Historical Inaccuracies Braveheart Essays On Friendship

For other uses, see Braveheart (disambiguation).

Braveheart is a 1995 American epichistoricalwar film directed by Mel Gibson, who stars as William Wallace, a late 13th-century Scottish warrior who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England. The story is inspired by Blind Harry's epic poemThe Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace and was adapted for the screen by Randall Wallace.

It grossed $210.4 million worldwide. Braveheart was nominated for ten Academy Awards at the 68th Academy Awards and won five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup, and Best Sound Editing.


In 1280, King Edward "Longshanks" invades and conquers Scotland following the death of Alexander III of Scotland, who left no heir to the throne. Young William Wallace witnesses Longshanks' treachery, survives the deaths of his father and brother, and is taken abroad on a pilgrimage throughout Europe by his paternal Uncle Argyle, where he is educated. Years later, Longshanks grants his noblemen land and privileges in Scotland, including Prima Nocte. Meanwhile, a grown Wallace returns to Scotland and falls in love with his childhood friend Murron MacClannough, and the two marry in secret. Wallace rescues Murron from being raped by English soldiers, but as she fights off their second attempt, Murron is captured and publicly executed. In retribution, Wallace leads his clan to slaughter the English garrison in his hometown and send the occupying garrison at Lanark back to England.

Longshanks orders his son Prince Edward to stop Wallace by any means necessary. Wallace rebels against the English, and as his legend spreads, hundreds of Scots from the surrounding clans join him. Wallace leads his army to victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge and then destroys the city of York, killing Longshanks' nephew and sending his severed head to the king. Wallace seeks the assistance of Robert the Bruce, the son of nobleman Robert the Elder and a contender for the Scottish crown. Robert is dominated by his father, who wishes to secure the throne for his son by submitting to the English. Worried by the threat of the rebellion, Longshanks sends his son's wife Isabella of France to try to negotiate with Wallace as a distraction for the landing of another invasion force in Scotland.

After meeting him in person, Isabella becomes enamored of Wallace. Warned of the coming invasion by Isabella, Wallace implores the Scottish nobility to take immediate action to counter the threat and take back the country. Leading the English army himself, Longshanks confronts the Scots at Falkirk where noblemen Lochlan and Mornay, having been bribed by Longshanks, betray Wallace, causing the Scots to lose the battle. As Wallace charges toward the departing Longshanks on horseback, he is intercepted by one of the king's lancers, who turns out to be Robert the Bruce, but filled with remorse, Bruce gets Wallace to safety before the English can capture him. Wallace kills Lochlan and Mornay for their betrayal, and wages a guerrilla war against the English for the next seven years, assisted by Isabella, with whom he eventually has an affair. Robert sets up a meeting with Wallace in Edinburgh, but Robert's father has conspired with other nobles to capture and hand over Wallace to the English. Learning of his treachery, Robert disowns his father. Isabella exacts revenge on the now terminally ill Longshanks by telling him that his bloodline will be destroyed upon his death as she is now pregnant with Wallace's child.

In London, Wallace is brought before an English magistrate, tried for high treason, and condemned to public torture and beheading. Even whilst being hanged, drawn and quartered, Wallace refuses to submit to the king. As cries for mercy come from the watching crowd deeply moved by the Scotsman's valor, the magistrate offers him one final chance, asking him only to utter the word, "Mercy", and be granted a quick death. Wallace instead shouts, "Freedom!", and the judge orders his death. Moments before being decapitated, Wallace sees a vision of Murron in the crowd, smiling at him.

In 1314, Robert, now Scotland's king, leads a Scottish army before a ceremonial line of English troops on the fields of Bannockburn, where he is to formally accept English rule. As he begins to ride toward the English, he stops and invokes Wallace's memory, imploring his men to fight with him as they did with Wallace. Robert then leads his army into battle against the stunned English, winning the Scots their freedom.



Gibson's production company, Icon Productions, had difficulty raising enough money even if he were to star in the film. Warner Bros. was willing to fund the project on the condition that Gibson sign for another Lethal Weapon sequel, which he refused. Paramount Pictures only agreed to American and Canadian distribution of Braveheart after 20th Century Fox partnered for international rights.[4] The production budget has been estimated by IMDb at US$72 million.

