: Myths And Legends
: Types Of Children's Literature

I told you, my dear Hugh, that Edward I of England had reduced Scotland

almost entirely to the condition of a conquered country, although he

had obtained possession of the kingdom less by his bravery, than by

cunningly taking advantage of the disputes and divisions that followed

amongst the Scots themselves after the death of Alexander III.

The English, however, had in point of fact obtained possession of the
/> country, and governed it with much rigor. The Lord High Justice Ormesby

called all men to account, who would not take the oath of allegiance to

King Edward. Many of the Scots refused this, as what the English king

had no right to demand from them. Such persons were called into the

courts of justice, fined, deprived of their estates, and otherwise

severely punished. Then Hugh Cressingham, the English treasurer,

tormented the Scottish nation, by collecting money from them under

various pretexts. The Scots were always a poor people, and their native

kings had treated them with much kindness, and seldom required them to

pay any taxes. They were, therefore, extremely enraged at finding

themselves obliged to pay to the English treasurer much larger sums of

money than their own good kings had ever demanded from them; and they

became exceedingly dissatisfied.

Besides these modes of oppression, the English soldiers, who, I told

you, had been placed in garrison in the different castles of Scotland,

thought themselves masters of the country, treated the Scots with great

contempt, took from them by main force whatever they had a fancy to,

and if the owners offered to resist, abused them, beat and wounded, and

sometimes killed them; for which acts of violence the English officers

did not check or punish their soldiers. Scotland was, therefore, in

great distress, and the inhabitants, exceedingly enraged, only wanted

some leader to command them, to rise up in a body against the English

or _Southern_ men, as they called them, and recover the liberty

and independence of their country, which had been destroyed by Edward

the First.

Such a leader arose in the person of WILLIAM WALLACE, whose name is

still so often mentioned in Scotland. It is a great pity we do not know

exactly the history of this brave man; for at the time when he lived,

every one was so busy fighting, that there was no person to write down

the history of what took place; and afterwards, when there was more

leisure for composition, the truths that were collected were greatly

mingled with falsehood. What I shall tell you of him is generally

believed to be true.

William Wallace was none of the high nobles of Scotland, but the son of

a private gentleman, called Wallace of Ellerslie, in Renfrewshire, near

Paisley. He was very tall and handsome, and one of the strongest and

bravest men that ever lived. He had a very fine countenance, with a

quantity of fair hair, and was particularly dexterous in the use of all

weapons which were then employed in battle. Wallace, like all Scotsmen

of high spirit, had looked with great indignation upon the usurpation

of the crown by Edward, and upon the insolencies which the English

soldiers committed on his countrymen. It is said, that when he was very

young, he went a-fishing for sport in the river of Irvine, near Ayr. He

had caught a good many trouts, which were carried by a boy, who

attended him with a fishing-basket, as is usual with anglers. Two or

three English soldiers, who belonged to the garrison of Ayr, came up to

Wallace, and insisted, with their usual insolence, on taking the fish

from the boy. Wallace was contented to allow them a part of the trouts,

but he refused to part with the whole basketful. The soldiers insisted,

and from words came to blows. Wallace had no better weapon than the

butt-end of his fishing-rod; but he struck the foremost of the

Englishmen so hard under the ear with it that he killed him on the spot;

and getting possession of the slain man's sword, he fought with so much

fury that he put the others to flight, and brought home his fish safe

and sound. The English governor of Ayr sought for him, to punish him

with death for this action; but Wallace lay concealed among the hills

and great woods till the matter was forgotten, and then appeared in

another part of the country. He is said to have had other adventures of

the same kind, in which he gallantly defended himself, sometimes when

alone, sometimes with very few companions, against superior numbers of

the English, until at last his name became generally known as a terror

to them.

But the action which occasioned his finally rising in arms, is believed

to have happened in the town of Lanark. Wallace was at this time married

to a lady of that place, and residing there with his wife. It chanced,

as he walked in the market place, dressed in a green garment, with a

rich dagger by his side, that an Englishman came up and insulted him on

account of his finery, saying, a Scotsman had no business to wear so

gay a dress, or carry so handsome a weapon. It soon came to a quarrel,

as on many former occasions; and Wallace, having killed the Englishman,

fled to his own house, which was speedily assaulted by all the English

soldiers. While they were endeavoring to force their way in at the

front of the house, Wallace escaped by a back door, and got in safety

to a rugged and rocky glen, near Lanark, called the Cartland crags, all

covered with bushes and trees, and full of high precipices, where he

knew he should be safe from the pursuit of the English soldiers.

yards above the new bridge, a cave in the rock is pointed out by

tradition as having been the hiding-place of Wallace.] In the meantime,

the governor of Lanark, whose name was Hazelrigg, burned Wallace's

house, and put his wife and servants to death; and by committing this

cruelty increased to the highest pitch, as you may well believe, the

hatred which the champion had always borne against the English usurper.

