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Sir William Wallace- True Patriot

Wallace Coat of Arms

A history of Scotland before William Wallace

       I’m going to take you back a couple of hundred years before the time of Sir William Wallace, so that you will understand how the situation in Scotland had unfolded the way it had by the time of his birth, which was in 1270 AD.

       In 1042, England had a great saint crowned as king, St. Edward the Confessor. St. Edward had been in exile in France with his Norman mother for nearly 30 years, after his brother, King Edmund had been assassinated by the orders of king Canute, so he was culturally more Norman that English.

       He brought many Norman friends over the water with him. Some of whom were the good and holy men who had helped form him. Having suffered exile himself, he had empathy and compassion for similar displaced people. When King Duncan II, was murdered by Macbeth, in 1040, who then had himself crowned king. St. Edward gave sanctuary to 9 years old Scottish Prince Malcolm Canmore. He also gave shelter to his three young nephews, Edgar, Margaret and Christina, grand children to his elder brother, King Edmund, who had been in exile in Hungary.

       In 1057, deeming prince Malcolm to be old enough to govern his country, St. Edward gave him an army, and, with the help of his loyal supporters in Scotland, he defeated and killed Macbeth, and was crowned king of Scotland. When Our Lord was asked, “Who is my neighbour?” He gave us the example of the Good Samaritan. St. Edward having gained the conquest of pride and ambition in his soul, was a true neighbor to all, and his selfless love of the common good and for true justice is an example for us all.

       St. Edward died in January 1066AD. St. Edward and his wife had mutually agreed to live lives of chastity, so they did not leave an heir. On the day St. Edward died, Harold, his son-in-law had himself crowned. Edward’s Norman cousin, William, Duke of Normandy, was indignant. Being a blood relative, he believed he had more right to the throne of England than a mere relative through marriage. William defeated Harold at the battle of Hastings, 1066 AD, (William the Conqueror) but many Englishmen wanted Prince Edgar, the grandson of King Edmund, as king. Edgar felt incapable of defeating William, and submitted to him. Thinking that his life may be in danger, he boarded a ship with his sisters, intending to flee back to Hungary. Here providence stepped in. A strong wind blew the ship northwards and it landed in a sheltered bay on the estuary of the river Forth- just a few miles from the palace of King Malcolm Canmore! King Malcolm offered them sanctuary, and refused to hand them over to William the Conqueror. William sent two armies north, and Malcolm defeated both. A peace treaty was signed between the two kings. Later, King Malcolm and Princess Margaret were married.

       Queen Margaret, later known as St. Margaret of Scotland, was a model queen and mother. Scotland was quite uncivilized at that time, and Margaret raised the sights of the people in many ways. Her friend and guide in England was Lanfranc, the Norman Archbishop of Canterbury. This saintly archbishop reformed the Church in England, and, with his help and advice, St. Margaret did the same in Scotland. St. Margaret saw the benefits the Normans had brought to England. Enough of them had corresponded to grace in France in preceding generations to make them, on the whole, a great people.

       Feudalism had brought peace to the lands they settled in, and with peace came great improvements in organisational skills, including warfare, in art, architecture, in piety and learning, and is so many ways. This advance in the temporal sphere progressed along with great advancements in the spiritual sphere. St. Margaret invited some of the Norman laymen and their religious to settle in Scotland. It was St. Margaret who brought the first Benedictines to Scotland. She sent her youngest son, David, and his sister, Maud, to be educated at the English court. Maud married William II’s son in 1100 AD, and she became queen of England later that year.

       David, later known as St. David, returned to Scotland in 1124 AD, on the death of his brother, taking his friends, who were English nights of Norman descent, to secure his throne. In gratitude, he gave these knights lands in Scotland. They came by invitation, not conquest. In all, over 1000 Norman/English knights settled in Scotland, and married into the local nobility. Most of them still retained land in England too. One was the ancestor of Sir William Wallace.

