Torphichen was once headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller in Scotland, a place of power and influence. The sign of the order was the v-shaped cross, and its full name Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. Their cross is still part of everyday life on St John’s Ambulances. They were a catholic order, founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century. The monks became knights after the first crusade, one of three fighting orders then acknowledged by the Pope (not anymore).
King David I (the saintly king) had introduced various orders into his country but not only for religious reasons. The monks brought wisdom, culture and wealth and were therefore essential to the king’s ideas of reform. After all, he was raised in the Anglo-Norman tradition, this was his cultural heritage, just as much as the Anglo-Norman knights, whom he settled throughout his kingdom.
The Knights Hospitaller worked mainly in hospitals where they took care of the pilgrims to the Holy Land, they protected them, fed and sheltered them. Their work was done in Jerusalem and not in Scotland. Here in Torphichen they recruited men and money for their work abroad.
The preceptory did not even belong to a Scottish priory but to an English one, Clerkenwell in London. A preceptory is a minor house within the order. But this was not only a religious question, this was very much a political one in those days. England was the enemy.
Contrary to the order of the Knights Templar, the knights Hospitaller still exist today only with a slightly different name. They also profited from the Templars whose land was endorsed to the Knights Hospitaller in the 14th century.
The Knights-templar had posession in Denny, the Carse of Falkirk, and other parts of this country… They had a small house at Mount Hooly on the burgh-moor of Edinburgh. In digging a cemetery there, several skeletons were found lying cross-legged, with their swords by their sides, after the manner of their order, and indeed of military men connected nearly or distantly with the Holy Land.
William Nimmo, Robert Gillespie: The History of Stirlingshire. Glasgow, Morison; 1880; p. 142 f
The great Scottish independence fighter William Wallace occupied Torphichen Preceptory in 1298. This was a decisive moment in his fight against England. Wallace held the last Parliament here before he fought in the Battle of Falkirk. A battle that ended in bloody disaster for Wallace and Scotland.
Here Wallace worked as Guardian of Scotland. Even his great adversary Edward Longshanks (King Edward I), the English King, stayed here. He withdrew to the preceptory after the Battle of Falkirk and got treatment. He had not been wounded in battle though but by a horse prior to the fighting. (1)
The knights disappeared to England. They had fought on the side of the English during the Wars of Independence. But they returned during the reign of King Robert the Bruce.
During the reformation the preceptory was surrendered to Mary Queen of Scots, she was a relative of the preceptor Sir James. Sir James bought his lands back and was forthwith Lord Torphichen. The order still holds the post of honorary Preceptor of Torphichen.
Maybe William Wallace walked among these graves once. Thinking about Scotland and the Battle he was about to fight. Edward would defeat him, and Wallace would resign as Guardian of Scotland while staying in Torphichen.
The Preceptory can be visited from April to September. The graveyard is open all year round.
Richard Oram: David I – The King Who Made Scotland. The History Press, 20014; p. 145 – 166
Andrew Fisher: William Wallace. Birlinn, 1986; p. 133 – 160
(1) If the horse stood on his foot or on his chest and broke his rib is a matter of some debate but at the end of the day not a particularly important detail.