Societal Commentsand Historical Inaccuracy in Brav Essay

This essay has a total of 3565 words and 14 pages.

Societal Commentsand Historical Inaccuracy in Braveheart



William Wallace, Joan of Arc, George Armstrong Custer, and the list goes on of the people
or groups of people who have had historical films made about them and their
accomplishments or blunders. Many of these films have different areas in which they
indirectly comment on every aspect of life from the roles of women to a particular look at
social class. The idea that film is a medium in which a director can comment on the ills
of society has been around since the first motion picture was made. The problem with this
fact is that director’s and producers often change the historical facts and even the
attitudes of the characters in order stimulate public interest through the striking of
some common chord that the public feels strongly about. The story of the life of William
Wallace in the movie Braveheart while historically fairly accurate in the depictions of
the battles while leaving out many important fact in regard to relations on what is now
the United Kingdom. In addition to deleting information about the relations between
England and Scotland, the writers of the Braveheart script added some plot twists that
have almost no historical backing. The events that have no historical foundation were
most likely added to make the story more appealing to the audience or to comment on a
current social trend. Specific trends that are commented on in the tale of the Scottish
hero William Wallace are the changing place of women in our day, the rapid growth of
nationalism, and the tendency of man to act in his own best interests. In addition to the
comments made on society, those involved in the making of the movie Braveheart purposely
deleted events with historical significance in order to make the character William Wallace
an infallible hero of the Scottish people instead of portraying the whole truth about his
life and times. Individuals in the movie business have shown disregard for historical
fact in their pursuit for profits and a chance to address some social issue and there is
no better example of this than the movie Braveheart. The historical inaccuracies in the
movie Braveheart have several basic areas which include adding or deleting characters and
inaccuracy regarding the lives and actions of historical figures. Edward I, William
Wallace, the Prince and Princess of Wales as well as many other minor players in the
Scottish resistance to English domination of Scotland have some aspect of their lives
fictionalized in the movie Braveheart. In addition to the fictionalization of people’s
lives there also happens to be military inaccuracies as well as periods of time which the
movie does not account and instead inserts fictional events to make the movie more
entertaining rather than historically accurate.

The first example of historical inaccuracy is that of the portrayal of Edward I, also
known as Edward the Longshanks, as an individual who claimed that he was the heir to the
Scottish throne and would torture and murder anyone who got in his way1. Henry I who
happens to be the great great grandfather of Edward I married the daughter of the Scottish
King2. Malcolm III ruled Scotland from 1058 until 1093 and his daughter Matilda married
Henry I3. That is the basis of Edward’s claim to the Scottish throne in addition to the
fact that his sister also married a Scottish King by the name of Alexander III who was the
last Scottish ruler to hold the throne until Robert I was crowned at Scone in 13064. By
all accounts of Edward I, he was indeed a man to be feared although the movie Braveheart
portrays him as a incredibly cruel man who wanted nothing more than to crush his enemies.
He was in fact an expert in English law, which he often used to his advantage. He was
also a champion of the chivalric code and could be incredibly generous when the mood
struck him5. Edward I was incredibly ambitious and even his biographer acknowledges the
fact that he was a, “hard-headed ruler who was determined to uphold his rights as he saw
them, and ruthless in the methods he used to adopt his ends”6. While Edward I was most
likely a ruthless ruler, he was not necessarily as evil as he is portrayed in the movie.

The second example of fictionalized character is that of the great Scottish patriot
William Wallace. In the movie about his life, Wallace is introduced to the audience as a
common man with very humble beginnings whose father was a farmer7. He was in fact the son
of Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie and the daughter of Sir Reginald Crawford the sheriff
of Ayr8. So William Wallace was in fact not the son of a common farmer but the son of a
low-level noble family. Not much else is known of Wallace’s early life until he emerges
from obscurity between the ages of 25 and 279. Wallace first acted in anger against the
English when he was insulted by the son of an English governor and proceeded to strike him
dead and thus he began his military career10. His military campaign to free Scotland
started in May 1297 after the murder of Marion Braidfoot who is the historical basis for
the character Murron in Braveheart11. Wallace went on to regain a great number of
Scottish towns and fortifications that had been held by the English. By this time news of
Wallace’ uprising had reached Edward I in France and he dispatched 40,000 soldiers and 300
cavalry to deal with the Scottish situation12. The stage was now set for a great Scottish
victory at Sterling and Wallace was no longer an inexperienced military commander.
Wallace was victorious at Sterling, but he knew at some point he would have to fight the
English king. After several devastating raids into northern England in early 1298, the
English king brought his army North. The English army consisted of infantry and archers
as well as over 3000 cavalry13. The Scottish army was only half the size and had almost
no cavalry. The Scottish defeat was total although Wallace survived and went into
hiding14. After the crushing defeat at Falkirk, the writers of the Braveheart script
would have you believe that Wallace went around killing his enemies in Scotland, there is
however no historical basis for this assumption. Wallace is said to have left Scotland in
search of military aid for another campaign15. He visited the courts of the French,
Germans, and even the Pope in Rome without much success. The political environment was
beginning to change due to the manipulations of Edward I and even England’s enemies
wouldn’t offer Wallace much support. Wallace returned to Scotland after almost 7 years
abroad and was subsequently betrayed to the English by a Scottish noble named Sir John
Menteith and was turned over to the English for trial near Solway Firth16. He was then
taken to Carlisle and then 300 miles to London for trial and execution. The movie is
almost completely accurate in this part of the movie. After all of the charges were read
William Wallace said that he was guilty of all of them except for treason because he had
never sworn loyalty to the English king. Sometime after August 22nd, 1305, William
Wallace had all manner of torture carried out on his person and was eventually beheaded17.

