The latest book in my re-read of Nigel Tranter novels is The Wallace. This is Tranter's story of one of the most iconic Scottish heroes. The younger son of a minor landowner, he raised a rebellion against the English occupation of Scotland, defeated the English army at Stirling Bridge, invaded northern England and became the Guardian of Scotland. His downfall came after defeat at Falkirk, after which he went to Europe on some ill-defined mission and, on returning, continued the rebellion before being betrayed and then executed in London.
While, as usual, Tranter follows the historical timeline, the details of his life are sketchy. There are no contemporary accounts of his life, the first coming eighty years after his execution. This gives the novelist a broad scope to describe the actions he led. Not that he drifts off into the fantasy that was Mel Gibson's Braveheart!
Most of the story focuses on the many small raids he conducted across Scotland before the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. We don't have the details to back these up, but Tranter gives a realistic flavour of the sorts of actions he led. After Stirling Bridge, he was pitched into a leadership position he had no training for, without any meaningful support from the nobility. The nobles abandoned the field at Falkirk in 1298, leaving the Scottish schiltrons painfully exposed to English and Welsh archers.
While there is some evidence that Wallace went abroad after Falkirk, Tranter uses a considerable licence to describe Wallace's campaigns leading French forces at Bordeaux. He almost certainly went to Rome to plead Scotland's case to the Pope, and he may have gone to Norway, a trip Tranter ignores. Wallace was probably not best suited to diplomacy.
Tranter captured Wallace's uncompromising nature in a period when the nobility was prepared to compromise their positions when it was expedient to do so. Modern nationalism played no part in their calculations. He is more sympathetic than most historians in his treatment of Bruce. He even has him rescuing Wallace at Falkirk, which is unlikely. Wallace remained loyal to King John, which would not have endeared him to Bruce.
Wallace was executed as a traitor to a King he never swore fealty to. Yet, he remained true to his almost unique code of honour. So, while he failed to achieve his objectives, he should at least be remembered for that.
|Some of my schiltrons of the period in 28mm