While the crew spent six weeks shooting on location in Scotland, the major battle scenes were shot in Ireland using members of the Irish Army Reserve as extras. To lower costs, Gibson had the same extras, up to 1,600 in some scenes, portray both armies. The reservists had been given permission to grow beards and swapped their military uniforms for medieval garb.[5]

Braveheart was shot in the anamorphic format with Panavision C- and E-Series lenses.[6]

Gibson toned down the film's battle scenes to avoid an NC-17 rating from the MPAA; the final version was rated R for "brutal medieval warfare".[7]


Main article: Braveheart (soundtrack)

The score was composed and conducted by James Horner and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. It is Horner's second of three collaborations with Mel Gibson as director. The score has gone on to be one of the most commercially successful soundtracks of all time. It received considerable acclaim from film critics and audiences and was nominated for a number of awards, including the Academy Award, Saturn Award, BAFTA Award, and Golden Globe Award.

Release and reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

On its opening weekend, Braveheart grossed $9,938,276 in the United States and $75.6 million in its box office run in the U.S. and Canada.[2] Worldwide, the film grossed $210,409,945 and was the thirteenth highest-grossing film of 1995.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Braveheart met with generally positive reviews. In his review, Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars out of four, writing, "An action epic with the spirit of the Hollywood swordplay classics and the grungy ferocity of The Road Warrior."

The film's depiction of the Battle of Stirling Bridge was listed by CNN as one of the best battles in cinema history.[8]

In a 2005 poll by British film magazine Empire, Braveheart was No. 1 on their list of "The Top 10 Worst Pictures to Win Best Picture Oscar".[9] Ironically, Empire Magazine's readers also voted Braveheart the best film of 1995.[10]

Effect on tourism[edit]

The European premiere was on September 3, 1995 in Stirling.[11]

In 1996, the year after the film was released, the annual three-day "Braveheart Conference" at Stirling Castle attracted fans of Braveheart, increasing the conference's attendance to 167,000 from 66,000 in the previous year.[12] In the following year, research on visitors to the Stirling area indicated that 55% of the visitors had seen Braveheart. Of visitors from outside Scotland, 15% of those who saw Braveheart said it influenced their decision to visit the country. Of all visitors who saw Braveheart, 39% said the film influenced in part their decision to visit Stirling, and 19% said the film was one of the main reasons for their visit.[13] In the same year, a tourism report said that the "Braveheart effect" earned Scotland ₤7 million to ₤15 million in tourist revenue, and the report led to various national organizations encouraging international film productions to take place in Scotland.[14]

The film generated huge interest in Scotland and in Scottish history, not only around the world, but also in Scotland itself. Fans came from all over the world to see the places in Scotland where William Wallace fought, also to the places in Scotland and Ireland used as locations in the film. At a Braveheart Convention in 1997, held in Stirling the day after the Scottish Devolution vote and attended by 200 delegates from around the world, Braveheart author Randall Wallace, Seoras Wallace of the Wallace Clan, Scottish historian David Ross and Bláithín FitzGerald from Ireland gave lectures on various aspects of the film. Several of the actors also attended including James Robinson (Young William), Andrew Weir (Young Hamish), Julie Austin (the young bride) and Mhairi Calvey (Young Murron).

Awards and honors[edit]

Braveheart was nominated for many awards during the 1995 Oscar season, though it was not viewed by many as a major contender such as Apollo 13, Il Postino: The Postman, Leaving Las Vegas, Sense and Sensibility, and The Usual Suspects. It wasn't until after the film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Director at the 53rd Golden Globe Awards that it was viewed as a serious Oscar contender. When the nominations were announced for the 68th Academy Awards, Braveheart received ten Academy Award nominations, and a month later, won five.[15] In 2010, the Independent Film & Television Alliance selected the film as one of the 30 Most Significant Independent Films of the last 30 years[16]

199568th Academy AwardsBest PictureMel Gibson, Alan Ladd Jr., and Bruce DaveyWon
Best DirectorMel GibsonWon
Best Original ScreenplayRandall WallaceNominated
Best CinematographyJohn TollWon
Best Costume DesignCharles KnodeNominated
Best Sound MixingAndy Nelson, Scott Millan, Anna Behlmer, and Brian SimmonsNominated
Best Sound EditingLon Bender and Per HallbergWon
Best Film EditingSteven RosenblumNominated
Best MakeupPeter Frampton, Paul Pattison, and Lois BurwellWon
Best Original ScoreJames HornerNominated
53rd Golden Globe AwardsBest Motion Picture – DramaBraveheartNominated
Best DirectorMel GibsonWon
Best Original ScoreJames HornerNominated
Best ScreenplayRandall WallaceNominated
49th British Academy Film AwardsBest DirectionMel GibsonNominated
Best Film MusicJames HornerNominated
Best Production DesignThomas E. SandersNominated
Best CinematographyJohn TollWon
Best Costume DesignCharles KnodeWon
Best MakeupPeter Frampton, Paul Pattison, and Lois BurwellNominated
Best SoundAndy Nelson, Scott Millan, Anna Behlmer, and Brian SimmonsWon
1996 MTV Movie AwardsBest MovieBraveheartNominated
Best Male PerformanceMel GibsonNominated
Most Desirable MaleNominated
Best Action SequenceBattle of StirlingNominated
American Film Institute lists