Hazelrigg also proclaimed Wallace an outlaw, and offered a reward to

any one who should bring him to an English garrison, alive or dead.

On the other hand, Wallace soon collected a body of men, outlawed like

himself, or willing to become so, rather than any longer endure the

oppression of the English. One of his earliest expeditions was directed

against Hazelrigg, whom he killed, and thus avenged the death of his

wife. He fought skirmishes with the soldiers who were sent against him,

and often defeated them; and in time became so well known and so

formidable, that multitudes began to resort to his standard, until at

length he was at the head of a considerable army, with which he

proposed to restore his country to independence.

About this time is said to have taken place a memorable event, which

the Scottish people called the "Barns of Ayr." It is alleged that the

English governor of Ayr had invited the greater part of the Scottish

nobility and gentry in the western parts to meet him at some large

buildings called the Barns of Ayr, for the purpose of friendly

conference upon the affairs of the nation. But the English earl

entertained the treacherous purpose of putting the Scottish gentlemen

to death. The English soldiers had halters with running nooses ready

prepared, and hung upon the beams which supported the roof; and, as the

Scottish gentlemen were admitted by two and two at a time, the nooses

were thrown over their heads, and they were pulled up by the neck, and

thus hanged or strangled to death. Among those who were slain in this

base and treacherous manner was, it is said, Sir Reginald Crawford,

Sheriff of the county of Ayr, and uncle to William Wallace.

When Wallace heard of what had befallen he was dreadfully enraged, and

collecting his men in a wood near the town of Ayr, he resolved to be

revenged on the authors of this great crime. The English in the

meanwhile made much feasting, and when they had eaten and drunk

plentifully, they lay down to sleep in the same large barns in which

they had murdered the Scottish gentlemen. But Wallace, learning that

they kept no guard or watch, not suspecting there were any enemies so

near them, directed a woman who knew the place, to mark with chalk the

doors of the lodgings where the Englishmen lay. Then he sent a party of

men, who, with strong ropes, made all the doors so fast on the outside,

that those within could not open them. On the outside the Scots had

prepared heaps of straw, to which they set fire, and the barns of Ayr,

being themselves made of wood, were soon burning in a bright flame.

Then the English were awakened, and endeavored to get out to save their

lives. But the doors, as I told you, were secured on the outside, and

bound fast with ropes; and, besides, the blazing houses were surrounded

by the Scots, who forced those who got out to run back into the fire,

or else put them to death on the spot; and thus great numbers perished

miserably. Many of the English were lodged in a convent, but they had

no better fortune than the others; for the prior of the convent caused

all the friars to arm themselves, and, attacking the English guests,

they put most of them to the sword. This was called the "Friar of Ayr's

blessing." We cannot tell if this story of the "Barns of Ayr" be

exactly true; but it is probable there is some foundation for it, as it

is universally believed in that country.

Thus Wallace's party grew daily stronger and stronger, and many of the

Scottish nobles joined with him. Among these were Sir William Douglas,

the Lord of Douglas-dale, and the head of a great family often

mentioned in Scottish history. There was also Sir John the Grahame,

who became Wallace's bosom friend and greatest confidant. Many of

these great noblemen, however, deserted the cause of the country on

the approach of John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, the English

governor, at the head of a numerous and well-appointed army. They

thought that Wallace would be unable to withstand the attack of so

many disciplined soldiers, and hastened to submit themselves to the

English, for fear of losing their estates. Wallace, however, remained

undismayed, and at the head of a considerable army. He had taken up

his camp upon the northern side of the river Forth, near the town of

Stirling. The river was there crossed by a long wooden bridge, about

a mile above the spot where the present bridge is situated.

The English general approached the banks of the river on the southern

side. He sent two clergymen to offer a pardon to Wallace and his

followers, on condition that they should lay down their arms. But such

was not the purpose of the high-minded champion of Scotland.

"Go back to Warenne," said Wallace, "and tell him we value not the

pardon of the king of England. We are not here for the purpose of

treating of peace, but of abiding battle, and restoring freedom to our

country. Let the English come on;--we defy them to their very beards!"

