Wallace was fearlessly single-minded in his aim to free Scotland from English domination, After he killed the Sheriff of Lanark, he was declared a renegade and hid in Selkirk Forest with a group of bowmen. Added to the fact that he was famous for wearing green clothes, it is clear where the legend of Robin Hood originated. The English soldiers were so violent towards the ordinary people that the number of Wallace's supporters increased daily. Recruits flocked to his side and he became the leader of uprisings in different parts of Scotland.
Soon Wallace controlled much of Scotland, and meeting the English at Stirling Bridge on September 11, 1297, routed their army. The wooden bridge was so narrow that only two horsemen could ride across at one time. The Scots prepared a trap by weakening the supports at the north end so that a few blows with a hammer would be enough to topple the whole bridge into the river.
Wallace had an army of about 5,000 men, with only 100 knights; the English had 50,000 foot soldiers, 4000 archers and 1000 heavy cavalry. knights. Wallace waited on the hill above while half the English army crossed the bridge. At a signal from him, some of his men hiding below the bridge knocked out the supports so that the bridge fell, killing many that were on it at the time, and dividing the enemy force. Then the Scots charged down from the hill, screaming ferociously. Cressingham, the English Treasurer was one of the first to be hacked to pieces. Legend has it that Wallace made a belt using Cressingham's skin.
The English commander, Surrey, watched in horror as his army on the opposite river bank was massacred. Panic took hold and his forces ran for it, not stopping until they reached the English border.
Next year, Wallace was knighted and elected Guardian of Scotland. The Scottish victory at Stirling made Edward Longshanks hasten from France and invade Scotland with a very large army. He defeated the Scots at Falkirk, and over the next six years beat the resistance down until, by 1304, Scotland was again under English domination.
Wallace kept up the fight after Falkirk, and travelled extensively in Europe trying to get support from King Haakon of Norway, the Pope, and the French. For seven years, he worked and fought tenaciously for Scotland's freedom until he was captured on August 3 1305 near Glasgow. Taken to London he was tried and convicted of treason. He defended himself with the statement
"I cannot be a traitor, since I never swore fealty to the English king".
The heroic death of
this daring, handsome patriot roused Scots to a deeper sense of unity.