In May 1297 William Wallace, the famous Scottish patriot, gathered a body of men at Lanark and, to revenge the death of his wife for having assisted his escape from an English force, killed the occupying English Sheriff of Lanark and many of his men. With this act Wallace sprang into the national conscience and started the First War of Independence.
William Wallace and his links with Lanark
The famous Scottish patriot William Wallace has well known links with Lanark. It was the events in Lanark during May 1297 that were to show that the Scottish people had a spirit that was not crushed after the savage attack made by Edward I and his army on Berwick in 1296 and the ensuing defeat of John Balliol, King of Scotland. A result of which many Scots pledged themselves to serve Edward I by signing the Ragman's roll. One family to resist from the very beginning was William Wallace's. Others joined, not only angered by Edward's attitude towards the Scots but incensed also by the high taxes imposed by Walter Cressingham, King Edward’s tax collector. Walter of Hemingborough an English monastic chronicler wrote at the time:- " In the month of May (1297) the perfidious race of Scots began to rebel."
Hard facts about William Wallace are difficult to source. Most of our knowledge comes from authors who published up to 200 years after Wallace’s death, such as Andrew of Wyntoun whose work was published about 1430 and Blind Harry whose poems were printed about 1510. Unfortunately the biography written by William Wallace's personal friend, a cleric called John Blair does not survive, though Blind Harry does refer to his work.
There is however no question about the fact of William Wallace's attack on the sheriff of Lanark. The site of the castle where Wallace killed Hesselrigg still survives. It is now a bowling green (since about 1745) lying at the bottom of Castlegate. The wooden fortifications that would have been there in Wallace's day as well as some of the ditches defending it have vanished over the years but sufficient is left to appreciate the position of the Castle. Excellent views of the fine surrounding countryside can be had from the top of the castle mound.
Wallace would also have known the present parish church of St Nicholas. At that time it was a fairly small but well used chapel. Physically little remains of the period of Wallace apart from a few fragments of carved stone of the early Middle Ages. During renovations pottery of this period was found is also skeletons were excavated including that of a woman who would have been alive about the time of Wallace. Today the church is famous for its statue of William Wallace that has looked down from its niche in the steeple for almost two centuries. It was donated to the Royal Burgh of Lanark by a local sculptor, William Forrest, in 1822. It is perhaps not the most accurate rendering of Wallace but it is undoubtedly the most important symbol of him to be seen in the town.
Just across from St Nicholas Church, in a gap site next to the Clydesdale Bank in the Castlegate, stands a small cairn nestling under a maple tree. This modest memorial marks what is held by tradition to be the site of Wallace's House. More correctly it was the site of the town house of the Braidfute’s and therefore the site of the house of Wallace’s wife, Marion Braidfute.
Another Lanark landmark that Wallace would have frequented when in the vicinity is the now ruined church of St Kentigern's, the parish church of Lanark in Wallace’s time, they are the most evocative of all the historical remains in Lanark. Most of the ruin’s date back to about 1180 but the structure, now visible, was built on the site of a very much earlier church. The south aisle has a fine 12th century doorway which Wallace may well have passed through. St Kentigern’s tradition has it, is the church where William Wallace is supposed to have married Marion Bradfute. Even if this were not the case it is more than likely William Wallace worshiped in this church. It also near here that Wallace is supposed to have been insulted by the English troops.
The Story of William Wallace, Marion Braidfute and Lanark
From sources such as Blind Harry and others, which cannot be regarded as completely reliable the story of Wallace and Lanark emerges.
William Wallace came to the Clyde Forest after successfully ambushing the English at Loudon Hill, in July 1296. After the skirmish Wallace took refuge near Lanark in order to rest his men.
It is at this time that Wallace may have met Marion Braidfute for the first time. Marion was 18 years of age and the daughter of the laird of Lamington. Marion Braidfute is described by Blind Harry "She suffered all and bore herself right lowly, so amiable she was, so benign and wise, courteous and sweet, full of noblesse, of well ordered speech." Wallace fell in love with Marion, but according to some sources, he decided that it would not be wise to marry till Scotland had been freed from the English. She informed Wallace that the Sheriff, whom Blind Harry describes as “cruel, outrageous and spiteful in his actions.' had put to death her brother who had come along with Marion to stay in his father's town house in Lanark, supposedly to avoid trouble. Some sources indicate that Wallace and Marion had a daughter but there is no evidence to back this.
