The Wallace Years 1297-305
The words of James Mackay ring true when considering the history of William Wallace and his associations with the lands of New Cumnock. For, it is Blind Harry, writing in the 15th century, that provides the only direct historical connection with the patriot and New Cumnock, claiming that he held a royal house at the 'Blak Crag in Cumno'. Much has been written about Harry's inaccuracies and in particular the chronological sequence in which he relates the deeds, some invented and others exaggerated, of his hero Wallace. Indeed, with regard to the references to Blackcraig, there is some difficulty with the chronology but little cause for concern with regard to invention. No stories, for example, of single-handed massacre of 20 Englishmen on the slopes of Blackcraig hill. Since William Wallace and his family had strong connections with Ayrshire and in particular with Kyle, there should be no sense of fantasy about Harry's claim that Wallace had a household at the Blackcraig, during his campaigns of the Scottish Wars of Independence.
Before beginning the Wallace Years of 1297-1305, the scene is set for his rising be considering the events of the previous year.
© Robert Guthrie
The Wallace Years
'Much of the history of William Wallace is derived, directly or indirectly, from the epic poem composed by Blind Harry in the fifteenth century, more than a century and a half after Wallace met his death in 1305.' James Mackay
War between Edward I of England and John Balliol King of Scots
Edward I captures and sacks Berwick
Edward I defeats Scots at Battle of Dunbar July
King John Balliol submits to Edward I
Over 2000 Scots freeholders swore fealty to Edward at his parliament of Berwick.
Blind Harry's account of Wallace's victory over the English knight Fenwick and his men at Loudon hill in Kyle Stewart is considered to be out of chronological order and many including James McKay suggest the summer of 1296 as a more probable date. Harry has Fenwick and hsi me travelling from Carlisle through Nithsdale en-route to Ayr. The road at Corsencon hill had been destroyed and Fenwick had to detour by way of Avondale, where Wallace and his men were waiting to ambush them at Loudon Hill. Others consider the Battle of Loudon to be one of Harry's inventions. Anne McKim in the most recent analysis of Harry's 'The Wallace' recalls Matthew P. McDiarmid's assessment of this episode 'McDiarmid suggests that Blind Harry ingeniously created this detour from the usual route from Carlisle to Ayr, via Corsancone, so that he could invent a Battle at Loudon Hill, drawing details from Barbour's account of Bruces' victory there in 1307.'
Edward established the Earl of Warrene as his 'governor of Scotland' at the head of his Scottish administration, comprising the three justiciars of Scotia (north of Forth-Clyde), Lothian and Galloway, supported by twenty-six sheriffs, including Wigton, Dumfries, Ayr and Lanark in the south-west of the country. In Scotland, it was not uncommon for the office of sheriff to be heritable, as was the case in Ayr, held by Sir Reginald of Craufurd of Loudon, uncle of William Wallace. Soon too, these sheriffs were replaced by Edward's men, including Sir William Heselrig at Lanark, on the periphery of the great Forest of Selkirk.
At Corssencon the gait was spilt that tide,
Forthi that way behovid thaim for to ride.
The worthi Scottis maid thar no sojornyng,
To Lowdon hill past in the gray dawyng
Blind Harry, Book III
Top : Corsencon hill, New Cumnock
Bottom : Loudon hill, Loudon
In 1205 Customs points for William I new burgh of Ayr were established at on the routes that passed both these hills.
The chronicler John of Fordun writing in the closing decades of the 14th century (one hundred years before Harry) captures the moment when Wallace for the first time 'lifted up his head' against this English occupation. Some accounts of this episode, including that of Harry, suggest that this momentous act was one of revenge on Wallace's part, following the brutal murder of his wife, Marion Braidfute, at the hands of Heselrig.
It was soon after this that Harry has Wallace returning to Blackcraig.
