Monday, August 23, 2010

Wallace Day

So it's August 23rd, the day we commemorate the life of Scotland's greatest son, William Wallace.

On this day in 1305, (oddly enough, it was a Monday as well) Wallace was taken from the cellar of the house of William de Leyre and conducted to Westminster Hall for his trial. After He was sentenced to a horrible fate, he was taken outside and tied to a board at the tails of two horses, who were to drag him through London. Wallace's captors made sure that the rout through the city went to every possible place, so the people gathered in the streets would have the chance to jeer at their enemy. (If you want a detailed account of Wallace's rout through London, see David R. Ross's book For Freedom. The rout is still walkable today.)

His destination was Smithfield. It was a well known meat market and was also a common place for London executions. Here, as well as in Tyburn (another favorite place) was where many Jacobites met their deaths after the 1745 Uprising. New historic information, discovered by David Ross, claims that August 23rd coincides with St. Bartholomew's Fair, a huge fair that was celebrated in medieval England and well up into even modern times. David Ross thinks that the reason Longshanks was so eager to have Wallace brought down, tried and condemned so quick was so that his execution would make a "good show" for the people who had come from miles around to attend the Fair. This clearly shows how sick that man's mind was.

But from accounts, Wallace still did not back down, even in those last horrible moments. He was said to have asked the priest present to hold his personal book of psalms in front of him as he was being hung. (As an off subject, I have always wondered if his book of psalms is still somewhere in London??? That would certainly be a find!) Then after they had read out the sentence for all to hear, Wallace told them "to do all that they would".

Hanging, drawing and quartering was probably one of the worst execution methods in the medieval days, and England held onto it well into the seventeen hundreds. It was supposedly the death of traitors, though most of the people it was used on were no more traitors than Wallace was. He was hung until unconscious, cut down, disemboweled alive, and, depending on the account you read, he was either beheaded, or had his heart cut out. Once he was dead, his body was cut into quarters and distributed to the four corners of Scotland as a warning to others not to defy England's might. His head was put atop London bridge, and before to long, it was joined by those of several of his comrades.

There is no account as to weather Longshanks attended the execution. I'm not sure what I want to think on that matter, though it would have been almost poetic justice for Longshanks to see Wallace defiant to the last, as he would have been.

Longshanks had hoped that by killing Wallace in such a way would make the Scots forget him. This was obviously not the case. Wallace's death grew a vengeance in the Scots. He was their leader, the only one who dared stand up against England's might and defy them to their face. It was because of his death that Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scots just six months later and carried on the fight to the ultimatum at Bannockburn. Wallace's death was not in vain, and I hope he realized that before he died. So, Longshanks, you did a really bad job at making us forget him, because it's seven hundred years on now and we're still celebrating his legacy!

They now hold a Wallace Day annually up in Elderslie, put on by The Society of William Wallace If anyone has ever gone, I'm sure it was a great experience. I know that's one thing I wish to do when I go to Scotland!

As my own Wallace Day tribute, here is a poem I wrote last night in honor of the Flower of Scotland who fought a died for his wee bit hill and glen:

Flower of Scotia

There was a time now years ago
That Scotland's soil ran red
With the blood of her countrymen;
Dear Scotia did mourn her dead.
But there came a day in that dark time
That a single thistle grew,
And little did dear Scotia know
That that thistle would make England their deeds to rue.

The thistle grew both tall and strong,
More than all the others around.
Taller than the purple heather,
Stronger than any weapon found.
Braw and fair the thistle grew
In Scotland's soil so red,
As time went on and things got worse,
It was then that thistle raised it's head.

The thistle defied England's mighty power,
The rose of the south, so bloody and cruel,
The thistle pricked anyone's fingers who dared it touch
And would not give England a chance to rule.
The king of England sent all his men
For to cut this bold thistle down,
But when they came in all their numbers
A prick to each finger was all they found.

The bloody rose of England was bleeding itself,
The king was loosing face.
He knew that something had to be done
To save his frightened race.
So he sent to the far corners
Of Scotland and England both,
Looking for traitors and quislings
And unto them he quoth:

"Bring me that defiant thistle
That has stopped me conquering too long.
Bring it down at all costs!
On your lives, do not do me wrong!"
One man stepped forward from the crowd,
The name of John Menteith,
Who said, "I will do your job, my king,
Anything to give Scotland grief!"

So off he set with many hard men
That thistle to bring down.
England's bloody rose at his back,
That thistle to confound.
When he reached the spot that thistle stood,
It was still as tall and strait.
He sneered and jeered at that bold flower,
His face to full of hate.

"What right have you to defy England's might?!"
Menteith sneered at the bold plant.
"You are but one small thistle in a land of blood,
And defy your liege lord, you can't!"
But the thistle still stood there in it's native ground,
The quisling's words it did not heed.
For, because it had not grown in English soil,
It just sat awaiting Menteith's cruel deed.

It was he who cut that thistle down,
Just as the king had bid;
But the thistle did not give up without a fight,
And prick his fingers it did.
The bloody rose of England rejoiced that day
For the loss of it's enemy bold
While Scotia wept for her lost son;
Such tears that land never did behold.

But for all those years and up to this day,
That thistle is remembered still,
Known as the Flower of Scotland
Who stood up against cruel England's will.
So many centuries on and so many more,
We will remember that thistle brave
Who defied English Edward to his very beard,
And ultimately sent him to his grave.

So think on that thistle for seven centuries more.
Lift a glass and think on all he did.
Because of him, Scotland, generations on
Will never do what England shall bid.

Slainte, and have a good Wallace day!


  1. Poor Wallace. What a wretched way to die, but I suppose in those days people were used to hardships that we never consider these days. And we think execution styles of today are cruel.
    Your poems always make me cry, Hazel. Lovely.


  2. I know, lethal injection? Puh-leez. Today they consider that cruel and unusual.