For the most part the History surrounding “Braveheart” is accurate, but there are several significant people and events which simply do not match up historically. After watching the movie and reviewing the history behind it, it becomes clear that Hollywood felt they needed to alter several things in order to make the film more entertaining to their viewers. It is interesting to compare the depiction of the characters and events portrayed in the movie to the actual history that surrounds them.
The story behind the movie “Braveheart” focuses on the historic tale of Sir William Wallace of Elerslie, One of Scotland’s greatest heroes. During the 12th century King Edward I of England, also known as Longshanks, ruled Scotland. After returning to his childhood home, William Wallace planned on becoming a farmer and raising a family. After English soldiers had murdered his wife however, his attention became focused on the English occupation of Scotland. United together with other Scottish warriors, Wallace decides to bypass negotiations and fight the English on his own terms (Clater-Roszak 12).
William Wallace did indeed lead a rebellion against English occupation in 1296, and was victorious at the battle of Stirling Bridge and lost at Falkirk. After he was captured, he was tried and executed as shown in the film. Several other aspects of his life were not accurately depicted however. Wallace was portrayed as a poor man who was secretly married right before he got in trouble with the English. Actually, he was a commoner who was well educated, and if he wasn’t involved with the war he may have been a scholar. All landed men were required to sign the Ragman Roll, which bound everyone who signed it in loyalty to England’s King Edward I. Those who refused, like Wallace, were outlawed (William Wallace’s…42). In response, Wallace and Andrew Moray organized other outlawed men into an army.
Moray was killed at Stirling Bridge and was pretty much forgotten, he was not even mentioned in the film. This seems like a rather large omission considering Moray was Wallace’s co leader, and played a fairly large part in the early resistance. Wallace was involved in a romantic relationship, but he wasn’t able to settle down because he was spending most of his adult life at war or in hiding. He was with her when the English discovered his hiding place, and she stalled them to give Wallace time to escape. Unfortunately she was killed along with the rest of the household because they helped Wallace (Clater-Roszak 12).
One aspect of the film that I discovered to be very inaccurate was with the character Robert the Bruce. In the film he betrayed Wallace at the battle of Falkirk by knocking him of his horse, but there is absolutely no evidence of Wallace ever being betrayed during Falkirk. In fact, there are no accounts of Bruce even being involved with the battle of Falkirk. If he was, he most likely didn’t do anything significant. In my opinion this can really hurt the reputation of Robert the Bruce, who was one of Scotland’s bravest and most heroic kings. It is true that Bruce joined the English ranks for a short time, but he most likely did nothing drastic. Bruce actually finished what Wallace had started after returning to Scotland.
Another aspect of Bruce that didn’t seem right was when he decided to fight the English at the last minute before submitting to them. I think this was just another attempt at Hollywood to try and spice up the movie a little more. In the film it was Robert the Bruce’s father who convinced him to side with the English, but there is also no evidence that would support this either. Bruce and his father did have some disagreements, but historically they didn’t fight nearly as much as depicted in the film (ALBA-Robert…). Overall I think Robert the Bruce as a character was portrayed pretty accurately by Angus MacFadyen, but many of the events that surrounded him were not.
During the battle of Falkirk, it shows Wallace going into battle against the wishes of the other Scottish commanders. Based on the accounts I have seen, it appears that this isn’t very accurate. Wallace actually didn’t want to fight at Falkirk, he felt that the field didn’t provide the same advantages presented at Stirling Bridge. When the battle of Falkirk began during the film, all of the Scottish nobles abandoned Wallace which ruined his plans and may have cost him the battle. Historical documents say that the cavalry did indeed withdraw, but the circumstances are unknown (William Wallace: Welcome…). It seems Hollywood wants us to assume that Wallace was simply abandoned just as they wanted us to assume that Wallace was betrayed by Robert the Bruce.
As for the character of Isabella of France, many historical liberties were taken with her as well. There is no evidence that Wallace and Isabella even met, let alone had a romantic relationship together (William Wallace’s… 43). Hollywood always thinks they have to include some kind of Romance in their movies, and I suppose they felt this was their only opportunity to do so in this film. Not only that, but the fact that Isabella marries Edward II during the time of Sir William Wallace is just ridiculous. He wasn’t even alive when that happened. History shows that Wallace was executed in 1305, while Isabella married Edward II three years later in 1308 (Clater-Roszak). One final note on Isabella is that she seemed ashamed of the cruelty that the English displayed towards the Scots. In reality she had her husband, Edward II, imprisoned and murdered as alluded to in the film, but then launched her own attack on Scotland (William Wallace: Welcome…).
As far as the actual battles, they seemed pretty authentic except for a few details. First of all, the Scottish warriors did not stand in one big group as shown in the film, but in circular formations called Schiltrons. This is a formation that Wallace actually perfected. In one scene it appears to the viewer that Wallace has invented the use of spears against the cavalry out of desperation, but this is actually a very ancient practice used during the Roman times (William Wallace: Welcome…). Other than these few instances the battle scenes seem pretty accurate.
It is very obvious that Hollywood changed around some of the History surrounding “Braveheart”, but this is to be expected. In order to make a successful film they felt they needed to add what’s exciting while omitting what isn’t. The film was obviously a huge success because of its entertainment value, but this is unfortunately at the expense of the actual History behind the story. To be fair there are many aspects of Sir William Wallace’s life that are unclear or unknown, and the essence of the majority of the characters is correct. This does not excuse some of the major inaccuracies however, and it is unfortunate that some people’s perception of this era and its respective events are solely based on this film.
Braveheart. Dir. Mel Gibson. Perf. Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan,
Catherine McCormack, and Brendan Gleeson. Paramount Pictures, 1995.
Clater-Roszak, Christine. “Sir William Wallace ignited a flame…”. Military History,
Oct97, Vol. 14 Issue 4, p12, 3p. 16 Nov 2003. Academic Search Premier
“William Wallace’s adventure through time”. British Heritage, Oct/Nov96, Vol. 18 Issue
6, p42, 2p. 16 Nov 2003. Academic Search Premier
“ALBA- Robert the Bruce”. Highlander Web Magazine. Aug 1998. 16 Nov 2003.
“William Wallace: Welcome to the Truth”. Highlander Web Magazine. Aug 1998. 16
Nov 2003. < http://www.highlanderweb.co.uk/wallace/thetruth.html>