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.