, he could be compared with extremists in the 1990s Balkans and even with ‘insurgents’ (brigands or freedom fighters?) in post-2003 Iraq. Thus, on reflection, Wallace’s ultra-patriotic image may not be so wonderful. His real image is much darker – and was surely rejected by the Scots in 1304–5: ‘blessed are the peacemakers’. Indeed, although after his execution parts of his dismembered body were displayed in Scotland, no relics from it are known to have been preserved and no shrines were erected in his memory.151 For all his subsequent fame, there was no contemporary cult of William Wallace.

Yet the Scottish submission of 1304–5 was not final, and England’s power was, eventually, resisted successfully. Therefore – a last, counter-factual, thought – had Wallace not been captured, had he survived well beyond 1305, what would have become of him? Since he supported John Balliol’s kingship so staunchly in the 1290s, he might have rejected the usurping Robert Bruce.152 But I would argue the opposite. If Wallace really was the great patriotic hero, then – as freedom fighter rather than outlaw – his first commitment was to Scottish independence. Moreover, in 1299 his brother Malcolm followed Bruce; and, even more significantly, another brother, John, was executed in 1307, so must have been fighting for Robert I. There is no reason, therefore, to suppose that William, if still alive, would not have joined Bruce in 1306. If so, and if he had lived to witness Robert’s eventual triumph, then surely he would have contributed significantly to it. In that case he, like all Robert I’s close supporters, would have been handsomely rewarded. Since Wallace came from southwest Scotland, he would presumably have been given lands there – probably including some that actually went to the man whose image is virtually that of a Wallace-substitute, Sir James Douglas. But the Douglases became late-medieval Scotland’s greatest magnate family. So, if Wallace had survived, he would doubtless have finished up alongside, or above, the Good Sir James in the uppermost rank of the Scottish nobility.

That is a final irony about William Wallace. His enduring modern image, which contrasts so strikingly with that of the Scottish nobility, not only rests upon the mass of artificial constructs explored in this chapter but, also, would not exist at all had he not been rejected by the Scots in 1304 and sent to that tragic death in London in August 1305. In Braveheart, Mel Gibson – echoing Blind Hary, who was echoing Walter Bower – depicts Wallace’s death as martyrdom. Although it is difficult to accept the explicit religious imagery of those final scenes, it must remain the case that Wallace’s execution was absolutely vital in ensuring that his – artificial – image endures for ever.

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