The movie Barveheart in 1995, which was starred, produced and directed by Academy Award winner Mel Gibson, depicted (or tried to depict) the life of Scottish hero and patriot Sir William Wallace. The film gained worldwide recoginition, has won five Academy Awards including best picture and best director, and was nominated for another five. It also sparked the interest of many in Scottish history. The film, however, was also criticized about its historical inaccuracies.
Indeed, according to historian Elizabeth Ewan, the film “almost totally sacrifices historical accuracy for epic adventure. ” Sharon Krossa pointed out that in the film, “the events aren’t accurate, the dates aren’t accurate, the characters aren’t accurate, the names aren’t accurate, the clothes aren’t accurate—in short, just about nothing is accurate. ” Without proper information and understanding of the actual events in Scotland during the time of William Wallace’s exploits, one would think that the presentation in the movie is how it really happened during that time.
Not much is really known about the life of William Wallace that even the date of his birth is a subject of debate among historians. And much of what is known is based on a fifteenth century poem by aperson known as the Minstrel or Blind Harry. It is the purpose of this paper to present historical facts during the time of William Wallace in contrast to those that were presented in the film. During the beginning of the film, there appears a text stating: “SCOTLAND 1280 A. D. ”, followed by a narration: “I shall tell you of William Wallace.
Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes. The king of Scotland had died without a son, and the king of England, a cruel pagan known as Edward the Longshanks, claimed the throne of Scotland for himself. Scotland’s nobles fought him and fough each other over the crown. So Longshanks invited them to talks of truce—no weapons, one page only. Among the farmers of that shire was Malcolm Wallace, a commoner with his own lands. He had two sons—John and William…
” This very statement would already have made the film far from fact. As Krossa points out, “it is the historians from Scotland, far more than from England, who will recognize the errors of the narrator/film. ” There is no doubt that the “king of Scotland” mentioned was King Alexander III. But not only was the “king of Scotland” not dead in 1280, both of his sons were alive and well, and had an heir to the throne that had outlived him for four years. King Alexander III fell from his horse and broke his neck causing his death .
True enough that all of his children—two sons and a daughter—were already dead during that time, but it didn’t happen until 1986, six years from the film’s 1280. The death of Alexander brought Scotland in a political crisis but its nobles acknowledged Margaret, Alexander’s three-year-old Norwegian granddaughter—the product of his daughter’s maariage to the King of Norway—and his only direct descendant, as inheritor of the kingdom. They appointed a Committee of Guardians “to govern in the name of the young queen.
” However, the two leading claimants of the kingship after Margaret, Robert Bruce of Annandale and John Baliol of Galloway, together with other nobles, apparently refused to “submit to a female sovereign, especially if she was a child,” and the country was soon “distracted by the intrigues and conspiracies of the competitors for the crown”
They agreed to marry Margaret, the Maid of Norway, to Edward I’s son, the then Prince of Wales, with the view of uniting the crowns of England and Scotland. In 1290, Margaret embarked for Scotland to marry the Prince of Wales but fell sick during the voyage and died at Orkneys at a tender age of merely eight years. This renewed the disputes between claimants. In 1291, Edward I met the nobles of Scotland, apparently to act as arbitrator, but demanded the Scots to recognize his overlordship. This must have been the basis of the film’s “talks of truce”.
Recognizing that they do not have the army to oppose Edward I had he decided to invade Scotland instead, the Scots, after long deliberation, finally agreed to recognize Edward I’s overlordship. Edward I then finally awarded the Scottish crown to John de Baliol. John de Baliol soon found out that “the crown which he had obtained by means of a base concession had only transformed him from a poweful noble into the slave of an imperious and exacting master. ” He soon revolted against the English crown.
Edward launched his armies to Scotland and on 1296, finally defeated the Scottish army at Dunbar. He demanded “nothing less than the total surrender” of John de Baliol and his kingdom. Incapable of resistance, the king of Scotland resigned his kingdom into the hands of Edward I. Considering the facts stated above, it was not until 1296 A. D. that the Scots had an actual armed conflict with the English through John de Baliol’s short-lived rebellion, and when Edward the Longshanks “claimed the throne of Scotland for himself”, sixteen years later than the film’s 1280 A.
