Wallace was a member of the minor Scottish nobility who came of age at a time of political instability and widespread infighting amongst the greatest Scottish landowners. King Alexander III had died in 1286 after falling from his horse, and his granddaughter and heir, Margaret of Norway, died on her way to Scotland. The nobles, fearing a civil war, asked Edward I of England to arbitrate and choose a new king. He agreed to do so, as long as he was recognized as Lord Paramount of Scotland. When John Balliol was chosen as the new King of Scotland by the lords, Edward refused to recognize him as such and sacked the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. His army then defeated the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar, and John was forced to abdicate in July 1296.
Scotland started to descend into chaos, and Wallace joined in, assassinating the English High Sheriff of Lanark in May 1297, and then carrying out a raid of Scone. He joined with Andrew Moray, and their combined army met and defeated the English during the Battle of Stirling Bridge, despite being hugely outnumbered. Afterward, Wallace and Moray assumed the titles of Guardians of the Kingdom of Scotland, but Moray died of wounds he received in battle sometime in 1297, leaving the title to Wallace alone. Later that year, Wallace led a raid into Northumberland and Cumberland. He was knighted shortly after.
His luck turned in 1298, when he was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk. He managed to escape, but his reputation was seriously damaged. He disappeared for a while, reappearing in Scotland in 1304, when he was involved in skirmishes at Happrew and Earnside. He managed to evade capture for a while, but then a Scottish knight loyal to Edward turned Wallace over to English soldiers at Robroyston near Glasgow. Wallace was sent to London to stand trial for treason in Westminster Hall. Wallace claimed he couldn’t be guilty of treason, as Edward had never been his king.
Nonetheless, Wallace was found guilty and on August 23 he was stripped naked and dragged through the city to the Elms at Smithfield. There, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered. His head was put on a pike on London Bridge, and his limbs sent to Newcastle upon Tyne, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Stirling, and Aberdeen. Over the years, his legend had been added to and romanticized by Jane Porter, Walter Scott, and, of course, Mel Gibson.