Cultural effects[edit]

Lin Anderson, author of Braveheart: From Hollywood To Holyrood, credits the film with playing a significant role in affecting the Scottish political landscape in the mid to late 1990s.[23]

Wallace Monument[edit]

In 1997, a 12-ton sandstone statue depicting Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart was placed in the car park of the Wallace Monument near Stirling, Scotland. The statue, which was the work of Tom Church, a monumental mason from Brechin,[24] included the word "Braveheart" on Wallace's shield. The installation became the cause of much controversy; one local resident stated that it was wrong to "desecrate the main memorial to Wallace with a lump of crap".[25] In 1998, someone wielding a hammer vandalized the statue's face. After repairs were made, the statue was encased in a cage every night to prevent further vandalism. This only incited more calls for the statue to be removed, as it then appeared that the Gibson/Wallace figure was imprisoned. The statue was described as "among the most loathed pieces of public art in Scotland".[26] In 2008, the statue was returned to its sculptor to make room for a new visitor centre being built at the foot of the Wallace Monument.[27]

Historical inaccuracy[edit]

Randall Wallace, who wrote the screenplay, has acknowledged Blind Harry's 15th century epic poemThe Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie as a major inspiration for the film.[28] In defending his script, Randall Wallace has said, "Is Blind Harry true? I don't know. I know that it spoke to my heart and that's what matters to me, that it spoke to my heart."[28] Blind Harry's poem is not regarded as historically accurate, and although some incidents in the film that are not historically accurate are taken from Blind Harry (e.g. the hanging of Scottish nobles at the start),[29] there are large parts that are based neither on history nor Blind Harry (e.g. Wallace's affair with Princess Isabella).

Elizabeth Ewan describes Braveheart as a film that "almost totally sacrifices historical accuracy for epic adventure".[30] The "brave heart" refers in Scottish history to that of Robert the Bruce, and an attribution by William Edmondstoune Aytoun, in his poem Heart of Bruce, to Sir James the Good Douglas: "Pass thee first, thou dauntless heart, As thou wert wont of yore!", prior to Douglas' demise at the Battle of Teba in Andalusia.[31] It has been described as one of the most historically inaccurate modern films.[32]

Sharon Krossa noted that the film contains numerous historical errors, beginning with the wearing of belted plaid by Wallace and his men. In that period "no Scots ... wore belted plaids (let alone kilts of any kind)." Moreover, when Highlanders finally did begin wearing the belted plaid, it was not "in the rather bizarre style depicted in the film". She compares the inaccuracy to "a film about Colonial America showing the colonial men wearing 20th century business suits, but with the jackets worn back-to-front instead of the right way around."[33] In a previous essay about the film, she wrote, "The events aren't accurate, the dates aren't accurate, the characters aren't accurate, the names aren't accurate, the clothes aren't accurate—in short, just about nothing is accurate."[34] The belted plaid (feileadh mór léine) was not introduced until the 16th century.[35] Peter Traquair has referred to Wallace's "farcical representation as a wild and hairy highlander painted with woad (1,000 years too late) running amok in a tartan kilt (500 years too early)." [36]

Irish historian Seán Duffy remarked "the battle of Stirling Bridge could have done with a bridge." [37]

In 2009, the film was second on a list of "most historically inaccurate movies" in The Times.[32] In the humorous non-fictional historiography An Utterly Impartial History of Britain (2007), author John O'Farrell notes that Braveheart could not have been more historically inaccurate, even if a "Plasticine dog" had been inserted in the film and the title changed to “William Wallace and Gromit”.[38]

In the DVD audio commentary of Braveheart, Mel Gibson acknowledges many of the historical inaccuracies but defends his choices as director, noting that the way events were portrayed in the film was much more "cinematically compelling" than the historical fact or conventional mythos.