Wallace according to Blind Harry came to Lanark for 'sport.' The 'sport' in question was the killing of any English soldier on sight to avenge the wrongs heaped on the Braidfute household. However, Wallace, wanting to build up his forces, tried to avoid trouble at first but he was forced into action by the taunts of the English soldiers when he was leaving St Kentigern's Church one Sunday morning. They thought he would be an easy target whilst not wearing any of his defensive clothing such as his habergeon - a leather jacket with mail at the collar and under the arm pits. At first their attempts did not provoke Wallace but when they said that his daughter was a bastard and that one of the local priests had been sleeping with Marion, his temper snapped.
In the following fight, in which Wallace's men joined, the English took a severe beating. When it was over there were fifty Englishmen either dead or badly wounded, but there were still enough left to force Wallace to retreat to Marion's house. There they continued their resistance, but were made to retreat to Cartland Crags and hide there. Wallace and his men managed to make their escape but Marion was not so lucky. Haselrigg, furious at the humiliation of his men and at Wallace’s escape, determined to wreak vengeance. Marion was now his prisoner, so he decided to execute her not only to warn other Scots about the dangers of treachery and treason, but to deny Wallace the company of the only woman, he truly loved.
When the news of Marion’s murder reached Wallace, he was beside himself with grief. However he began planning his attack on Lanark Castle over the next months. The English meanwhile became complacent thinking that the rebels had been terrified into submission. In May 1297 Wallace gathered his small force at Cartland, and they stole into Lanark at dead of night in groups of two or three. Foolishly the English had neglected to properly guard the walls of the town. Silently through the dark, Wallace and his followers crept up to the castle and again luck was on their side. They overpowered the guards, and got access to Haselrigg's apartments. Startled from the depths of sleep, Haselrigg was unable to defend himself. Wallace split his skull to the collarbone with his massive two-handled sword. Haselrigg's son hearing the commotion rushed up the stairs to his father's bedroom only to be cut down himself. Meanwhile the young Auchinleck one of Wallace's followers plunged his dagger into the almost lifeless body of Haselrigg 'to mak siccar' to check if the sheriff was really dead.
The slaughter of the English had only just begun. Wallace and his band killed over two hundred soldiers.
Though the account given by Andrew of Wyntoun and Blind Harry is very much fictional. Nevertheless the impact that events in Lanark had on the English should not be underestimated.
After the events of May 1297 the story of Wallace moves on to other places, reaching a climax with his victory on September 11th 1297 at Stirling and his subsequent appointment as Guardian of Scotland in 1298. Not so much is heard of Wallace after his defeat at Falkirk in 1298, but he did become Scotland's first roving ambassador in Europe.
Meanwhile Edward I strengthened his position in Scotland while the Scots fell out amongst themselves. Edward's attitude to Wallace is best summed up in the following statement; "No words of peace are to be held out to William Wallace in any circumstance whatsoever unless he places himself utterly and absolutely in our will." Sir John Mentieth betrayed Williant Wallace to the English who hung, drew and quartered him at Smithfield on Monday August 23rd 1305.
Places to get information about William Wallace
Lanark Library, 16 Hope Street, Lanark (+44 (0) 1555 661144)
Research facilities are available for consultation in the Library. Excellent Local History collection and qualified staff who will give help to anybody, wishing to find out more than is contained in this leaflet
YMCA, 29 Bloomgate, Lanark (+44 (0) 1555 666680)
The museum is open Friday & Saturday 12 noon-4.30 pm May to September and by appointment (please telephone to arrange). It has as part of its collections material from archaeological ‘digs’ which date to the late 13th Century.
Lanark Tourist Information Office The Horsemarket, Lanark (+44 (0)
Details about the William Wallace Society and the Wallace 700 organisation can be obtained on request.