The Sword of William Wallace

“The Book of Wallace”
Rev. Charles Rogers, DD, LLD (1889)

The Patriot’s two-handed sword, which formerly lay in Dunbarton Castle, is now deposited in the National Wallace Monument. For the recovery of this sword, the writer, on the 15th of October 1888, renewed a former correspondence with the Secretary of State for War, with the result that the Major-General commanding the forces in North Britain was authorized to deliver the weapon to his care for preservation in the monument. The transfer took place at Stirling on the 17th of November 1888, and as the proceedings are of some permanent interest, the following report is extracted from a local journal.

At eleven o’clock, according to previous arrangement, Dr. Rogers, with a party of friends, drove up to the Castle. He was received by Colonel Nightingale, the commander of the garrison, who conducted him and his party into the Messroom. At 11:30 the great sword was placed on the table, while two artists from Edinburgh took up a suitable position for making a sketch of the proceedings.

Colonel Nightingale then said: “Dr. Rogers, I am deputed by Major-General Lyttleton Annesley, commanding the forces of North Britain, to carry out the instructions of the Secretary of State for War, and his Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief, in presenting to you the sword of Sir William Wallace, the great hero, and I am proud of the honour of doing so, especially in Stirling Castle, as from its walls we look down upon the field of one of the grandest exploits of that memorable Patriot.”
Dr. Rogers having received the sword, said: “Colonel Nightingale, I was formerly an officer in this Castle in which you now so worthily command; and when I was invested with my office by being ordained to the ministry in the garrison chapel, I had handed me a gift by the commanding officer, in token of welcome. Since that period thirty-three years have elapsed, and now I am summoned back to these historic and familiar scenes to receive from your hand, as the commanding officer, a further presentation. You have handed me the sword of Wallace, and so conferred upon me one of the greatest honours which any Scotsman has received since the hordes of Surrey fled from Stirling Bridge, or the Bruce was acknowledged victor at Bannockburn. And on this important occasion I rejoice to see present my old friend Dr. Paterson of Bridge of Allan, with whom I held pleasant converse when the Wallace Monument was first projected; also another valued friend, Mr. William Christie, a Custodier of the monument, to whose energy in advancing its completion and adornment we are so much indebted; likewise my gifted friend, Mr. David Watson Stevenson, from whose studio have proceeded those admirable sculptures, which have materially enhanced the interest of the structure. And it is especially gratifying to have with us this morning a member of the hero’s kin, Mr. Hugh Robert Wallace of Busbie and Cloncaird, who has recently been recognized by the Lyon King of Arms as head and representative of the house of Wallace. The trust which, Colonel Nightingale, you have reposed in me, will be discharged within an hour, when at another ceremonial I shall have the honour of requesting Mr. Wallace to hand his ancestor’s great sword to the Custodiers of the national monument.”

After Dr. Rogers had subscribed a receipt for the sword, it was borne by two colour-sergeants to the public hall of the burgh.
At twelve o’clock the public ceremony in connection with the auspicious event took place in the public hall. Provost Yellowlees, attired in his official robes, received the company, all of whom were specially invited. Upwards of two hundred ladies and gentlemen were present. At a quarterpast twelve the corridors were guarded by policemen, and the Guildry and Town Officers, arrayed in their picturesque uniforms, were also in attendance. Provost Yellowlees ascended the platform, accompanied by the Rev. Dr. Rogers; Hugh Robert Wallace, Esq. Of Cloncaird Castle; Sir James Maitland, Bart. Of Barnton; Colonel Nightingale; Rev. J. P. Lang; Bailies Ronald, Knifes, Forrest, and Brown; Dean of Guild Mercer; Mr. Robert Smith of Brentham Park; Mr. William Christie, Master of Cowane’s Hospital; and others.

The choir having sung “Scots, wha hae”, Provost Yellowlees said: “It affords the Custodiers much gratification, that so many friends braving the tempestuous weather have joined our meeting. There are other friends who to our regret, have been prevented by engagements, or by indisposition, or by absence from home, from being with us. Among these are the Duke of Montrose, Sir Alan and Lady Seton Steuart, Sheriffs Gloag and Muirhead, Professor Blackie, Dr. Dickson of the Historical Department of the Register House, Edinburgh; and the Rev. Dr. Macgregor of St. Cuthbert’s. It is now my pleasant duty to call upon Dr. Rogers to address us. You are all aware that it was under the patriotic enthusiasm of Dr. Rogers, that the idea of the Wallace Monument first took shape, and I am sure you will join with me in heartily congratulating the doctor, who is now venerable in years, on his being spared not only to witness the monument being adorned and equipped with busts of such Scotsmen as Wallace himself would have delighted to honour, but especially to be the honoured instrument of securing to the monument the precious relic which will always be its most valued treasure.” Dr. Rogers said : “This sword is associated with a glorious history, for it was wielded by one who, in an age when principle succumbed to expediency, was pure and without reproach; who never yielded allegiance where it was not strictly due; and who resisted oppression to the death. Consequent on two weldings the weapon has been reduced from its original length, but it was originally a noble blade, which, in respect of the owner, was, in the poet’s word,

