English Accounts of Wallace


A number of English accounts of Wallace exist - many more than contemporary Scottish ones, though we include one (John of Fordun) here, due to the depredations of various invading armies over the centuries. One thing to remember when reading primary and secondary source accounts is to acknowledge who was writing, where they were writing, when they were writing, to whom they were writing and why; to acknowledge any apparent bias due to any and all of those influences. As you may gather, Wallace was not viewed with any great degree of fondness by many of the chroniclers.

The accounts of Wallace's 'trial' and judicial murder are dealt with elsewhere on the site.

We start our little trawl through the records with an entry from Sir Thomas Grey, a chronicle originally written in Anglo-Norman French by a knight captured by the Scots in 1355 and imprisoned for 2 years in Edinburgh Castle. Unusually for the time, he was very literate, and his imprisonment was hardly durance vile, as he was allowed free access to all the documents in the library of the castle, and he made good use of his time. The notes he made during his spell in Edinburgh were eventually published, and to quote his Wikipedia entry: "The chief historical value of the work is in the parts dealing with the reigns of King Edward I, King Edward II, and King Edward III which draw on the personal experience of both the author and his father, also Thomas Grey, as soldiers in the Anglo-Scottish and French wars during those reigns." As will be seen from the first entry here, his sense of time is a little vague (to put it mildly), but ultimately we are dealing with someone who, whilst not a trained historian, had a far better sense of history (and literacy) than the vast majority of his equals in status as warriors.

1297 - from Thomas Grey's Scalacronica
At which time [1297] in the month of May William Wallace was chosen by the commons of Scotland as leader to raise war against the English, and he at the outset slew William de Heselrig at Lanark, the King's Sheriff of Clydesdale. (2) The said William Wallace came by night upon the said sheriff and surprised him, when Thomas de Gray (3), who was at that time in the suite of the said sheriff, was left stripped for dead in the mellay when the English were defending themselves. The said Thomas lay all night naked between two burning houses which the Scots had set on fire, whereof the heat kept life in him, until he was recognised at daybreak and carried off by William de Lundy, who caused him to be restored to health. And the following winter, the said William Wallace burnt all Northumberland. The Earl of Warenne, who was Keeper
(2) His proper name was Andrew de Livingstone, usually termed de Heselrig or Hazelrig, as in the death sentence of Wallace, probably on account of his official residence.
(3) Father of the chronicler.
Page 18

of Scotland for the King of England, being in the South (1), turned towards Scotland; where at the Bridge of Stirling he was defeated by William Wallace, who, being at hand in order of battle (2), allowed so many of the English as he pleased to cross over the said bridge, and, at the right moment (3), attacked them, caused the bridge to be broken, where many of the English perished, with Hugh de Cressingham, the King's Treasurer; and it was said that the Scots caused him to be flayed, and in token of hatred made girths of his skin. William Wallace, to whom the Scots adhered, immediately after this discomfiture, followed (4) the said Earl of Warenne in great force, and skirting Berwick, arrived on Hutton Moor in order of battle; but perceiving the English arrayed to oppose him, he came no nearer to Berwick, but retired and bivouacked in Duns Parl (5).
(1) Warenne, or Surrey, which was his principal title, had been recalled on 18th August for service with King Edward on the Continent, and Sir Brian Fitz Alan was appointed Keeper of Scotland in his place. But Sir Brian having raised a difficulty about his salary (L 1128 8s.), the Prince of Wales wrote on 7th Sept., 1298, requiring Surrey to remain at his post. (See Stevenson's Documents illustrative of the History of Scotland, ii. 230.) (2)En batail, in force or in order of battle; used in both senses. (3) A soun point. (4)Suyst, misprinted fuyst in Maitland Club Ed. (5)Not Duns Park on Whitadder, but in a place which then bore that name a little to the north of Berwick. Page 19

1297 - from The Rishanger Chronicle
"When Edward returned to the south of his kingdom . . . all the Scots by common assent chose and made their leader and recruiter a certain man called William le Waleis, of ignoble family, so that they could renew the war against the king of England - in vain."

How the Scots chose William le Waleis to be their leader and recruiter.

"At the same time there was in Scotland a certain young man called William le Waleis, an archer, who sought his sustenance by bow and quiver. Born and brought up of a lowly and poor family, since he had tried out his audacity in many places, as is the way of strong men, he sought leave from the Scots that he might meet the English and halt their army by his bow, and, so that they would help him, and he would protect their army. He promised them by a sworn oath, that if leave to meet with them was given him, he would take all England and lead them to London, and so deliver up the whole kingdom of England by force. . . . On the spot all the Scots chose the said William le Waleis, of ignoble family, and appointed him leader and recruiter over their army."

