Battle of Falkirk & Execution of Wallace, Pt.2


Battle of Falkirk & Execution of Wallace, Pt.2



Victory and Defeat

The schiltrons had been a successful new tactic employed by Wallace against the English heavy horse attack. Many more English horse knights fell that day than Edward had ever expected. This new tactic, first employed here at Falkirk, not Stirling, was to make a hugh impact on future methods of fighting for both infantry and cavalry. Indeed, a similar process was used, with success, by the Flemish Pikemen against the cream of the French chivalry (horse-warriors) in 1302. However, with the apparent betrayal of Red Comyn, and the new English tactic of using the Welsh longbow en masse to shower dealy arrows at range at the enemy, finally took its toll on the Scots.

[English Archers]With no enemy horse or archers to harry him, Edward's Welsh longbowmen were placed in front of the trapped and immovable Scottish schiltrons. They fired hail after hail of deadly arrows into the standing targets. Unlike future English archers, this time the Welsh archers fired point blank into the columns instead of lobbing the arrows over great distances, as would be done in future English battles. The stalwart Scots could only take so much. Men fell and gaps appeared in the once formidable spear wall. It was then that Edward resent his knights in among the broken formations. With warhammer, axe, mace and sword, the horse-warriors hacked at the Scottish schiltrons.

The English close ranks with the Scots
[The English charge]Again and again the cavalry of the English spurred in furious charges on the Scottish pikes (spears). Stoutly the Scots stood, shoulder to shoulder; and though infantry came up, the showers of cloth-yard shafts were shot point blank into the ranks of Wallace, along with a storm of stones from Irish slings. The slingers and archers plied their missles securely from a distance, they could not penetrate what one old historian called "that wood of spears". But it was taking its toll on the Scots. Repeatedly, the English and Welsh archers loosed showers of arrows on the Scottish spearmen concentrating on one schiltron at a time. Each formation was quickly reduced to a pile of dead or dying men. Then Edward unleashed his cavalry a final time. They rode over the field hacking down the survivors.

All around Wallace, his men fell. Sir John the Grahame of Dundaff, a friend of Wallace, and the young Earl of Fife, with nearly all of their vassals, were slain. Now the survivors, disheartened alike by the fall of three of their principle leaders, fell into disorder. Already deserted by their cavalry, most of it riding off with Red Comyn, and after the destruction of their archers, the Scots were left exposed to a pitiless storm of missles from the Welsh Longbow s and Irish slings. Scottish infantry, with their long spears leveled over a breastwork of their dead and dying, made a desperate attempt, if only to keep their ground. But their numbers were thinning fast, and when the English cavalry once more dashed upon them, with lance, sword, axe and mace, it was all over.

The Scots had resisted with the fury of despair, hundreds died beneath the drumming hooves. At last the Guardian was forced to flee whilst his army and hopes died around him. "They fell like blossoms in an orchard when the fruit has ripened," an English chronicler exulted.

Wallace Escapes the Field

Wallace escaped, riding northward to Callander and the mountains. The dead of his valiant army is unknown, although the North-English Lanercost chronicler recorded a preposterous figure of sixty thousand, many more times the total number of men engaged.

"Nor was there slain on the English side any noblemen except the Master of Templars, with five or six esquires who charged the schiltrons of the Scots to hotly and rashly."

More English horses were killed than men, and Edward paid compensation for more than a hundred lost by his knights. "England exult!" cried the chronicler,

"Berwick, Dunbar and Falkirk too,
"Show all that traitor Scots can do.
"England exult! Thy Prince is peerless,
"Where thee he leadeth, follow fearless."
Retreat of Wallace

[Wallace Sword] Armed with the great two-handed 'bastard sword' (pictured at right), long and bravely did Wallace maintain the field; and not until the sun was setting did he begin his perilous retreat by crossing the Carron, near the old Roman ruins, where there was a ford when the tide was low. There, at a place called Brian's Ford, near the old Carron Iron Works (in 1892), fell the last Englishmen of distinction, Sir Brian le Jay. Le Jay, pressing in pursiut, was unhorsed and slain by the hand of Wallace himself. Wallace's own horse, covered with wounds and stuck full of spear-heads and arrows, was only able to bear him across the river, when it sank beneath him and died. He continued to fight his was way on foot towards Perth, accompanied by 300 chosen men.

