Dundee was certainly a pivotal city in the life of William Wallace, he was certainly educated here and did reclaim the city from the English during the wars of independence. But did he in fact, strike his first blow in the war that was to shape his life, here in Dundee? The story starts in 1288, when Wallace was finishing his education in Dundee. It was in this year that Edward I, and English King, seized control of Scotland and took over many of the cities castles, including the Castle of Dundee.
These events must have affected the young Wallace, as we know he fought against the English and that he had a temper. Unfortunately much of what we know about Wallace’s deed come from poems and folklore, written many decades or centuries after. Blind Harry, also known as Henry the Minstrel, is renowned as the author of The Wallace. This was a lengthy poem recounting the life of William Wallace, written around 1477, or 172 years after Wallace’s death. Here’s the section on Wallace’s first kill.
And with disdain, said, “Scot, I pray thee stay; what devil clad thee in a suit so gay? A horse’s mantle was thy king to wear, And a Scots whittle at thy belt to bear, Rough roullion shoes, or any common trash, Did serve such whore’s sons through the dubs to plash; Give me that knife under thy girdle hings.” “Nay, pardon me, sir, I know better things; Therefore forbear, I earnestly entreat; It both defends me, and it cuts my meat.” Selby assaults him, and would take it by force, And so the plea went on from bad to worse. Fast by the collar Wallace did him take, Made the young squire tremble there and shake, His dagger with the other hand drew out, In spite of all his men so throng about, And boldly without fear or dread Upon the spot he stick’d young Selby dead
Fleeing the scene, Wallace set off from the Hawkhill, where the incident supposedly took place, and followed the Perth Road and eventually arrived in Longforgan where he rested upon a stone outside a cottage. The stone was preserved by the farmer’s descendants for nearly six hundred years, and is how housed in the McManus Galleries.
So clearly there are many believers in the story, since the stone has been kept, and a plaque bears the site of Wallace’s first blow for independence at the former location of Dundee castle. But did it really happen? As with so many stories from so long ago, we’ll never know the full truth. Do you believe?