1297 - Of William Wallace - from The Lanercost Chronicle
Welsh William being made a noble,
Straightway the Scots became ignoble.
Treason and slaughter, arson and raid,
By suff'ring and misery must be repaid.

May 1297 - from The Guisborough Chronicle
In the month of May in the same year, the perfidious nation of the Scots began to rebel in this way. The Earl of Warenne to whom our King [Edward I] had entrusted the whole of the kingdom of Scotland on his behalf and in his name, giving as his reason the debasement of money, said that it was not sensible for him to stay there and he remained in England but in the North, and half-heartedly pursued the enemy who were living in exile, which was the source and origin of evil for us in the future. And the King's treasurer the lord Hugh de Cressingham, a solemn and lofty man, loved money exceedingly and failed to construct the stone wall which the lord the king himself had ordered to be constructed upon the new fortifications at Berwick; which turned out to be a scandal to our men as will be clear below. Now the King's justiciar, William Ormsby, prosecuting the King's command, began to send into exile all those without distinction of persons who had refused to make firm fealty to the King of England. There was also a certain brigand, William Wallace by name, who had been in exile many times. Since this man was wandering and fugitive, he assembled about himself all those who were living in exile, and became something of a chief to them, and they grew into a large people. To him also was joined the soldier James Douglas who in the capture of the castle of Berwick had given himself together with his men to the King, saving his life and limb, as has been said above. Although the King had restored him to everything he became forgetful of his goods, and a robber allied to a robber, pursued his liberator to death, at least in his subjects . . ."

Imprisonment of the Bishop of Glasgow - 1297 - from The Guisborough Chronicle
"When that robber William Wallace had heard this he became angry in his mind and proceeded to the Bishop's house and drew to himself all his furniture, arms and horses, and the sons who were called by name of the bishop's nephews. And he was increased by an immense number of Scots to the point where the community of the realm began to follow him as their leader and prince. And entire households [retainers] of the nobles began to adhere to him and even though the nobles themselves were with our King [Edward I] in body, their hearts were a long way from him. Indeed our men having become so irritated, since they did not wish to put up with such things any longer, marched forward in arms to the town of Stirling where the Steward of Scotland and the Earl of Lennox and certain others of the nobles of Scotland came and asked our men to hold off for a short time in case they might be able to pacify their men and the people of the Scots in whatever way. Although this was granted to them, they came back, that is to say on the 11th of September, and replied precisely that they could not answer for them, promising however that they would come to the aid of our men the next day with forty armed horse."

Stirling Bridge - 1297 - from The Guisborough Chronicle
"On the same day amongst the Scottish spearmen fell the above-named treasurer of the lord King, the lord Hugh de Cressingham, rector of the church of Ruddeby, and chief judge at the assizes of York. Although he was a prebendary of many churches and had the cure of many souls, yet he never put on spiritual arms or the chasuble, but helmet and cuirass, in which he fell. And he who had previously terrified many by the sword of his tongue in many court trials, was eventually slain by the sword of evil men. The Scots stripped him of his skin and divided it amongst themselves in small parts, not indeed for relics but for insults, for he was a handsome and exceedingly fat man and they called him not the King's treasurer but the King's 'Treacherer' and this was truer than they believed. For he led many astray that day, but he too, who was smooth and slippery, exalted with pride and given over to avarice, was himself led astray."

1297 - Stirling Bridge - from The Lanercost Chronicle
"Hardly had a period of six months passed since the Scots' had bound themselves by the above-mentioned solemn oath of fidelity and subjection to the king of the English, when the reviving malice of that perfidious [race] excited their minds to fresh sedition. For the bishop of the church in Glasgow, whose personal name was Robert Wishart, ever foremost in treason, conspired with the Steward of the realm, named James,(1) for a new piece of insolence, yea, for a new chapter of ruin. Not daring openly to break their pledged faith to the king, they caused a certain bloody man, William Wallace, who had formerly been a chief of brigands in Scotland, to revolt against the king and assemble the people in his support. So about the Nativity of the Glorious Virgin (2) they began to show themselves in rebellion ; and when a great army of England was to be assembled against them, the Steward treacherously said to them [the English] - ' It is not expedient to set In motion so great a multitude on account of a single rascal ; send with me a few picked men, and I will bring him to you dead or alive.' When this had been done and the greater part of the army had been dismissed, the Steward brought them to the bridge of Stirling, where on the other side of the water the army of Scotland was posted. They [the Scots] allowed as many of the English to cross the bridge as they could hope to overcome, and then, having blocked the bridge (3) they slaughtered all who had crossed over, among whom perished the Treasurer of England, Hugh de Cressingham, of whose skin William Wallace caused a broad strip to be taken from the head to the heel, to make therewith a baldrick for his sword.(4) The Earl of Warenne escaped with difficulty and with a small following, so hotly did the enemy pursue them. After this the Scots entered Berwick and put to death the few English that they found therein ; for the town was then without walls, and might be taken as easily by English or Scots coming in force. The castle of the town, however, was not surrendered on this occasion.

