Facts about William Wallace's Lanark connections

I felt inspired to write this piece after I heard about the plans to have a Wallace display on the gap site by the former Clydesdale Bank in Lanark.

Sign up to our GlasgowWorld Today newsletter

Wallace in the armour worn in his day; the gap site in Lanark now being developed.

This is an excellent idea but it is important to clearly separate the legends about William Wallace from what is really known about him.

The site is being billed as William Wallace’s House, but there is no evidence for this; LADAS actually did a dig there and found none.

Sign up to our GlasgowWorld Today newsletter

Then there is the story of Marion Braidfute; alas there was no one of that name. The story relating to William and Marion was inserted by the Baillie family in 1580 into Blind Harry’s life of William Wallace.

An excavation found no evidence of a home on the William Wallace House site.

The other false legend surrounds Wallace’s sword – large swords such as the one displayed at Stirling were never used in Wallace’s time.

Evidence suggests that William Wallace is connected with Riccarton near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. But there are also some people who think that he came from Elderslie.

The Ayrshire connection might, however, explain his decision to choose Lanark for mounting an uprising against the English as he was undoubtedly familiar with many of the farmers attending the sheep sales in Lanark.

Lanark was a major centre for the wool trade in those days and in May the farmers would be selling their lambs. It would be an ideal opportunity to start a revolt in Lanark as it was located on the main east to west and north to south routes.

Wallace would have known the Lanark Castle site well, along with others in the town.

Local farmers were less than happy with the imposition of a tax called the Prest raised on wool and sheep sales. This was imposed for Edward I’s campaigns in Flanders so that he could buy the services of mercenaries.

He had to do this as the English did not like Edward I either, which became obvious when he tried to get volunteers for his war in Flanders. Only two men volunteered from Cornwall and six from Yorkshire! Edward I tried to recruit Scots as well, with very little success.

People who signed an oath of loyalty in 1296 after Edward I had defeated John Balliol at the battle of Dunbar were beginning to regret having signed the Ragman’s Roll.

In the past decade research has provided a date for Wallace’s uprising in Lanark. On May 3, 1297, he led an attack on the English garrison in Lanark, killing the governor Haselrigg, an appointee of Edward I.

This month is the 725th anniversary of Wallace’s uprising. This was thought to have happened at Lanark Castle but, according to Blind Harry, the attack was carried out in a stone house in Lanark.

The finest house in Lanark was that of the monks of Dryburgh and it is possible the windows to the rear of Hay’s travel agency are a relic of that building and have more authenticity than the so-called William Wallace House.

One of the pictures running alongside this article shows what Wallace would have looked like in the armour worn in his day. Also included are his armorial bearings. Notice he is not shown with a massive great sword. The story of Wallace’s sword at Stirling is a complete myth conjured up in the Victorian era. Actually, it was a sword used to defend the battlements of a castle. Indeed, it was found at Dumbarton Castle and probably dates to the 16th century!

Wallace is also not covered in woad; this was a complete Hollywood invention. Obviously the makers of Braveheart decided to portray Wallace as some sort of noble savage which, as a historian, I find quite demeaning for our national hero.

Lanark should be proud of its connection with William Wallace and we should also celebrate that the town alone has things that he would have known – the castle, the south wall of the nave of old St Kentigerns, the windows in Bernard’s Wynd and the artefacts of his time now in Lanark museum.

Of all the towns in Scotland, Lanark has the most original things connected with Wallace which we should encourage visitors to see but, at the same time, we need to avoid him being used a political symbol.

Wallace was not some Che Guevara but a man who wished to restore the rule of John Balliol, Scotland’s legitimate king.

In his day, he was just as much an inspiration to the people of Scotland as President Volodymyr Zelensky is to the people of Ukraine today.