The English, upon hearing this haughty answer, called loudly to be led

to the attack. Their leader, Sir Richard Lundin, a Scottish knight,

who had gone over to the enemy at Irvine, hesitated, for he was a

skillful soldier, and he saw that, to approach the Scottish army, his

troops must pass over the long, narrow wooden bridge; so that those

who should get over first might be attacked by Wallace with all his

forces, before those who remained behind could possibly come to their

assistance. He therefore inclined to delay the battle. But Cressingham

the treasurer, who was ignorant and presumptuous, insisted that it was

their duty to fight, and put an end to the war at once; and Lundin

gave way to his opinion, although Cressingham, being a churchman,

could not be so good a judge of what was fitting as he himself, an

experienced officer.

The English army began to cross the bridge, Cressingham leading the

van, or foremost division of the army; for, in those military days,

even clergymen wore armor and fought in battle. That took place which

Lundin had foreseen. Wallace suffered a considerable part of the

English army to pass the bridge, without offering any opposition; but

when about one half were over, and the bridge was crowded with those

who were following, he charged those who had crossed with his whole

strength, slew a very great number, and drove the rest into the river

Forth, where the greater part were drowned. The remainder of the

English army, who were left on the southern bank of the river, fled in

great confusion, having first set fire to the wooden bridge that the

Scots might not pursue them. Cressingham was killed in the very

beginning of the battle; and the Scots detested him so much, that they

flayed the skin from his dead body, and kept pieces of it, in memory

of the revenge they had taken upon the English treasurer. Some say

they made saddle girths of this same skin; a purpose for which I do

not think it could be very fit. It must be owned to have been a

dishonorable thing of the Scots to insult thus the dead body of their

enemy, and shows that they must have been then a ferocious and

barbarous people.

The remains of Surrey's great army fled out of Scotland after this

defeat; and the Scots, taking arms on all sides, attacked the castles

in which the English soldiers continued to shelter themselves, and

took most of them by force or stratagem. Many wonderful stories are

told of Wallace's exploits on these occasions; some of which are no

doubt true, while others are either invented, or very much

exaggerated. It seems certain, however, that he defeated the English

in several combats, chased them almost entirely out of Scotland,

regained the towns and castles of which they had possessed themselves,

and recovered for a time the complete freedom of the country. He even

marched into England, and laid Cumberland and Northumberland waste,

where the Scottish soldiers, in revenge for the mischief which the

English had done in their country, committed great cruelties. Wallace

did not approve of their killing the people who were not in arms, and

he endeavored to protect the clergymen and others, who were not able

to defend themselves. "Remain with me," he said to the priests of

Hexham, a large town in Northumberland, "for I cannot protect you from

my soldiers when you are out of my presence." The troops who followed

Wallace received no pay, because he had no money to give them; and

that was one great reason why he could not keep them under restraint,

or prevent their doing much harm to the defenseless country people. He

remained in England more than three weeks, and did a great deal of

mischief to the country.

Indeed, it appears that, though Wallace disapproved of slaying

priests, women, and children, he partook of the ferocity of the times

so much, as to put to death without quarter all whom he found in arms.

In the north of Scotland the English had placed a garrison in the

strong Castle of Dunnottar, which, built on a large and precipitous

rock, overhangs the raging sea. Though the place is almost

inaccessible, Wallace and his followers found their way into the

castle, while the garrison in great terror fled into the church or

chapel, which was built on the very verge of the precipice. This did

not save them, for Wallace caused the church to be set on fire. The

terrified garrison, involved in the flames, ran some of them upon the

points of the Scottish swords, while others threw themselves from the

precipice into the sea and swam along to the cliffs, where they hung

like sea-fowl, screaming in vain for mercy and assistance.

The followers of Wallace were frightened at this dreadful scene, and

falling on their knees before the priests who chanced to be in the

army, they asked forgiveness for having committed so much slaughter

within the limits of a church dedicated to the service of God. But

Wallace had so deep a sense of the injuries which the English had done

to his country that he only laughed at the contrition of his soldiers.

"I will absolve you all myself," he said. "Are you Scottish soldiers,

and do you repent for a trifle like this, which is not half what the

invaders deserved at our hands?" So deep-seated was Wallace's feeling

of national resentment that it seems to have overcome, in such

instances, the scruples of a temper which was naturally humane.

Edward I was in Flanders when all these events took place. You may

suppose he was very angry when he learned that Scotland, which he

thought completely subdued, had risen into a great insurrection

against him, defeated his armies, killed his treasurer, chased his

soldiers out of their country, and invaded England with a great force.