       All of this worked well while virtue reigned in the hearts of men. For over 100 years there was peace between Scotland and England. Just over a century and a half later, avarice was more prevalent than virtue. In 1290 AD, the heir to the Scottish throne died. The immediate line having died out, the Scottish nobles met to choose a king. Edward I, king of England, submitted a claim to the Scottish crown, as he was distantly related to the royal line. The Scots nobles deliberated along time. Many of the nobles, descendants of the Normans invited here by King David, still had lands in England. Most had sworn fealty to Edward, and were torn between loyalty to the land of their birth, and the foreign land where they had investments.

       They wanted to keep those investments. They also wanted to keep their lands in Scotland, and to save face with the common people. So, in 1292, they rejected Edward’s weak claim, but chose John Balliol, who had a stronger claim, but who was a weak character. John Balliol had also sworn fealty to Edward, to keep his investments in England. He turned out to be often absent, sometimes in England, sometimes in France or Rome.

William Wallace is Born

       The Scottish nobles, including 21 year old William Wallace, a minor noble, swore fealty to John Balliol. King Edward retaliated by ordering all the remaining Scottish nobles to swear fealty to him. Sadly, most of the nobles did so. They wanted to protect their investments in England. Greed and fear are terrible enemies to one’s soul! Edwards soldiers and placemen gradually occupied Scotland, all without much opposition. Then they began to hunt down those nobles who had not sworn fealty to Edward.

       Two nobles who were thus hunted were the father and brother of William Wallace, Sir Malcolm Wallace and his eldest son, also called Malcolm. Both were captured and killed by English soldiers in 1292, under the command of Sir John Fenwick.

       Meanwhile, Edward continued to appoint his own men to key positions in Scotland, commanding castles and fortresses throughout the land. His soldiers along with hired Flemish soldiers, were arrogant and morally corrupt, often abusing local women and pillaging. The common folk complained to the Scottish nobles, but they, with one eye on their commercial gains in England, did nothing about it.

       It is said that the best way to catch a monkey is to have a container of some kind attached to the ground with a piece of fruit in it. The monkey, on seeing the fruit, puts his hand into the container, grabs the fruit, and tries to remove it from the container. However, the opening is designed so that only an open hand can enter and leave the container. The monkey, unable to remove his hand, and unwilling to let go of the fruit, stays there pushing and pulling angrily, unaware of the fact that he is about to lose his freedom. The nobles, in their avarice, had allowed their hands to be figuratively tied by the king of England, and were unable, or unwilling, to see that they were in fact losing all the freedoms in the land of their birth for the mere transitory pleasures that a little extra income in England could procure for them. The common people in Scotland, and the few nobles who were not avaricious, sought help from another influential body that was also struggling to remain free from the grasp of Edward. This body was the Church.

       Edward, through the See of York, (the main city in the north of England) claimed primacy over the Scottish Church, and was trying to gain control over the church in every possible way. If the Church in Scotland fell under the control of Edward’s men, all secular resistance would come to naught. So the mutual needs of the good people in the secular world and in the Church was the cause of an alliance being formed. What the alliance now needed was a leader who was courageous and uncorrupted, one who could lead the fight well enough to inspire the common people, but who had noble blood to gain the support of the better nobility, and who was pious enough to gain the full trust and support of the Church. Only one man in the whole of Scotland fitted that description. That man was William Wallace. Circumstance and providence had been forming that man.

       Who was William Wallace? William Wallace was born on 1272 in Ellerslie, Scotland. He was the second of three sons of Sir Malcolm Wallace (a minor laird possessing little political power and nobility) and Margaret de Crauford (the daughter of Sir Reginald de Crauford, the Sheriff of Ayr). The first son was designated to inherit the family title, and the second son was guided towards the Church.

       His pious mother took his education in hand. She presented him with a Psalter, which he took with him everywhere he went, reciting the prayers therein daily from childhood. He went on several walking pilgrimages to shrines with his mother in his youth and adulthood. He went to Dunfermline, Stirling and Strathaven.

       The Benedictines and the Augustinians educated William. Two leading Augustinian canons were his uncles. William was taught Latin, Greek, Gaelic, French and German. All these languages prepared him for the future. He needed Gaelic to talk to his highland troops, Latin for the Church, plus the French and German were necessary for the diplomatic missions he later undertook. He was said to have started his novitiate in the Benedictine order, but God had other plans.