William Hamilton of Gilbertfield, in his best-selling 18th century translation of Harry's 'Wallace' makes no reference to Blackcraig or Cumnock at this part in the poem. Alex Brunton in 'The History of Sir William Wallace' (1883) follows Harry more closely whilst adding some intriguing interpretations of his own. He suggests that Wallace was born in Cumnock, or in Kyle (owen countrie) at least. Brunton also reminds us that Wallace's uprising was still in its infancy, for the English were still masters in this part of the world and certainly the Earl of Dunbar's men (supporters of Edward I) still held Cumnock Castle, soon after the incident at Lanark. Like Harry, Brunton refers to Wallace's dwelling as a royal house, a reference perhaps to some crown-lands - but not to Cumnock Castle, since this was privately held by the Earl of Dunbar, and was not recognised as one of the royal castles, such as those at Ayr or Dumfries.
In the most recent attempt to bring Harry to the people, Tom Scott in his 'Tales of Sir William Wallace' (1981) stays true to Harry, ' one or two other castles gave some trouble, one of Cree and Turnberry for instance, but they were soon brought under and the Scots were able to rest at Black Crag in Cumnock for three months'. James Mackay dissects much of Harry's works in 'William Wallace Brave Heart' illuminating it with his own local knowledge of Ayrshire's history. Astonishingly, he makes no reference to Wallace being at Blackcraig or Cumnock after Lanark, and disappointingly dilutes Harry's words into 'Immediately after this incident Wallace and his band of followers moved westwards to their old familiar territory in Ayrshire. From all over the south-west of Scotland men flocked to his side.'
The Forest of Selkirk spanned much of lowland Scotland at that time and the lands of Blackcraig would be on its western periphery, conveniently situated at the boundary of the sheriffdoms of Ayr, Dumfries and Wigton, and five miles to the south of the great strategic route through Nithsdale from Carlisle to Ayr. An excellent base for Wallace to shelter and strike against the English occupation. However, despite Harry's words, this was not the time for Wallace and his men to enjoy a three month well earned rest. Indeed they were about to embark on an intense guerilla campaign over the next three months, culminating in the victory at Stirling Bridge, early in September 1297.
Harry's reputation for chronological inaccuracies appear to have surfaced. Before the 'three month rest' at Blackcraig in the summer of 1297, he has Wallace appointed as Guardian of Scotland, an honour that was not bestowed on Wallace until the early months of 1298. After the 'three month rest', Harry has Wallace agreeing a truce with the English at Rutherglen Kirk, and then riding over to share the news with uncle Sir Ranald Craufurd, before in Harry's words 'In Cumno syne till hys duellyng went he'. Tom Scott's version of Harry's epic has the truce being made in February (presumably of 1298) and broken by April. There is no record of any truce being struck at Rutherglen but there certainly was a lull in proceedings in the spring of 1298 in preparation of Edward I's return from his wars in Flanders, and his inevitable attack on Scotland. Wallace and his men would have been at Blackcraig after the slaying Heselrig in May 1297, but their three-month rest would need to wait to the spring of the following year. For they were about to embark on an intense guerilla campaign over the next three months, culminating in the victory at Stirling Bridge, early in September 1297.
As well as raising 'a thousand men on horseback from Kyle and Cunningham' (Mackay), Wallace had now the been joined by Sir William Douglas of Douglasdale, his lands some 20 miles to the north-west of Blackcraig. Together in May 1297, they attacked Sir William Ormesby , Justiciar of Scotia (the top tier of English administration) whilst he held court at Scone. Ormesby was lucky to escape with his life but Wallace and his men had secured a great booty. More importantly the news of their success was spreading across the land, reaching the ears of peasants and nobles alike. Further north, Sir Andrew Murray lead an uprising in his native Moray, seizing Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. Within three months the English-held castles at Inverness, Elgin and Banff and many others in the north had fallen.
William McDowall in his 'History of Dumfries, 1867' , recalls Blind Harry's episode on the Siege of Sanquhar Castle, when Wallace came to the aid of Sir William Douglas. ' Whilst Wallace was putting the English garrisons of Ayrshire to trouble, Douglas was making those stationed near his own barony to feel that they had no easy sinecure'. Douglas quickly secured the Castle of Durisdeer and then the more formidable Sanquhar Castle, ten miles down the Nith valley from Cumnock Castle.