He came back from Flanders in a mighty rage, and determined not to

leave that rebellious country until it was finally conquered, for

which purpose he assembled a very fine army, and marched into


In the meantime the Scots prepared to defend themselves, and chose

Wallace to be Governor, or Protector, of the kingdom, because they had

no king at the time. He was now titled Sir William Wallace, Protector,

or Governor, of the Scottish nation. But although Wallace, as we have

seen, was the best soldier and bravest man in Scotland, and therefore

the most fit to be placed in command at this critical period, when the

king of England was coming against them with such great forces, yet

the nobles of Scotland envied him this important situation, because he

was not a man born in high rank, or enjoying a large estate. So great

was their jealousy of Sir William Wallace, that many of these great

barons did not seem very willing to bring forward their forces, or

fight against the English, because they would not have a man of

inferior condition to be general. This was base and mean conduct, and

it was attended with great disasters to Scotland. [Footnote: "These

mean and selfish jealousies were increased by the terror, of Edward's

military renown, and in many by the fear of losing their English

estates; so that at the very time when an honest love of liberty, and

a simultaneous spirit of resistance, could alone have saved Scotland,

its nobility deserted it at its utmost need, and refused to act with

the only man whose military talents and prosperity were equal to the

emergency."--TYTLER'S _History of Scotland._] Yet,

notwithstanding this unwillingness of the great nobility to support

him, Wallace assembled a large army; for the middling, but especially

the lower classes, were very much attached to him. He marched boldly

against the King of England, and met him near the town of Falkirk.

Most of the Scottish army were on foot, because, as I already told

you, in those days only the nobility and great men of Scotland fought

on horseback. The English king, on the contrary, had a very large body

of the finest cavalry in the world, Normans and English, all clothed

in complete armor. He had also the celebrated archers of England, each

of whom was said to carry twelve Scotsmen's lives under his girdle;

because every archer had twelve arrows stuck in his belt, and was

expected to kill a man with every arrow.

The Scots had some good archers from the Forest of Ettrick, who fought

under command of Sir John Stewart of Bonkill; but they were not nearly

equal in number to the English. The greater part of the Scottish army

were on foot, armed with long spears; they were placed thick and close

together, and laid all their spears so close, point over point, that

it seemed as difficult to break through them, as through the wall of a

strong castle. When the two armies were drawn up facing each other,

Wallace said to his soldiers, "I have brought you to the ring, let me

see how you can dance;" meaning, I have brought you to the decisive

field of battle, let me see how bravely you can fight.

The English made the attack. King Edward, though he saw the close

ranks, and undaunted appearance, of the Scottish infantry, resolved

nevertheless to try whether he could not ride them down with his fine

cavalry. He therefore gave his horsemen orders to advance. They

charged accordingly, at full gallop. It must have been a terrible

thing to have seen these fine horses riding as hard as they could

against the long lances, which were held out by the Scots to keep them

back; and a dreadful cry arose when they came against each other.

The first line of cavalry was commanded by the Earl Marshal of

England, whose progress was checked by a morass. The second line of

English horse was commanded by Antony Beck, the Bishop of Durham, who,

nevertheless, wore armor, and fought like a lay baron. He wheeled

round the morass; but when he saw the deep and firm order of the

Scots, his heart failed, and he proposed to Sir Ralph Basset of

Drayton, who commanded under him, to halt till Edward himself brought

up the reserve. "Go say your mass, bishop," answered Basset

contemptuously, and advanced at full gallop with the second line.

However, the Scots stood their ground with their long spears; many of

the foremost of the English horses were thrown down, and the riders

were killed as they lay rolling, unable to rise, owing to the weight

of their heavy armor. But the Scottish horse did not come to the

assistance of their infantry, but on the contrary, fled away from the

battle. It is supposed that this was owing to the treachery or ill-

will of the nobility, who were jealous of Wallace. But it must be

considered that the Scottish cavalry were few in number; and that they

had much worse arms, and weaker horses, than their enemies. The

English cavalry attempted again and again to disperse the deep and

solid ranks in which Wallace had stationed his foot soldiers. But they

were repeatedly beaten off with loss, nor could they make their way

through that wood of spears, as it is called by one of the English

historians. King Edward then commanded his archers to advance; and

these approaching within arrow-shot of the Scottish ranks, poured on

them such close and dreadful volleys of arrows, that it was impossible

to sustain the discharge. It happened at the same time, that Sir John

Stewart was killed by a fall from his horse; and the archers of

Ettrick Forest, whom he was bringing forward to oppose those of King

Edward, were slain in great numbers around him. Their bodies were

afterwards distinguished among the slain, as being the tallest and

handsomest men of the army.

The Scottish spearmen being thus thrown into some degree of confusion,

by the loss of those who were slain by the arrows of the English, the

heavy cavalry of Edward again charged with more success than formerly,

and broke through the ranks, which were already disordered. Sir John

Grahame, Wallace's great friend and companion, was slain, with many

other brave soldiers; and the Scots, having lost a very great number

of men, were at length obliged to take to flight.

