Braveheart is a 1995 Holywood blockbuster movie which was seen by some as a historical drama, which unfolded on the silver screen, accurately depicting part of the life of the Scottish hero, William Wallace.
It was received with much acclaim, was a very enjoyable view, made loads of money, and did much for the Scottish tourist industry, but did it actually comply with the historical facts.
Firstly the movie was inspired by the poem, written over 100 years later called the ‘Actes and Deides of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace’ (The Acts and Deeds of the Illustrious and Valiant Champion Sir William Wallace) by ‘Blind Harry.
Little is known of the life of the poet, but it is known that he lived from around 1473-1492, 100 years after Wallace. The poem upon which the film was made and adopted by the screenwriter Randall Wallace, is known in itself to be historically inaccurate.
The filmis listed on the site Rotten Tomatoes and was considered : ‘Distractingly Violent and Histrorically dodgy’. Well it is Holywood after all, with all the poetic license they could bring. However, the positives are they were violent times and Wallace was a Scottish freedom fighter and revolutionary hero that certainly did exist. In the eyes of us Scots and to quote the phrase, ‘there is no bad publicity’.
However, the inaccuracies are everywhere; from the general timeline through the characters themselves and to the clothes they wore.
Although a blockbuster and a great movie to watch, it has gained the tag of possibly being the ‘the most historically inaccurate movie ever made’, although we are certain it doesn’t stand alone.
So what are the facts on William Wallace and his childhood. The film portrays him as being of poor farming stock living in a Highland glen, which is nowhere close to the Scottish Lowlands.
His history is vague at best, as we know very little about is family or parents, although it seems that he was no commoner, but rather of minor nobility. Some strongly suggest that is father may have been one Alan Wallace. Alan might be the same one listed on the 2nd Ragmans Roll (1296) when prominent Scots were summoned to pledge fealty to Edward I, after the Scots were defeated at the Battle of Dunbar. He is listed as living in Ayrshire under the Crown.
The other possibility is Wallace was born on an estate near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, but there are no records to support this.
Going back to Blind Harry and his poem, he claimed Wallace’s father was Sir Malcolm of Elderslie in Renfrewshire, but again no evidence exists, although this has been taken by some as his birthplace.
As such although there are dots to be joined, none really lead to any facts to his past, nor is there any evidence that he had any children and as such his line died out with him in 1305.
The fact that his father and brother are killed in the fiilm when Wallace was a boy, are also deemed to be myths.
The film opens in 1276 when Wallace would have been in his early 20’s, at which point in reality King Alexander III of Scotland was still alive and the English weren’t yet making much of a fuss over Scotland. The rebellion began in 1296, twenty years later. As such his father and brother fighting the occupying English during Williams childhood, cannot be accurate based on the timedline.
Death of Edward I
The film claims that Edward died in the same year as Wallace’s execution but he actually outlived Wallace by a couple of years and died in 1307. Therefore King Edward II, Edward I ‘s son, did not marry Isabella, who was 13 at the time and not 29 as was portrayed, until after Wallace had died.
As for being homosexual, his preferences may or may not be valid but records show that he did not treat his wife with disdain and in fact fathered 4 children with her.
Lets begin with the name Braveheart, this was never used to describe Wallace, but was used in association with Robert the Bruce.
The facts are that Bruce’s body was buried in Dunfermline Abbey but his heart was removed a carried to the crusades by his friend James Douglas. Sadly, en route they were met by Moorish warriors in Spain and surrounded. The Braveheart story comes from the alleged cry by James when he threw Bruces heart towards the enemy ‘Onwards Braveheart, Douglas shall follow you or die’.
Wallace’s Betrayal by Bruce
Regarding the Bruce, there is no truth whatsover that he betrayed Wallace at Falkirk as the film suggests, as there is no historical evidence he was actually there. Due to politics of the day, Bruce initially chose not to take sides, but by 1297 he did support the Scottish revolution against the English. This is born out as our history unfolds.
According to Blind Harry, Wallace was married, but again there is no evidence to support this. Harry suggested Wallace’s wife was called Marion, but the name was changed in in the film in order to prevent any confusion with the legend of Robin Hood. She was alegedly killed by the Sheriff of Lanark, again by that time a Royal Burgh since 1140, and therefore a far larger and much more organised town than the hovels portrayed in the film.
