Why Braveheart is shockingly historically inaccurate. It is also a bad film

Errors of fact in the film “Braveheart”.

(We had this on our old website. I’m reposting it as someone asked how accurate the film was)

Pointing out the errors in “Braveheart” might be seen as pointless, after all, should we expect anything more from Hollywood. Well the trouble is that the errors are so many and so grievous, and the legacy of Wallace and the Wars of Independence still have so much meaning to Scots today that I thought it worthwhile to realise just how shoddy and worthless a job Randall Wallace made of the story.

The real story itself is so exciting that I am surprised and a little saddened that such a bad job was done, but it was and I’ll try and redress it a bit.

Notes

  • After the death of Alexander III’s daughter, the Maid of Norway, there were 13 claimants to the Scots throne, of which two families had a decent claim. These formed the main factions in Scotland. The two factions were
    • The Comyn family, who supported John Balliol a kinsman who was chosen by Edward I to be rightful King.
    • The Bruces, who had been heir presumptive before Alexander had any heirs.
      • There are (at least) three Robert Bruces alive at the same time
      • Robert de Bruce, the “Old Competitor”. Robert Bruce (A):- Father to (B), Grandfather to (C)
      • Robert Bruce, who didn’t want to claim the kingship, Robert Bruce (B):- Son of (A), Father of (C)
      • Robert Bruce the King, Robert I, Robert Bruce (C):- , Grandson of (A), Son of (B)
  • John Balliol has the “distinction” in Scot’s history of never being referred to as King John, he is always John Balliol, “Toom Tabard” (Empty Shirt), not really a King

The following points and counterpoints are in the
basic order in which they are brought up within the film.

 

