By Gordon Aitken, The Society of William Wallace
There are many places in Scotland that lay claim to a connection to the great Scottish hero and freedom fighter, Sir William Wallace, perhaps none more so than the town of Lanark, where the incident known as “the Lanark rising” took place in May 1297.
It is the first factual account of Wallace, as little is known for certain about his early life, and was written in the 1350’s by Sir Thomas de Grey, a Northumbrian knight imprisoned in Edinburgh castle, whose father was part of the garrison at Lanark Castle, and who had been wounded and left for dead by Wallace’s men.
Wallace, we are told was married to Marion Braidfute, the Heiress of Lamington, whose father, Sir Hugh de Braidfute, and also her eldest brother had both been slain by the occupying English Sheriff of Lanark, William de Heselrig. Legend states that William Wallace and Marion were married in the ancient church of Saint Kentigerns and lived in a town house in Lanark which belonged to Sir Hugh.
These were not good times for Scotland which had been occupied for a year by the forces of King Edward the first of England, whose army had defeated the Scots in battle at Dunbar in 1296, capturing John Baliol king of Scots, and who had ordered all Scots records to be destroyed, or taken to London. The Scottish crown jewels, and the Stone of Destiny, on which generations of Scottish kings had been crowned, likewise to be taken to London, and that Scotland henceforth was to be no longer a nation, but merely a northern province of England.
Such were the harsh conditions imposed on the Scots, that William Wallace, a spirited young man who had carried out several acts of rebellion, was not able to stay permanently in Lanark for fear of apprehension by the men of the castle garrison, and would possibly have had to visit Marion secretly by night. One story goes, that Wallace, after leaving a body of his men on Cartland Crags just outside Lanark, decided to chance a daytime visit, but became involved in an altercation with some English troops and had to flee.
Running through an alley and into the main street he sought sanctuary in Saint Nicholas church, shutting, and barring the heavy wooden door behind him he ran through the church and out of a side door, onto the street where Marion’s house stood. Marion herself, attracted by the commotion, was at the front door, and spying William, beckoned him inside and closed the door behind them.
Wallace was able to escape through the back door, and make his way back to his waiting body of men at Cartland. Later that day he heard the devastating news that Marion had been taken and slain out of hand by Sherriff Heselrig, for aiding an outlaw to escape.
Beside himself with fury Wallace, with a bunch of hand picked men, entered Lanark that night looking for revenge on the Sherriff. Wallace himself, accompanied by his cousin Auchinleck, would make for the Sherriffs lodgings, burst in, slay all occupants, and set the place ablaze. Sir John de Graeme of Dundaff, Wallace’s right hand man, was dispatched to do the same at the house of Heselrig’s deputy, and governor of Lanark, Sir Robert Thorn. also with instructions to set ablaze the castle.
Entering Heselrig’s house in the early hours, Wallace, and his men slew the Sherriff, and his son, on the spot. and after firing the house , met up again with Sir John, whose mission had also been successful and left Lanark behind them, on the way to greater achievements at Stirling Bridge, and the disaster, at Falkirk in 1298 where Sir John heroically died in battle.
Walking trail – Walk in the footsteps of William Wallace
The town of Lanark currently has a Wallace trail which is well worth walking.
There is a storyboard on a wall over the zebra crossing, opposite the exit of the train station, giving details of the trail and it is well worth spending a few hours walking it.
You will see the ruins of the church of Saint Kentigerns where legend states Wallace and Marion were married. Upon exiting the lane leading to the church and turning left, a short walk down the street brings you out at the main street directly opposite the modern day Church of Saint Nicholas, resplendent with the enormous statue of Wallace on the tower above the entrance.
On the left hand side of the church is a space, complete with a raised plaque designed by the renowned Scottish artist, the late Andrew Hillhouse, which tells you that this is the place where the house of William and Marion stood. continuing down the castlegate past an excellent hostelry, should you require a refreshment,
At this stage, you will come to a small car park at the bottom of the hill complete with story board showing you an artists depiction of Lanark castle as it was in Wallace’s day. The castle itself stood on a mound overlooking the river Clyde and today this spot is occupied by the local bowling club who are extremely proud of their Wallace connection.
Moving on and through the gate of Castlebank park you will see the old house, and stables on your right. This has been converted into housing, and on walking behind the house you come to a walled garden, lovingly restored by local volunteers with beds of “freedom” roses, in the middle of which stands a carved wooden statue of Wallace.
It is a beautiful spot to sit, on the benches provided on a warm summers day and take in the atmosphere.
The Spirit of Wallace Lives On
On the weekend of 10th September 2005 I was privileged to attend the Lanark, Spirit of Wallace homecoming event organised by the late David R. Ross, at that time convenor of the Society of William Wallace, which saw a symbolic coffin, containing personal messages from over a thousand Scots, myself among them, who attended a special 700th anniversary funeral service on August 23 of that year at the church of Saint Bartholomew the greater at Smithfield in London, scene of Wallace’s horrific judicial execution, arriving in Lanark, with the intention of finally laying Wallace’s spirit to rest.
The coffin was carried into the grounds of Saint Kentigerns as darkness fell, and an actress, representing a ghostly Marion, came out to receive her husband’s spirit and be reunited with him, and lay him to rest. Thereafter, 700 blazing torches were lit and over a thousand Scots, both home grown, and from all over the world took part in a procession down to Castlebank.
Wallace has been dead for over 700 years, but his spirit lives on in millions of Scottish hearts, both at home, and overseas, where Scottish blood although several generations removed, is still strong. Lanark should be proud indeed to have such a tangible connection to Scotland’s greatest son.
I am proud to be a member of The Society of William Wallace, whose aim is to educate, and promote the story of William Wallace to future generations, and make sure that the story continues.