Mel Gibson directed Braveheart in 1995 and has been a highly-regarded movie in Hollywood. It was nominated for, and won multiple Academy Awards. Braveheart, due to the high level of praise it received upon its release may be surprising to some. History and analysis consider Braveheart one of most historically inaccurate films of our time. The story centers on William Wallace, a knight and rebel from Scotland who led many rebellions against English monarchy at the start of the 14th Century. Although the story is set in a historical setting, it does not necessarily reflect accuracy. However, many events are exaggerated to make the story more accessible and easier to understand. Braveheart appears to be a historian who uses historical context and content as inspiration. The film values the entertainment element of history more than the accuracy of its retelling.
His early life is not documented, but historians do have some information that suggests Wallace was born 1270 in Paisley. According to historians, Wallace was the only child of a Scottish minor nobleman. William Wallace likely learned to fight in medieval knight’s style because he was a “man-of-arms” as a child. The historical record of William Wallace as portrayed in this film is however contradictory. The film depicts Wallace as the son and farmer of a farmer. He spent the majority of his youth behind a tractor. Now it is clear that this portrayal of Wallace’s early years is inaccurate. It is now known that this film portrays Wallace’s early life in a very inaccurate way. Murron battles the English soldiers to obtain Prima Nocte. This legal right was supposed to have allowed medieval European lords to “deflower subordinate women”. Murron is arrested and executed publicly for refusing to obey. Wallace’s clan leads the massacre of English troops stationed within his hometown in retaliation for Murron’s killing. This is believed to have been the beginning of a rebellion against English rule across the country. This depiction can be used to draw attention to historical errors. First, it is not documented that William Wallace ever got married. Another historical error is that Prima Nocta was not enacted across Scotland after Edward I’s ascension. Many historians believe Prima Nocta has been misunderstood in medieval Europe. They also believe that it was a false claim made to make foreign rulers seem less barbaric. It is unlikely that Wallace’s wife existed, but the notion that Wallace was motivated by her murder would be absurd. More likely, Wallace was either determined to overthrow the English or resentful of their occupation of his country. The filmmakers also assume that Wallace’s first fight against British soldiers who executed Murron led to a wider rebellion against English rule throughout Scotland. Many Scots were protesting British rule before Wallace was involved in any kind of rebellion. The Battle of Falkirk is the main battle that the film centers on. These are both historic events. The Battle of Stirling Bridge took place first. In real life it took place on September 11th 1297. However, the film claims that it took place seventeen years prior. Andrew de Moray was the leader of the battle. He was not mentioned by Walt Wallace. At the bridge over Forth River, Wallace and his men were confronted by an English army. Wallace’s forces had a huge advantage, but the English were forced across a narrow bridge by their superior numbers. Peter Armstrong describes the bridge as follows in his text Stirling Bridge & Falkirk – William Wallace’s Rebellion. They used clever tactics to pack men onto the bridge, which helped them overcome their numerical disadvantage. They waited until almost a third the English troops had arrived on the bridge before they launched an attack. This caught them off-guard and resulted in an unlikely victory. Braveheart’s battle took place on a flat, wide plain. Although the battle scene was filmed around a bridge, the filmmakers took many liberties. However, they kept the idea that the Scottish were outnumbered but still emerged victorious. Many aspects of The Battle of Falkirk are inaccurate portrayals of past events. According to historical records, it took place July 22, 1298. Wallace loses the battle to betray some of his closest friends in the movie. It was actually lost due to a technological disadvantage. The English just invented longbows to equip their infantrymen with, which can outshoot even the best Scottish archers. The battle resulted in approximately 10,000 deaths of Scottish soldiers. This failure proved to be a setback for Wallace’s reputation. He was forced to resign from the position of Guardian of Scotland, and the rebellion began to decline. The movie’s most historical error is between the Battle of Falkirk (and the execution of William Wallace). In the movie, Edward I is shown as suffering from the attacks of Wallace against Britain. These attacks were presented in the film in a positive light, although it is probable that they were not significant in the context of the war. They had no significant impact on the English presence at Scotland. Edward I didn’t likely view Wallace as a threat. Wallace was still trying to build an army after the defeat at Falkirk. In an effort to support the Scottish Rebellion’s failing rebellion, he traveled to France and Rome. However, his military reputation was damaged and he returned home to Scotland without any foreign support. Braveheart was made possible by the Manichaean approach to the conflict between English and Scottish people. The film’s directors made it possible for audiences to connect more with William Wallace by making England “the villains” and the Scottish “the good guys”. Particularly, Wallace’s death and failures are supposed to cause the audience pain and anger. Although this criticism is harsh, many reviewers feel that Braveheart promotes anti-Britainnism. Cited sources
Armstrong, P., McBride, A. (2012). Stirling Bridge, Falkirk 1297-98: William Wallace’s Rebellion. Bloomsbury Publishing, based in the United Kingdom, is the publisher.