       On a trip home, he stopped off by a river to do some fishing. After catching some fish, six English soldiers came upon him, and demanded that he give the fish to them. William offered them half of his catch. The soldiers demanded it all. When William accused them of being robbers, one drew his sword, but William wrested it from the soldier, and killed him. The other five attacked. William killed one, and injured the remaining four, who then all fled from him.

       William Wallace was now a wanted man. William went to Dundee, where he went to an inn to socialize with some old school friends. While there, the son of Selby, the English appointed governor of Dundee, entered with several English soldiers. This man was known to often take advantage of his father’s position to steal goods and to abuse local women. William Wallace and his companions, preferring other company, rose to leave. Selby junior took exception to this, and challenged William and his companions to a fight. They backed off, but Selby came forward, drawing his sword. William Wallace dodged the blade, and pulling his knife from under his cloak, he killed Selby with one blow. A fight ensued, and several English soldiers were killed.

       Evading capture was easy for him, as his family connections among the nobility and his connections with the Augustinians and the Benedictines meant that he was fairly safe in much of the borders, central lowlands, and where ever there was an abbey. Wandering through these lands on foot, he heard of many atrocities that had been committed, and, with the rule of St. Benedict and the Knights Code of Chivalry in his heart. He set about protecting the common people from English tyranny. He was approached by the good in the Church and the laity, and asked to be their leader.

       William Wallace dressed for defence as well as attack. Between his undergarments and outer homespun clothing he wore fine meshed chain mail and steel plates well concealed by his outer garments. Even his gloves were steel plated with layers of fine leather. Round his neck, concealed between leather and homespun, he wore a steel collar. His helmet was equally designed to disguise, with steel sandwiched between layers of leather. In addition to his famous sword in its leather scabbard across his back, he carried a short blade in his belt. Thus looking more like a monk or a pilgrim traveller, he could move fairly freely around the towns, gathering information or attacking the enemy.

       The Scots people were dejected at this time, and the English soldiers conducted a kind of psychological warfare. They toured towns with the English army-fighting champion, who taunted the locals to fight him. In 1292 When the challenge was issued in Ayr, William Wallace took up the challenge, and killed the man. A general fight ensued, and he killed five other soldiers before making his escape.

       Another famous English prize fighter also toured Scotland, sponsored by the army, challenging local men to a fight. The English champion arrived in Dundee, and boldly issued his challenge. A disguised William Wallace accepted the challenge, and killed the prizefighter. The English soldiers then recognised him, but Wallace had his men planted in the crowd, and a huge fight ensued, leaving 30 English soldiers dead, including 3 knights.

       More freemen joined Wallace, and skirmishes grew more frequent. William Wallace, being a great tactician, picked his fight carefully. He won again and again, and his followers among the common people grew. Most of the nobility, however, still refused to support him. The gold of Edward was more alluring than freedom for their country. In 1296 AD, King Edward marched to Scotland with an enormous army. The first Scottish town he entered was Berwick upon Tweed. To strike terror in the Scots, he had most of the inhabitants of the town, around 20,000 men, women and children, killed.

       One victory he relished that year came when he received intelligence that Sir John Fenwick was returning south with a band of soldiers, escorting a baggage train of treasures stolen from Scottish abbeys, churches and castles. The route chosen would be passing the spot were Fenwick had killed Wallace’s father and brother. This was the spot Wallace chose to ambush the soldiers, and he killed Fenwick in a one to one combat. His army could appear and disappear so quickly, all in an age without the modern roads, cell phones and the modern means of communication we have today.

       How could he arrive at a chosen spot, and expect to find an army their waiting for him? This could only have been done with the support of the Church. The Benedictines were the equivalent of the civil service in Scotland at this time, having influence in ever sphere of administration. Their inside knowledge and influence was of vital importance. The Augustinians fully supported him, and the archbishop of Glasgow ordered all his subjects to lend support to this noble cause. The Church was the main means of communication, the brain behind the intelligence movement, the store where the stomachs of this itinerant army got its food. The moral support that gave the clarity men of conscience need if they are to give themselves wholeheartedly to any cause.

