Situated on the outer wall of St. Bartholomew Hospital in Smithfield is a memorial to Sir William Wallace, who was executed nearby on August 23, 1305. Wallace was a Scottish knight who became one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence, most famously portrayed by Mel Gibson in the film “Braveheart.”
Wallace was tried in Westminster Hall (there, another memorial commemorates where he stood during the brief trial). He was charged with treason, to which he responded that he could not be guilty, for he had never sworn fealty to Edward I. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to the traitor’s death, one of the most vicious punishments devised during the medieval era.
Wallace was taken to the Tower of London where he was stripped naked, and dragged behind horses to the elms (a medieval term for a scaffold) at Smithfield. He was first hung by the neck, and then cut down whilst still alive. He was then eviscerated and castrated, and eventually beheaded. His body was cut into four parts, and his limbs sent to the corners of Scotland as a warning to the rebellious country. His head was set on London Bridge, where it was soon joined by other Scottish rebels.
Legend has it that Wallace remained silent and stoic throughout the ordeal. The church of St. Bartholomew stands close to the execution grounds. It is not impossible to imagine that the deeply religious Wallace may have fixed his eyes on it before departing this world.
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