Archaeologists Say They Have Found an Important Medieval Site Linked to Scottish Hero William Wallace
Archaeologists think they’ve confirmed the site where William Wallace was dubbed Guardian of Scotland but are restricted from excavating more because of so many graves in the churchyard.
The site, Auld Kirk in Selkirk, is the same place where tradition says the national hero Wallace, who led a famous rebellion against England, was confirmed as guardian by priests and the nobility in 1297 AD, says an article in The National. Kirk is an old word for church.
A geophysical analysis of the ruins of Auld Kirk revealed an even older church underneath the current structure, possibly a medieval building that archaeologists say strengthens the claim that it was the Kirk o’ the Forest. In that church, officials held the ceremony appointing Wallace and Sir Andrew Moray to the joint guardianship of the country.
It wasn’t long after that Moray died and Wallace was the sole guardian, but he served in that capacity only until the following year, when the English defeated his forces in 1298 at Falkirk.
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But Wallace continued to serve the Scottish people, including was a warrior.
A 1906 depiction of William Wallace in H.E. Marshall’s ‘Scotland's Story.’ (Public Domain)
In 1299, Wallace went on a diplomatic mission to the French, trying to get them to help in the war against England. French King Phillip the Fair recommended Wallace to Pope Boniface VII, who had been handed John Balliol, a claimant to the Scottish throne. Wallace had hoped to have Balliol restored, but it didn’t happen, though Balliol was allowed to go into exile in France.
Wallace returned to Scotland, and historians believe he fought at the 1303 Battle of Rosslyn, in which the Scots defeated three English armies in one day.
On August 3, 1305, the English captured Wallace in Robroyston. He was taken to Carlisle and then paraded to London on foot and in shackles.
Wallace faced trial on August 23 in Westminster Hall, where he was charged with murder and treason. He denied the treason, saying he hadn’t sworn fealty to Edward. It’s said the guilty verdict and his punishment—hanging, drawing, and quartering—were decided beforehand. This was to be a traitor’s death.
‘The Trial of William Wallace at Westminster’ (pre-1870) by Daniel Maclise. (Public Domain)
“William Wallace was strapped to a wooden hurdle. He was dragged though the streets to the Elms at Smithfield. There he was hanged from a gallows but cut down while he still lived. He was disemboweled before his head was hacked off and his body was cut into pieces,” says an article on the site Scotland History.
Wallace’s place in the history of Scotland is second to none. A biography at ElectricScotland.com says:
“William Wallace is one of Scotland's greatest national heroes, undisputed leader of the Scottish resistance forces during the first years of the long and ultimately successful struggle to free Scotland from English rule at the end of the 13th Century.”
English King Edward Longshanks wanted the Scottish crown for himself.
16th-century illustration of King Edward I presiding over Parliament. The scene depicts Alexander III of Scotland and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Wales beside Edward; an episode that never actually occurred. (Public Domain)
Archaeologists working at the Auld Kirk had originally been hoping to find a 16th century church, but they found one from medieval or Norman times instead, The National reports.
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Chris Bowles, the Scottish Borders Council’s archaeologist, commissioned the University of Durham’s geophysical survey along with Selkirk Conversation Regeneration Scheme.
“Ruins of the Auld Kirk date from the 18th century, but we knew this had replaced earlier churches on the site from the 12th and 16th centuries,” Dr. Bowles said, adding:
“We had been expecting the geophysics survey to uncover a 16th-century church that we know to have existed and which was a replacement to the medieval church, but the only evidence in the survey is in relation to the medieval church. The association between Wallace and the local area is quite well documented, with Wallace using guerilla tactics to fight the English from the Ettrick Forest. The Scottish nobles made Wallace Guardian of Scotland in recognition of his military successes.”
Bowles also noted that there is a lack of information at the site, but hopes that this may change in the future: “There has been little archaeological work carried out to date. We are very restricted by the burials in the area to allow any excavation. But in the future it may be possible to conduct limited investigations in areas where there is no evidence of burial.”
Dr. Chris Bowles (left) and Colin Gilmour, the Selkirk Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme Project Manager, at Auld Kirk. (Scottish Borders Council)
Wallace was one of many guardians of Scotland during his era. There were 20 or 21 guardians in total, but Wallace holds the distinction of serving as sole guardian.
William Wallace gained worldwide fame in the 1995 movie Braveheart, directed by and starring Mel Gibson.
Featured Image: Selkirk’s Auld Kirk, where archaeologists say that William Wallace was declared Guardian of Scotland in 1297. Source: Scottish Borders Council
By Mark Miller