The English response was swift 'armed companies were seen trooping from the Castles of Morton and Tibbers, in Upper Nithsdale, and from those of Dalswinton and Dumfries further down, all proceeding in the direction of Sanquhar; and before the intrepid Scot had fairly settled down in his new abode, he found himself closely blockaded, and was saluted with the summons ' Surrender or die! ' "
However, on hearing that Wallace and his army were on their way to relieve Douglas, the English forces took to their heels and headed back to their garrisons in lower Nithsdale. With Sanquhar safe, Wallace and his men gave chase and killed 500 of the retreating English force at Dalswinton and then continued to hunt down the remnants of this force as far south as Caerlaverock Castle on the Nith estuary. Returning to Sanquhar the next day where ' he rewarded the bravery of Douglas by making him governor of the territory which stretches from Drumlanrig to Ayr.' A territory that included the lands of Cumnock, where the English garrison at Cumnock Castle had already been defeated and driven off by Wallace.
Robert Wishart, Bishop of Scotland and James the Steward now called upon the Scots nobles to join with them and rise against the English occupation. The call was answered and many nobles including Sir William Douglas and Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick (future King of Scots) rallied at Irvine in late June, 1297. Edward I was still abroad in Flanders but issued orders to bring down the revolt. Sir Henry de Percy and Sir Robert Clifford raised a great army of three hundred horse and forty thousand foot, and marched north through Annandale and Nithsdale and into Kyle by way of Cumnock Castle, before moving on to meet with the Scots at Irvine. The nobles were far from a unified fighting force and eventually capitulated to the superior English army, offering little resistance. Many nobles were taken prisoner including Bishop Wishart and Sir William Douglas , who would later die in the Tower of London in 1299, whilst others were enlisted to join Edward I in his Flanders campaign.
William Wallace was not with the nobles at Irvine for he was still very much an outsider. However, unlike the nobles, he and his men did inflict casualties on Percy's army 'This partisan force conducted a brilliant campaign in the classic guerilla pattern, harrying Percy's baggage train, cutting lines of communications and killing stragglers. The death toll from this action alone was conservatively put at over five hundred' (James McKay). Wallace's dwelling at Blackcraig would have provided an ideal base from which to strike out at such a huge slow moving army as it made its way through Nithsdale to Irvine and then southward again on the return journey.
Two months after Irvine, Wallace successfully laid siege to Dundee Castle. Soon afterwards, in the closing days of August 1297, he met with Sir Andrew Murray for the first time. Together with their considerable combined forces, they moved menacingly southwards, towards Stirling. Here their armies encamped on the monumental Abbey Craigs, which not only provided formidable protection but also afforded excellent views over the meandering Forth and its crossing points.
The invading English army, estimated to number 'three hundred horse and ten thousand foot' reached the Forth at Stirling in the first days of September, and set up camp on the south bank of the river.
The English under the Earl of Warrene and Hugh de Cressingham, Treasurer chose the morning of 11th September 1297 to attack the Scots on the slopes of the Abbey Craigs. The route was a treacherous one. The English horse could only cross two abreast on the wooden bridge over the Forth. The way ahead was no more than a causeway sandwiched between a heavy September bog on the left and the banks of one of the loops of the Forth on the right. Wallace and Murray bided their time, resisting the temptation of an early strike. But strike they did and the English army was slaughtered.
Hugh de Cressingham was one of the five thousand killed, his body was flayed and pieces of the skint Treasurer were distributed throughout Scotland 'as tokens of liberation from a hated regime of which Cressingham had been a symbol' [GWS Barrow]. The Earl of Warrene was more fortunate 'had the rogue Corspatrick for his guide' [William Hamilton] and escaped the battlefield to the temporary haven of Dunbar Castle.
After the victory at Stirling, Wallace lead the Scots army across the border to lay waste to the lands of Northumberland. The people fled and their properties were destroyed. However, the garrisons of the major castles at Alnwick, Newcastle and Durham withstood the Scots assault, as did the castle of Carlisle as the army moved across to the north-west. With the winter snows arriving and fatigue taking its toll, the Scots army 're-entered Scotland on the feast of St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr (22nd November)'.
The homecoming would have been sombre. Sir Andrew Murray had died a week or so beforehand, from wounds received at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. His contribution to Scotland's hard fought freedom is often only found in the shadows of the Wallace and Bruce, but had he lived Murray would have become joint Guardian of Scotland with William Wallace.