The estimated number of the Scottish slain is between 6,500-8,000 men, of about 10-12,000 total men (including the men who rode off the field). [Note: Some of the figures of men involved come from Cassells "British land and Sea Battles, 1897"].

Guardianship Of Scotland Changes

Wallace Resigns the Guardianship
[Wallace loses Guardianship] The Guardianship of Scotland was now taken from Wallace, or resigned by him, and in his place the Scots accepted an uneasy triumvirate of Bishop William Lamberton of St. Andrews, young Robert Bruce of Carrick, and John Comyn the Red, now Lord of Badenoch since the death of his father in England. There is a darkness over Bruce's activities during Wallace brief guardianship, and the romantic notion that he fought with the Scots (or against!) at Falkirk is scarcely credible. In fact there is some evidence to show that Bruce was not at the battle at all. His father held Carlisle for Edward, their lands in England had been distrained for debts owed to the King, and three weeks before the battle Bruce asked protection for some of his men travelling on Edward's service. After Falkirk, however, the English drove Bruce from his lands and burnt them.

Wallace and a few of his supporters managed to escape and seek shelter in the woods of Callander and later Selkirk forest.

Despite his victory at Falkirk, Edward's campaign achieved little, and soon he left Scotland for Carlisle. The spirit of Scottish independence was still very much alive, and Wallace was still at large. Edward's obsession now turned the Lowlands and the Borders into a devasted killing ground. Among the Scots, William Wallace now returned to his raiding: there would be no active key role for him in the remainder of his life. There is speculation that he traveled to Frace, or even Norway, in support of his cause. But this cannot be substantiated.

What Does a King Do with a Hollow Victory?

Edward, Hammer of the Scots
[Edward I] The arrows of his bowmen had won Edward little. When he reached Stirling he found it a ruin, and the country wasted. He replied by burning St. Andrews, and then retired upon Edinburgh with aching ribs and a hungry and clamorous army. Only in his widely scattered garrisons was an Englishman safe. Between them was a hostile country, black fields and steadings. Edward went home, promising the governors he left that he would come again in the spring to punish the Scots and "put down their disobedience and malice." But he didn't come north again for three years, and in this bitter time Scotland had two governments, the English and the Guardians. The flimsy alliance of the latter was soon broken. One of Edward's agents reported that when they met at Peebles, in August, 1299, Bruce and Comyn quarrelled fiercely over some property left by Wallace, and that in his anger the Red Comyn took Bruce by the throat. Lamberton and Wallace's elder brother, Malcolm, persuaded them to put duty before dignity, but neither forgot the incident. Within a year they quarrelled again, and this time Bruce resigned in disgust. A parliament of lords, meeting in the royal burgh of Rutherglen, replaced him with Ingram de Umfraville, the turncoat Angus earl who had fought for Edward at Berwick and Falkirk. De Umfraville's elastic conscience and dubious motives were perhaps too much for all to stomach, for there appears to have been one Guardian only, the Liddesdale knight Sir John de Soules.

Edward had won the battle but not the war. Though further resistance appeared pointless, Wallace never contemplated surrender and reverted to the life of bandit-cum-guerilla, enough to keep the tiny flame of defiance alive. The English, still hungry, fell back across the Border ravaging as they went. Life degenerated into a bloody saga of raid and counter-raid, terror and atrocity, the Lowlands and most of the Borders laid waste. Abandoned by the fickle nobility, Wallace never succeeded in rebuilding a viable powerbase -- but this is not nearly the end of the story. Wallace would become legend again, in his death an heir to his movement for independence would rise to the fore, in Robert Bruce.

