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William Wallace: The Man Behind the Legend

William Wallace: The Man Behind the Legend

By DeAnna Stevens

Saber and Scroll, Vol. 2:2 (2013)

A depiction of Wallace from H E Marshall's 'Scotland's Story', published in 1906. The scene shows a woman informing Wallace that the Scottish nobles have been massacred in a trap set at the Barns of Ayr. The original caption is, "Hold you, hold you, Brave Wallace! the English have hanged all your best men like dogs."

Abstract: Though usually inaccurate and based on myth, every so often a legend is born out of historical events and based on real people. This is the case with the Scottish hero William Wallace. Wallace was a flesh and blood man who had no idea that he would one day become a national hero of Scotland and an international legend; however, in the right time and in the right circumstances, normal becomes exceptional and exceptional becomes legendary.

Introduction: Legends grow up in every country throughout the world. They sometimes create national heroes and provoke a sense of pride and patriotism. Though usually inaccurate and based on myth, every so often a legend is born out of historical events and based on real people. This is the case with the Scottish hero William Wallace. Wallace was a flesh and blood man who had no idea that he would one day become a national hero of Scotland and an international legend; however, in the right time and in the right circumstances, normal becomes exceptional and exceptional becomes legendary.

The first historical account of William Wallace is that of Henry the Minstrel, otherwise known as Blind Harry. Blind Harry wrote The history of the life, adventures, and heroic actions of the celebrated Sir William Wallace in the fifteenth century, approximately one hundred and fifty years after the execution of Wallace. Once thought of as a historically accurate rendition of Wallace’s life, it is known to be filled with inaccuracies and romantic embellishments. However, Blind Harry’s account is still referenced in biographies and comparisons between reality and legend.

Details of William Wallace’s birth are lost. Blind Harry wrote that Wallace was born in Ellerslie to Malcolm Wallace and a daughter of Sir Ronald Crawford. Some historians claim that Wallace was born around 1270 and was the second son of Sir Malcolm Wallace. Others state that Wallace was born anywhere between the years 1260 and 1278 and that he was born either at Ellerslie, Elderslie, or Renfrewshire, that his father was Malcolm, Andrew, or William, and that his mother was Jean, Joan, Margaret, or an unnamed woman. Speculation also is rampant on the number and gender of Wallace’s siblings, whether he was born into a minor or major noble family, or if he was a commoner with no claim to any noble heritage. Historian Fiona Watson states that the “lack of verifiable evidence, or even relatively certain supposition, for the life and deeds of the man is both a blessing and a curse.” The blessing of no clear evidence means that the mystery and legendary status of Wallace will continue to increase. However, for historians who try to provide the reality behind the legend, the lack of evidence is a curse.

Click here to read this article from the American Public University System



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