The film opens in 1280. Scotland is at war with itself and Edward of England after the death of the King of Scots when Edward proposes a truce to decide matters. Kilted Scotsman wander hither and yon.
  • Um, no. It is not until 1286 that Alexander III, King of Scots rides off a cliff to his death, leaving the Kingdom with no heir save Margaret, the Maid of Norway, his three year old granddaughter and daughter of the King of Norway. Alexander even had male heirs after 1280, though they died before Alexander’s own death.
  • The plaid and the kilt are not the dress of the Lowland Scot, and probably not of the Highlander at this time earlier. Male clothing would appear to be a long tunic with breeches, often short, under them.
  • Edward was not invited until 1290 to decide the decision as to which claimant had a better claim to the throne. He had done a similar job earlier in deciding the lordship over the island of Sicily and was seen as an honest broker and had signed treaties guaranteeing Scots independence. Of course Longshanks had other ideas.
William Wallace is shown as a kilted Highlander, the son of a crofter, a man of humble origins
  • Um, no. William Wallace’s father was a knight, probably named Malcolm. Sir Malcolm Wallace was a vassal of the Stewart family, with whom the Wallaces had been associated for over 100 years. Wallace’s mother was the daughter of Sir Reginald Craufurd of Loudon, Sheriff of Ayr. Far from humble origins.
  • Not only that, but the Wallace family were lowlanders, probably living in Elderslie in Renfrewshire, comparatively flat terrain and not the steep sided valley of the film.
  • Even the great Magnates of Scotland as shown as scrappy 15th Century Highlander in this, instead of the rich and powerful Celtic-Normans they were, as well equipped as the English nobles, or nearly.
Wallace’s father is killed in this year of 1280, and the young Wallace is taken in by his uncle Abenazar, sorry, Argyll. This uncle has Wallace taught Latin, French and his letters.
  • Wallace’s father was not killed until 1292. Before then Wallace had been educated at Paisley Abbey and in 1292 had been living near Dundee for a while, admittedly with his uncle. A load of boys seem to have been shipped there to have the rough edges knocked off them.
  • I have no idea where the name Argyll came from. Argyll as a territory was under control of John of Lorn, who supported the Comyn side of the inheritance debate.
Abenazar Argyll makes reference to “Outlawed tunes on outlawed Pipes”. He also mentions that the same thing happened for his father, William Wallace’s grandfather.
  • Neither the pipes nor the tunes were outlawed until after the 1745 rebellion. A little while away.
  • England and Scotland had been at peace within the possible lifetime of Wallace’s grandfather. The last battle on Scots soil against a foreigner was in 1263 at Largs when the forces of the Steward defeated the Norsemen of King Haakon.
Wedding of Edward Prince of Wales and Isabelle of France
  • Isabelle was born in 1292, so to have her as a fully grown woman before the battle of Stirling Bridge (1297) is ludicrous.
  • She was betrothed to Edward in 1303.
  • They actually married in 1308, three years after Wallace’s execution.
In Edward’s council of war Longshanks proposes to settle English nobles in Scotland and grant Scots nobles land in England. To entice the English nobles Edward plans to give them “Jus primae Noctis”, the right to sleep with any common woman on the night f her marriage.
  • The Norman nobility in Scotland, Wales, France and Ireland were already international. This was part of the problem in fact, since part of Edward’s claim over Scotland was that the Kings of Scotland held land in England owing him oaths of fealty as vassals for that land. Funnily enough when Philip le Bel of France tried the same argument on Edward for land Edward held as vassal of France that wasn’t the same thing. Somehow. One of the settlements in the eventual peace treaty between Scotland and England was to divest nobles of land held abroad.
  • Not only is the “Jus Primae Noctis”a myth, I don’t think anyone even suggested it as a bit of anti-English Propaganda during the wars. It strikes me that this is a nice atrocity that the makers of the film can get past the censors compared to one of the real horrors like Berwick where Longshanks slaughtered everybody.
Robert Bruce the Elder.
  • As stated earlier there were three Robert Bruces. (Not to be confused with a Robert Brux who was a servant of Edward I). Of the three only perhaps the youngest, the King ever had any kind of skin complaint.
  • It was the Grandfather who maintained the claim to the throne, the middle Bruce resigned it in favour of his son.
  • The Grandfather died in 1295, the Father in 1304. This makes eithers involvement in later event improbable to say the least.
Peaceful William Wallace who wanted to be a farmer
There was never any sign of this. When his father was killed Wallace was living near Dundee. Soon after wards in Dundee itself he picks a fight, or a fight is picked with him, with an English soldier whom he kills. He is then on the run for most of the rest of his life.
Oh. And even if he was, it wouldn’t be a Highland croft
Mirren the crofter’s daughter and her death.
  • Well she was called Marion Braidfute.
  • She was the daughter of Sir Hugh Braidfute and heiress of the Lamington Estates in Lanarkshire.
  • Rather than the short romance in the film it is possible that they were together long enough to have a daughter.
  • And rather than being the subject of a casual rape, she was the subject of the attentions of the English Sheriff of Lanark, Heselrig, who thought to marry her to his son, so he arranged to have Wallace put out of the way. Marion aided Wallace’s escape and was killed for that.
Wallace and the Nunchuks
  • When William wallace enters the village “unarmed” he pulls out a pair of nuchakus from behind his neck.
    • Not a cavalry flail
    • Not a threshing flail (too big)
  • But honest to goodness nunchakus, both sides even and everything. I know that study is showing more complex trade routes to the orient than was once thought, but NO!
Cowardly English nobles and Wooden Castles.
  • Much as I hate to say it Longshanks seems to have picked his subordinates reasonably well, and it is unlikely that most would have been happy to be slaughtered like a sheep.
  • Scotland was well supplied with Stone Castles. One of the things Robert the Bruce (C) did was destroy them so they could not be held against him in the future.
Edward’s council of war, discussing the threat from Wallace.
Of course the year before John Balliol had been at war with the English, at the same time as Wallace Bruce revolted in the south and Andrew Murray started a revolt in the north.
Wallace the Woad-wearing short-arse
You can argue the point about the height of Wallace, though the sources all give him a good height rather than the diminutive stature of Mr. Gibson but no, there is no evidence of anyone painting their faces. Not a one.
The Battle of Stirling Bridge.
This is Wallace’s first stand up battle, and is not referred to by name nor does it look much like the Bridge. This was never a proposed capitulation by the nobles which Wallace rescued with a quick arms delivery and a new tactic.

  • This was a tactic developed by Wallace and Andrew Murray in advance.
  • The English army was crossing a narrow bridge which led into a section of boggy hemmed in by a loop of the River Forth.
  • The English did not get time to deploy when the Scots charged.
  • The battle as shown in the film is complete mince. If the Scots had tried bottom waving antics in the face of Welsh Archers then the same result as Falkirk would have happened.
Lochlann and Mornay
  • Lochlann and Mornay: These two standard nobles for the fight scenes are not historical but if they were, the name Mornay seems mildly insulting to Andrew Murray who was nothing like the trimmer Mornay is in the film.
Wallace knighted, the Balliol Clan and the Wallace’s support
  • This may actually have been done by Robert the Bruce.
  • The Balliol Clan: The Balliol and the Comyns were definately not a Celtic Clan. They were a Norman French family, whose name comes from the French town of Bailleul-en-Vimeu. John Balliol’s mother, Devorgilla, gifted the funds that established Balliol College in Oxford.
  • And as to the Wallace’s family long being supporters of the “Balliol Clan”. Wallace fought in the name of King John Balliol, but his family owed fealty to the hereditary High Stewards of Scotland, the Stewarts, and Wallace’s brother Malcolm was in service with Robert the Bruce.
Wallace as Guardian.
There is no mention of the letters written by Wallace to former trading partners such as the Hansa stating, in basic terms, that Scotland is open for business again. The full text of one of these Letters was discovered in Hamburg a while back by a Dr. Lappenburg.