Post Falkirk

Prebble states: "In the spring of 1300, two years after Edward's victory over Wallace at Falkirk, he, now 65 years old, married a young French princess, and planned his fourth invasion of Scotland. This time, he intended to stike at a rebel center of Galloway. Passing through Ecclefechen and Lochmander, he captured the small castle of Caerlaverlock. At Twymholm near Kirkcudbright, Red Comyn was worsted in a skirmish and the English camped around the castle of Caerlaverlock, at the mouth of the Nith, covering the gentle hills with brightly coloured tents and huts. Edward's troops captured Sir Robert Keith, the hereditary Marshall of Scotland -- who was, in time, to take such an important role in Bannockburn -- and drove off the Scottish army commanded by the Earl of Buchan. Apart from these modest gains the campaign was a failure for the English, and by the end of August they were back in Carlisle."

He came again the next year (1301) with two armies, angered by a letter from Rome informing him that Scotland was a papal fief.

"By God's blood!" he swore, "I will not be at rest, but with all my strength I will defend my right."

Bruce and Wallace, from a stained glass
[Bruce and Wallace]
One army marched north from Carlisle, searched out Robert Bruce's position in the south-west, but met with little success as, once again, the Scottish army simply melted away before the larger English force. Edward himself led the other force up the Tweed valley, through the Selkirk forest, (a forest in which Wallace had been rumored to hide), to Clydesdale and then Linlithgow.

But this campaign was no more effective and he wintered at Linlithgow with his young queen, not so much defeated by battle - as by lack of one. An English chronicler remarked, "As none of the Scots would resist, nothing glorious or even worthy of praise was achieved." Here, he set about organising the Scottish Marches on the Welsh model. Castles were constructed (which Bruce would later tear down), and garrisons were installed in the lands south of the Fourth, and sheriffs and wardens were appointed to administer the area. Now deserted by Pope Boniface and Philip of France, who seemed to find sympathy for Scotland a tedious complication of the quarrell between them, the Scots were dispirited and without direction. Clearly Wallace's influence was missed. Robert the Bruce, after some resistance, submitted and swore fealty to Edward, perhaps persuaded by his dying father, and certainly by the Guardian's continued allegiance to Toom Tabard (John Balliol). If he hoped that Edward would support the Bruce claim to the throne, as it appears on the surface he might, and destroy both Balliol and Comyn factions, he received no written promise of it. Edward was again forced to leave Scotland to deal with a controversy in France (the church).

He was not able to return until 1303. Once again free from the convoluted intricacies and plots of church and state, he returned to Scotland when his viceroy and a body of spearmen were routed at Roslin by the Red Comyn and Simon Fraser of Tweeddale. He marched north in fury crossing the Forth river on three prefabricated floating bridges. From the captured Scottish stronghold of Stirling he marched directly north and took Perth. By September his troops were resting on the banks of the Moray Firth. He continued his advance, crushing all resistance that didn't retreat and burning barns and crops as he went. Brechin castle held out against the Royal siege engines for five weeks, but in the end this brave resistance too fell. The frightened Scottish Lords now began to sue for peace, leaving Wallace to stand alone with solitary raids.

His resolve was so fierce that as he approached Dumferline, the Red Comyn, Sir John de Soules, and the bishops of Glasgow and St. Andrews came before him in fear, accepting their lives and freedom in return for an oath of allegiance. Sir Simon Fraser did not appear and would later pay as Wallace did -- with his life.

