Wallace's father and maternal grandfather (see note below)

THE BATTLE had been waging for some months before it caught our attention. Intriguing little questions, such as "What happened to the baby?", had appeared in newsgroups, each setting off another skirmish between the fantasists and the historians, between those who believed its director could do no wrong, and those who judged "Braveheart" a farrago of nonsense. The "baby" was the child supposedly fathered by William Wallace on the wife of the heir to the English throne, the child that would become King Edward III, and for many this risible invention became the symbol of Mel Gibson's masquerade.

A few tried to take a balanced view. One wrote: "Okay, so it's not true to history, but it was fantastic." He was then immediately challenged by: "Actually it is part true history, actually most of it IS true!" ... which in turn provoked the following fairly comprehensive reply.

A PA news report last year included this sentence:-

"Gibson said the film would be authentic but he had to make compromises for story telling purposes."

A few notes may be useful for those trying to discover what "authentic" means to Gibson.

1. The division between the "nobles" and the "commoners" as depicted by Gibson is artificial and inaccurate, partly because the screenwriter misunderstood the nature of 13th century feudalism in Scotland and partly because he succumbed to the attraction of the old cliché about the poor good guys and the rich bad guys. Some of those who held high rank in the nobility were unreliable, but many others (Douglas, Seton, Boyd, Moray, Lindsay, the Steward and his brother John perhaps being the most obvious) joined Wallace at the start and remained steadfast. (I didn't see any of them featured in the cast, did you?)

2. The depiction of Wallace's father as a poor peasant may accord with Gibson's strange vision of late-13th century Scotland, but he was a knight, Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie, who held his lands of James, the 5th High Steward. Wallace's mother was a daughter of Sir Reginald de Craufurd, Sheriff of Ayr, then the equivalent of a viscount, by his wife Margaret, daughter and heiress of James Loudoun of Loudoun. William was Sir Malcolm's second son and, in the tradition of Scottish succession, would remain landless only until either his brother died childless or he won an estate for himself. Wallace's education is believed to have been (but is not yet proved) at the Abbey of Paisley, founded by the High Stewards, two miles from Elderslie. (Yes, Wallace's father was a farmer, but only in the original sense of the word: in that he held his lands in return for a fixed payment.)

3. The concentration on the clash between "nobles" and "commoners" leads Gibson's "Braveheart" to besmirch the character and achievements of Robert Bruce and to accuse his father, who had died fifteen months earlier on Crusade in Palestine, of base treachery. The English financial records of the time reveal that the spy who recognised Wallace received a reward of 40 marks, that the men who captured him shared 100 marks, and that Sir John de Menteith who supervised the operation received 151 pounds. The Bruce family had no connection with the capture of Wallace. When the Bruce was allegedly fighting Wallace at Falkirk he was actually working with him, perhaps at the battle itself, possibly in support at the rear, but most probably fifty miles away to the southwest, where he was certainly fighting the English shortly after when he destroyed the castle at Ayr to prevent the English using it as a base.

4. Although it is this (politically-motivated???) misrepresentation of the social relationships in the Scotland of the High Middle Ages that the majority of historians will find most repugnant, it is the lost opportunity to tell a true story that we most regret. Gibson's great technical abilities could have been used to portray the major battles as they were really fought, if he had directed Stirling Bridge and Falkirk in such a way as to allow the audience to understand why they were so important to the development of warfare. The same honest dedication then applied to the politics of the situation (far more interesting than the silly, superficial, dishonest story he tells) could have made "Braveheart" the movie of the decade.

5. The crowning absurdity to this movie must be the idea that the hero fathered the future Kings of England. Apart from the fantasy of any "lady of quality" being allowed such freedom in Edward's England, this one could not have been older than ten when Wallace was judicially murdered, and her son, the future Edward III, was born seven years later.

Why didn't his research team warn Gibson that so many historical details were so hopelessly, ridiculously, risibly wrong that the production might actually win the "Best Comedy" award? (English arrows that would pierce a knight's shield, his mail, his body and then skewer him to his horse are brushed aside with bits of wooden planking by Gibson's men; and his scriptwriter's understanding of social rank and feudal society was less than that of the average Scottish schoolchild.) Why could no one inform him that the introduction of the anachronistic inquisition and its rack into the execution scene, together with the ludicrously bloodless and biologically misplaced disembowelling, made a tasteless joke of what Scots still remember emotionally as the unjust and horrific death Wallace shared with Thomas, Alexander and Nigel, three brothers of Robert Bruce, and with so many of the other nobles Gibson vilifies?

In brief: Gibson has butchered our history as brutally as the English butchered Wallace.

This provoked an interesting question:-

Your history is excellent. But did it ever occur to you that "Braveheart" is less about
Scotland of 700 years ago than it is about Western Civilization of the 20th Century?
I guess not.

...... whose answer is produced here on a separate page.

Alternative version of the arms of Wallace of Elderslie

Whether Sir Malcolm Wallace and his son bore their arms with a bordure compony (or gobony), as here, or with a bordure counter-compony as shown elsewhere on these pages, is uncertain. The Court of the Lord Lyon has decreed that a bordure counter-compony should be used for Wallace of Ellerslie (an alternative spelling) in the Registers there.

Comments on the Politics of "Braveheart"

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