It's last rites for Braveheart... at last

HE RESTS in the hearts and minds of Scots as an icon of the nation’s fighting spirit yet Braveheart legend William Wallace has never been granted a burial place fit for a national hero.

But now, on the 700th anniversary of his gruesome death, Wallace is to finally get a permanent resting place at the Lanarkshire church where he is believed to have married his sweetheart.

However, first there will be an extraordinary re-enactment of the last days of Wallace’s life which led up to his horrific death.

Wallace author David Ross, will embark on a 450-mile pilgrimage to London to bring the spirit of the freedom fighter home.

Although no remains of Wallace exist, St Bartholemew’s, the historic church next to where he was executed in Smithfield, London, has been booked for a service and a coffin commissioned.

The service is expected to be packed out by hundreds of Scots patriots and fans of the Oscar-winning William Wallace movie Braveheart, directed by and starring Mel Gibson, who has been invited along with Sir Sean Connery.

Following the service, Ross plans to bring the casket, which will be filled with messages from those attending the service, back to St Kentigern’s Church in Lanark for burial.

Wallace never received a burial as his body was hung drawn and quartered and the remains burnt and scattered to the four corners of the country.

His grisly demise came after he was captured and brought to London on August 22, 1305, charged with treason against ruthless King Edward II, known as Edward ‘Longshanks’.

He was sentenced to death, tied to the tails of horses and dragged for six miles through the city before being hung, drawn and quartered at St Bartholomew’s on August 23.

Ross, who wrote the book, On The Trail of William Wallace, will set off from Robroyston, near Glasgow, on August 3, 2005 - exactly 700 years to the day since Wallace was captured there. He will walk for a gruelling 19 days before arriving in London on August 22.

He said: "I think it is an outrage that William Wallace has never had a proper funeral service and his 700th anniversary seemed the best time to do it.

"It would be inconceivable for people like Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln not to be formally commemorated and the same should apply to Wallace.

"He lives on in the hearts and minds of many people in Scotland but it is important that he should have a final resting place in the country he loved.

"The walk to London is something that is very personal to me and I want to do it alone as Wallace was alone for those 19 days.

"This is my way of showing my own form of patriotism as it would be very sad if the 700th anniversary of Wallace’s death was just to drift by.

"It will be very demanding physically but I have always kept myself in good shape and I am already in training for it."

Ross, from East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, added: "It was a very strange conversation when I phoned the Co-op and asked for the coffin. The guy said ‘Who’s it for,’ and I replied, ‘William Wallace’.

"Everybody is a bit stunned by the idea at first but when you think about it, he is our national hero and it is only right that we should commemorate him.

"Wallace’s legacy has been greatly helped by the film Braveheart and I think it is he who brings our patriotism to the fore more than anybody else."

People who attend the service will be asked to post their personal messages to Wallace in the symbolic coffin, which will represent his "spirit".

The casket will be flown back to Scotland where it will be the centrepiece of an exhibition at the Smith Art Gallery in Stirling for a number of weeks before being buried in the grounds of St Kentigern’s.

The church is where Wallace married his sweetheart Marion Braidfute and the Lanark Wallace Trust were keen to have the coffin buried there as they feel the legendary warrior’s historic links to the town have been neglected for too long.

Margo Steel, of the Lanark Wallace Trust, said: "When I heard about David’s idea I thought it was fantastic and really wanted to get involved.

"There was talk of burying the coffin in Stirling but I pushed the case for Lanark as there is no official memorial to him here. It would be fantastic for tourism. Who wouldn’t want to come and see the final resting place of a Scottish hero like William Wallace."

The event - which is to be filmed by production company Scotfilms - has also attracted the support of the SNP. Spokeswoman Shona Robison said: "The walk and funeral service are without doubt a fitting tribute to Scotland’s national hero on the 700th anniversary of his death.

"I am sure this idea will capture the imagination of the Scottish public who still hold William Wallace in such great esteem. William Wallace fought and died for a great cause in Scottish independence, and we should therefore give our backing to any worthwhile memorial to him."

National hero

WILLIAM Wallace was undisputed leader of the Scottish resistance forces during the first years of the struggle to free Scotland from English rule at the end of the 13th century.

Records of Wallace’s life, just like the memorable epic filmed by Mel Gibson (below), are often inaccurate. This is partly because early accounts of his heroic deeds are speculative and partly because he inspired such fear in the minds of English writers at the time, that they demonised him.

Wallace was born around 1270, probably near Ellerslie (now Elderslie), in Ayrshire. His father was Sir Malcolm Wallace, Laird of Elderslie and Auchinbothie, a small landowner and little-known Scottish knight. His mother is believed to have been the daughter of Sir Hugh Crawford, Sheriff of Ayr. At the time of Wallace’s birth, Alexander III had already been on Scotland’s throne for more than 20 years. King Edward I came to the throne of England in 1272, two years after Wallace was born.