D. Edward the Longshanks is also not a pagan. Being the king of England, he is, in fact, a Christian—a fact that is evidenced by the ceremony of coronation. As John Steane explains: “the king was invested by the Archbishop of Canterbury with spiritual power as God’s annointed, like the kings of Israel before him. Henceforward, the king was set aart from his subjects, at least on a par with, and to some extent superior to, churchmen. ” It would be imprudent to think the Archbishop of Canterbury would annoint a non-Christian as King of England.
Furthermore, he did not invite the Scottish nobles for “talks of truce” but presented himself as an arbitrator, which was perhaps a response to an earlier appeal made by the Scots, to the internal conflicts of the Scots themselves. That King Edward I took advantage of the political turmoil that has engulfed Scotland may be true enough but the manner of which it has been presented in the film is nowhere near from truth. The widely accepted, though still debated, father of William Wallace was Malcolm Wallace of Ellerslie, who was descended from ancient knights and baronets of Craigie and who himself is a Scottish knight.
Sir Malcolm Wallace was of noble family and not “a commoner with his own lands. ” Although there are sources that say Malcolm Wallace has only two sons, it is also widely accepted that he has at least three sons, and in any case, Malcolm (same name as the father) or Andrew was the name of the eldest son, William would be the second son while John would be the youngest when Malcolm is presented to have three sons (compare with the film in which John is presented as being older than William).
John has also outlived William by two years, compared with the film in which John was presented to have died when William was still a young boy. It should be also noted that Sir Malcolm Wallace (the father) was still alive in 1291, when the Scottish nobles met with Edward I (in contrast with the film wherein he died in 1280). He was one of those who did not accept the claim of overlordship of Edward I and went into self-exile.
The inaccuracies stated above happened only during the first few minutes of the film and already there are a lot of them. As the story depicted in the film progresses, there would still be a lot more of inaccuracies. The inaccuracies, however, may be based on the different versions of the accounts on the life of William Wallace—it has already been stipulated that much of his life is unknown that even the date of his birth is debated.
We have already established that Edward I was not able to claim Scotland for himself until 1296. However, in 1291, after he misled the nobles of Scotland that he would act as an arbitrator but instead asserted his overlordship and the nobles had to swear allegiance to him, different towns and fortresses of Scotland had already been garrisoned by English soldiers (still 11 years later than the faulty 1280, although, in the film, there appears nothing that suggest that English garrisons were present in Scotland).
The English soldiers, considering themselves masters of Scotland, treated the people with great contempt and cruelty, took from them by force whatever they had a fancy to (which most probably include sexual advances), and if the owners offered resistance, they were abused, beat, and sometimes killed; for which acts of violence the english authorities neither checked nor punished.
Brawls were frequent occurences between the inhabitants and the soldiers and Wallace seldom remained inactive to those which came under his notice, compared with the film’s depiction of Scots being totally submissive to such abuses and the depicion of Wallace as a reluctant patriot. It should also be noted that even as a young man, Wallace already displayed his indignation with the English, not only until his wife was murdered as was depicted in the film.
Fact of the matter is that he was outlawed even before the Battle of Dunbar in 1296 where the English had totally defeated King John Baliol’s forces and King Edward has taken the throne for himself. He would have been 20-24 years of age during this time if we consider his birth to be between 1272 to 1276, and 15-19 when the English had started setting up garrisons in Scotland.
William Wallace “had witnessed as a boy the independence, the security and the happiness of his country, under the reign of Alexander, and the contrast which he” beheld upon the establishment of English garrisons that roused the feelings in his heart which have “been animated by a love of liberty and a hatred of tyranny and dissimulation, that nothing but death could extinguish. ” The same is true for most of the Scots during that time. Prima Nocte, or the right for a lord to bed the bride on the first night of her wedding day, was also mentioned in the film.
