"A false usurper sinks in every foe and liberty returns with every blow." (Blind Harry)
William Wallace is one of the most famous freedom fighters in history. Over 700 years after his death he is still remembered as Scotland's beloved hero. But while the movie Braveheart helped make him a household name, and he is commemorated across Scotland as a natural leader and a loyal son of his homeland, he is also "the most mysterious of the leaders of the Scottish resistance to Edward I". This is because, paradoxically, the very famous soldier is also one of the least well known. In fact, the mystery surrounding Wallace is figuring out precisely, or even vaguely, who he was. Where did this champion of Scottish independence come from? Who were his family members? What did he do before emerging from obscurity with the brutal murder of William Heselrig, the English sheriff of Lanark, in May 1297? So little evidence on Wallace's life exists that answering even the most basic questions about him can be a challenge.
That said, as one scholar perceptively notes, "the facts are not the reason why he is remembered as a meaningful historical actor". For the admirers Wallace has accumulated over the centuries, the idealized version of what he stood for - weak over strong, justice over injustice, the will of the people over the might of the powerful - is infinitely more important than the historical man himself. Similarly, his English detractors have also focused on image over substance through the years, depicting Wallace as a heartless brute, a cruel traitor, and a blood-hungry outlaw.
©2012 Charles River Editors (P)2015 Charles River Editors
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