Three of the nobles who died at Falkirk

Wallace's Execution

In response to the many questions about the butchery of Wallace, the following description was uploaded to the Screenwriters' Forum on CompuServe:-

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 as follows:

"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 in heaven.

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.

The Womenfolk

The girlfriend's fate also intrigued many enquirers. The following note answered most of the questions about her authenticity and about the alleged introduction by Edward of droit de seigneur to Scotland:-

Whether Wallace married her is surely an academically sterile point. His only known wife lived long enough to present him with a daughter (which this girl manifestly did not). The episode in the film is fictional, invented to illustrate the effect of Gibson's introduction of jus primae noctis into Scotland, for many the most hilarious absurdity in his quite extraordinary masquerade.

(Wallace's daughter is reported by Alexander Nisbet to have married Sir William Baillie of Hoprig, whose line continued through to the Baillies of Lamington, of Carphin, of Jerviston, and of Polkemmet, many of whose descendants are doubtless alive today.)

The idea that King Edward encouraged his colonial entrepreneurs with the rewards of jus primae noctis is ludicrous. We have no evidence that this custom ever existed in the British Isles at all (and even in continental Europe, where it may have had some meaning, it is believed to have been a form of taxation paid by a peasant groom for his right to enjoy his wife). Sir David Dalrymple exploded this fable in 1776. The English raped Scots women as easily as they crucified Scottish priests on the doors of their churches, and the idea that this might be sufficient reward for them to brave the dangers of Scottish guerilla warfare and the hardship of Scottish winters (with weather far worse than today's) is risible. The English came north for land. That was sufficient inducement. The women were an extra.

Moreover, Gibson failed to understand that, even if his fantasy were true, it would not have applied to the Scottish nobility (and, remember, Wallace was noble, "nobiles minores" or, as the French would say, "noblesse de province" rather than "noblesse de cour") for this would strike at the basis of feudalism on which, in Christian countries, social stability, national defence, the church and the national economy then relied. Duke William introduced castration into England as the punishment for the violation of noble ladies, and as late as the 18th century a Scottish lord was found guilty of high treason for the same offence.

Wallace and Bruce

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