'That same year , William Wallace lifted up his head from his den - as it were - and slew the English sheriff of Lanark, a doughty and powerful man, in the town of Lanark. From that time therefore, there flocked to him all who were in bitterness of spirit, and weighed down beneath the burden of bondage under the unbearable domination of English despotism, and he became their leader.'
John of Fordun
'Apon the morn in Cumno sone thai socht,
To Laynirk syne and set a tyme of ayr;
Mysdoaris feill he gert be punyst thar.
To gud men trew he gaiff full mekill wage,
His brother sone put to his heretage.
To the Black Crag in Cunno past agayne,
His houshauld set with men of mekill mayne,
Thre monethis thar he dwellyt in gud rest.'
Blind Harry,Book VI
.. then passit throw Carrik and come to Comnock, and then again into Clidsdaill to Lanerk, keiping guid justice and punishing all ofences.'
'Bot efter he made his dwelling in Comnok in his owen contrie, wheir he was borne, altho the Englishmen as yitt was masteris thaire.'
'Then William Wallace keiping a royall howse in Comnok withe a garisone of michtie men.'
Sir William Wallace, Guardian of the kingdom of Scotland, and General of the army of the same name,in the name of the noble prince the Lord John, by the grace of God illustrious king of Scotland, by consent of the community of said kingdom, to all good men of the said kingdom to whom this present writing shall come,eternal salvation in the Lord. '
January - June
The charter to Alexander Scrymgeour reveals the that Wallace was knighted and appointed sole Guardian of Scotland sometime prior to the 29th March 1298. Where and when and by whom these honours were bestowed on Wallace is unknown. One suggestion is that the honour of knighting Wallace the commoner, fell to Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick and future King of Scots.
Edward I, was still in Flanders, seething after the defeat at Stirling and the subsequent raids on northern England, but stranded overseas he was powerless to lead and mount an effective response. Warrene and Clifford did manage a minor retaliation before Christmas 1297, resulting only in the relief of Roxburgh and Berwick. However, their actions were unsustainable. The great Bruce historian, G.W.S Barrow in 'Robert Bruce(1988)' sets the scene for the impending English response 'In February (1298) a letter reached him (Warrene) in which Edward I announced that he was returning from Flanders directly and telling him not to attempt a major campaign until Edward arrived to take charge personally,... and the Scots obtained five months breathing space' .
G.W.S Barrow also assesses Wallace's activities at this time. 'As far as we can tell, Wallace spent this time consolidating his position and training his troops. It is likely that in the spring and early summer of 1298 Wallace kept to the South of Scotland, though no doubt he recruited men from all parts of the country to meet the full-scale invasion which he knew could not be long delayed' . Blind Harry claimed that Wallace, as Guardian, and his men enjoyed a three month rest at Blackcraig some time between the slaying of the Sheriff of Lanark in May 1297 and the Battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297. However, the 'five months breathing space' in the spring and early summer of 1298 provides a much better chronological fit. Whilst Wallace rested with his men at Blackcraig for three-months, preparing for the invasion, little would he know the role that the Earl of Dunbar, owner of Cumnock Castle, was about to play in his downfall.
On the 3rd July 1298, Edward I and his army crossed the River Tweed at Coldstream. At his side was Patrick, Earl of Dunbar, a consistent supporter of the English king. From there the English army marched towards Edinburgh, seizing a number of castles en route. However, things were not all going Edward's way. Morale in the ranks was low, his army had marched long and hard and were starving. Furthermore, there was still no sight or sound of Wallace and his army. Edward was close to retiring to Edinburgh, when on the 21st July, the Earls of Dunbar and Angus brought him the news he so long sought. Their spy had successfully infiltrated Wallace's camp, near Falkirk, in the Forest of Selkirk and had ascertained the Scots intention of attacking the demoralised English army on their retreat to Edinburgh. Edward, elated by this intelligence lead his men onto Falkirk and onto victory on the 22nd July 1298.
Wallace had organised his infantry into four great schiltroms, living massive squares of spearmen, and rallied to battle with the cry 'I have brought you to the ring: now see if you can dance'. The schiltroms defended stoutly against the English army. However, the Scots horse deserted them. Soon the incessant showers of arrows from the Welsh archers in the English ranks, had the squares reeling and the English knights waltzed in and slaughtered the Scots. Wallace had little alternative to flee the field and 'save himself and his' if the war was to be won after this battle had been lost.
