Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Wallace Monument

Head for Stirling Castle on its rock and you may find your eye drawn instead to Abbey Craig and its striking tower. The tower is topped by an unusual stone crown, the like of which is seen only in Aberdeen's Kings College and St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh. This is the National Wallace Monument, opened in 1869, the construction funded by public subscription.

Stirling Castle with the Wallace Monument left and behind:


Inside are displays from the medieval period, 'Wallace's Sword', a gallery of modern heroes, and from the top, fantastic views of Stirling, the Carse of Forth, and the Ochils.

William Wallace is Scotland's national hero. In an age when submission to Edward I of England was the sensible thing to do, Wallace's uncompromising attitude provided inspiration to his countrymen. He defeated an English force in 1297 but was betrayed and martyred, and it was to be Robert the Bruce who wrested the crown of Scotland from English control. But like Joan of Arc after him, it was Wallace the ordinary people wanted to hear tales about.

(Monuments to Robert the Bruce are much thinner on the ground. At the same time as the National Wallace Monument was inundated with subcribers, a Bruce monument planned for central Edinburgh was canned due to lack of public interest.)

Wallace Monument on Abbey Craig from the Ochils:


The Wallace monument was constructed at the height of the British Empire. Why would the Scots want to remind themselves of a time when they were engaged in damaging warfare with England? A clue is given in Graeme Morton's fascinating book Unionist Nationalism. At its time of construction, Scots played a major part in the empire. Yet the United Kingdom itself was a looser-run affair than it was to become in the 20th century, the spirit of laissez-faire entrenched, the ever-tightening tentacles of central state control decades away. Provided they sent tax revenues to London and men to fight the empire's wars, the Scottish establishment largely ran its own affairs. This happy circumstance (grumbles over the amount of tax sent to London without benefit to Scotland notwithstanding) led to an argument that sounds unusual to modern ears, but made sense at the time. Unionist nationalists argued that it was only thanks to the Wars of Independence and continued resistance to English domination, that Scotland finally gained its position as an equal partner to England in the 1707 union. Scotland's hard-fought independence meant that come the union, her trading rights were enhanced and her legal, educational, ecclesiastical and local government establishments preserved, as opposed to the sorry state in 1542 and 1801 of Wales and Ireland, which were incorporated into England's establishment whole. The synthesis of philosophical opposites allowed Victorian Scots to retain their national identity without it threatening the British state.

The Dryburgh monument:


There are several other Wallace Monuments. Off the top of my head I can think of a statue in Aberdeen, one at Dryburgh, a monument in Elderslie, a striking modern scupture at Loudon Hill, a plaque at the site of Dundee Castle, a cross at Robroyston where Wallace was captured, and a plaque at Spitalfields where he was killed. The list-ticking geek in me wants to visit them all...

2 comments:

blueskyscotland said...

Not seen the Dryburgh monument before but was thinking of a post including the Elderslie one as I've been holding that set of photos back as a reserve since last summer. Surprised Alex Salmond hasn't given a stirring Braveheart plea yet for "Freedom" but there's still time.
Anymore rain this winter and there might not be much left of Southern England above water to separate from anyway :o)

Robert Craig said...

Will be interested to see the Elderslie post! I wouldn't expect a Salmond Braveheart reference though, it would be as counterproductive to the current debate as Cameron invoking the memory of 1690. Though we live in strange times...