The Sherriff of Lanark did exist, his name was by all accounts William Heselrig and Wallace did lead an uprising against the English there, killing the Sheriff in the process. This occured during Wallace’s rebellion against the English, which scoured across the Lowlands and Borders of Scotland not the Highlands.
Jus Primae Noctis (Droit du Signeur)
Following on from that is the law of the ‘Right of the Lord / Right of the first Night’, giving nobles the right to sleep with a woman on her wedding night. There is no evidence anywhere that confirms that this law existed in medieval Europe and most certainly not in Scotland, neither was it enacted by Edward I or any other king in Britain.
It is simply a myth.
What about the tartans and plaid?
Well the facts suggest that although tartan did exist, it was neither clan/family linked until the early 1800’s and was certainly not the belted ‘plaid’ depicted. In those days, Scots and most certainly not Lowland or Border Scots ever wore kilts, these only appeared in the highlands around 300 years later.
NB the statue of Wallace above, is attired as of the time and not a kilt or tartan in sight.
Further the Scots would not have worn blue woad. This was a highland thing from the ancient Picts in and around 1000 years before the time of Wallace, it was the Picts that painted their faces with woad, not the army of Wallace and Moray.
There is also no evidence to suggest that the followers of Wallace wore dreadlocks, beards, mullet hairstyles or hair attachments but that, as they say is Hollywood.
A wee bit regarding the banning of bagpipes alluded to in the film at the funeral of Williams ‘brother and father’, the ‘pipes’ were definately not banned in the 13th century so again false.
Battle of Strling Bridge
Ok in simple terms, where was the bridge and where was Andrew de Moray?
The battle was won based on the timing of the English crossing the bridge and the Scots charging them before they could regroup on the Scottish army’s side.
The situation is recorded that those at the back couldn’t see what was happening at the other end of the bridge, and kept pushing forwards forcing their compatriots into the waiting Scottish spears.
Andrew de Moray was the actual battle planner. He was leading his own resistance movement in the Northeast of Scotland and linked up with Wallace to become as one army. He was wounded in the battle and died soon afterwards.
What is accurate is Wallace’s use of very long spears, which worked well, and the English relied a lot on their heavy cavalry and bowmen, which was played down a bit in the film.
Guardian of Scotland
After the Battle of Stirling Bridge, the Scottish nobility did gather and pronounce Wallace Guardian of Scotland, but they also bestowed the same honour on Andrew de Moray as a joint guardian alongside Wallace. Moray died at Stirling Bridge from wounds sustained at the battle.
Wallace, after his invasion of England, was knighted on his return and made sole Guardian of Scotland, not before.
Siege of York
Wallace never even approached York, never mind siege it, as such there was no head in a basket sent to Edward, no armourous meetings by the princess with Wallace (see above for timings and age of princess).
Again poetic licence kicks in.
The Death of the Wallace
The execution portrayed in the film sadly underplays his execution. Wallace was executed by being hung until semi-conscious, stretched, then disembowelled and beheaded. What isn’t covered was that he was drawn behind horses for miles before hand, then hanged, stretched, disembowelled and castrated. His lungs, heart and organs were torn out before he was beheaded and quartered.
His head is then spiked on London Bridge and his arms and legs sent to Berwick, Newcastle upon Tyne, Stirling and Perth as a warning.
With regards his cry for ‘freedom’, this is not substantiated and to be honest when you if you are being killed in 4 different ways, there is not much time to speak coherently far less shout Freedom during the proceedings.
However, this legend would have acted as a rallying cry for the Scottish independance cause, touching the hearts of all who, even to this day, hear the story.
The Outlaw King
Although it has slight exaggerations to enhance the dramatic effects, the 2018 Netflix movie Outlaw King, is a reasonably accurate depiction of the main parts of the life of Robert the Bruce. It continues after William Wallace was defeated at Falkirk and the independence movement largely crushed. It covers the middle year of the 1st War of Scottish Independence and includes the Battle of Louden Hill but not Bannockburn ie between 1304-1307. Although suffering some devastating defeats during that time, history shows that he came back with a vengence to succeed in his goal.
A great movie, well worth the watching.