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Book Review: William Wallace: Braveheart (James Mackay) : BH

8/12/2001 • British Heritage Book Reviews, Reviews

WILLIAM WALLACE: BRAVEHEART
William Wallace, the Scots nationalist hero recently made famous in celluloid form by Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, wasundoubtedly a first-rate hero and, throughout most of his life, a man devoted to achieving Scottish independence. He was alsoa man, like most men of his day, who returned violence with violence, killing any of those unfortunate enough to end up on thewrong side of his sword.

In WILLIAM WALLACE: BRAVEHEART, author James Mackay, known for his biography of Scottish poet RobertBurns, has done a true service for the cause of historical preservation. By combing through the scanty records of Wallace’s life,Mackay has ferreted out the details of Wallace’s courageous guardianship of Scotland in the years just before Robert Brucebecame king and compiled them into a useful, well-presented chronology.

Early in his life, William’s uncle, a priest, taught him the value of independence: ‘My son, I tell thee soothfastlie, / No gift is like to libertie; / Then never live in slavery.’ This childhood lesson served as a mantra throughout Wallace’s turbulent lifetime.Following the heinous murder of his knight father by the English, young Wallace began a period of resistance that ranged fromsmall-scale guerrilla warfare to open combat with the much larger forces of Edward I’s army. The English fueled his rage bymurdering his wife, Marion Braidfute, just after the birth of their daughter.

Something of a cross between King Arthur and Robin Hood–only Scottish–Wallace and his men defeated the English innumerous military engagements, including the incredible battle of Stirling Bridge, where Wallace, at age 23, served as theunified Scots commander, a post he held until the Scots were defeated one year later near Falkirk in 1298. Falkirk was to bethe last major battle for Wallace and his men, who were reduced to desperate measures to stay alive once Scotland’smagnates had caved in to England’s Edward I.

After he was betrayed to the English by Sir John de Menteith, a former comrade, Wallace was taken to London, where hewas given a show trial and an even more ‘showy’ hanging, drawing, and quartering. His huge physical stature and a unequaledreputation as a rebel leader made him a prize capture for the English, who did little to disguise their pride and delight atWallace’s execution.

In his account, Mr. Mackay sheds light on the true figure of William Wallace. Although Hollywood’s silver screen mythmakingserves its purpose, the author does an equally good job, in words, of illustrating why and how Wallace became so prominent inhis day–and why it was he, in fact, who had the bravest of hearts.

William Wallace: Braveheart, by James Mackay, distributed in the United States by Trafalgar Square, North Pomfret,Vermont 05053, tel: 802-457-1911. $16.95 paperback.

David Marcou

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