Saturday, January 02, 2010

Death of Sir William Wallace

In London for New Year, I came upon a Place of Execution: Smithfield, a little north of St Paul's Cathedral. Sir William Wallace is the most famous victim; well, he is the only one for whom there is a memorial plaque. On the pavement below lay a faded sprig of heather and small bouquets, tied with tartan ribbon. The romance of Wallace, guerilla leader, born four hundred miles away in another country, executed 1305, is enduring.

Smithfield, sandwiched between St Bartholomew's Hospital (founded 1123) and Smithfield meatmarket (slightly older) has seen numerous executions. More than 200 Protestant martyrs were burnt at the stake in the reign of Queen Mary, swindlers and coin forgers were boiled in oil there and Sir John Oldcastle, the original Falstaff was roasted alive in chains. But the only plaque is that to Sir William Wallace.

Only a few feet away is the lovely Church of St Bartholomew the Great. It has been in continuous use as a place of worship since 1143, is adjacent to the oldest inhabited house in London and has featured in such films as 'Shakespeare in Love' and 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'.

There is an odd connection here. Wallace was executed on the Eve of St Bartholomew's Day 1305. The Bartholomew Fair at Smithfield seems to have been a great party. Was Wallace's Execution the day preceding perhaps a curtain raiser to the celebrations? This might have appealed to Edward Longshanks.

PS. In Scotland we have a wonderful monument to Sir William near the site of his most famous victory; it's a pity that other significant places in his life are not well cared for.