       As more and more common folk sided with Wallace, some of the nobles also joined him. Edward’s desire to own Scotland blackened his heart. He invited all the Scots nobles who opposed him to attend a meeting in Ayr, 17th July 1297 to treat for peace. Edward gave his personal guarantee of safety to all who would attend. William Wallace stopped off at a church a few miles from Ayr to pray on the way there, and had a vision of St. Andrew, who warned him not to go.

       He stayed away, and was later told by his friends that, as each noble entered the meeting place, the English soldiers grabbed him and hung him from the rafters. Over 120 good Nobles were murdered that day! This crime was one of the most heinous committed in the middle ages! That night, Wallace and his men blocked the doors of the building where the soldiers who committed these murders slept, and set fire to the building, giving their bodies a foretaste of the hell their souls had merited!

       Enraged by this crime, many more Scots joined with William Wallace, and he won victories all over the North East of Scotland. Hearing intelligence that a huge English Army of 50,00 men was heading towards Stirling, he mobilised all the men he could, around 40,000, and encamped on the north side of the River Forth, near Stirling bridge. (September 1297) The English army began to cross the bridge, and, when around half the army was over, the Scots army attacked at full speed. The Scots killed over 6000 of Edward’s best troops, plus over 100 of his knights, and totally routed the army. Wallace made sure the spoils were evenly distributed throughout Scotland, and that the poor got their share. He then took the war to the offensive, raiding the north of England with three armies, and recovering much stolen booty in the process.

       When Edward’s army had attacked Scotland, they did not spare Scottish abbeys or churches, which they plundered freely. In fact, Edward’s war in Scotland had initially been funded in 1294 by him ordering the English Church to give him half of all its revenue in that year. William Wallace, however, forbade the plunder of English churches. He withdrew back to Scotland, where, at last, the Scottish nobles seemed to be coming around.

       He was invited to attend a parliament session, where he discussed his plans. Here he was knighted, and given the governorship of all of Scotland, making him the “Guardian of Scotland.” During his short time as Guardian, another side of William Wallace shone through. The poor were visited, and had there needs met. Law and order were restored by penalties for lawlessness that were very punitive. Anyone found stealing, cheating or indeed lying was severely punished. He wrote letters to countries overseas, telling them that the ports of Scotland were open again for trading.

       Less than year after Stirling, in July 1298, Edward had returned with an army of 87,000, determined to destroy any Scots resistance once and for all at Falkirk. Wallace was outnumbered over 2 to 1, having only 30,000 men, mostly foot soldiers and commoners, while the English army of 87,000 included many mounted knights. Also, the rules of chivalry at that time forbade the use of the crossbow. The Lateran council of 1139 had banned its use, as it was seem as the murderous weapon of cowards, who would not fight in a manly face to face manner. The English army, however, had not only crossbows, but a relatively new fast firing weapon, the longbow. The English, a century later, perfected the use of the longbow, and slaughtered the flower of the French nobility with it at Agincourt. Other countries were then obliged to use the longbow, and I think this was the beginning of the arms race in Europe.

       The Scots army was defeated, and had to retreat, but they were not dispirited. They burned the surrounding countryside, making it impossible for the English army to stay. By the time Edward reached Carlisle, he heard that the Scots army had regrouped. He continued south, however, and carried on the battle with smaller periodic attacks into Scotland in the following year.

       Sir William Wallace now took stock that enemy was powerful. Help from outside Scotland would by of great benefit. He wrote a few more letters of importance, and then resigned from the Guardianship of Scotland in August 1298.

       His letters had the desired effect. Pope Boniface VIII issued a bull on 27th July 1299 ordering Edward of England to abandon warring in Scotland and to leave the country. The bull asserts: “That from ancient times the Realm of Scotland was not, is not feudally subject to your predecessors, the kings of England, nor to you.”

