The Guardian of Scotland and The Rightful King of Scots

Wallace and Bruce

One correspondent wrote:-

"What I found particularly interesting was the portrayal of Robert the Bruce, who has always been something of a hero of Scottish history, but came out of the film looking like a bit of a wimp. It's all down to historical interpretation, of course."

...... and received this reply:-

Sometimes, yes, it can be a matter of interpretation. We could produce a film on Napoleon, for example, in which we either portray him as a shrewd soldier who rises from obscurity to exploit his mastery of artillery (the arm then known as "the great god of war"), seizes a continent and creates an immortal reputation as a superb military tactician, or we portray him as a minor member of the Corsican nobility who, sensitive to his low social standing and lack of physical height, studies political theory, exploits the teachings of Sun Tzu (then almost unknown in Europe), creates an immortal reputation as an imperial strategist and pushes his family onto the thrones of his captured kingdoms. So: Napoleon as a brilliant soldier, or Napoleon as a hugely successful social climber.

Both are true, of course, and whichever choice the scriptwriter and director make will be guided by their interpretation of the historical facts.

But what no scriptwriter can do is to interpret the historical facts as evidence that Napoleon was a cowardly opportunist who achieved glory by appropriating the honours earned by others, that he ren? on his promises to Marshal Ney, and that he was working with the Russian Tsar to destroy France. No writer can do this, and no director should do this, because there are no historical facts on which such an interpretation can be based.

And there are no historical facts on which the portrayal of Robert the Bruce as a wimp can be based. The screenplay of Gibson's film invented them, and Gibson, incredibly, allowed them to survive in his direction.

What, then, are the facts?

The death in 1290 of Margaret, "Maid of Norway", granddaughter of Alexander III, made the grandfather of Robert the Bruce a claimant to the empty throne. There were others with as good, or perhaps not so good, a claim, and it was agreed that Edward I would act as the judge. Edward recognised the opportunity as one to be exploited ruthlessly, and Balliol was chosen by him as one who could most easily be manipulated. The Bruce family swallowed their disappointment, but not their ambition to win what they believed to be their right.

The father of Robert the Bruce inherited the claim in 1295, and when Edward I attacked Balliol in 1296, the younger Bruce fought on the side of Edward because the Bruce family had never recognised Balliol's right to be King of Scots. The next year he joined Wallace and continued to make war on the English until 1302. He did not fight against Wallace at Falkirk, as Gibson's film pretends, and he was destroying Ayr Castle to deny it to the English only a few weeks later. In 1302 he made peace with Edward I, partly because he feared a reconciliation between Balliol and Edward would lose him both his Annandale lands and the Bruce claim to the throne, and partly because he judged it prudent to postpone the final major confrontation until there were better chances of victory.

In 1304 his father (libelled by Gibson as masterminding the betrayal and capture of Wallace a year later) died, and Robert the Bruce began the next year the great campaign he was to lead for 23 years. He was crowned King of Scots in 1306 but was defeated at the battles of Methven and of Dalry. His wife and daughter were captured by the English, and his brother Nigel, taken while guarding them, died like Wallace. Bruce's guerilla war started in 1307, and slowly, from 1309 onwards, the great castles were captured one by one until the huge prize of Stirling remained. Bruce's siege of Stirling in 1314 brought the English to fight at Bannockburn and, as you rightly wrote, made him "something of a hero of Scottish history". This was nine years after the death of Wallace.

After Bannockburn, Bruce continued to fight the English, taking the battle into England and simultaneously waging war on the diplomatic front. In 1328, twenty-three years after Wallace's death, the Treaty of Northampton at last gave to Scotland everything for which Bruce had fought.

Wallace was an inspiring leader, as Gibson obviously wanted to show. He was a brave guerilla soldier and a shrewd tactician. The barbaric treatment accorded him by his captors has made him immortal.

Bruce, also, was an inspiring leader, a brave guerilla and a shrewd tactician. Moreover, he was a successful diplomat, an imaginative strategist, an effective administrator and a much-loved king. His success as a liberator has made him immortal. He was not a wimp.

In brief: the Robert the Bruce of Gibson's film never existed. He was a fantasy invented for use as a contrast to Wallace, to enhance the hero's image and thereby to compensate for what Gibson feared might be his own inability to do Wallace justice. King Robert I of Scottish history was as different from his namesake in "Braveheart" as was his dead father from the man who betrayed Wallace, as was the nine-year-old French girl in Paris from the unescorted Princess of Wales seducing Wallace in a woodcutter's hut, as was Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie from the peasant who claimed to be Wallace's father . . . . . .

"One person's hero is another one's villain."

One man's wimp is another man's failure. That is not "historical interpretation": that is contemporary evidence.


The Ancestry of the House of Wallace (in preparation)

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