Films have become the most pervading teaching tool in modern culture, and this is often frustrating for anyone engaged in serious historical study.
As I’ve mentioned previously, such is the case with the 1995 action film Braveheart. Based on the true life story of Scottish hero William Wallace, the film has taught modern generations about Scotland’s forgotten revolutionary as filtered through Hollywood’s inaccurate and very secularized agenda. Though the film is viewed by many as an accurate biographical account of Wallace, true history records a hero greater than film can invent.
So here a just a few more things we can throw on the pile of Hollywood fiction:
Myth No. 1: William Wallace was a poor farmer.
The Wallace family was a landowning, knighted family in Ellerslie, Scotland. Though the family was not well-known or wealthy, they lived a comfortable life. William’s uncles gave the Wallace children a strong education in languages, church doctrine, government and diplomacy, and warfare. This distinctly Christian education provided a strong foundation for young William’s convictions in liberty.
Myth No. 2: William Wallace had to secretly court his wife
Though Wallace most likely married a young woman named Marion Braidfute, the story may be a little different than how it was portaged by the movie. The film explains this lack of documentation away with Wallace’s secret marriage due to a law from England giving first rights for a newlywed Scottish bride to English nobility. But such a law never existed. Wallace had no reason to hide his marriage so thoroughly.
Myth No. 3: William Wallace’s sole motivation was violence and vengeance
While the film teaches audiences that Wallace was a vengeful leader, a self-proclaimed “savage,” the real William Wallace was firm but diplomatic while serving as guardian. He also attempted solving political problems through “representational” initiatives, establishing parliaments to share the power with Scotland’s guardians, and keeping the Scottish church heavily involved in the establishment of the country, instead of looking to Scottish nobility as the sole way to establish unity in the Scotland.
Myth No. 4: William Wallace was the biological father of Isabella of France’s first child.
The theatrical Wallace is the fancy of Isabella of France, wife of Edward II. At the end of the film, she alludes to her first child’s father being Wallace, not her husband. Historically speaking, the event was impossible. Isabella was born between 1294 and 1295. Wallace was killed in in 1305, putting Isabella between 9 and 10 years old at the time of his execution and therefore younger than this when the affair is supposed to have taken place. The event was historically impossible and clearly just another chance to add a “sinful twist” to the real story.
Myth No. 5: William Wallace was betrayed by Robert the Bruce.
Perhaps the most slanderous act of Braveheart was its defaming of Robert the Bruce, a long-standing patriot who was slow and often reluctant to fully engage. The truth is… Robert and Wallace are inseparably important to Scotland’s history.
The film showed another story. According to Gibson, Robert the Bruce was treacherous and trained well in it by his greedy father. The truth is … the Bruce actually finished the job Wallace started and led the county in independence.
Robert also played no part in the treason and execution of Wallace. The dreaded act of betrayal was the act of Sir John de Menteith, a Scottish knight with strong English ties who captured Wallace for the rewards promised to the man who caught him.
Despite the fact that the film was loaded with historical inaccuracies, it was successful in resurfacing the name of the forgotten Scottish hero and visionary … William Wallace. It is the earnest hope and expectation of those who know history’s real William Wallace that others would “study to show themselves approved” (1 Timothy 2:15) and learn the real story of this remarkable man.