It was presented to be one of the oppressions made by the English to the “sons of Scotland. ” The Jus Primae Noctis, or the law of first night, was introduced in the fifteenth century medieval Europe, at least a century later from the death of William Wallace. It was apparently “developed by the lords and used as humiliating signs of superiority over the dependent peasants. ” Edward the Longshanks, in the film, said that “the problem about Scotland is that it is full of Scots. ” He further asserts that “if we can’t drive them out, we’ll breed them out.
” Thus, in the film, Prima Nocte was justified as a means to “breed out” the Scots from Scotland. It is not in the interest of Edward I, however, to “drive out” the Scots, but, perhaps, only to invade them and expand his territory. There are, in fact, many Scottish nobles that held land in England, regardless they were granted these lands in exchange of them swearing allegiance to the English Crown, much as there were English nobles who held lands in Scotland. However, there are little, if not none at all, evidence that Jus Primae Noctis was practiced in the fifteenth century, much less during the time of William Wallace.
While rape and murder most certainly occurred during the English exploits in Scotland, Prima Nocte most probably did not. It is flagrantly adulturous in the eyes of the Church and England, being a Christian country, could not tolerate such an abuse, much less putting it into a law. For most historians, Prima Nocta is but a myth. Even some of the momentous events in the history of Scotland with a major participation of Sir William Wallace was depicted in the film with much inaccuracies.
There are two major battles depicted in the film—the Battle of Stirling Bridge and the Battle of Falkirk—which were both parts of the Scottish Wars of Independence. It is very easy to notice that the film did not include a bridge in the Battle of Stirling Bridge, which, as the name already implies, includes a bridge. Perhaps the creators of the film mistook this particular battle for the Battle of Stirling which happened in 1648, more than three centuries after the death of William Wallace.
It is important to note that the bridge itself was a major factor for the victory of the Scots against the English during that battle, that despite the advantage in numbers of the English army the Scots still prevailed. The English would have to cross the bridge, which at that time was so narrow that it could be crossed only with at most two horses abreast at a time and would have taken the them several hours to cross, after which they would enter a narrow loop in the River Forth that will leave their flank dangerously exposed to attack even before they were ready for battle, thereby nullifying their advantage in numbers.
The participation of Andrew Murray was also not included in the film. Also in contrast with the film, the battle did not commence when Wallace arrived at the scene. Fact is that Wallace’s and Murray’s armies were already waiting on the opposite bank of the river when the English, headed by John de Warrene, Earl of Surrey, arrived at Stirling Bridge. Even after that, Warrene decides to delay crossing the bridge for several days to allow for negotiations.
Two Dominican friars were sent to Wallace to demand their surrender with which Wallace replied: “Tell your commander that we are not here to make peace but to do battle, defend ourselves and liberate our kingdom. Let them come on, and we shall prove this in their very beards. ” Compared with the film, this speech was more solemn and educated, not a taunting challenge. The English, confident of their advantage in numbers and military superiority, were surprised by the refusal of the Scots to surrender and on the 11th of September 1297 decided to cross the bridge.
Wallace’s speech in the film was not characteristic of nobles during the thirteenth century or at any other time, not with “kiss his own arse” language. Compare also the film’s presentation that the English negotiated with other Scottish nobles when it was with Wallace they negotiated with. The film also depicted those Scottish nobles introducing Wallace to the English lords when, fact of the matter is, Wallace had already gained popularity at that time with the Scots and the English alike. The Battle of Falkirk also suffered much inaccuracies in the film.
In the film, Wallace used the schiltrons to resist the enemy’s heavy infantry at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Although, Wallace really used long spears to achieve his victory, the schiltron was never really used in that particular battle. Instead the schiltron was used at the Battle of Falkirk, from which the film failed to include. Wallace had no need for the schiltron at the Battle of Stirling Bridge as it is mainly a defensive tactic against heavy cavalry. Although the English started moving first by crossing the Stirling Bridge, it was really Wallace who started the attack.
On the otherhand, Wallace knew he was at a disadvantage at Falkirk and readied his men in a defensive formation, which was mainly with the use of schiltrons. Knowing that the cavalry is useless against the schiltron, Edward I ordered his cavalry to attack the Scottish archers. Edward I did not order to loose arrows with his infantry in a melee with the Scots, as was depicted in the film. Instead, he ordered the arrows loose upon the schiltrons, which were in no position for defense against such attack.
