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Who Betrayed William Wallace?

Who Betrayed William Wallace?

Sir William Wallace, also known as the Guardian of Scotland, was a Scottish knight best known for leading the Scottish resistance against King Edward I in the late 13th century. He was born around 1270 in the village of Elderslie, Renfrewshire, Scotland.

It’s believed that Jack Short (William Wallace’s servant) betrayed the Guardian of Scotland [1]. He relayed information about the location of William Wallace to Sir John Menteith, which resulted in Wallace’s capture.

Let’s discuss a brief history of William Wallace to understand why this historical figure is so popular and why he was betrayed and executed.

Who Betrayed William Wallace? Infographic.

His Life and Path to Death

William Wallace (engraving of the late 17th or 18th century).
Image courtesy:
William Wallace (engraving of the late 17th or 18th century)

William Wallace was born around 1270 in Scotland. During his puberty, Alexander III was the king of Scotland, and it was an era of stability and peace in the country.

King Edward the First Becomes Overlord of Scotland

In 1286, the King of Scotland suddenly died [2], leaving a four-year-old granddaughter named Margaret of Norway as the heir to the throne. Margaret was engaged to the son of King Edward I of England, but she fell ill and died on her way to Scotland in 1290.

With no clear successor to the throne, chaos ensued in Scotland. As the feuding nobles wanted to avoid an open civil war, they invited King Edward I of England to arbitrate the matter of who should be the next king of Scotland.

In exchange for his services, King Edward the First demanded the Scottish crown and that the Scottish nobles recognize him as the overlord of Scotland. This led to further conflict and set the stage for the struggles between Scotland and England, including the resistance led by William Wallace.

Battle of Stirling Bridge

The Battle of Stirling Bridge is one of the most notable events of William Wallace’s life and is depicted in many documentaries and movies, such as Braveheart (starring Mel Gibson).

On September 11, 1297, William Wallace joined forces of northern Scotland, led by Sir Andrew de Moray, to confront the English army at Sterling [3]. While they were vastly outnumbered, they had a tactical advantage.

Wallace and de Moray decided to allow a portion of the English forces to cross the bridge before attacking them. Then they caused the bridge to collapse, which led to a surprising and decisive victory for the Scots.

The Guardian of Scotland

William Wallace Statue.
William Wallace Statue
Axis12002 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Due to Wallace’s heroic patriotism, he was knighted and became the Guardian of Scotland, but this position was short-lived.

His victory at Stirling Bridge was a major blow to the English, so they responded by sending a much larger army to Scotland to defeat him.

In the following months, Wallace and his forces scored some small victories, but they were eventually defeated at the Battle of Falkirk in July 1298 [4].

Giving Up His Guardian of Scotland Status

After the Battle of Falkirk, William Wallace was no longer in charge of the Scottish army. He resigned as Guardian of Scotland and handed over control to a Scottish nobleman Robert the Bruce, who later became one of Scotland’s most famous kings.

There is some evidence that Wallace traveled to France around 1300 [5] in an attempt to seek support for Scottish independence. This act made him a wanted man in Scotland, where some members of the nobility were negotiating with King Edward I for peace.

William Wallace Captured

Wallace continued to evade capture for some time, but on August 5, 1305, Sir John de Menteith captured him at Rob Royston, near Glasgow [6].

Sir John Menteith was a Scottish knight who had been appointed governor of Dumbarton Castle by King Edward. 

It is not entirely clear how he was captured; however, most accounts suggest that his servant, Jack Short, betrayed him by relaying his location to Sir Menteith. But the exact circumstances of the capture are unknown.

Later, he was accused of treason against King Edward I of England, found guilty, and sentenced to death.


On August 23, 1305, Wallace was brought to Westminster Hall in London and condemned to death [7]. Before he died, he said that he could not be considered a traitor to King Edward I of England because he wasn’t the king of Scotland.

The Trial of William Wallace at Westminster.
The Trial of William Wallace at Westminster
Daniel Maclise, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After that, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered, which was the typical punishment for male prisoners convicted of high treason in England. This punishment was intended to serve as a deterrent to others who might consider committing treason.

Despite this, he is remembered as a national hero in Scotland for his efforts to defend the country’s sovereignty and independence.

Final Words

The exact circumstances of Wallace’s capture are uncertain, but evidence shows he was captured at Rob Royston, near Glasgow, on August 5, 1305, and executed on August 23, 1305.

Overall, this period in Scottish history was marked by conflicts and power struggles as the country sought to gain independence from England. 

William Wallace played a significant role in this struggle and is remembered as a national hero in Scotland.