In addition to the historical inaccuracies regarding the lives of William Wallace and
Edward I, minor characters in the movie such as the prince and princess of Wales were not
portrayed accurately. There is absolutely no evidence that supports the suggestion that
either of these two people ever had any kind of contact with Wallace or his cause.
Isabella was the name of the French princess who married Edward II three years after
Wallace’s execution18. She also was not a nice person like she was shown to be in
Braveheart. She had her husband murdered and was therefore nicknamed the she-wolf of
France19. The Prince of Wales on the other hand was quite similar to the character
portrayed in the movie. He was allegedly homosexual and his lover was in fact killed
although not by his father but by his nobles sometime after his father died20. Also in at
least one case the writers for the Braveheart script omitted a historically significant
person. Andrew Moray was completely omitted as a character in the movie even though some
consider that he would have been a better soldier and leader than Wallace had he not
suffered such an untimely death at the battle of Stirling21. Moray was the son of Sir
Andrew Petty and a member of one of the great Highland families22. Andrew Moray used his
superior knowledge of the land to defeat the better-equipped English. With all the
craftiness of a fox, Moray led his growing band of patriots to a great number of
victories. After conquering a great number of northern castles, he believed the time was
right for him to join a military leader farther south named William Wallace and fight the
English outright23. All of the characters in the movie Braveheart have some aspect of
their life changed in order to make the story more appealing.

The actual characters were portrayed in a fairly accurate way although the military
engagements were not very accurate in most cases. The parts that were accurate were those
in which Scottish forces drew the better equipped English into traps, hit them hard, and
faded back into the shadows. Most of the Scottish victories were small battles in which
guerilla tactics were used. The out right battles in which the Scottish forces fought the
English were portrayed incorrectly. The battle of Stirling Bridge is the best example of
the Hollywood people incorrectly showing what a battle for Scottish independence looked
like in 1297. The English and Scottish armies met on the 11th of September 1297 and the
couldn’t have been any more different. English leaders had a 5 to 1 advantage in soldiers
over the Scottish, but they also enjoyed battle hardened troops and a long military
tradition mainly coming from the wars with France24. Scotland, however, enjoyed youthful
and energetic leadership as well as unity of purpose in the minds of said leaders. The
English leadership on the other hand was made up of several highly trained leaders who on
the one hand had a great amount technical knowledge with regard to the art of war, but on
the other hand the troops and the other nobles had no respect for their leaders and this
made them ineffective. John Warenne, the Earl of Surrey, was the English commander and he
regarded Scotland as a whole nation not to be associated with in any way25. The day
before the battle he outlined his plan. Warenne ordered the English army across the
Stirling bridge over the river Forth and onto a piece of land that was surrounded on three
sides by water. Soldiers fighting for the English king would then conduct a full frontal
assault on the Scots who held the high ground26. The Earl of Surrey was so confident of
the superiority of his troops that he spent no real amount of time planning for the
battle. On the morning of the battle the crossing was begun and reversed several times as
Wallace pursued diplomatic options in an effort to stall for time in order to confirm
intelligence and deployments. When the decision was finally made by the English commander
to send his army over the river he had to send them over two at a time because the bridge
was so narrow27. The crossing took more than two hours and all the while Wallace and his
Captains stood and watched the English move. Many of the English lords and even some of
the Scottish nobles who had switched sides believed that the attitude of their leader was
suicide. Not wanting to discuss the issue anymore the English Commander, John Warenne,
ordered his second in command to cross the bridge and proceed with the frontal attack.
Wallace waited until a great number of the English troops had crossed the river. When
there was as many troops from England as he thought his force could effectively handle, he
gave the signal for the charge to begin28. In such a closed in area, the English cavalry
became ineffective because they had no room to maneuver or make efficient use of their
weapons. English infantry was in much the same position mainly due to the fact that it
took them a good bit of time to form up after the crossing. When Wallace sounded the
attack, a small detachment of Scottish spearmen gained control of one side of the bridge
thus cutting off the only escape route other than swimming the river, which many tried but
few succeeded. The main Scottish army had charged straight down towards the English
cutting off the only land route of escape. The English now had river on three sides, the
only accessible bridge controlled by the Scottish, and the main force of the Scottish army
bearing down on them. A majority of the English army was sealed off from reinforcements
and eventually wiped out29. Unlike the portrayal in the movie Braveheart, the Battle of
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