11 September 1297: William Wallace routs the English invaders

The Scottish leader secures a famous victory at Stirling Bridge – and enters into legend


On the morning of 11 September 1297, the Earl of Surrey ordered his English army to cross the Forth river at Stirling Bridge. The war for Scotland was raging, and although the north bank was guarded by Scots under Andrew Moray and William Wallace, Surrey was determined to force the issue. It was the worst mistake of his life – and a titanic moment in Scottish history.

Only when most of Surrey’s forces had crossed did the Scots make their move, bombarding the English with spears before charging down to cut their army in two. Outnumbered, their backs to the river, some of the English swam for safety, while others, led by Sir Hugh de Cressingham, tried to fight their way out.

For the minstrel Blind Harry, writing two centuries later, Wallace was the hero of the hour. “On foot, and bearing a great sharp spear,” he wrote, “Wallace went amongst the thickest of the press. He aimed a stroke at Cressingham in his corslet, which was brightly polished. The sharp head of the spear pierced right through the plates and through his body, stabbing him beyond rescue; thus was that chieftain struck down to death. With the stroke Wallace bore down both man and horse.” According to Blind

Harry, “the English army although ready for battle, lost heart when their chieftain was slain, and many openly began to flee… Seven thousand full at once floated in the Forth, plunged into the deep and drowned without mercy; none were left alive of all that fell army.”

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Much of this was probably fictional. But it cemented William Wallace’s growing legend – and paved the way for Mel Gibson’s Hollywood epic. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

11 September 1611

Birth in Sedan of French soldier Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne. In 1658, reinforced by English republican troops, Turenne defeated a Spanish and English royalist army at the battle of the Dunes.

11 September 1862

Hawley Harvey Crippen was born in Coldwater, Michigan. The first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless communication, he was hanged for murder in Pentonville prison in September 1910.

11 September 1973: Pinochet oversees Allende’s downfall

The regime of Chile’s Marxist president comes crashing down

In one of the last known pictures of him, Salvador Allende inspects the damage to the presidential palace on 11 September 1973. The Marxist leader killed himself shortly after surrendering to Augusto Pinochet that afternoon “Surely this will be the last opportunity for me to address you,” said the thin, crackly voice on the radio. “The air force has bombed the antennas of Radio Portales and Radio Corporación... Given these facts, the only thing left for me is to say to the workers: I’m not going to resign! At this historic juncture, I will pay for the loyalty of the people with my life… Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!”

So ran the last broadcast words of Chile’s president, Salvador Allende, recorded as troops were blasting their way into his palace in the centre of its capital city, Santiago. The date was 11 September 1973, and after an extraordinarily turbulent three-year presidency, Allende’s Marxist experiment was almost over.

With inflation at well over 100 per cent and the middle classes in virtual open revolt, the army’s commander-in-chief, General Augusto Pinochet, had run out of patience. At dawn that morning, the navy seized the port of Valparaiso. Meanwhile, military units were streaming into central Santiago. By mid-morning, it was obvious even to Allende that the game was up. The military sent a message ordering him to resign, but he refused. He would rather die in the palace, he said defiantly. Very well, Pinochet said.

By 1.30pm, the palace walls were shaking under the impact of army fire. Although the defenders clung to their positions, Allende had had enough. Twenty minutes later, after ordering his guards to surrender, he went along the line, shaking hands in farewell. Then, carrying an AK-47 given him by his friend Fidel Castro, he went alone to a chamber on the second floor, steadied the rifle between his legs and shot himself.


Pinochet wasted little time. By nightfall, Chile was in the hands of the army. Tens of thousands of dissidents were imprisoned and murdered, many of them after being tortured in the national stadium. It was not until March 1990 that Pinochet finally stepped down. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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