This fatal battle was fought upon the 22d of July, 1298: Sir John the

Grahame lies buried in the churchyard of Falkirk. A tombstone was laid

over him, which has been three times renewed since his death. The

inscription bears, "That Sir John the Grahame, equally remarkable for

wisdom and courage, and the faithful friend of Wallace, being slain in

battle by the English, lies buried in this place." A large oak tree in

the adjoining forests was long shown as marking the spot where Wallace

slept before the battle, or, as others said, in which he hid himself

after the defeat. Nearly forty years ago, Grandpa saw some of its

roots; but the body of the tree was even then entirely decayed, and

there is not now, and has not been for many years, the least vestige

of it to be seen.

After this fatal defeat of Falkirk, Sir William Wallace seems to have

resigned his office of Governor of Scotland. Several nobles were named

guardians in his place, and continued to make resistance to the

English armies; and they gained some advantages, particularly near

Roslin, where a body of Scots, commanded by John Comyn of Badenoch,

who was one of the guardians of the kingdom, and another distinguished

commander, called Simon Fraser, defeated three armies, or detachments,

of English in one day.

Nevertheless, the king of England possessed so much wealth, and so

many means of raising soldiers, that he sent army after army into the

poor oppressed country of Scotland, and obliged all its nobles and

great men, one after another, to submit themselves once more to his

yoke. Sir William Wallace, alone, or with a very small band of

followers, refused either to acknowledge the usurper Edward, or to lay

down his arms. He continued to maintain himself among the woods and

mountains of his native country for no less than seven years after his

defeat at Falkirk, and for more than one year after all the other

defenders of Scottish liberty had laid down their arms. Many

proclamations were sent out against him by the English, and a great

reward was set upon his head; for Edward did not think he could have

any secure possession of his usurped kingdom of Scotland while Wallace

lived. At length he was taken prisoner; and, shame it is to say, a

Scotsman, called Sir John Menteith, was the person by whom he was

seized and delivered to the English. It is generally said that he was

made prisoner at Robroyston, near Glasgow; and the tradition of the

country bears, that the signal made for rushing upon him and taking

him at unawares, was, when one of his pretended friends, who betrayed

him, should turn a loaf, which was placed upon the table, with its

bottom or flat side uppermost. And in after times it was reckoned ill-

breeding to turn a loaf in that manner, if there was a person named

Menteith in company; since it was as much as to remind him, that his

namesake had betrayed Sir William Wallace, the Champion of Scotland.

Whether Sir John Menteith was actually the person by whom Wallace was

betrayed, is not perfectly certain. He was, however, the individual by

whom the patriot was made prisoner, and delivered up to the English,

for which his name and his memory have been long loaded with disgrace.

Edward, having thus obtained possession of the person whom he

considered as the greatest obstacle to his complete conquest of

Scotland, resolved to make Wallace an example to all Scottish patriots

who should in future venture to oppose his ambitious projects. He

caused this gallant defender of his country to be brought to trial in

Westminster hall, before the English judges, and produced him there,

crowned in mockery, with a green garland, because they said he had

been king of outlaws and robbers among the Scottish woods. Wallace was

accused of having been a traitor to the English crown; to which he

answered, "I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his

subject." He was then charged with having taken and burnt towns and

castles, with having killed many men and done much violence. He

replied, with the same calm resolution, "that it was true he had

killed very many Englishmen, but it was because they had come to

subdue and oppress his native country of Scotland; and far from

repenting what he had done, he declared he was only sorry that he had

not put to death many more of them."

Notwithstanding that Wallace's defense was a good one, both in law and

in common sense, (for surely every one has not only a right to fight

in defense of his native country, but is bound in duty to do so,) the

English judges condemned him to be executed. So this brave patriot was

dragged upon a sledge to the place of execution, where his head was

struck off, and his body divided into four quarters, which, according

to the cruel custom of the time, were exposed upon spikes of iron on

London Bridge, and were termed the limbs of a traitor.

No doubt King Edward thought, that by exercising this great severity

towards so distinguished a patriot as Sir William Wallace, he should

terrify all the Scots into obedience, and so be able in future to

reign over their country without resistance. But though Edward was a

powerful, a brave, and a wise king, and though he took the most

cautious, as well as the most strict measures, to preserve the

obedience of Scotland, yet his claim being founded on injustice and

usurpation, was not permitted by Providence to be lished in security

or peace. Sir William Wallace, that immortal supporter of the

independence of his country, was no sooner deprived of his life, in

the cruel and unjust manner I have told you, than other patriots arose

to assert the cause of Scottish liberty.