The Scottish warrior and hero of a nation was captured by the English and suffered an atrocious death. Taken to London and hanged, drawn and quartered, his head was put up on London Bridge, the four parts of the body taken to four different places of the realm: Berwick, Perth, Newcastle seem certain. The fourth is a matter of debate: Stirling or Aberdeen.
William Wallace died on 23rd August 1305. He was the most prominent fighter for Scottish independence of his time if not of all times. It was a cruel death, he was dragged to London after he had been seized in Glasgow. Hanged on the scaffold he was cut down just before death, disemboweled, his inner organs burned, his mutilated body finally torn into four pieces.
treason and death
The English King Edward I had him charged for treason and sentenced to this cruel death.
“He meant to destroy Wallace in body and in reputation and to that end brought him to trial as an outlaw as well as a traitor…. Edward was a master in the use and abuse of the law.” (3)
Sir John Segrave, Edward Longshanks lieutenant in Scotland delivered all four body parts of the legendary fighter for Scottish independence and received 15 Shillings for his troubles. Roughly a year’s earnings for a manservant. (1) And a gruesome task to perform.
Aberdeen or Stirling?
The official version is the fourth part went to Stirling but a few scholars claim it was Aberdeen. So does the Wikipedia entry for St Machar’s Cathedral:
“After the execution of William Wallace in 1305, his body was cut up and sent to different corners of the country to warn other dissenters.
His left quarter ended up in Aberdeen and is buried in the walls of the cathedral.”
But Wikipedia on William Wallace himself claims differently. As do many others:
His limbs were sent to Newcastle, Berwick, Perth and Stirling. (2)
Three seem undisputed. But the fourth part?
Aberdeen or Stirling?
the hanging of a number of Scots
“Both towns were familiar to Wallace. The former had witnessed one of the more calculatedly brutal episodes associated with him: the hanging of a number of Scots who had defied him. Stirling was the scene of his great victory. For that reason, it may be the likelier choice in keeping with Edward’s intention to blacken Wallace’s memory.” (3)
Many believe Cambuskenneth Abbey to be the place where part of William Wallace was buried. Somebody puts down roses every year on what some believe to be the grave commemorating the great Scottish freedom fighter and his brutal death.
Aberdeen maybe also for another reason – Wallace had burned a large number of English ships there in 1297, sweeping through Fife and Perthshire on the way clearing them of English invaders. This is what Blind Harry claims, a Scottish poet who wrote “The Wallace” a long poem recounting the life of William Wallace. But written nearly 200 years after Wallace’s death. Questions remain as to the truth of details mentioned.
St Machar’s, Old Aberdeen
St. Machar’s stands in picturesque Old Aberdeen north of the city. The church was founded by Machar in 580AD after he left Iona to establish Celtic churches elsewhere in Scotland. It was here, at the bend of the river Don, where Bishop Nechtan established a cathedral in 1136. There is hardly anything left of the old church. What survived the Reformation got destroyed by a storm in 1688. A new church was built.
I could find no evidence where remains of Wallace’s left quarter could have been buried.
But now a marker in the outside wall of St Machar’s has been pointed out to me by Scot Spearman who kindly supplied a picture.
This is of course no proof to the theory but certainly compelling evidence that part of the remains of the great Scottish freedom fighter were buried in Abendeen.
William Wallace died a brutal death. His name and fame did not. He lives on not only in Scotland and England but all over the world.
Sources and further reading:
- medieval prices and wages
- Keay & J. Keay (ed): Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland. Haroper, London, 2000
- Andrew Fisher: William Wallace. Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2002
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Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. These stories have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.
The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and everything about Scotland except whisky, sheep and tartan.
Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.
There is a star on the external wall which marks the place where Wallace’s body part is buried. I searched for this for years and eventually found it in 2009. A church official said the story wasn’t true.
Hi Scot, thank you for this. That is very interesting. I had read about the star in the wall but failed to find it. Did you take a picture? But the star would still not confirm the burial of the fourt part, would it? It could indicate something completely different.
Very interesting. I remember being shown around there as a school kid, must be early 60s. I recall very vividly being shown an embedded iron ring in a wall where (it was claimed) Wallace’s arm & torso were displayed. Maybe just the guides imagination, but remains an impression on me..!
Thank you Gordon. There might as well have been. Interesting that you still remember that. The gruesome story must have caught many a child’s imagination. Thanks for sharing.
