"Braveheart," the 1995 action drama produced by and featuring Mel Gibson in the title role of Scotsman William Wallace, was a commercial success. Gibson received an Oscar for best director, and the film received four additional Oscars including Best Picture and five nominations, and several other film industry awards. Historians derided the film, however, for its numerous historical inaccuracies in the portrayal of Wallace's social background, the timeline of events, the characters' period clothing and the depiction of locations.
Who Was William Wallace?
In the film, William Wallace is depicted as the son of a landowning but poor commoner. Although the facts cannot be confirmed, Wallace was likely the son of either Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie or Alan Wallace of Ellerslie. Sir Malcolm was a knight, and neither man was an impoverished farmer. The movie's opening narration states Wallace is one of two sons. There is evidence Wallace had at least two older brothers. In the film, Wallace secretly marries childhood friend Murron, a peasant. Historical accounts indicate Wallace was involved with a woman named Marion Braidfute, the daughter of a lord, whom he met as a young man.
What Time Is It?
The movie's beginning features onscreen text reading "Scotland 1280 A.D. and narration by the character of Robert the Bruce indicating Scotland's king has died, leaving no sons to inherit the throne. In 1280 A.D., Scotland's king, Alexander III, was still alive, as were his two sons, a daughter and granddaughter. Upon their deaths, Edward I of England agreed to mediate the selection of a new king in return for Scotland's homage. John Balliol was declared king of Scotland in 1292. In 1296, unhappy with Edward's demands upon the Scots, John led a rebellion against England. The rebellion failed, and Edward declared himself Scotland's ruler.
Not Time for Isabella
One of the most glaring timeline errors in the film "Braveheart" concerns the character of Princess Isabella, wife of King Edward's son, the future Edward II. In the movie, King Edward sends his daughter-in-law to meet with Wallace, and she meets with Wallace a second time on her own. At the time of Wallace's execution, Isabella reveals to the dying Edward I that she is carrying a child other than her husband's, presumably Wallace's. However, at the time of Wallace's actual execution in 1305, Isabella was about 9 years old and living in France. She did not marry Edward II until three years after Wallace's death.
What Not to Wear
In the opening scenes of "Braveheart," young Wallace is dressed in burlap rags. Even a commoner in 13th century medieval Scotland would have likely been better clothed, and Wallace was not a commoner. Research by Scottish historian Fergus Cannan indicates the battle clothing worn by Scots up until the late 1500s consisted of a belted linen tunic dyed bright yellow and known as "leine croiche." Sleeveless jackets, made from animal hide and known as jerkins, were worn over the tunics. In "Braveheart," Wallace and his comrades-in-arms are seen wearing dull-colored plaid kilts and plaid sashes.
Battle Without a Bridge
The battle of Stirling Bridge was one of the prominent action scenes in "Braveheart." It lacked one small detail, however: a bridge. The bridge, which spans the River Forth, was a central part of Wallace's victory in the battle. He and his men allowed half the English army to cross the bridge before attacking them. The other half of the army fled. In another scene, Princess Isabella admonishes Wallace for sacking York, a city in England. In reality, Wallace never attacked York.
- Internet Move Database: Braveheart
- SCRAN: William Wallace: Scotland's Hero: Man and Myth
- MedievalScotland.org: Braveheart Errors: An Illustration of Scale
- Biography.com: William Wallace
- Lanark Museum: William Wallace
- BBC: History: William Wallace (c. 1270 to 1305)
- The Guardian: Dancing Peasants, Gleaming Teeth and a Cameo from Fabio
- The Telegraph: Scots Fought "in Bright Yellow War Shirts Not Braveheart Kilts"
- ScottishHistory.com: Braveheart, Fact or Fiction
- Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images