After these events the Scots entered Northumberland in strength, wasting all the land, committing arson, pillage, and murder, and advancing almost as far as the town of Newcastle ; from which, however, they turned aside and entered the county of Carlisle. There they did as they had done in Northumberland, destroying everything, then returned into Northumberland to lay waste more completely what they had left at first ; and re-entered Scotland on the feast of S. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr." (5)

1. Father of Walter Stewart who, by his marriage with Marjory, daughter of Robert I., became progenitor of the Stuart dynasty.
2. 8th September.
3. Ponte obturato
4. Other writers say the skin was cut up into horse-girths.
5. 22nd November

1297 - from the Guisborough Chronicle
"At that time the praise of God ceased in all the monasteries and churches of the whole province from Newcastle to Carlisle. All the monks, canons regular and the rest of the priests and ministers of the Lord, together with almost the whole of the people fled from the face of the Scot."

1298 - Falkirk - from The Lanercost Chronicle
"Meanwhile, truce was made between the King of France and the King of England, and the king returned to England, and finding how the Scots had risen in his absence, he assembled an army and directed his march towards Scotland, and having entered that country, he passed through part thereof.

So on the festival of the blessed Mary Magdalene (1) the Scots gave him battle with all their forces at Falkirk, William Wallace aforesaid being their commander, putting their chief trust, as was their custom, in their foot pikemen, whom they placed in the first line. But the armoured cavalry of England, which formed the greater part of the army, moving round and outflanking them on both sides, routed them, and, all the Scottish cavalry being quickly put to flight, there were slain of the pikemen and infantry, who stood their ground and fought manfully, sixty thousand, according to others eighty thousand, according to others one hundred thousand ; (2) nor was there slain on the English side any nobleman except the Master of the Templars, with five or six esquires, who charged the schiltrom of the Scots too hotly and rashly.

Having thus entirely overcome the enemies of our king and kingdom, the army of England marched by one route to the Scottish sea,(3) and returned by another, in order to destroy all that the Scots had spared before. But on the approach of winter the king dismissed the nobles of England to their own estates, and undertook the guard of the March himself with a small force for a time. But before Christmas he returned to the south, having disbanded the aforesaid guards upon the March."

1. 2nd July.
2. Walsingham estimates the loss of the Scots at 60,000, Hemingburgh at 56,000 - both preposterous figures, far exceeding the total of Wallace's forces. The only trustworthy data whereby to estimate the English losses is found in the compensation paid by King Edward for 111 horses killed in the action.
3. Firth of Forth.

Wallace to the troops - from The Rishanger Chronicle
"I have browght yowe to the rynge, hoppe yef ye kunne (I have brought you to the ring, now dance if you can)"

The schiltroms - from The Guisborough Chronicle
"made up entirely of spearmen, standing shoulder to shoulder in deep ranks and facing towards the circumference of the circle, with their spears slanting outwards at an oblique angle."

Around the schiltroms - from The Rishanger Chronicle
"a great number of long stakes fixed into the ground and tied together with cords and ropes like a fence so that they would obstruct the passage of the English."

Battle of Falkirk - from John of Fordun.
"In the year 1298, the aforesaid king of England, taking it ill that he and his should be put to so much loss and driven to such straits by William Wallace, gathered together a large army, and, having with him, in his company, some of the nobles of Scotland to help him, invaded Scotland. He was met by the aforesaid William, with the rest of the magnates of that kingdom ; and a desperate battle was fought near Falkirk, on the 22d of July. William was put to flight, not without serious loss both to the lords and to the common people of the Scottish nation. For, on account of the ill-will, begotten of the spring of envy, which the Comyns had conceived towards the said William, they, with their accomplices, forsook the field, and escaped unhurt. On learning their spiteful deed, the aforesaid William, wishing to save himself and his, hastened to flee by another road. But alas ! through the pride and burning envy of both, the noble Estates (communitas) of Scotland lay wretchedly overthrown throughout hill and dale, mountain and plain. Among these, of the nobles, John Stewart, with his Brendans ; Macduff, of Fife ; and the inhabitants thereof, were utterly cut off. But it is commonly said that Robert of Bruce, - who was afterwards king of Scotland, but then fought on the side of the king of England - was the means of bringing about this victory. For, while the Scots stood invincible in their ranks, and could not be broken by either force or stratagem, this Robert of Bruce went with one line, under Anthony of Bek, by a long road round a hill, and attacked the Scots in the rear ; and thus these, who had stood invincible and impenetrable in front, were craftily overcome in the rear. And it is remarkable that we seldom, if ever, read of the Scots being overcome by the English, unless through the envy of lords, or the treachery and deceit of the natives, taking them over to the other side."

