IN the second and final part of our account of the life of Sir William Wallace, we start at the point where he is about to lead the Scottish rebellion against English rule alongside Sir Andrew de Moray, or Murray as he is better known.

Firstly, however, we look at the age-old question of how tall the Big Man – as author Nigel Tranter described him – actually was.

The answer is that it is impossible to know exactly the height of Sir William Wallace. The 162cm (5 ft 4ins) sword alleged to be his which stands in the Wallace Monument at Stirling suggests a huge man, while Blind Harry in his poem The Wallace says he was seven feet tall.

Whatever height he was, Wallace was a formidable figure. The 15th-century Scotichronicon states: “He was a tall man with the body of a giant, cheerful in appearance with agreeable features, broad-shouldered and big-boned, with belly in proportion and lengthy flanks, pleasing in appearance but with a wild look, broad in the hips, with strong arms and legs, a most spirited fighting man, with all his limbs very strong and firm.”

So it was a giant of a man who came forward to free Scotland from the yoke of the English King Edward I, known as Longshanks because he, too, was tall for that era.

We have already seen how Blind Harry romanticised The Wallace, and in his epic poem he simply makes up a lot of things, such as entire battles. There are plenty of other sources of accurate information, however, most of them English, such as the mid-14th-century Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough and the famous Lanercost Chronicle.

The Scalachronica of Sir Thomas Gray, Peter Langtoft’s chronicle in rhyme and the predilection of English towns and cities to keep records of tax allowances because of the destruction inflicted by the Scots, are ample evidence of what happened in 1297-1298.

We can safely say, therefore, that much of what follows is factually accurate. What we cannot say for certain is what started Wallace’s personal rebellion, which began with his slaughtering of the Sheriff of Lanark, William Heselrig, and his garrison in May, 1297.

According to Blind Harry, Wallace was married to the beautiful Marion Braidfute (Braidfoot) who helped her man escape from Heselrig’s English soldiers.

He constructs a fearful scene of Heselrig issuing “justice” to Marion:

The trembling Matron threw her
Eyes around,
In vain alace were all the Tears she shed
When fierce he waves the Fauchion o’er her Head
All Tyes of Honour by the Rogue abjur’d
Relentless deep he plung’d the ruthless Sword;
Swift o’er her Limbs does creeping
Coldness rise
And Death’s pale Hand seal’d up her fainting Eyes.

According to Harry, Wallace went mad with rage and smashed his way into Heselrig’s fort to confront the killer of his wife. The charges against him by the English do not mention Marion, but they most certainly mention what Wallace did to Heselrig – he cut him into pieces.

And thought’st thou Traitor, fierce the Heroe cry’d,
When by thy murd’ring Steel she cruel dy’d;
When thy fell Hand her precious Blood did spill,
Wallace tho’ absent would be absent still.’
Furious he spoke and raising on the Foe,
Full on his Head discharg’d the pondrous Blow:
Down sinks the Fellon Head long to the Ground,
The guilty Soul flew trembling thro’ the Wound.

Whether it was in revenge for his wife’s death or some other cause. Wallace’s murder of Heselrig and his troops meant he was now in open rebellion against the English, and many Scottish patriots flocked to him. Meanwhile, Sir Andrew Murray was leading another rebellion in the north of Scotland.

A series of skirmishes and sieges took place during that summer, and while many of the Scottish nobility sought peace with England, Wallace and Murray were itching for a fight.

Longshanks was furious and ordered a mainly northern army under John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, and Hugh de Cressingham, the despised treasurer of the occupying forces, to march towards the two Scottish forces of Wallace and Murray which had combined near Stirling. Blind Harry takes up the story:

The English now a Muster do intend,
And find their Host full Sixty Thousand Men.
Then March they all straight unto Stirling Bridge,
And in their Way, the Castle do Besiege.

The English army probably numbered no more than 12,000 but still outnumbered Wallace and Murray’s force. The two men bided their time as Cressingham led the English over the bridge. When Wallace and Murray decided the time was right, the entire Scottish force charged down and surrounded the part of the English army that was over the Bridge. They tried to turn back but the Bridge was blocked and later collapsed.

Blind Harry takes up the story:

Wallace on Foot, with a great sharp
Sword goes
Amongst the very thickest of his Foes.
On Kirkingham there such a Stroak he got,
In spite of all his Armour and
That killed him Dead: none durst him there rescue,
Then to that valiant Captain bad Adieu.
When Kirkingham Dead on the Spot to lye
The South’ron saw, Then they began to fly.
Who tho’ they had fought it most bloody hot,
Ten Thousand lost and left Dead on the Spot.
The Rest they fled, was none durst stay behind,
Succour they sought, but none at all could find.
Some East, some West, and some fled to the North,
Seven Thousand flutt’red all at once in Forth;
Who from that River little Mercy found;
For few escap’d, and most of all were drown’d.

