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'Braveheart,' Edward I & George W. Bush

By       Message Robert Parry       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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Americans with shorter historical perspectives tend to underestimate this fact, unless they were part of some ethnic or regional group that has borne the brunt of a military occupation, such as Native Americans or old-time Southerners, who still call the Civil War "the War of Northern Aggression. "

For many people in the world, grievances of past centuries can be as real as the events of last week and often more powerful. Animosities born of brutality and perceived injustice can distort relations even between countries with strong economic and cultural ties.

Which is what Colin, with his close-cropped hair and strong Scottish accent, recalled to me as we sat in the bar on the night of July 4, 2005, talking about the bloody wars waged against Scotland and Wales by Edward I, the ruthless and cunning English monarch of the late 13th Century.

My conversation with Colin and his spike-haired college friend David was the sort of serendipity that comes with foreign travel. Off-duty guides from the nearby Stirling Castle, both were mildly intrigued by my reason for being in their gritty, central Scottish city of Stirling:

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My wife and I were taking my 16-year-old son and one of his friends on what I had dubbed the "Edward I/William Wallace tour " of the United Kingdom. (Yes, it is that much fun to be one of my kids.)

A Grisly Execution

Our tour had started four days earlier in London, after we had arrived from Washington. We began our little quest at the end for the two historical figures.

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First, we searched through Westminster Abbey for Edward I 's tomb, upon which Scots are reputed to spit even seven centuries later. We found its location, although access to the tomb itself was cordoned off to the general public.

Later, we toured the Tower of London, a castle best known as a prison for political enemies, many of whom met the grisly fate that Edward I and other English monarchs meted out to traitors. While victims of royal blood faced relatively quick death from beheading, lesser-born victims were dragged through the streets, partially hanged, castrated and disemboweled before their hearts were cut out. Then they were decapitated and their bodies chopped into quarters.

It was that fate that awaited Scottish hero William Wallace also known as "Braveheart " who led the Scottish resistance to Edward I 's military campaigns against Scotland in the 1290s. Wallace was captured in 1305 and taken to London for a show trial at Westminster before being condemned.

Edward I ordered Wallace 's torture to be especially deliberate with his entrails to be pulled out inch by inch as a warning to Scots to cease all rebellion. On Aug. 23, 1305, Wallace was dragged some four miles through London streets to a market area called Smithfield, where his public torture and execution were carried out.

Finding a Plaque

After completing our visit to the Tower of London, we took the Underground to the Barbican station and then walked to the Smithfield market area in search of a plaque that marks the location where Wallace was drawn and quartered.

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Following directions I got from a gentleman who sang in the choir at the Medieval-era St. Bartholomew 's Church, we walked 20 paces beyond the church grounds, looked to our left and found Wallace 's plaque on the wall of an adjacent hospital building. In front of the plaque, someone had left a display of fresh flowers.

A few days later, another part of our U.K. trip took us to northern Wales, which Edward I had subdued with his usual ferocity, before turning on Scotland.

In Wales, Edward I known as "Longshanks " because of his height had imposed his dominion over the Celtic population by constructing a network of mammoth castles in important towns, a strategy that strangled Welsh resistance but drained the English treasury. We visited two of Edward 's castles one at Conwy and another at Caernarfon (near where our Parry ancestors had lived).

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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