With Edward's clear control over all their actions, the Scots lords met in parliament at St. Andrews in March, 1304, under the direction of Edward, and until a permanent constitution could be established Robert Bruce of Carrick and Bishop Wishart were appointed dual Guardians of the Realm of Scotland, with the English baron John de Mowbray. Eighteen months later, guided by Wishart, Edward framed his 'Ordinances for the establishment of the Land of Scotland', proposing a government of twenty Englishmen and ten elected representatives of Scottish estates. It may have been a statesmanlike plan, under swordpoint, but it was premature in its vision of a united Scottish and English government, but it was based upon the presumptious premise that Scotland was "justly" an English province, a feudal barony and not a people intent, or deserving liberty.

Wallace Returns from his Mysterious Absence

A view of Stirling Castle
[Stirling Castle]
In May, 1305, Sir William Oliphant and about fifty gallant Scots valiantly held out in Stirling Castle. Edward accepted this challenge with avid delight. Great crowds of Scots and English watched the monumentous seige of Stirling castle, and in Stirling town a window had been cut into the wall of a house so that the young English Queen and her ladies could be entertained without discomfort. In August of that year, the walls at last fell to hugh seige engines known as "War-Wolf" and "All-the-World", and Oliphant and his men were led before the King to kneel in supplication, naked but for their smocks.

In that same month, Wallace returned, if indeed he ever left Scotland, though there is some minor evidence to support that he went to France, (some say he went also to Norway), to secure the support of Philip and the Pope. It is mystifying and strange that Wallace gathered no army in these seven years since Falkirk, and this may suggest that Falkirk had had a traumatic effect on his self confidence, as evidenced by the chroniclers remark that Wallace had "gone nto a deep depression", after Falkirk and giving up the Guardianship. Some go as far as to suggest that Andrew de Moray rather than he had been the principle organiser and commander of the original resistance - or that de Moray had at the very least, been a vital and integral part of the Wallace-de Moray leadership of Scotland. But Wallace also appears to have been jealsously thwarted by certain nobles and lords in Scotland with whom, according to documents found upon him at his capture, he was in confederation - one such man was Sir John Menteith. Whatever Wallace's true role in the first part of the Scottish resistance, he was and had remained an example to men like Oliphant and Simon Fraser, refusing the advice of those who would have him submit.

"I and my companions who are willing to cleave to me," he said, "will stand for the liberty of Scotland".
And yet he unwillingly had to make his greatest inspirational contribution to that cause: his martrydom as the first Scottish patriot.

Capture and Barbarous Execution

On 5 August, 1305, he was betrayed by one of his own compatriots near Glasgow, Scots knight Sir John Menteith, who was said to have turned over a bannock (a flat oat-cake) on a tavern table, a sign to the English that the brigand was among them. Wallace was taken prisoner, and then tried in a 'mock show trial' in England. Other accounts say he was taken in his sleep.

Wallace was paraded, like a circus animal, through the streets of London, behind its mayor and sheriffs, and on 23 August, 1305, he stood "trial" in Westminster Hall as a traitor, charged with breaking his oath of fealty. The fact that Wallace had never taken such an oath to Edward or the English, was of no consequence, and the charge was derisory. He was an example to be set to all of Scotland - to disobey the word of Edward, was to mean death to any Scot who dared such insolence. His crime was his challenge to Edward, the unity of the Scottish people, and the victory of Stirling Bridge. He was charged with the illegal assumption of Guardianship, despite his appointement and public acceptance of it, and he was charged with the murder of the Sheriff of Lanark, Hazelrig, the invasion of England, the burning of English monasteries and the bogus crime of the murder of nuns.

His death was to be an obscene spectacle and allowed him little dignity. He was dragged on a hurdle from Westminster, four miles to the Tower, and from thence to a copse of elms at Smithfield. He was hanged, cut down whilst still alive, drawn - his abdomem opened by dull blades, his entrails pulled violently out and burnt before his own eyes, and cruelly emasculated before his pained and dying eyes. After all this, finally, mercifully he was beheaded. His head was impaled upon a pike and placed above the London Bridge. His remaining body was further mutilated by being quartered and was exposed by the open sewer of Newcastle, another at Berwick, a third at Perth, and the fourth quarter of Scotland's greatest patriot was put on display at Aberdeen. Justice demanded no less, said the Lanercost chronicler.