August - December
For Edward I, the war continued at a pace and an English garrison was established at Stirling four days after Falkirk. Perth and St.Andrews were then burned to the ground. The English army then marched back towards Edinburgh, picking up provisions before heading west through the upper reaches of the Forest of Selkirk, and then onto Ayr. The army reached Ayr on the 26th August 1298 only to find that the town and castle had been evacuated and burned, on the orders of Bruce, Earl of Carrick. Hungry and home-sick, Edward's army headed homeward. It marched on the last days of August the twenty miles to Cumnock Castle, then through Nithsdale and onto Dumfries, 2nd September and arriving at Carlisle on the 9th September 1298. News of the Scots holding Jedburgh Castle had the English army on the move again. The Scots held out until the 17th October 1298 and a few days later Edward and his exhausted army crossed over the River Tweed onto English soil, some sixteen weeks after the start of the campaign.
'So, not long after the Battle of Falkirk, at the water of the Forth, he, of his own accord, resigned the office and charge which he held, of guardian'
John of Fordun
After the defeat at Falkirk, Sir William Wallace relinquished the office of Guardian and with his bodyguard of mekill mayne, resorted to his guerrilla tactics of the past. Doubtless, he and his men would have emerged from the hills and forests of south west Scotland to harry Edward's army on its long march home.
Before the end of the year, Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick and John Comyn, the younger of Badenoch, were both elected as joint Guardians of Scotland.
In July 1299, 'Pope Boniface wrote to the King of England demanding that he should hand over to his custody, John de Balliol, whom he was keeping under restraint' [The Chronicle of Lanercost] and Edward I's plan for a summer campaign in Scotland had failed to materialise.
In August, the Scots magnates raided the Forest of Selkirk, but familiar signs of infighting surfaced at the Council of Peebles. William Lamberton, appointed as Bishop of St. Andrews during Wallace's guardianship and an ally of the patriot, was elected as the third Guardian. The Guardianship now comprised the familiar array of bishop, earl and baron, with Lamberton presiding over the uneasy alliance of the Bruce and Comyn and factions.
In the autumn of 1299, Sir William Wallace took on the unfamiliar role of diplomat and with five other Scots knights set off to visit the court of King of Philip of France, to gain support for Scotland's struggle for freedom from the English yoke.
By the winter months, the English garrison at Stirling castle surrendered and the castle was in the hands of the Scots' magnates before the onset of the new century. With a new found confidence the Scots offered Edward I a truce. He bluntly declined and responded by demanding a feudal levy to meet with him at Carlisle in June 1300, for a summer campaign in Scotland.
The Guardians were at each other's throats, again! Comyn wanted to attack the English by supporting the men of Galloway in the south-west. Bruce could not support this strategy for there was a long history of bad blood between his people of Carrick and their neighbours in Galloway. Bruce resigned as Guardian, and returned to Carrick, wary of the implications of Comyn's plans.
The Scots parliament met at Rutherglen on 10th May 1300 to prepare for the impending attack by Edward. By this time Sir Ingram de Umfraville, one of the Comyn faction and a kinsman of Balliol had replaced Bruce as Guardian.
Edward I with 'the nobles and great men of England' and an estimated army of 15,000-20,000 footmen assembled at Carlisle, in closing days of June,1300. The castle of Caerlaverock on the Nith estuary was captured and this great army then proceeded to march across Galloway as far west as Wigton, easily overcoming what little resistance, they met on the way. On the route back through Galloway, Edward received a papal bull from Boniface VIII commanding him to 'desist from any attempt to infringe upon Scotland's independence' [The Chronicle of Lanercost ]
Edward I succumbed to the pressure from the pope and his own people and through Philip of France a truce was agreed between England and Scotland to last from 30 October 1300 to 21 May 1301. The following month Philip of France gave Sir William Wallace a letter recommending him to the pope.
Bishop Lamberton, resigned as Guardian and persuaded his fellow Guardians Comyn and Umfraville do likewise. In their place, John de Soulis was elected as sole Guardian.This masterstroke by Lamberton brought a much more neutral complexion to Guardianship, for de Soulis had connections with both Comyn and Bruce.
