(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

In the summer of 1296, Scotland was finally at peace, for the Scottish king had submitted to the authority of Edward I, King of England. Sir William Wallace, like many other Scottish lords, had retired to his home at Ellerslie. One night, he was asked secretly to meet Sir John Monteith, who gave him a mysterious iron box with instructions that it was not to be opened until Scotland was again free. On his way home with the box, Wallace saw the old Earl of Mar attacked by English soldiers. Wallace saved his old friend and took the wounded man to Ellerslie. There the vengeance of the English governor followed them. The wounded earl was hidden in a well, and Wallace fled to the hills. Lady Wallace was killed by the English governor when she refused to give information concerning her husband’s whereabouts or the iron box. Ellerslie was burned. After the English had gone, Mar was rescued and taken to Bothwell Castle. Wallace had the box taken to the Abbot of St. Fillan for safekeeping.

When Wallace heard that his wife had been so cruelly murdered, he swore to free Scotland from the tyrant Edward. Mar promised him aid and men, and in a few weeks, Wallace had captured several castles and their English garrisons. After some successful battles, Wallace learned that Mar and his family had been captured and jailed in Dumbarton Castle, and he hastened there with his troops to save them.

A young man, Edwin Ruthven, secretly entered the castle to learn the strength of its defense. Acting on Ruthven’s information, Wallace and his troops captured the castle and saved Mar’s family. He escorted the fugitives to Bute, where it was hoped they would be safe until Scotland was free.

While Wallace was at Bute, he learned that the English had executed many of the great Scottish chiefs in revenge for the victories he had won. Wallace first led his troops to Avr and captured that castle. Shortly afterward, he attacked Berwick Castle and captured its noble commander, the Earl of Gloucester, son-in-law of King Edward. Gloucester realized that Edward’s claims to Scotland were weak and that Wallace had the right and the blessings of God on his side. The two men became fast friends, and Gloucester promised never again to raise his sword against Wallace. He planned to return to England and plead with Edward to grant Scotland independence and freedom.

On the same day, Wallace received a letter from Lady Helen Mar which said that her father had been betrayed and that he was a prisoner in Stirling Castle. Wallace led his troops to Stirling at once, taking with him Lord de Valence, an English prisoner. As he approached the castle, the English showed Mar on the battlements and threatened to hang him if Wallace did not surrender immediately. Wallace countered this threat with a promise of death to de Valence if Mar were touched. Later, Wallace destroyed an English army marching to reinforce the garrison at Stirling. After this defeat, Stirling surrendered, and in the ancient hall of Snawdoun, the Scottish nobles assembled and named Wallace regent to rule for the king whom Edward held hostage in England. Some of the nobles, however, were jealous of his victories and popularity and could not see what an honest and true Scot Wallace was. When they heard that King Edward himself was leading troops to Scotland to fight Wallace, they planned to betray the regent into English power.

Wallace met the English in the Battle of Falkirk. During the battle, the false Scottish lords turned their troops against Wallace and tried to defeat him. That night, while reconnoitering the English lines, Wallace met Robert Bruce, the son of the royal claimant who was half friend, half ally of Edward. Convinced of Wallace’s virtue and honor, the young Bruce promised to try to persuade his father to join the patriots fighting for Scotland’s freedom. In the next day’s fighting,...

(The entire section is 1586 words.)