William Wallace was born in the 1270s in Elderslie, Renfrewshire into a gentry family. Very little is known about his early years and there are significant periods of his life for which there are no reliable sources. Even now, much of his legend comes from Blind Harry’s 15th-century epic poem, The Wallace, which for centuries was the second most popular book in Scotland after the Bible.
Extracts from the accompanying The Greatest Scot television programme are being added to these biographical notes as the programme is broadcast between November 9 and 13. If you live outside the UK, you will not be able to see these, but you may enjoy other videos about some of the subjects which are available via links in the text. Here is Scottish historian David Ross revealing Glasgow's very own Wallace Monument, located on the site where Wallace was captured in August 1305, and Hollywood actor Mel Gibson talking about his movie Braveheart, which depicts the life of William Wallace.
In 1296, Edward I of England took advantage of a succession crisis in Scotland and imposed himself as ruler with an English administration. Within months, Scottish unrest was widespread.
In May 1297, Wallace attacked the town of Lanark, killing the English sheriff. Unrest quickly turned to a full-blown rebellion. Men flocked to join Wallace and began to drive the English out of Fife and Perthshire. In September 1297, Wallace defeated a much larger English force at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This and subsequent military successes severely weakened the English hold on Scotland.
Wallace then launched raids into England and in late 1297/ early1298 he was knighted and appointed "Guardian of the Kingdom" in the name of John Balliol, the deposed king of Scotland.
The shock of the defeat at Stirling rallied the English around Edward I, who marched north with an army. Wallace's strategy was to avoid confrontation and gradually withdraw. In July 1298, the Scottish and English armies met near Falkirk, and the Scots were defeated.
Wallace escaped and little is known of his movements. What is known is that at some stage he resigned the guardianship and was succeeded by Robert Bruce and John Comyn.
Wallace went abroad, notably to France, to seek support for the Scottish cause and did not return till 1303. In his absence Robert Bruce accepted a truce with Edward I and in 1304, John Comyn also came to terms with the English.
Wallace was excluded from these terms and the English king offered a large sum of money to anyone who killed or captured him. Wallace was seized in or near Glasgow in August 1305 and transported to London. He was charged and tried with treason, which he denied, saying he had never sworn allegiance to the English king.
His execution was held on 23 August, where he was hung, drawn and quartered. His head was placed on London Bridge, and his limbs displayed in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth.