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WALLACE AND HIS TIMES.
WILLIAM WALLACE is the most heroic character in Scottish history. Yet his authentic biography can scarcely be traced. Like all popular favorites, he has suffered from the fictions with which fond tradition has adorned his fame and obscured his history. His actions have always been the prominent theme of his countrymen, and his memory still lives in their undiminished admiration. His actions led the way to the independence of his country, at a period when that independence was a rescue from tyranny and oppression, although in his own person he did not reap the reward of his great services.
Edward the First, of England, had assumed the Scottish crown by the right of conquest ; and the administration of his officers was felt to be oppressive and insulting to the conquered people. Scotland has at all times had a high national feeling, and its mountain chiefs have been distinguished for their habits of independence. No country was less likely, in the thirteenth century, to submit quietly to a foreign conqueror. What the sword had extorted, the sword might again dispute ; and it was easy to understand that the Scots only wanted an able and resolute leader, to give the conquerors serious trouble. Such a leader they soon found in William Wallace, who, though not of noble birth, soon made himself the most powerful and famous man in his country.
He was the younger son of a small landholder in the neighbourhood of Paisley, in Renfrewshire, and is said to have been outlawed in his youth for killing an English nobleman; but this is rather a popular opinion than a historical fact. He appears to have been entirely unknown till he emerged from his obscurity to attack the English. Seven years constitute the short period of his exertions and his celebrity; and his actions are more fully recorded in the chronicles of his enemies, scanty as those notices are, than in the memorials of his countrymen. The first achievement by which he attracted attention was his killing the sheriff of Lanark, a brave and powerful man, on the English side. This was probably a sort of guerilla exploit, successfully accomplished at the head of a few wanderers whom he had collected ; but it struck the imagination of the people, and from that time the discontented and patriotic eagerly joined him and made him their leader. He was highly qualified for the great task he had undertaken. His personal appearance was prepossessing, his courage daring, his fortitude unwavering, and his liberality unbounded. Wher. ever he went, success crowned his enterprises, and the English everywhere fell before him. Enlarging his objects with his triumphs, he called upon the men of
rank to assert the cause of their country under his banner. If any Scottish nobleman refused, he seized and imprisoned him till he obeyed. Having thus collected an active and imposing force, he attempted to expel the English from the castles and fortresses in which they had secured themselves throughout the country, till his exploits reached the ears of Edward, and aroused him to serious exertions for the preservation of his newly acquired realm.
Edward could not at first credit the account of this unexpected rising of the Scots. He despatched the Bishop of Durham, a warrior-prelate, to examine and report the truth, and soon received a confirmation of the unwelcome news. He was then about embarking to defend Flanders from a French invasion, and immediately ordered his former general, the Earl of Warenne, to march and chastise the northern revolters. An army of fifty thousand men took the field, and the easy re-conquest of Scotland was confidently anticipated. In the mean time Wallace had been raised to the command of all the Scottish forces. He was be. sieging the castle of Dundee, in the year 1296, when he heard that the English were advancing to Stirling. Committing the siege to the citizens of the town, which he charged them to prosecute under the penalty of losing life and limb, if they were negligent, he hastened to meet the invaders. The waters of the Forth spread between the English and the town of Stirling; and a rising ground was beyond it. Wallace halted behind the hill to watch the enemy. Warenne sent two Dominican friars to offer peace. masters,” said Wallace, we come not here for
66 Tell your
but to fight,
to revenge and liberate our country ! Let them approach when they please, they will find us ready to meet them to the very beard !” This lofty answer kindled the pride of the English. “They threaten us !” was the general exclamation, “ let us advance!” — “If you pass by the bridge,” said a friendly native, “ you are ruined. Two only can pass it at a time. They flank us, and can attack with all their front. There is a ford not far off, where sixty men may cross together; let me conduct you to it.” The advice was rejected, and this presumptuousness gave Wallace the brightest day of his short military life.
The English advanced in narrow files upon the bridge. Wallace waited quietly till as many had passed as he was sure of overcoming. He then sent a body of lancers to secure the foot of the bridge, and immediately charged, with speedy destruction, the whole first division of the enemy. Their total discomfiture threw Warenne into a panic, and he fled to Berwick as fast as his horse could carry him, abandoning even the English border-counties to his tri. umphant antagonist, who followed up his advantage with such promptness that he was soon before Carlisle. He sent in a friar with this message :
66 William the Conqueror commands you to surrender.” 66 Who is this Conqueror ? " inquired the governor.
56 William, whom you call Wallace.” The summons was defied, and Wallace, finding he could not carry the place by assault, prepared to retreat. The epithet annexed to his name shows the exultation of the Scots at his suc. cess, and his popular celebrity.
Wallace, having thus liberated his country from the
English yoke, assumed the title of “Governor of Scotland in the name of King John Baliol,” who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London by Edward. He continued his exertions for maintaining the independence of the country ; but Edward, having returned from Flanders, made great preparations for a campaign against the Scots; and they soon felt that the crisis of affairs was not yet past.
Eighty thousand English soon penetrated beyond Edinburgh, but found themselves severely incommoded by the want of provisions. The scarcity soon became a famine, and Edward was about making dispositions for a retreat, when some one mentioned to him secretly, that the Scottish army under Wallace was only a few miles off, in the forest of Falkirk; that they had heard of the determination of the English to fall back, and had rapidly advanced, hoping to surprise their camp on the following night. Edward immediately gave orders to march toward Falkirk; his troops obeyed, knowing nothing of his design, and wondering at his change of mind.
In the moor near Linlithgow Edward halted his troops for the night. They rested on the bare earth, with their shields for pillows, their armor for beds, and their horses held unbaited near them. As the king was sleeping, his war-horse struck his side with his hoof, and broke two of his ribs. An alarm was spread that the king was hurt; treason was suspected, and a panic might have dispersed the English army, if Edward, subduing his sensations of pain, had not placed himself in his saddle and reassured his troops by his presence.
At dawn of day they marched to Falkirk, and beheld the Scottish army. The king