“Fit for archangel to wield, Yet light in his terrible hand”

Borne by the Patriot at the battle of Stirling Bridge, it signalled the commencement of a struggle which was not to terminate until the prostrate spirit of the nation was fully revived, not again to droop or decay till on the field of Bannockburn were repelled the hosts of the invader. When foully captured, as he slept at Robroyston, on the night of the 5th August 1305, Wallace had this great blade resting by his pillow; and when lie was hastened to London to meet his cruel death, it was borne to Dunbarton as the prize of its governor, the recreant Scotsman who had betrayed its possessor. At Dunbarton the sword has for six long centuries remained as a protest against treachery and injustice, and now, from the hands of the commander at Dunbarton, it is to become a trophy in our Patriot’s monument. As governor of Dunbarton, Sir John Menteith received this sword in August 1305, and two hundred years thereafter, namely, on the 8th December 1505, the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer inform us that at the command of James IV., the sum of twenty-six shillings, equal to about thirty pounds at our present money, was paid to an armorer for binding a riding sword and a rapier; also for the “binding of Wallas sword with cords of silk”, and providing it with “ane new hilt and plomet” also with a “new scabbard and a new belt.” And it will be remarked that while the rapier and the riding sword are named as being simply repaired, the Wallace sword is described as adorned with trappings of silk; also as having been furnished with the specified additions of a new hilt and pommel, a new scabbard and a new belt. Concerning the weapon we learn nothing further for three centuries, but in a letter which, in October 1872, I received front the War Office, I was informed that in the year 1825 it was sent for repair to the Tower, when the Duke of Wellington, as Master-General of the Ordnance, submitted it for examination to Dr. Meyrick. This gentleman, afterwards Sir Samuel Meyrick, was an authority on ancient swords, but in estimating the age of the Dunbarton weapon, he was guided by its mountings only. Judging from these, he concluded that the sword was not older than a sword in the British Museurn, connected with the earldom of Chester, and belonging to the reign of Edward IV. That I may not misinterpret his sentiments, I quote from Sir Samuel’s work on “Ancient Armour”, in which, at vol. ii, page 177, when referring to the reign of Edward IV., he writes, “The two-handed Sword, shown at Dunbarton Castle as that of Wallace, is of this period, as will be evident to anyone who compares it with that of Earldom of Chester, in the British Museum.” The Chester sword was afterwards examined by Mr. George Ormerod1 of the Society of Antiquaries, who, in the fifth volume of Vetusta Monumenta, shows that the weapon was the Sword of State which Edward V had borne before him, when, as Prince of Wales, he, in 1475, made a triumphal entry into Chester Castle. If then the Chester sword belongs to the year 1475, Sir Samuel Meyrick approximated nearly to the date of the mountings of the Wallace sword, which occurred just thirty years later. But the Wallace sword was, in 1505, an old blade, which required a new hilt and pommel, a new scabbard and a new belt. And as the weapon was then so materially shattered, it seems reasonable to conclude that it was decidedly ancient; moreover, that before it was allowed to rest in the Dunbarton armory, it had been subjected to much hard usage. And its being adorned with silk tassels by the King’s command leaves us in no doubt as to its being held in special veneration; while in the register the weapon is described as “Wallas’ sword,” no qualifying word of doubt being expressed as to its genuineness. And apart from the circumstance that by two separate weldings the blade has been shortened, it is otherwise a duplicate of the two-handed blade of Sir Richard Lundin, used at the battle of Stirling, now preserved at Drummond Castle, One blunder leads to another. Consequent upon Sir Samuel Meyrick’s judgment, pronounced in 1825, the mountings of 1505 were removed, and a common handle of the 15th century substituted. So I was informed in the letter, which, in 1872, 1 received from the War Office, But now that we have got possession of the sword, we shall be careful that the weapon with which the hero was wont to “mak great rowme” about him, will be mounted in the fashion in which he nobly grasped it, and we shall retain it as no unimportant addition to the national regalia.