Among those was Cressingham, who was flayed from head to foot, with Wallace taking a broad strip of skin “to make therewith a baldrick for his sword.”

Other great northern aristocrats who were killed included Robert le Vavasour and his eldest son, and Robert Delaval. Sir Marmaduke Thweng surrendered Stirling Castle but the Earl of Warenne rode headlong all the way to England.

Scottish losses included Murray who was wounded and died two months later. The English fatalities were not actually that many, but the victory resounded across Scotland and the remaining English forces either shut themselves in their forts or headed south with alacrity. Scotland’s greatest port, Berwick-upon-Tweed, was taken back, still recovering from Longshank’s annihilation of the townsfolk the previous year. Wallace, who was by now a knight, and Murray had been named joint Guardians of Scotland, effectively making them the rulers of the land in the name of the deposed King John Balliol. When Murray was incapacitated, Wallace took over as lone Guardian, and on October 11 he famously wrote to the cities of Lubeck and Hamburg, part of the Hanseatic League, a prototype Common Market, that the ports of Scotland were once more open to German traders.

“We ask that it be made known among your merchants that they will now have safe access to all ports in the Kingdom of Scotland, since Scotland, blessed be God, has been rescued from the power of the English by force of arms.”

Wallace also led a Scottish army into Northern England and laid waste a whole swathe of towns and villages.

A chronicler of the time wrote of him:

Butcher of thousands,
Threefold death be thine,
So shall the English From thee gain relief.
Scotland! Be wise, And choose a nobler chief.

The English revenge was not long in coming. Edward I set aside his campaign against France and came north with a huge army, including a very large contingent of archers equipped with a new and deadly weapon the Scots simply did not have – the longbow.

Wallace did not have Murray alongside him and he made a crucial error when he decided to meet Longshanks in full battle at Falkirk on 22 July, 1298. Wallace was not to know that Edward’s army was starving and nearing mutiny. All he had to do was march away to fight another day, but he stayed and the result was calamitous. IT started well for the Scots. The English cavalry could not break down the four or five Scottish schiltrons, those massed ranks of spearmen, but at some point the Scottish cavalry – led by the nobility – fled the field for a still unknown reason and that meant Wallace’s own archers had no protection and were slain almost to a man.

The real turning point came when Longshanks unleashed his archers. The stationary schiltrons soon began to disintegrate as arrows rained down on them ceaselessly. Another English cavalry charge ended the battle which became a rout.

It is interesting to speculate whether Robert the Bruce was at the battle, for he would have seen the schiltrons staying still and being slaughtered by the longbow-equipped archers. When it came to Bannockburn in 1314, the schiltrons were mobile and the Scots cavalry destroyed the English archers.

Wallace escaped Falkirk with his life. Other leading Scots such as Sir John de Grahame did not – Grahamston near the scene of the battle is named after him. Interestingly, there is no record of any great Scottish noble dying that day.

There was nothing that Wallace could do but resign the Guardianship and start living the life of a hunted man. It is known that he went to the continent and became an ambassador for John Balliol who he was determined to restore to the Scottish throne.

Edward Longshanks was having none of it, however, and neither was Robert the Bruce who had sealed a treaty with the English King. When Wallace came back to Scotland just as Edward was completing his latest project of domination by capturing Stirling Castle in 1304, Longshanks made him the object of terrifying orders and gigantic bribes in what was clearly a personal vendetta. Wallace was captured by men of the Sheriff of Dumbarton, Sir John Menteith, near Glasgow on August 4, 1305, and Edward transported him to London for a show trial at which Wallace protested that he was no traitor, never having sworn an oath of loyalty to Edward. He was condemned threefold: as a traitor, as a robber and a murderer. He therefore had to suffer three ‘deaths’ by being hung, drawn and quartered. Braveheart at least got that scene right.

Wallace’s head was displayed on London Bridge and the rest of the body was divided into four parts on Longshanks’s order. One quarter was displayed at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the others going to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Perth, and Stirling.

Edward thought that by destroying his body, he could teach the Scots a lesson. Instead, the horrific death of Wallace angered his countrymen, including an ambitious young earl, Robert the Bruce.

Wallace did indeed become a revered martyr. There is a plaque on the wall of St Bart’s Hospital near the execution site of Wallace.

It states: “To the immortal memory of Sir William Wallace, Scottish patriot, born at Elderslie Renfrewshire circa 1270 AD, who from the year 1296 fought dauntlessly in defence of his country’s liberty and independence in the face of fearful odds and great hardship, being eventually betrayed and captured. He was brought to London and put to death near this spot on the August 23, 1305.

“His example of heroism and devotion inspired those who came after him to win victory from defeat and his memory remains for all time a source of pride, honour and inspiration to his countrymen.”

It still does.