Verses - from The Lanercost Chronicle
Berwick, Dunbar, and Falkirk too
Show all that traitor Scots can do.
England exult ! thy Prince is peerless.
Where thee he leadeth, follow fearless.

Praise of the King of England - from The Lanercost Chronicle
The noble race of Englishmen most worthy is of praise,
By whom the Scottish people have been conquered in all ways.
England exult !

The Frenchmen break their treaties as soon as they are made.
Whereby the hope of Scotsmen has been cheated and betrayed.
England exult !

O disconcerted people ! hide yourselves and close your gates.
Lest Edward should espy you and wreak vengeance on your pates.
England exult !

Henceforth the place for vanquished Scots is nearest to the tail
In clash of arms. O England victorious, all hail !
England exult !

Of the Impiety of the Scots - from The Lanercost Chronicle
O Scottish race ! God's holy shrines have been defiled by thee,
His sacred temples thou hast burnt, O crying shame to see !
Think not that thou for these misdeeds shalt punishment avoid,
For Hexham's famous sanctuary polluted and destroyed.
The pillaged house of Lanercost lies ruined and defaced ;
The doers of such sacrilege must cruel vengeance taste.
Let irons, fire, and famine now scourge the wicked race,
With whom henceforth nor fame nor faith nor treaty can have place.
The Scottish nation, basely led, hath fallen in the dust ;
In those who forfeit every pledge let no man put his trust.

William Wallace resigns the office of Guardian - from John of Fordun.
"But after the aforesaid victory, which was vouchsafed to the enemy through the treachery of Scots, the aforesaid William Wallace, perceiving, by these and other strong proofs, the glaring wickedness of the Comyns and their abettors, chose rather to serve with the crowd, than to be set over them, to their ruin, and the grievous wasting of the people. So, not long after the battle of Falkirk, at the water of Forth, he, of his own accord, resigned the office and charge which he held, of guardian."

Bishop of Lichfield - Originally in Letter Book C, folio 23, in Norman French, Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London
"On Saturday the Feast of St. Peter's Chains (August 1st), there came a messenger from Sir Walter de Langestone, Bishop of Coventre and Lychfeld, and Treasurer to our Lord the King of England, bringing a letter from the said Bishop to the Mayor, and Alderman, and Barons, of London, in these words:
"To his dear friends, the Mayor and the Barons of London, Walter, by the grace of God, Bishop of Chester (1), greeting and true friendship. Because we well know that you willingly will hear good tidings of our Lord the King and of his affairs in Scotland, we give you to understand that on the Monday next before the Feast of Saint James (July 25th), there came tidings unto the Lord the King where he was staying, six leagues beyond Edeneburg, that the Scots were approaching directly towards him. As soon as he had heard this, he moved with his host towards the parts where the Scots were; and on the morrow the King arrived in good time, and found his enemies prepared to give battle. And so they engaged, and, by the grace of God, his enemies were soon discomfited, and fled: but nevertheless, there were slain of the enemy in the day's fight 200 men-at-arms, and 20,000 of their foot-soldiers; wherefore we do hope that affairs yonder will go well from henceforth, by the aid of our Lord. Unto God (we commend you). Written at Acun, on Sunday after the feast of St. James, in the 26th year of our Lord, the King Edward."
And so the said messenger was given by the hands of the Chamberlain the sum of 26 shillings by order of the Mayor, John le Blunt, and of John de Canterbury, Thomas Romeyn, Nicholas de Farndone, Nicholas Pyckot, William de Betoine, and John de Donestaple, the then Chamberlain, Aldermen."
1) The Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry often used this name.

The Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough, ed. H. Rothwell, Camden Society, 3rd series, LXXXIX (1957 for 1955-57)
Chronicon de Lanercost, ed. J. Stevenson, Maitland Club (Edinburgh, 1839)
Sir Thomas Grey, Scalachronica, ed. J. Stevenson, Maitland Club (Edinburgh, 1836)
Rishanger Chronicle, ed. J. Halliwell (Camden Society, 1840)
J. de Fordun, Chronica Gentis Scotorum, i, ed. W. F. Skene (Edinburgh, 1871)
Calendar of Letter Books of the City of London London, Calendar of Letter-Books


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