Edward I and his son Edward of Caernavon launched a two-pronged attack on Scotland. The young Edward set off from Carlisle to cut through Galloway and up the Ayrshire to coast to secure the Clyde estuary. Edward I from his base at Berwick targeted the Forth-Clyde basin with the intent to cut it off from the Highlands. Father and son would then unite and turn their great combined army on the entrapped south-west of Scotland. Their plan failed. Robert Bruce and his men of Carrick successfully harassed the army of the prince and he was forced to retreat to Carlisle. Bruce's army was 'so numerous that they threatened to overwhelm such men of Kyle and Cunningham as were in the English peace' [GWS Barrow]
Under de Soulis the Scots harried both flanks of the English army, particularly in Dumfriesshire and Ayrshire. Edward I managed to take Bothwell Castle in Clydesdale but by October he retired to Linlithgow where he was joined by his son.
The English campaign was running short of funds and many of Edward's soldiers deserted before the Scottish winter set in. King Edward commanded that any money sent to Scotland is 'to be sent to the king only, with the following exceptions: to Galloway for the garrisons of Dumfries and Lochmaben and others guarding that march, and to Earl Patrick*, who is at Noef Chastel sur Are' October 16, 1301. [Cal. Docs. Scot., v, no.262.].
*Earl Patrick, the Earl of Dunbar was based at the new castle on the Ayr, some 20 miles from his Castle of Cumnock.
As the Edwards wintered in Linlithgow, Philip of France secured a truce between England and Scotland, to run for nine months from January 26, 1302 through to the close of November 1302.
John Balliol had been released from papal custody in the summer of 1301 and was living as a free man in his ancestral lands in France. With Philip of France exerting greater influence over the affairs of England and Scotland, suggestions that he was behind a campaign to restore John Balliol as King of Scots were taken seriously, by both Edward I and Robert Bruce. A Balliol restoration would see the Comyn's in the ascendancy in Scotland at the expense of Bruce. Under the real threat of his lands being forfeited, Bruce came into Edward's peace. As part of the bargain the king of England promised to do all in his power to prevent Bruce from being 'disinherited of any land which may fall to him by right of his father, in England or in Scotland' [Ronald McNair Scott 'Robert the Bruce King of Scots']
Philip of France's dominance was on the decline and the Scots were concerned over the future of Scotland's alliance with France. John de Soulis, lead a delegation of nobles to France , including former Guardians, Bishop Lamberton, James Stewart and Ingram de Umfraville. John Comyn stayed behind assuming the mantle of Guardian.
Three months after the truce had ended, Edward commanded Sir John Seagrave, his viceroy in Scotland to lead an army of knights and to assess the strength Scot's forces, in the lands to the west of Edinburgh. The Scots heard of this plan and under John Comyn and Simon Fraser ambushed the English at Roslin near Edinburgh on February 24th, 1303 and routed the English knights taking Seagrave prisoner.
The exact date that Squire Guthrie helped William Wallace to return to Scotland from France is unknown. One English account of the battle at Roslin has Wallace leading the Scots to victory but this has been discounted [GWS Barrow], although the possibility that he was with Comyn at the battle has not.[Andrew Fisher].
Edward I's campaign beginning at Roxburgh in May was a resounding success. A number of things had changed in his favour since his last inconclusive campaign. Many of the Scots magnates were still in France but would soon return with the sombre news that France had entered into a truce with England, on May 20 1303. The prospect of a Balliol restoration was now over. In the south-west, Robert Bruce was no longer a threat or an obstacle to English progression through Carrick. Indeed he fought on Edward's side and was appointed sheriff of Ayr and keeper of Ayr castle for a short time during the campaign. As Edward's man Bruce 'was ordered to call up one thousand footmen from Kyle, Cunningham and Cumnock, and a further thousand, as he thought fit from Carrick and Galloway.' [GWS Barrow]
By September 1303, six months after leaving Roxburgh, Edward I had marched as far north to secure Morayshire. He headed south again to winter in Dunfermline Abbey, with only Stirling Castle holding out.
John Comyn, Guardian of Scotland and many of the Scots nobles submitted to Edward I at Perth. The negotiated a settlement heralded a new approach by Edward I and his behaviour towards the Scots was much more in the spirit of that promised by the Treaty of Birgham. Many of those coming into the king's peace had their lands restored.
