Saturday, April 08, 2023

Sir William Wallace Memorial

London The Unfinished City
Sir William Wallace Memorial.

The memorial, above, was installed in 1956, and adorns the wall of St Bartholomew's Hospital, close to where the execution took place.

Below the English text follows an inscription in Latin and Gaelic that translates as:

"I tell you the truth, son, freedom is the best condition, never live like a slave."

"Victory or Death."

The Smithfield area, originally known as Smoothfield, of London was once used by the Romans as a place to muster troops and to bury the dead, and was a large area of open ground outside of the Roman walls. 

Once the Romans had left Londinium the land was used for many different uses throughout the centuries, that included the grazing of livestock, summer fairs, jousting and executions.

Executions took on varying forms that included burning at the stake, for heretics, hanging, and the most vicious execution of all... hanged-drawn-and-quartered, usually reserved for treason. Executions would carry on at this spot until some time in the 1400s, when the gallows were moved to Tyburn. 

The execution area was known as the Elms, which was a medieval word for scaffold.

It is impossible to quantify the amount of people who were put to death here, throughout the centuries, but the most notable for me would be the execution of Sir William Wallace.

Brief History

Sir William Wallace was tried for treason at Westminster Hall, to which he plead 'not guilty'. Still he was found guilty and sentenced to death as a traitor.

He was taken to the Tower of London, where he was stripped naked and dragged behind horses to the Elms at Smithfield, on August 23, 1305.

On reaching the Elms he was hung by the neck until he was close to death, before being cut down. He was then eviscerated and castrated, before, eventually, being beheaded. His body was then cut into four pieces. These four limbs were sent to the four corners of Scotland as a warning to other would-be traitorous Scots. His head was displayed on a spike on London Bridge, along with other Scottish rebels.

On August 23, 2005, thousands of Wallace's fellow Scots walked the route taken by Sir William Wallace from Westminster Hall to the memorial at Smithfield. Following this a service was held for Sir William Wallace in the Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great.

London The Unfinished City
The plaque in the grounds of the Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great.

I believe that there should be more memorials, in the area, to commemorate the people executed here, like the some 60 protestants burned to death between 1553 and 1558, during the reign of Queen Mary.