       Sir William Wallace now became an ambassador, visiting King Henry of France and Pope Boniface III in person to appraise them of the situation. France, however, did not give the help he wished for.

       Edward, meanwhile, hearing that Sir William Wallace was abroad, ignored the pope’s bull, carried on his war in Scotland, but found much resistance. William Wallace had returned, and Edward’s army was faring badly. He was forced to call a truce in Jan 1302.

       In March, Two months later, hearing that Wallace had returned to France and Rome, Edward broke the truce, and invaded Scotland again. The Scots defeated the English army of 20,000 at Roslin. Edward would not give up. He sent more troops to harass the Scots, and offered bribes.

       In February 1304, most of the Scottish nobles decided to submit to Edward. By the middle of 1304, Sir William was alone, the only knight in all of Scotland who would not submit to Edward. Edward tried bribery, offering him the crown of Scotland if he would publicly give allegiance to him. Sir William refused, sending this message to Edward. “As a freeborn man, so shall I die.”

       The other nobles in Scotland did not understand why he had refused the crown. They saw this as a mark of weakness and not of a man with a great sense of justice and personal dignity. They refused to see that they were the weak ones, enslaved by their greed and their lust for power.

       Sir William Wallace, assembling his loyal troops at Stirling, declared; “Oh! Desolated Scotland, too credulous of fair speeches and not aware of the calamities that are coming upon you! If you were to judge as I do, you would not easily put your head in the foreign yoke. When I was a boy, the priest, my uncle, carefully inculcated upon me this proverb, which I learned, and have ever since kept in mind: Dico tibi verum, liberata optimum rerum; Nunquam servili sub nexu vivito fili!” (I tell you the truth, liberty is the best of things; my son, never live under any slavish bond.) Sir William then moved north to prepare for a guerrilla war against Edward’s army.

       By now, King Edward’s army occupied the lands of Scotland, and had the greed of cowardly nobles in his pocket, but the hearts of the common people were with Sir William Wallace. King Edward offered a high price for the man who would betray Wallace. Many were tempted by the offer. While the guerrilla war kept a stalemate between Edward and Sir William, both were eager for victory. Sir William arranged to meet the leading Scottish noble, Sir Robert Bruce, at a safe house in Glasgow. With his help, the stalemate could be broken is Scotland’s favour.

       Sir William arrived the night before the meeting, on 5th August 1305, which was in a ‘safe’ house in Glasgow. When Sir William was asleep, the son of a treacherous noble, Sir John Monteith, removed Sir William’s weapons, and signalled the English soldiers to come and capture him. Thus taken in the night, Sir William was led South loaded with chains, passing through the centre of every English town on the way. The towns were lined so thickly that it was often impossible to move. When they reached London, the crowds were so thick that it was impossible to reach the Tower of London, their intended destination. The procession had to take over a nearby house, where he was kept over night.

       The next day, 22nd August 1305, Sir William was taken to Westminster Hall for a show-trial. All the leading men of England were present. So to, sadly, were some nobles from Scotland. All were richly dressed. Sir William Wallace was brought in, mounted on an old sick horse, dressed in sackcloth, and chained from head to foot. His dignified bearing, however, drew cries of sympathy from the previously hostile crowds. Edward ordered some guards to place a previously prepared crown of laurels upon his head, and made the prisoner sit on the lowest bench in the hall, near Edward’s feet.

       Sir William, however, did not break his composure. He still maintained a dignified bearing, which drew still more sympathy from the crowd. They were coming to realise that Edward’s trial was not going to conform to English law, and that his behaviour was making a mockery of the Church. Sir William could not be legally tried for treason, since he had never taken an oath of allegiance to Edward. As a night of the Realm of Scotland, having sworn allegiance to King John Balliol, Sir William had acted in accordance with the knight’s code of practice in the defence of his native land.

       Nevertheless, the charge was read out: “ Sir William Wallace is found to be a traitor to his Sovereign, the King of England; as having burned the villages, and abbeys, stormed the castles, and slain the leige subjects, of his master Edward I, King of England.”

