William Wallace’s fourth part

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)

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. No walls left therefore, where remains of Wallace’s left quarter could have been found.

No evidence to the theory neither in Aberdeen nor in Stirling for that matter. The question remains unsolved.

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:

  1. medieval prices and wages
  2. Keay & J. Keay (ed): Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland. Haroper, London, 2000
  3. Andrew Fisher: William Wallace. Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2002

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