Saturday, 4 April 2015

William Wallace Was A Dundee Schoolboy

    Or was he?

    The poet Blind Harry said that the young, future rebel Wallace went to grammar school in Dundee (probably around the year 1291) while he was living with his mother and uncle at Kilspindie in the Carse of Gowrie.  One day the foppish son of the town's English governor Selbie accosted young Wallace outside Dundee castle and mocked his suit of 'gemming green'.  When he then demanded that the young Scot hand over his knife, William refused.  Selbie grabbed his collar and shook him violently, whereupon Wallace stabbed him dead.  He fled west out of town on 'cleanly clever heels', hotly pursued by Selbie's associates.  He sat down to rest on a stone meal-kist at Longforgan and was taken in by the inhabitants of a cottage, a couple named Smith.  When some English troopers burst into the house they found an outlandish, apparently female, figure busy at the spinning wheel, all covered in fluff.  When they left William Wallace threw off his disguise and fled to his uncle's house at Kilspindie.
    This story was recorded in the 19th century by James Cox, Provost of Dundee, who heard it from Rachel Smith, a descendant of the Longforgan couple.  After her family left the village in 1862 the meal-kist was given to the owner of Castle Huntly and later ended up in Dundee Museum.

    Despite the original literary provenance of the association with Dundee, Wallace was a west coast boy, and it seems slightly doubtful that he would have relocated to Dundee.  But the story lingered in the area and was elaborated through the years.  The folk hero apparently left behind his name at Wallace's Trenches, on Clatto Hill, supposed site of the hero's encampment which he used before besieging Dundee Castle.
    A mile to the north is Fallow's Mill, where a local rhyme remembered him securing provisions:

                                     Wallace pitched his camp on Clatto Hill,
                                      and ground his corn at Philaw's Mill.

    A short distance away was Auchterhouse Castle, which was home in 1296 to Wallace's ally Sir John Ramsay.  Ramsay captured Perth from the English in the Wars of Independence and slaughtered two thousand of its English garrison.  Sir John met Wallace when he returned from exile in Europe.  Embaring at Montrose, Wallace accompanied Ramsay back to Auchterhouse, then they went on to capture Perth for a second time.  In the grounds of the present house at Auchterhouse is the ruin of an old building called Wallace's Tower.


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