August 23, 2011

How Accurate is the Film “Braveheart?"

Name the top five things that jump to mind when you think of Scotland. Whisky? Kilts? Bagpipes? Mountains? We've all got our individual frames of reference that would influence those top five, but if you've got any interest in history, or have a drop of Scottish blood in your veins, one of those 5 is almost sure to be William Wallace. His story was immortalized in the 1997 film, Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson--but was it actually William Wallace's story? Do the events of the film tally with true history?

The short answer is this: not one whit. OK, Mel did have a pretty fair Scottish accent (in my untutored opinion), WW did lead a rebellion against the English, and suffered a gruesome death. Beyond that, however, it's pretty slim pickings. Here's a quick Fact vs. Fiction:

  • Fiction: WW was always called the "brave heart" by his people.                                                Fact: Strangely enough, this was actually what they called Robert the Bruce!
  • Fiction: WW was a poor man who secretly married his one true love early in life.                       Fact: He was actually a landowner and minor knight. As far as we know, he never married due to his life as an outlaw on the run.
  • Fiction: WW was responsible for single-handedly inventing the spearhead to use against English cavalry.                                                                                                                                     Fact: The Scots had used spears since ancient times, it was nothing new.
  • Fiction: WW knew Princess Isabella on quite intimate terms.                                                     Fact: Isabella was about 10 years old when the courageous Scotsman died, and they never met.
  • Fiction: Primae noctis (law of the first night) was a Medieval practice allowing a lord to take the virginity of his serfs' maiden daughters.                                                                                       Fact: There is no solid, historical evidence for this practice.
  • Fiction: Every good 13th century Scotsman wore a belted plaid, or at least a kilt-like thing.        Fact: This is a complete wardrobe-anachronism. The first clear reference to such a piece of clothing is from the late 16th century.
  • Fiction: Robert the Bruce (the slimy toad) took the side of the English in the Battle of Falkirk.    Fact: He did no such thing! He did change up his alliances a bit from time to time, but was never an outright traitor on the field of battle.
  • Fiction: At the Battle of Falkirk WW went against the wishes of the other commanders, and the Irish bravely switched sides from the English to the Scottish.                                                               Fact: As far as we know, neither of these things happened. WW might have actually been against going into battle and was pressured into the move.
  • Fiction: In a lovely twist of irony, King Edward I died just as WW screamed his defiant last words, "FREEDOM!"                                                                                                                           Fact: Unfortunately, there was nothing quite so dramatic. The King of England actually survived his arch-enemy by a couple of years, and we have no idea what WW's real last words were. 
To sum it all up, Braveheart was #2 on the Times' Top 10 Most Historically Inaccurate Movies list.

Now we come to a salient point: does historical accuracy even matter? After all, if you're capable of separating enjoyment of history from enjoyment of an exciting adventure film, why not? Personally, I'm afraid I'm too much a stickler for truth to sit through such a gory mutilation of the past, but if you're more free-spirited than that, be my guest! I'd like to hear your opinions of the movie in the comment section.


  1. I used to like the peacefulness of Wallace's monument and it's location on the outskirts of Stirling before they made the film. It's a shame that the building of high fences & the arrival of the coach tour have come to spoil a place because they have got the wrong ideas from a film.

  2. For all those who enjoy make-believe, it's a nice story. For those of us who know our history, it's a joke.
    After seeing the movie for the first time, I thought, 'Well, there goes Hollywood again, being a little too
    extravagant with the truth'.


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