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Chapter X: Wallace and Bruce, 1297-1329

They brent all in fire,
Baith kirk and quire.

SIR WILLIAM WALLACE of Elderslie began his public career in 1297,—a career in which the inmates of the Abbey must have taken a deep interest. He was one of their parishioners. Their Church was a Parish Church, [1] had a wide parochial territory, and within that territory the House of Elderslie is situated. The Chartulary tells us that the family of Wallace was closely associated with the Monastery. A Richard Wals' attests a charter by the founder, Walter the son of Alan, [2] and the names of several of his descendants appear from time to time in connection with similar deeds. [3] This ancestor of the patriot, we may almost confidently assert, came to Scotland in the train of the Stewart, and was one of those colonists who, under his patronage, settled on his lands These colonists were mainly drawn from Shropshire and the neighbourhood of Wenloc, which is but a little way from the borders of Wales. If Wallace means simply “Welsh,” and Le Walays (as the hero is sometimes called) the Welshman, there is every probability that he accompanied Robert Croc and others when they cast in their lot with the fortunes of the Son of Alan. Blind Harry, the popular minstrel who celebrated the deeds of the hero, seems to take for granted his connection with the Stewarts and with Wales, and though he can in no sense be taken as an historic authority, yet we may look upon him as giving the popular tradition, which is in this case the more likely to be correct, as the Scots would not invent an English origin for their favourite patriot.

His forbears, who likes to understand,
Of whole lineage, and true line of Scotland,
Sir Ronald Crauford, right Sheriff of Ayr,
So in his time he had a daughter fair ;
And young Sir Ronald, Sheriff of that toun,
His sister fair, of good fame and renown,
Malcolm Wallas her got in marriage
That Elderslie then had in heritage.
Auchenbothie and other sundry place
The Second O, [4] he was of good Wallace,
The which Wallace full worthily that wrought
When Walter, he of Wales, from Warine sought,
Who likes to have more knowledge in that part
Go read the right line of the first Stewart.

The inference from this rough ballad is that Malcolm Wallace, the father of the patriot, was the great-grandson of a good Wallace who bore himself worthily when Walter, son of Alan, the founder of the Abbey, sought from Warine “her of Wales.” This refers to some forgotten incident in the life of the first Stewart, probably some love romance which was well known in the popular traditions of Scotland. “Walter's mother,” as it has been well observed,
[5] “was a Warine of Shropshire,” and the conclusion certainly is that before the first High Stewart came to Scotland he wanted to marry some Welsh lady over whom his mother's family had control, and that on that occasion he received much help from an adherent “who afterwards accompanied him to Scotland, and whose name appears in his early charters as Richard Wallace—i.e., the Welshman”—of Ricarton,—some lands in Ayrshire, which had been granted him, and which were called by his own name.

The connection between the family of Elderslie and the monks of Paisley would naturally be very close. The lands of Elderslie are situated on the west side of the Altpatrick Burn or Rivulet, two and a half miles from the Monastery. They contained about five hundred acres of land, and their boundaries could be pointed out at the present day. The Abbey would be to the Elderslie people, as to the other dwellers on the lands of the Stewarts, the source of any literary and religious influences they enjoyed. The patriot had evidently received a good education for the time in which he lived. He could speak two languages, Latin and French, besides his own,
[6] and as learning was almost entirely confined at that period to the cloister, he most probably had been trained at the school taught by the Paisley Clunaics. Such teaching was, as we have seen, part of their daily life, and was required by the Benedictine “rule.” From them also Wallace would naturally learn that veneration for the Church, her services, and her ministers, by which he was distinguished. One of the few reliable documents which have come down to us concerning him tells of his kindness to two monks of Hexham, who had been insulted and had their church pillaged by his rude soldiers. “He venerated the Church,” says Fordun, “he respected the clergy ; his greatest abhorrence was for falsehood and lying, his uttermost loathing for treason, and therefore the Lord was with him, through whom he was a man whose every work prospered in his hand.” [7] If this kindly picture of his character by the old chronicler be true, it is pleasant to think that it was the result of his upbringing in the Paisley cloisters. It is natural that we should thus seek to connect with them the presence of one whose name is dear to Scotsmen, and it adds another charm to the many associated with the old walls even to think it probable, which we certainly may, that “there Malcolm Wallace and Margaret his wife took their little boys on the great festivals to listen for hours to the solemn rise and fall of the Gregorian chant. At least three-fourths of the public worship of the period consisted in singing Psalms, and it may well have been as the sublime compositions of the Hebrew poets alternately thundered and wailed through the Abbey Church of Paisley that William Wallace contracted that love for the Psalms, which lasted until he died, with a priest holding the Psalter open, at his request, before his darkening eyes.” [8]

[1] See charter of founder.
[2] Reg. de Pas., p. 5.
[3] See appendix.
[4] “Second O,” great grandson.
[5] The Early Days of Sir William Wallace, by John, Marquess of Bute, p. 18.—Paisley, 1876.
[6] Early Days of Sir William Wallace, p. 45.
[7] “Super omnia falsitatem et mendacia prosequens, ac proditionem detestans ; propter quod fuit Dominus cum eo, per quem erat in cunctis prospere agens ; ecclesiam venerans, ecclesias¬ticos reverens.”—Fordun by Goodal, Vol. II., p, 170.
[8] The Early Days of Sir William Wallace.