David Ross: Historian and authority on Sir William Wallace

Click to follow
The Independent Online

David Robertson Ross, a passionately patriotic Scot, specialised as a writer and historian in the story of the great Scottish hero, Sir William Wallace. In 2005, to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Wallace's execution, he trekked the 450 miles from Robroyston in Glasgow to London, retracing the route his hero followed to his grisly execution in 1305.

On the last six miles of his commemorative walk, Ross was accompanied by 1,000 Scots, and the marchers paraded a coffin full of tributes, letters and prayers offered by Scottish people as a reminder that Wallace, who was hanged, drawn and quartered, had no funeral. His head, dipped in tar, was stuck on a pike on London Bridge, and the four parts of his body were displayed separately in Newcastle upon Tyne, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Stirling and Aberdeen as a warning to others with rebellious inclinations.

David Ross was born in Giffnock, Renfrewshire in 1958. He attended Halfmerke primary school, then the high school in East Kilbride, which he left in 1974 with six O levels. He resented having been taught history from "an almost wholly English perspective", recalling that while the Norman Conquest, Magna Carta and the Wars of the Roses were drummed into him, he was told virtually nothing about Scottish history.

At the age of 14 or 15, he came across the historical novels of Nigel Tranter, and avidly read first The Bruce Trilogy then The Wallace. "These books were like a door opening to me. They were about 'my' history, 'my' people, and were set in places that, even at that tender age, I knew passing well, so they really meant something."

At 17 he bought his first motorcycle and started devoting his spare time to visiting the places he had been reading about. He had never seriously considered writing himself until, at a lecture in Glasgow, Dr Elspeth King mentioned that it would be a good thing if someone wrote a book about the Wallace-related sites in Scotland. Ross thought at once "I could do that!" He started the next day, writing the story of Wallace's life interspersed with up-to-date directions to the locations of the events he described.

On the Trail of William Wallace (1998) went straight into the Scottish bestsellers' lists and was followed by similar books devoted to Robert the Bruce and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Ross's use of his motorbike to update his researches won him the nickname of "the biker historian".

Ross's sixth book, For Freedom: the last days of William Wallace (2005), coupled his account of the last month of Wallace's life with his experiences of the 700th-anniversary commemorations. These had terminated with the funeral service Wallace was denied, held in the church of St Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield, in London, the last thing Wallace would have seen as he was put to death. Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, commented: "David Ross was a tremendous enthusiast for all things Scottish, and in particular for the memory of William Wallace. Those of us who attended and contributed to the service at St Bartholomew's experienced an occasion as memorable as a state funeral and as moving as a personal testament."

A genial giant, Ross loomed large at Highland Games and at Scottish festivals on both sides of the Atlantic. He played guitar at authors' meetings and was proud to be convener of the William Wallace Society. Divorced, he was responsible for bringing up his daughter, Kimberley.

Robin Young

David Robertson Ross, author: born Giffnock, East Renfrewshire 28 February 1958; twice married (one daughter); died East Kilbride 2 January 2010.