At The Smithfield Memorial To Scottish Hero William Wallace

By M@ Last edited 8 months ago

Last Updated 17 October 2023

At The Smithfield Memorial To Scottish Hero William Wallace

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The memorial to William Wallace in Smithfield, with flowers

Visiting the Smithfield memorial to a Scottish hero.

Not many people still receive flowers more than 700 years after their death. But then not many people are William Wallace. The Scottish resistance fighter was executed in London's Smithfield on 23 August 1305. Every year, in the run-up to the anniversary, his memorial is adorned by flowers and other tokens of affection and gratitude.

Wallace is widely known these days thanks to the Academy Award-winning movie Braveheart. But he's always been considered a national hero among Scottish people. Wallace led the resistance against English King Edward I, who felt he was entitled to lord it over Scotland. And it was a mighty successful resistance, culminating in the defeat of English forces at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Wallace would later suffer his own losses, but his leadership emboldened Scotland, enough to ensure the country would remain independent over the following centuries.

Flowers and banners on the memorial to William Wallace, Smithfield
Some of the banners, ribbons and flowers left in 2023. The commemorations include postcards of Paisley Abbey, near the site of Wallace's birth.

Eventually, Wallace was captured and executed at Smithfield. It was not a pleasant end. The naked Scot was tied behind a horse and dragged by his heels from the Tower of London. Once at Smithfield, he was hanged by the neck until close to passing out. He was then removed from the noose only to have his genitals and bowels removed. The final release came with beheading. (On film, we see only Mel Gibson's pain-stricken face during these ghastly procedures, which oddly makes the execution all the more harrowing.) His body was subsequently cut into four parts which were dispersed across the north of England and Scotland. His head was displayed on London Bridge.

The memorial to William Wallace, executed in Smithfield

Wallace's memorial in Smithfield was erected in 1956 on the side of St Bartholomew's Hospital, very close to the site of his execution. It's a dignified, Grade II-listed stone shrine, carrying the Latin inscription "Dico tibi verum libertas optima rerum nunquam servili sub nexu vivito fili" (I tell you the truth. Freedom is what is best. Son, never live your life like a slave), as well as the Gaelic "Bas Agus Buaidh", meaning "Death and Victory".

Flowers and other tributes are left all year round, but you're most likely to see a show of Scottish pride around the anniversary of his execution on 23 August.

Images by Matt Brown