However, these terms were not offered to all noblemen. The former Guardians Soulis, Stewart and Umfraville 'are not to have safe conduct nor come within the King's power until Sir William Wallace is given up' and 'no words of peace are to be held out to William Wallace in any circumstances' [Ronald McNair Scott].
Wallace and his men, had resorted to their guerrilla tactics striking out when they could from the Forest of Selkirk but with little success. Edward ordered Bruce to accompany Sir John Seagrave and attack Wallace and Fraser in the Forest of Selkirk. Some of the Scots were captured near Peebles but Wallace and Fraser escaped.
Blind Harry has William Wallace back in familiar territory at the Black Rock, i.e. Blackcraig. For here he held a royal house, not a royal castle, but a house on crown-lands, a crown that he had stayed loyal to throughout his struggles against the English usurper, Edward I. Harry has no more tales of Wallace fighting the English after his return to Blackcraig but instead gives Wallace's vision of peace, serving God and the kirk, and Robert the Bruce, the rightful king.
'And Wallace past in Cumno with blith will,
At the Black Rok, quhar he was wont to be,
Apon that sted a ryall hous held he.'
Blind Harry, Book XII
According to Harry, Wallace envisaged that Bruce would be the king that he served in his old days. Tom Scott captures Harry' sentiments ' Wallace realised that he had done all he could for Scotland, it was time for the nobles to take over from a commoner like himself. He therefore wrote to Robert Bruce, reminding him of his duty and pleading with him to come and take the crown' .
William Wallace set off for Glasgow 'with all his household' from his dwelling at Blackcraig to meet with Bruce. However, Sir John Menteith (the false Menteith), once a staunch supporter of Wallace, but since 1304 at peace with Edward I, had promised to deliver the patriot into English hands. His pay-off was English gold, more lands and the sheriffdom of Dumbarton. The trap was set and Sir William Wallace was betrayed and captured at Robroyston on the outskirts of Glasgow on the 3rd August, 1305.
From Glasgow, Wallace was taken south to Carlisle. Details of this first leg of the journey to London are scant and limited to Blind Harry's offerings of keeping to the west and then crossing over the Solway sands. The most obvious western route is Glasgow to Ayr (i.e. west of Clydesdale and the Selkirk forest) to Cumnock Castle, then through Nithsdale to Dumfries and from there across the Solway sands to Carlisle. His last journey through Scotland, taking him opast Cospatrick's castle at Cumnock, 4 miles north of his own dwelling at Blackcraig. At Carlisle he was handed over to the custody of Sir John Seagrave and from there taken to London, 'a torturous journey, which lasted seventeen days' [James Mackay] .
'William Wallace was captured by a certain Scot, to wit, Sir John de Menteith, and was taken to London to the King, and it was adjudged that he should be drawn and hanged, beheaded, disemboweled, and dismembered, and that his entrails, should be burnt; which was done. And his head was exposed upon London Bridge, his right arm on the bridge of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, his left arm at Berwick, his right foot at Perth* and his left foot at Aberdeen'
[The Chronicle of Lanercost]
Edward I had satisfied his lust for revenge in a most humiliating and horrific fashion. Alas, this form of execution was not extraordinary for the times. Indeed almost 400 years later Scots were executing fellow Scots in a similar barbaric way, their crime one of fighting for spiritual freedom It was Wallace 'the man', that was extraordinary. Not a saint, but a true patriot, a common man that rose to greatness and put national pride before personal gain. His death did bear witness to his struggle for a free Scotland, and as such, Edward's traitor can rightly be acclaimed as Scotland's martyr. Memento Mori.
The words of Blind Harry are subject to much scrutiny and rightly so, but these words can never be changed and they will live on as an integral part of Scotland's history. Harry has Wallace at home at Blackcraig soon after he raised his head against the English in 1297 and then again just immediately before his capture in 1305, his associations with this ancient corner of Kyle span the Wallace Years. No other place can stake such a claim !
Wallace going in to battle at Stirling Bridge,
Wallace Monument, Elderslie
Ruins of Castle William cottage in foreground with Castle William rock beyond, across the Afton valley from Blackcraig hill