       Sir William was not allowed a defence lawyer, so he replied: “To Edward I cannot be a traitor, for I owe him no allegiance; he is not my sovereign, he never received my homage, and whilst life is in my body, he shall never receive it. To the other points whereof I am accused, I freely confess them all. As Guardian of my country, I have been an enemy to its enemies. I have slain the English; I have mortally opposed the English King; I have stormed towns and castles which he unjustly claimed as his own. If I, or my soldiers plundered or done injury to the houses, or to the ministers of religion, I repent me of my sin but it is not of Edward of England that I shall ask pardon.”

       As soon as Sir William finished speaking, the sentence was read. The mock trial was over. The sentence was proclaimed; “For treason you shall be dragged upon a cart to Smith Field Elms, your place of execution. for murder and robbery, you are to be hung by the neck but denied death. For burning Monasteries and Churches (Which he did not do, although some of his less pious troops did, and he ordered a stop to it when he heard - but Edward allowed his troops to pillage at will) you will be taken alive form the hangman’s gibbet where your entrails shall be dragged from your body and burned before your eyes. Yours arms and legs shall be cut from your body and parts thereof shall be put on display in towns throughout England and Scotland as a warning to others of the Kings Peace.”

Wallace's 5 foot sword

       King Edward headed the procession through the streets, with Sir William dragged behind. The route was so crowded that the soldiers had to constantly clear the way. Sir William was hauled up to the scaffold and shown the instruments of execution. The gibbet, the axe, the knives, and the hooks to pull out his entrails. He remained calm and composed at all times. In the presence and hearing of King Edward, Sir William asked for a priest to administer the last rites. Edward blew his top. He rose form his chair, and screamed angrily that no priest was to approach the scaffold.

       At this point the Archbishop of Canterbury, Benedictine, publicly reprimanded the king. “The Church will not suffer any of her penitent children, whatsoever may have been their guilt, or to whatever country of kindred he may belong, to request the offices of a priest in his last moments to be refused, and I myself will officiate, since none other is near.” The archbishop mounted the scaffold, heard Sir William’s confession, gave him absolution, and blessed him. Then, in defiance of Edward’s command to stay, the archbishop departed for Westminster.

       Sir William then asked for his Psalter to be brought to him, so that he could read it. Another priest came forward, and held it open for him. Sir William’s gaze became transfixed, and his lips could be seen moving in prayer, even while his entrails were being removed, until death overpowered him.

       After he died, his body was quartered, and sent to four main towns, in an attempt to instil fear and submission in all. News of his cruel death, however had the opposite effect. Perhaps his last sufferings were what bought the graces to obtain the change of heart ao many had.

       The Scottish nobles, shocked by Edward’s brutality and awestruck by the apparent martyrdom of Sir William Wallace, finally chose to fight for a free Scotland. First Robert the Bruce, who took over the fight from Sir William Wallace, and so did the other nobles too.

       Even in England, support for their king waned. An English priest, present at the execution, told how he saw a vision of angels and spirits waiting to receive his soul directly to paradise. Many English priests mentioned the flight of his soul to paradise in their sermons. Many of Edward’s knights deserted his army, claiming that they hadn’t been paid for several months, and were unwilling to fight any longer.

       Edward’s obsession with stealing Scotland continued, however, and he obliged them to help him. Many of the knights responded by sending the minimum number they could for the minimal amount of time required by feudal law. Edward I died near the Scottish border in 1307, and asked to be buried in a lead casket, but put into a gold one when Scotland was conquered. He is still in a lead one today.

       His son and heir, Edward II, inherited his father’s ambition of conquering Scotland. Importing mercenaries from abroad to boost his army, he marched into Scotland in 1314 AD with an army of 40,000 experienced men. The Scottish army they met at Bannockburn only consisted of 13,000 men, but, for once, the nobles, under Sir Robert Bruce, had joined the fight. The Scots won an overwhelming victory, and the independence of Scotland was assured.