"Butcher of thousands, threefold death be thine,
So shall the English from thee gain relief.
Scotland, be wise, and choose a nobler chief."

Seven months later, that nobler chief chose himself, in the person Robert the Bruce. Bruce would, in time, go on to make Wallace's dreams of an independent Scotland; a Scottish people free of English tyranny, oppression and dominance, a reality -- if only for a time. But it would not be an easy struggle for Robert Bruce, and his story, in this author's opinion, is as inspiring and patriotic as any Scottish figure to ever live.

Wallace's Legacy

Sir William Wallace
[Wallace]
Wallace was followed by and relied upon 'the common folk' of Scotland, a fact which was both his greatest strength, and in the end his biggest weakness. Wallace had earned the respect and the love of the people of Scotland, if not their nobles. He was a patriot and a man of the people - something no Scot has since become so clearly identified with. In his fierce resistance to the all-powerful Edward I, 'Hammer of the Scots', he won the fierce malignant hate of that English king. The Scottish feudal aristocracy could not understand Wallace, and believed he could and should conciliate to Edward. Wallace represented the masses - the people and the freedom in their hearts and in their hopes, something not even the loyal and devoted Scottish nobles could understand. What they saw as politics and and negotiation, Wallace saw as their weakness - and he attacked the English with fury and with extreme prejudice - to drive them out and to win his country's freedom from their oppression and tyranny.

In the immortal words of John Prebble:
[Wallace monument] "Hence, Edward and the English people came to regard Wallace not only as their most formidible foe, but as a serious and annoying obstacle to the establishment of English domination in Scotland. Edward's cruel and unchivalrous treatment of Wallace, his judicial murder of his most gallant enemy, made Wallace even more identifiable as the single most patriot of a free Scotland. If Edward had intended Wallace's barbarous execution as a deterrent to further Scottish resistance - his own viscious and cruel actions, both in war against the Scots, and in his treatment of Wallace, had the opposite result amongst the people of Scotland. It unified their resovle and fortified them, and under the proper leader, Robert Bruce, to fight for their independence with their very lives having seen what lay in store for them as English feudal subjects.


There was a lapse of seven years from 1298 (afer Falkirk) to Wallace's capture in 1305. But even in this time, where Wallace took less of an active role in Scottish resistance, his influence was still an inspiration to the Scottish people. After Falkirk he never commanded a Scottish army in the field, but his influence was incalculable, and to him more than to any other man was due the growth of that spirit of determined hostility to English domination which became at last almost second nature to the common folk of Scotland, and which had far-reaching results in the history of the two nations. And though his name does not occur very often in the history of events in the world outside Scotland, his legend, his name and his message of freedom and resistance to a foreign oppressor has and will remain a beacon of light, in the darkness of attempted tyranny and a testament to the will of a people - the Scots - to be free at all costs.

Wallace poster
[Wallace Poster]
700 Years later, the people of Scotland, partly inspired by the depiction of Sir William Wallace in "Braveheart", voted for a renewed Scottish parliament and dedicated a new statue to Wallace. At the gathering on September 11, 1997, 700 years after his victory at Stirling Bridge, he was commemorated with seminars and lectures. The poster, above left, is from that very celebration. Wallace's memory lives on.


In 1306, Robert Bruce had himself secretly crowned King of Scotland and went into hiding. In a few short years, after much trial and near failure, the Scots rose again in arms under Robert I of Scotland, the spirit and resistance to English tryanny taking deeper root. This entire history is told in a sequel to "Falkirk and Wallace's execution", in a ten chapter in-depth hagiology of Robert Bruce, an excerpt of which, "The Bruce, Bannockburn and Beyond", can be found on this web site, detailing the Battle of Bannockburn.

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