The star on the wall is surrounded by a circle. It may be an iron ring. I still live in hope that these legends can be investigated to a conclusion. The Richard III car park discovery in Leicester adds to this.
These barbaric killing methods were still in place in the 18th century. Only a sick mind can get such an idea.
How do I paste a photo here?
I am afraid the template will not allow that. You could send it in an email
There were archaeological digs for Young budding archaeologists in Stirling around 2014 with the anniversary of Bannockburn. Among the proposed locations was Cambuskenneth Abbey. This was the location for the Scots Army’s weapons /baggage store during the battle. Being aware of the story regarding Wallace’s severed limb being taken by the monks from Stirling town sewer to Cambuskenneth Abbey I made contact with Murray Cook the Archaelogist leading the digs and asked him if there were any plans to test the story about Wallace’s limb being buried within the abbey. The response was anything but positive. I was extremely disappointed but not really surprised as a common trend among the so called experts is what I call Wallace Denial. The phrase “Cannae be. No tall enough!” From Braveheart Sums it up.
I had a similar response when I finally was directed to the star on the wall at St Machsr’s in Aberdeen. By comparison I found it totally frustrating when a full life sized reconstruction of an English Knights remains found within Stirling Castle was televised by BBC. They did so much analysis on those remains they could identify his diet and likely cause of death. In relative terms he was a nobody yet time, significant money and resources were spent on this.
My paternal grandmother was a proud Scot, and a lovely lady. I do, “get,” the remarkable and valiant history.
At the end of his book The Wallace, Nigel makes reference to Aberdeen as the location of part of Wallace’s remains. In a separate series of books called The Queens Scotland he provides a bit more detail and identifies the star in the wall at St Machars as the location. In another volume in the series which covers Central Scotland, including Stirling, he makes no reference to Wallace’s remains being at Cambuskenneth Abbey.
It appears that the reference to Aberdeen originated from the Chronicle of Lanercost Priory. Any other English court records of Wallace’s trial and execution specify Stirling and not Aberdeen.
The one location which never seems to be challenged is Perth and yet there is hardly any official commemorative reference to Wallace in the town. I wonder why?
Thank you for your thought-provoking article. It has prompted interesting discussion on a Facebook group I belong to. However, I just wanted to point out one thing, which you may wish to amend: unfortunately the picture you have at the top is of the statue of Robert the Bruce at Stirling Castle, not of William Wallace.
Thank you for this comment.Yes, I am aware that the statue depicts Robert the Bruce and not Wallace. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of a Wallace statue. If you could contribute one it would be very much appreciated. Kind regards, Nellie
“prominent fighter for Scottish independence of his time if not of all times.” why, because of Mel Gibson ?
Wallace is one of the most famous Scots in history but not the only one. Read about James Douglas, aka “The Good Sir James” in Scotland or, known as “The Black Douglas” to the English.
Well, Mel Gibson certainly played a big part in making Wallace known to the world. I completely agree about James Douglas but a look at my statistics tells me far more people are searching for Wallace than Douglas, that end up on my blog. You are of course perfectly entitled to differ. Kind regards, Nellie
I have read the 4th part was hung up on the replacement Stirling Bridge, and removed 6 months later with the uprising of Bruce. The obvious place his remains would be buried is in nearby Cambuskenneth Abbey about 300 yards away.
There’s an excellent illustration by the late Andy Hillhouse RIP which shows the Wallace Arm being displayed in Stirling. Legend states that the arm was recovered by the monks of Cambuskenneth and taken and buried within the grounds of Cambuskenneth Abbey. The legend states that the arm is buried pointing towards the Abbey Craig where Wallace and Andrew Murray defeated the invading English Army on 11 September 1297.
The late Nigel Tranter’s book in the series – The Queens Scotland the North East tells of the arm being buried in the wall of St Machar’s cathedral in Old Aberdeen. In the other volume which covers Central Scotland there is absolutely no reference to Cambuskenneth. This is surprising.
Every 23rd August which is the anniversary of Wallace’s brutal execution at Smithfield in London white roses are placed on the spot where it is alleged that the arm is buried. I have visited both sites and am still unclear which version is true. I do wonder if they are both true and that the red herring is Perth where there is little or no presence or reference to Wallace. I had hoped that the Richard III car park discovery would have sparked similar curiosity among Scottish archaeologists and historians but so far they have remained silent.
Thank you Scot for the pictures you sent and all the information and references you have provided here. It is very much appreciated. All the best, Nellie