Andrew Murray and William Wallace, Commanders of the Army of Scotland and the community of the same kingdom:
To the prudent and discreet men and well beloved friends, the Mayors and Commonwealths of Lubeck and Hamburg, greeting and perpetual increase of sincere friendship.
To us it has been intimated by trustworthy Merchants of the said Kingdom of Scotland that as a mark of your regard, you have been favourable to, counselling and assisting in all matters and transactions relating to us and said merchants, though such good offices may not have been preceded by our desserts, and on that account we are more bound to tender you our thanks and a suitable return.
This we have willingly engaged ourselves to perform towards you, requesting that, in so far as you cause your Merchants to be informed, they will now have safe access to all the ports of the Kingdom of Scotland with their merchandise, as Scotland, thanks be to God has by war been recovered from the power of the English. Farewell. Given at Haddington, in Scotland, this 11th day of October 1297.
PS. We have, moreover, to request that you would condescend to forward the interests of our Merchants, John Burnet and John Frere, in their business in like manner as you may wish us to act towards your Merchants in their transactions. Farewell.”

 

Wallace and Princess Isabelle and Charity
  • Didn’t happen. There was an attempt to capture the English Queen in York but that was in 1319 to put pressure on Edward II. Anyway, at the time she would have been, what, six years old.
  • And Wallace was not a savage, he was, for Scotland, a cultured type.
  • As to Isabelle handing out Charity in the King’s name. Edward I was a charitable sort, if the politics of the situation were suitable.
The Battle of Falkirk and afterwards
  • The Irish did not desert. The Welsh archers, who were feeling mutinous anyway, only came in when the tide seemed to be turning against the Scots
  • The Bruce did not fight on the English side. He was in Galloway at that time, he did fight on the side of the English King at some times, but this was not one of them.
  • Afterward Wallace did not wander alone like some “Teuchter Mad Max”. He had a band of followers including hjis brother He travelled abroad in the service of Scotland, visiting France and possibly Norway. He may have even fought on the French side against the English.
Wallace and Isabelle
Still didn’t happen. Sorry.
Betrayal of Wallace by Bruce’s Father and Wallace’s execution.
  • Well, both Bruce’s father and grandfather were dead by now
  • We know who betrayed Wallace, his name was Sir John de Menteith
  • Wallace was spread to the four corners of England, not Britain.
Bruce’s submission to Edward II at the Bannockburn
This is total nonsense. By this time the Bruce had been at war with the English solidly for 8 years. His presence at the Bannockburn was because the English garrison of Stirling Castle.had agreed to surrender to the Scots if not relieved by a certain date. The English were coming to relieve them so the Bruce fought them on a ground of his choosing.It was NOT a spur of the moment decision because of the Bruce was shamed into it by the looks of Wallace’s old troops and a grubby handkerchief.Even if it had been how could the Bruce have succeeded charging the English in exactly the same fight that the Wallace kept losing? No. The Bruce used his disciplined schiltrons and his light cavalry in exactly the right way to force the English into boggy terrain from which they had difficulty fighting.He earned his victory in blood and effort, proving himself the worthy heir of Wallace’s troops

Why is all this important?

Because William Wallace was not born with a title he has become, in more modern years, a working-class symbol. People have invested his times with battles that are being fought now, and with meanings that were not appropriate for the time. It might have been easier for the Wallace, a landless man though of landed family, to fight at times than the nobles who had lands to lose.

Also, although the contenders for the throne wanted to see Scotland free, they wanted it with their candidate in charge, and so the battle to stop their opponent was more important. Not noble, but human.Some nobles even joined the English because they were disgusted with the in-fighting in Scotland but it is still wrong to impute 20th/21st theories of class warfare onto the politics of the 13th and 14th Century.

 

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