Ladies and gentlemen, in having this morning received from Colonel Nightingale, commander at Stirling arid Dunbarton, the Wallace sword, I have had conferred upon me the highest honour which it was possible for the British Government to bestow on any native of our northern kingdom, and the preciousness of the honour has been materially enhanced, inasmuch as I received the great Weapon in the presence of one of the Patriot’s line, Mr. Hugh Robert Wallace, the recognized head of the Wallace family. But, ladies and gentlemen, while I have received this high honour, I am fully aware that I owe it to no personal merit, beyond that, perhaps, of having devoted a portion of time to the service of my country, in the celebration of her departed worthies. By some, indeed, it may be deemed incongruous, that the sword of a hero should be placed in the hands of one whose office is to preach peace, and pursue it. But let me say, from a study of his career, that I am led to believe that Wallace was, with a view to the Church, prosecuting his theological studies, when he received that insult, in the avenging of which he struck the first blow for liberty. His first instructor was certainly a priest, and his name was Roger. This person has been described as his uncle; but whether his tutor was of hid kin, is as uncertain as that I am personally of the tutor’s stock. This much is certain that by his tutor the Patriot was taught these two lines of Latin verse, which proved to him a stimulus in dedicating his life to his country:

“Dico tibi verum, libertas optima rerum, Nunquam servili sub nexu vivito, fili”

in translation, “My son, freedom is the best possession: never then succumb to the yoke of the oppressor”. But if there should be any incongruity in my receiving the sword of a man of war, that incongruity shall not be long lasting for I now transfer it from my personal keeping, and place it in the hands of Mr. Wallace, to whom it had belonged by inheritance had his illustrious progenitor not been plundered of it while he slept; and I ask him to hand the great blade to the Provost of Stirling, as Chairman of the Custodiers of the National Wallace Monument, feeling sure that by them and their successors it will be sacredly preserved so long as the monument itself rests firmly upon its rock, or the Patriot’s statue overlooks tile battlefield of Stirling.
Having been introduced by the Provost, Mr. Wallace said: “It has been a great satisfaction to me to be privileged to attend here today; and I confess that when Dr. Rogers first suggested to me that I might be invited, it caused me deep interest, and when I did receive an invitation, I accepted it with alacrity. However, on receiving intimation from your worthy Provost that a few words might be expected from me, I began to repent my rashness. Allow me, then, to express my sentiments in a very few words. I have always considered that Sir William Wallace, the lesson he taught his country. and everything connected with him, were essentially the property of his countrymen. That being the case, I was much interested in learning that a scheme had been initiated by Dr. Rogers for bringing his great sword from Dunbarton Castle, and placing it in the monument on the Abbey Craig. Had the sword been in my own possession, I would have had no hesitation in handing it over to the Custodiers of the monument In conclusion, allow me to say that the Wallace family are indebted to Dr. Rogers for what he has done; let me also say that I heartily sympathize with, and entirely approve of the course that has been taken. I now hand the sword to the Provost, and I hope that it will remain in the Monument for all time to come.”

Provost Yellowlees then said: “It remains for me, on behalf of the Custodiers, to intimate our acceptance of the sword just placed in my hands. Dr. Rogers has given us the history of this most precious relic, and I think, after hearing his narrative, there need exist no reasonable doubt as to the genuineness of the weapon. In accepting the custody of this veritable weapon of the Scottish Patriot, let me assure you, Dr. Rogers, that we shall prize it as our greatest treasure. For well nigh sir hundred years this sword has lain at Dunbarton. It is now to find a much more accessible and more appropriate resting-place in the National Wallace Monument to remain here, I hope, for centuries to come, an affecting memento to successive generations of Scotsmen of the Patriot who wielded it, and who sacrificed his life on his country’s altar.”

Bailie Ronald said: “A pleasant duty falls to me: it is to ask you to accord a hearty vote of thanks to the War Office authorities, represented by Colonel Nightingale, for authorizing the transference of the Wallace sword from Dunbarton Castle to the National Wallace Monument. It is our bounden duty to return thanks to these authorities for their recognition of the national sentiment of Scotland. In regard to Colonel Nightingale, I feel it is quite superfluous to return thanks to a British soldier for doing his duty; but I wish you to thank the Colonel specially for the kind and courteous manner in which he has carried through his part of the arrangements.

Colonel Nightingale said: “For the kind vote of thanks, I thank you on behalf of the Secretary of State for War and the Commander-in-Chief of the forces, who deputed me to be the instrument in presenting this wonderful relic to Dr. Rogers. I did so with the greatest pleasure, and I consider it was a high privilege to do so in Stirling Castle, which overlooks the scene of the Patriot’s greatest victory.”

Bailie Kinross called for a vote of thanks to Dr. Rogers and Mr. Wallace. Dr. Rogers and Mr. Wallace briefly acknowledged the vote. Provost Yellowlees intimated that Mr. Wallace of Cloncaird had offered to pay for the cost of a shrine for the famous sword. Sir James Maitland proposed a vote of thanks to Provost Yellowlees for presiding, and the “National Anthem” having been sung, the audience separated.

The Wallace sword is 5 feet 11 and 1/2 inches length; the blade varies in breadth from 2 1/4 inches at the guard to 3/4 of an inch at the point. The weight is six pounds.