       Later, a letter to the pope, in what became know as the ‘Declaration of Arbroath’ The Scottish nobility wrote; “…for as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom -- for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

       Sir William Wallace lived and died a free man, because, even while in the physical bonds of Edward, he was in heart and conscience free. That is the kind of freedom Sir William Wallace wanted for his country. Sir William Wallace was, at one time, a student, at another a Benedictine novice, at another a fighter, then a commander. He was a pilgrim, an ambassador, the guardian of Scotland, a writer of letters, and a martyr. But first of all he was a Catholic.

       Note: Information taken with permission from a talk done by Neil McKay from Scotland and who got most of his information from a book entitled "IN PURSUIT OF SIR WILLIAM WALLACE" by Craufuird C Loudoun.

Catholics seek sainthood for scourge of the English, 19 Jun 2001

       SIR William Wallace, one of Scotland's national heroes, has already received Hollywood sanctification in the film Braveheart: now Scottish Roman Catholics and historians want him made a saint.

       Wallace, who was portayed by Mel Gibson in the controversial film, led the struggle that freed Scotland from English rule, defeating the English army at the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Despite his violent life, which culminated in his execution in London in 1305, a number of prominent Scottish Roman Catholics are urging the Church to pursue the cause of his canonisation.

       They argue that his personal faith and martyrdom have parallels with Joan of Arc, the French warrior and scourge of the English who was canonised in 1920. Wallace remained loyal to Pope Boniface VIII during his turbulent life and read the psalms as he was disembowelled.

       The office of Cardinal Thomas Winning, the head of Scotland's Catholic Church, said yesterday that he was aware of the interest. A spokesman said that the precondition for opening a cause for canonisation was that there should be a "local cultus or popular devotion" to the person in question. The spokesman said: "While it is clear that Wallace is a widely admired Scot, it would be stretching things a little to suggest that most people were devotees of his sanctity."

       John McGill, a Catholic, historian and author of the book In Pursuit of Sir William Wallace, said that he hoped the cause would now gather momentum. He is amassing fresh evidence of Wallace's saintly qualities. Elspeth King, a leading expert on Wallace, said that the Catholic Church had been preparing a case for Wallace's canonisation soon after his death, but the project floundered because of turmoil in the papacy.

       Wallace's record has been the subject of dispute between historians because of a lack of evidence, reflected in the row over the film, which was criticised for anti-English bias. While some depict him as a bloodthirsty barbarian, others see him as a fighter for Scottish independence.

       Mr McGill said that his research had led him to conclude that Wallace was more of a "warrior monk", a man of "great spirituality" who carried his personal psalter with him at all times. Mr McGill says that evidence for his martyrdom centres on his execution by hanging, drawing and quartering. On the gallows, he calmly requested the last rites, which were administered against the orders of the King, Edward 1, by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Winchelsea. He then demanded his personal psalter, and trial records note that he was seen "to be reading in humble tones, his lips moving".

       Mr McGill said that he had unearthed reports of English priests praying for him, including one who claimed to have had a vision of Wallace's soul being welcomed into paradise. Mr McGill said: "Had Sir William Wallace done what he did in England, France or Italy or a great European state in the 13th century, and had he been killed for what he did in the manner of that killing, I have no doubt that he would have been a canonised saint by now."

       Other senior clergy and historians argue that Wallace could not be regarded as a martyr by the Church because he died for political rather than religious reasons. His violent nature and morally dubious private life also count against him.

       The spokesman for the Catholic Church said: "There is some evidence that Wallace was a pious, spiritual man, and a faithful son of the Church. However, there does not seem to be a prima facie case to sustain the theory that he lived his faith to a heroic degree and subsequently died because of that faith." Normally, proof of one miracle is needed for beatification and two for sainthood, though in cases such as martyrdom those requirements can be waived by the Pope.

       A giant of 6ft 7in, Wallace spearheaded a revolt against the English in 1297 when his ragged foot soldiers triumphed over English heavy cavalry at Stirling Bridge and he became guardian of Scotland. His defeat at Falkirk in the following year, however, destroyed his army. Handed over to Edward I by Scottish nobles in 1305, he was taken to London and condemned in Westminster Hall.

Taken from

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