It was in such manner that the Scots were defeated in the said battle, which the film failed to present properly. It is true enough that the Scottish cavalry, under the command of the other nobles, “shamelessly rode off the field, without a blow being given or taken,” but detail by detail, the film’s depiction of the Battle of Falkirk is in no way accurate. As for clothing and armor, the poem by Blind Harry gives us a short description as to how William Wallace looks like in battle: A habergione under his goune he war, A steylle capleyne in his bonet but marr;
His glowis of plait in claith war couerit wiell In his doublet a closs coler of steyle; His face he kepit, for it was euir bar, With his twa handis, the quhilk full worthi war. ” George Grant gives us a simple explanation. The habergione was a sort of chain-mail or ring-mail, extremely light and flexible, allowing the greatest freedom to the motions of the wearer, whether on foot or horseback. It was brought into Scotland by the crusaders in the beginning of the reign of Alexander III. During the period of Wallace, they appear to have been in general use both in England and Scotland.
The goune was the surcoat, or coat of arms. It was a long, loose dress, without sleeves, open before and behind for the convenience of riding, and girted round the waist by the cingulum militare or belt. It was commonly worn by noblemen. The steylle capleyne, or iron hat had a rim and convex crown and was worn over a hood. The limbs were defended by being encased in boiled leather. Wallace also wore knee-plates of iron and guards for the shin-bones. His shield was round or triangular, would also have been made of iron (not wood as the film depicted).
He also kept a dagger folded back under the arm, between the wrist and the elbow, when not in use, and concealed and secured in that position by the cloth of gloves which appears to have worn over his glowis of plait, or arm-plate. His favorite weapon was a two-handed sword, or claymore, which his great strength enabled him to wield with ease. The mace and spear was sometimes also used by him. Paintings and sculptures of Wallace depict him in much the same way as described above. Wallace, in the film was wearing leather armor and kilts, very much in contrast with historical facts.
No one wore kilts during his time as it were not introduced until in the sixteenth century, three centuries later after his death. Instead, the Scots who were lesser in standing wore tunics, its nobles were culturally similar with their English counterparts and would have dressed like them. There are much more historical inaccuracies in the film. The bottomline is that the film really is of an epic adventure genre, something short of a fantasy, not a historical presentation. A few mistakes on the details would be forgivable, but to change the story based on facts, an in a grand scale besides, deserves to be rejected as historical.
Krossa suggests not to believe anything depicted in the film if one is truly intrested in what really happened during that time. There are elements in the film that coincide with history but that the elements leading up to those coincidences would need to be properly explained to fit to the real history, which the film obviously failed to present. She said that “it is far safer, and far more efficient, to just ignore the whole film, as regards history, and read a good Scottish history instead. ” She adds, however, “to enjoy the film…
by all means—just as one enjoys Star Wars or any other work of imagination—simply do not mistake it for history. ” Bibliography BBC. “The Battle of Stirling Bridge—Factsheet. ” Available from http://www. bbc. co. uk/history/scottishhistory/independence/trails_independence_stirlingbridge. shtml. Internet; accessed May 4, 2008. Edgar, John George. Memorable Events of Modern History. (1862) Ewan, Elizabeth. “Braveheart. ” American Historical Review 100, no. 4 (1995): 1219–1221. Grant, George. The Life and Adventures of Sir William Wallace: The Liberator of Scotland. Dublin: James M’Glashan (1849) Kock, John T.
Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO (2006). Krossa, Sharon L. “Braveheart Errors: An Illustration of Scale. ” Medieval Scotland (2002). Krossa, Sharon L. “Regarding the Film Braveheart. ” Medieval Scotland (2001). Mitchison, Rosalind. A History of Scotland. Routledge, 2002. Rodger, Robert. Documents Illustrative of Sir William Wallace, His Life and Times. (1841) Rowan, Frederica. History of Scotland. 1851. Steane, John. The Archeology of the Medieval English Monarchy. Routledge, 1999. Wettlaufer, Jorg. “The jus primae noctis as a male power display: A review of historic sources with