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By Emperor Barbarossa, January 2007; Revised
Category: Medieval Europe
The 1995 movie Braveheart, directed by the famous Mel Gibson, is a movie about the First Scottish War of Independence. It has won many awards, but what is not known by many of its worldwide fans is its inaccuracy on so many points. The very name, Braveheart, was actually taken from a name that one of Robert the Bruce’s men, Sir James Douglas to describe King Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace. However, there are also some parts of the movie that are somewhat accurate, and these will be covered here.
The movie seems to imply that William Wallace’s full ancestry belongs with the commoners of Scotland. However, he descended from a noble, Richard Wallace. Wallace also claims that his father and many others were hanged by the English under a guise of peaceful negotiation in a barn. Wallace’s father actually died in a skirmish at Loudon Hill.
In Braveheart, Wallace marries a woman named Murron. There is one legend that states Wallace’s wife’s name was Marion Braidfute. Also, in this same legend, it is said that Wallace entered into a rebellion against the English because an English Sheriff of Lanark brutally killed Wallace’s wife. Another legend states something quite different that while Wallace was fishing, two English soldiers challenged Wallace’s ability to fish. In a violent fight Wallace killed them. Either way, Wallace would begin his rebellion in the South, and he would face the English at Stirling Bridge.
It is true that Edward II did have homosexual affairs. However, it is underplayed that later in his life he had four children. Also, the portrayal of him as a weakling may be an application of homophobic stereotypes to the character, which, judging by Edward II being in similar stature and strength to his father would probably have not been as weak. The defenestration of Philip, Edward II’s lover and an advisor of Edward I (according to the movie) never could have happened historically in any sense, as Longshanks never had killed any of his son’s lovers.
A man possibly more important to the Scottish independence movement than Wallace is not even put in the film, Andrew de Moray (or Andrew Moray/Murray). Andrew de Moray was an experienced knight/mercenary that started a rebellion in the north of Scotland. He was a more tactically minded man than Wallace, and not only did he command more men than Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, but he also came up with the plan to fight at the Bridge.
Robert the Bruce comes into the movie at way to early of a stage. Though he was a little active in Scotland during 1295, he had no significant activity until he launched his own rebellion against the English in 1307.
Princess Isabelle is depicted in the movie as a fully-grown woman. At the time, she was only nine years old and living in France. The plot involving Wallace kidnapping and impregnating her is completely false, and impossible. She did at a later time marry Edward II, and he was the King of England, not the Prince of Wales, at the time of the marriage.
The film states that the English had been in Scotland for years before the rebellion started, but, rather, the rebellions started within a year of the English occupation of Scotland. Also, the claims of the Engl
Many Scots in the movie are shown wearing kilts. Though a very few may have worn kilts at the time, the kilt was not worn by Scottish soldiers until the late 1600s. The kilts make the Scots actually look much more like Jacobite soldiers during the 1745 Uprising (especially if the Jacobites did no wear tam o' shanters and balmorals). The last scene of the film, at the Battle of Bannockburn, right when the Scots charge looks so similar to the "Highland Charge" of the Jacobites because of the kilts of the Scots in the scene, the shields, and so many of them having one-handed swords.
The movie’s portrayal of the Battle of Stirling Bridge is inaccurate on the very premise that it is not fought on a bridge. As aforementioned, the supreme commander of the Scottish forces, Andrew de Moray, does not even get a mention. In the scene were the Scots pull out their long spears; it is assumed that this is the first occurrence of men using long spears (and long spears alone) to ward off cavalry. Actually, the Scottish formation of the schiltron and the like had been used for centuries before the battle. In fact, the Scots did use a schiltron in the actual battle, but it was during the English cavalry crossing Stirling Bridge, causing massive casualties for the English by their horses falling off the bridge. The piercing effect of the bodkin point arrows is undermined (it could easily have went through the leather shields carried by the Scottish soldiers). The scene where the Scots moon the English is not supported by any historical document or by any legend. At the end of the battle, William Wallace is given the title of the Guardian of Scotland. He would later lose this title, but this itself deserves a mention because Andrew de Moray was also given this honor.
Wallace’s face paint can only be supported by one legend that said that Wallace had a dream about
Wallace actually did enter England after the Battle of Stirling. Though it may seem to some a petty detail, he never penetrated as far as York, and never even attempted to besiege the city.
Actually, the Battle of Falkirk is maybe the most accurate battle portrayed in the film. There were a few inaccuracies, however. Robert the Bruce being seen as a henchman of King Edward I can in someway be considered as accurate and insulting as a depiction of George Washington being a bodyguard under General Cornwallis during the American Revolution. Even worse, he follows King Edward’s orders like a lapdog and knocks Wallace off his horse. Again, another such comparison to the preposterous scene is George Washington knocking off General Horatio Gates from his horse because General Cornwallis ordered him to. The Irish mercenaries seen at the battle did not ally with the Scots; rather, they performed well for the English. The carnage after the battle, I must say, is very accurate. Also, Wallace was stripped of his title as Guardian of Scotland, which is also portrayed accurately.
Wallace’s downfall is portrayed horribly in the film. His capture was not actually because of a noble conspiracy headed by Robert the Bruce’s father, but, rather, a betrayal by John de Menteith, a Scottish knight loyal to King Edward. Also, the movie implies that Wallace supported Bruce’s claim to the throne. This is not true, as Bruce did not claim the throne until 1307, and Wallace supported the exiled King of Scotland at the time, John Balliol. Wallace’s execution is not that bad historically, but there are a few minor inaccuracies. Wallace was actually dragged through London naked on a horse, not strapped to a cross on a cart. Also, it is not known if his last words were “freedom.” Edward I did not die at Wallace’s execution, but, rather, two years later in 1307.
The Battle of Bannockburn is plagued with a few inaccuracies. Robert the Bruce was not fighting at Bannockburn to accept the title of “King of Scotland” from the English, but, rather, fighting against the English as the King of Scots as proclaimed by the nobles. In his battle speech, he said, “You have bled with Wallace, Now bleed with me.” It is not known if he actually said this quote, or something similar, but in the Robert Burns poem Scots Wha Hae (Scots Who Have), which gives a fictional speech of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce says in Scots:
“Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Or, in English:
“Scots, who have with Wallace bled,
Though there is not much of a battle scene, the “Charging of the fields at Bannockburn” never would have happened at the beginning of the battle. Robert the Bruce won the battle not due to some massive charge of infantry, but instead he used brilliant tactics to decisively beat his more numerous and better equipped enemy.
In conclusion, I have pointed out many of the historical inaccuracies in the film Braveheart. I know that there may be some more in the film, but these are all of the ones that I could catch. I personally like the movie for its entertainment, but I hate the insult it is to the brave Scots who fought for their country during the First Scottish War of Independence. I can only ponder what made Mel Gibson make such an inaccurate movie, though I am not as much against historical inaccuracy in movies as much as I am with what I phrase as “historical absurdity”. Truly, in the end, I hope I have done my best to point out Braveheart’s inaccuracies, and, in another article, tell the true story of the First Scottish War of Independence as Andrew de Moray, William Wallace, and Robert the Bruce would have wanted their story to be told.