Wallace was tried in Westminster Hall (which today is part of
the Palace of Westminster at the House of Commons entrance and
close to the eastern end of the Abbey).
His sentence was read out immediately following the verdict, and
included the full details of the punishment usually known as "hanging,
drawing and quartering" that Edward Longshanks had introduced
as the appropriate penalty for treason. He was then chained prostrate
on a hurdle (just a piece of fencing, not a wheeled vehicle as
in the film) and drawn by two horses through the filthy streets
for the public to mock and stone (this being Edward's subtle idea
of combining education with entertainment).
He was drawn first to the Tower, about two and a half miles, and
then on to Smithfield via Aldgate, another mile. He was hanged,
but cut down while still alive. He was not racked as shown in
the film, nor was he allowed a chance to submit to Edward's peace
and thereby cut short his suffering (a procedure the screenwriter
may have borrowed from the Inquisition).
While held upright by the hangman's rope, he had his privy parts
cut away (all of them, and hence emasculation, not castration)
and burned in the brazier in front of him. Then, still upright,
his stomach was slit open so that he could be ritually disembowelled.
His entrails were burnt on the brazier.
The hangman then cut open his chest to pull out his heart. It
was considered a manifestation of the hangman's skill that this
should still be beating while held in the hangman's hands, but
whether he was successful on this occasion is not recorded. It
was supposed to be traditional that the hangman should at this
point call attention to his achievement by announcing "Behold
the heart of a traitor" (in case any in the audience had missed
the object of the exercise), but I have never found this stated
explicitly in any court record.
The final act was decapitation and quartering. You will note that
in effect there are three symbolic deaths here: hanging, evisceration,
decapitation. Edward is said to have decreed that treason was
a triple crime: against God, against man, and against the King.
Hence the triple death sentence.
The grisly, grotesque nature of the killing was explained in the
severe language of the law with the intention that it should terrify
the listeners and augment the misery of the man whose body was
shortly to fulfil the role of lecture aid. When, later, the sentence
ceased to be given in Latin, the use of the English equivalent
did not change any of its meaning.
This barbaric vivisection was employed by the English for the
execution of Scotsmen as late as the 18th century, and as given
by Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough (1750-1818) the wording was
"You are to be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, where
you are to be hanged, but not till you are dead; for while still
living, your body is to be taken down, your bowels torn out and
burnt before your face; your head is then cut off, and your body
divided into four quarters."
In earlier times the explicit words "your privy parts cut away
and burnt before your eyes" were spoken, one priest in Tudor times
being recorded as observing that as they had not been of much
use to him on earth, they were unlikely to be of much use to him
Teachers of history to children, while explaining the meaning
of hanging, drawing and quartering, usually hide the horror by
exploiting the ambiguity of "drawing", and I have often been questioned
by adults who, remembering this, insist that the English never
disembowelled anyone, not even Scotsmen. But apart from the words
of Ellenborough quoted above, the original sentence in the Wallace
case clearly distinguishes between the two types of "drawing",
using "detrahatur" for drawing as a method of transport, and "devaletur" for disembowellment. (Hanging is "suspendatur", beheading is "decapitetur", and quartering is "decolletur".)
Now if you would like to watch the film again, you will see that
quite early in the proceedings, while the screen is filled by
the sun-blocked torso of Gibson and nothing is seen below the
waist (for he is fundamentally a modest man), his face gives a
sudden little grimace. If you are quick you will catch it. That
represents the emasculation.
The disembowellment which followed was extraordinary. I cannot
remember a drop of blood anywhere, and it was only after we had
left the cinema that I realised the camera's preoccupation with
the long steel shaft with the small hook on its end implied to
an inspired audience that this was inserted into his bowels via
his anus to achieve the deed bloodlessly.