Another chapter in the ongoing First War of Scottish Independence, the raid on Scone saw the tables turn for Scotland. King Edward I of England had named himself King of Scotland and his armies were successfully invading and securing strongholds through the country. John Balliol, King of Scots surrendered to Edward on 10 July 1296, and was stripped of his status and taken prisoner to the Tower of London. Much of the Scottish nobility were imprisoned after the Battle of Dunbar and the Scottish people were growing agitated. Meanwhile William Wallace is believed to have been joining in the rebellions that were developing across the country.
Little is known about Wallace’s earlier life, but it’s believed he was born in Elderslie (to the west of Glasgow), was the son of a knight and landowner, was educated (likely by his uncle) and may have been a mercenary soldier in Edward’s army. To the English, Wallace was an outlaw and murderous traitor – but for the Scottish people, Wallace represented unwavering loyalty and hope to regaining independence from English rule.
In May 1297, Wallace visited the court of William de Heselrig, English High Sheriff of Lanark (40km south-east of Glasgow). The details of the ‘Action at Lanark’ are unclear, but on this particular occasion a disturbance broke out and Wallace managed to escape. Wallace and his men soon returned to launch their attack, murdering the High Sheriff. It’s alleged Wallace was taking vengeance on Heselrig for the murder of his wife, Marion Braidfute. Wallace’s reputation as a major figure in the rebellion was growing and saw Scottish men, “oppressed by the burden of servitude under the intolerable rule of English domination” rally around him, joining forces “like a swarm of bees”.
From just 30 men, his numbers were increasing. William Wallace was now leading a resistance and had come together with William the Hardy, Lord of Douglas. Douglas led the Scots against England at the Capture of Berwick and had been imprisoned in the castle after his surrender. To secure his freedom he pledged fealty to the King, was released and had the ownership of his lands in Scotland reinstated – but not in England. Through the grapevine, Douglas heard of Wallace’s growing uprising and soon joined him – he was the first person of nobility to join ranks with Wallace, as others were deterred by Wallace’s low status.
Scotland’s wild landscapes and forests gave Wallace’s rebellion an advantage, allowing him and his men to easily disappear from English eyes. From their base within the Ettrick Forest, Wallace and Douglas rode with their men, making their journey to the city of Scone, 70km north of Edinburgh. Scone was a significant ancient capital, and the site of ceremonial coronations to the Kings of Scotland – poetically dubbed Scone of the High Shields, the country itself was often referred to Sconiana (or ‘Kingdom of Scone’). It was importantly also home to the Stone of Scone, a large block of sandstone where new Scottish kings are formally crowned, which had been removed by Edward I following the Battle of Dunbar and taken to Westminster Abbey. At the time, Scone was under the control of William de Ormesby, appointed by Edward as the Justice of Scotland – he was essentially the Scottish people’s new Prime Minister. Under the orders of Edward, Ormesby demanded the local Scottish landowners swore fealty and respect to the English Crown, doing so without mercy and exiling all those that refused the oath.
As the rebellion approached, at the last minute William de Ormesby heard the news of Wallace and Douglas’s plans to capture or assassinate him, and managed to make a hurried escape, leaving everything he had behind him. With Ormesby’s post abandoned, Wallace had regained control of Scone. Wallace would continue to lead his uprising, seizing back Scottish lands from the English crown and would next set his sights on Stirling.
Image: Scone churchyard