Jus primae noctis[edit]

Edward Longshanks, King of England, is shown invoking Jus primae noctis, allowing the Lord of a medieval estate to take the virginity of his serfs' maiden daughters on their wedding nights. Critical medieval scholarship regards this supposed right as a myth, "the simple reason why we are dealing with a myth here rests in the surprising fact that practically all writers who make any such claims have never been able or willing to cite any trustworthy source, if they have any."[39][40]

Occupation and independence[edit]

The film suggests Scotland had been under English occupation for some time, at least during Wallace’s childhood, and in the run-up to the Battle of Falkirk Wallace says to the younger Bruce, “[W]e'll have what none of us have ever had before, a country of our own.” In fact Scotland had been invaded by England only the year before Wallace's rebellion; prior to the death of King Alexander III it had been a fully separate kingdom.[36]

Portrayal of William Wallace[edit]

As John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett write, "Because [William] Wallace is one of Scotland's most important national heroes and because he lived in the very distant past, much that is believed about him is probably the stuff of legend. But there is a factual strand that historians agree to", summarized from Scots scholar Matt Ewart:

Wallace was born into the gentry of Scotland; his father lived until he was 18, his mother until his 24th year; he killed the sheriff of Lanark when he was 27, apparently after the murder of his wife; he led a group of commoners against the English in a very successful battle at Stirling in 1297, temporarily receiving appointment as guardian; Wallace's reputation as a military leader was ruined in the same year of 1297, leading to his resignation as guardian; he spent several years of exile in France before being captured by the English at Glasgow, this resulting in his trial for treason and his cruel execution.[41]

A.E. Christa Canitz writes about the historical William Wallace further: "[He] was a younger son of the Scottish gentry, usually accompanied by his own chaplain, well-educated, and eventually, having been appointed Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland, engaged in diplomatic correspondence with the Hanseatic cities of Lübeck and Hamburg". She finds that in Braveheart, "any hint of his descent from the lowland gentry (i.e., the lesser nobility) is erased, and he is presented as an economically and politically marginalized Highlander and 'a farmer'—as one with the common peasant, and with a strong spiritual connection to the land which he is destined to liberate."[42]

Colin McArthur writes that Braveheart "constructs Wallace as a kind of modern, nationalistguerrilla leader in a period half a millennium before the appearance of nationalism on the historical stage as a concept under which disparate classes and interests might be mobilised within a nation state." Writing about Braveheart's "omissions of verified historical facts", McArthur notes that Wallace made "overtures to Edward I seeking less severe treatment after his defeat at Falkirk", as well as "the well-documented fact of Wallace's having resorted to conscription and his willingness to hang those who refused to serve."[43] Canitz posits that depicting "such lack of class solidarity" as the conscriptions and related hangings "would contaminate the movie's image of Wallace as the morally irreproachable primus inter pares among his peasant fighters."[42]

Portrayal of Isabella of France[edit]

Isabella of France is shown having an affair with Wallace after the Battle of Falkirk. She later tells Edward I she is pregnant, implying that her son, Edward III, was a product of the affair. In reality, Isabella was three years old and living in France at the time of the Battle of Falkirk, was not married to Edward II until he was already king, and Edward III was born seven years after Wallace died.[44][45]

Portrayal of Robert the Bruce[edit]

Robert the Bruce did change sides between the Scots loyalists and the English more than once in the earlier stages of the Wars of Scottish Independence, but he never betrayed Wallace directly, and he probably did not fight on the English side at the Battle of Falkirk (although this claim does appear in a few medieval sources).[46] Later, the Battle of Bannockburn was not a spontaneous battle; he had already been fighting a guerrilla campaign against the English for eight years. His title before becoming king was Earl of Carrick, not Earl of Bruce.[36]

Portrayal of Longshanks and Prince Edward[edit]

The actual Edward I was ruthless and temperamental, but the film exaggerates his character for effect. Edward enjoyed poetry and harp music, was a devoted and loving husband to his wife Eleanor of Castile, and as a religious man he gave generously to charity. The film's scene where he scoffs cynically at Isabella for distributing gold to the poor after Wallace refuses it as a bribe would have been unlikely. Also, Edward died on campaign two years after Wallace's execution, not in bed at his home.[36]

The depiction of the future Edward II as an effeminate homosexual drew accusations of homophobia against Gibson.

We cut a scene out, unfortunately. . . where you really got to know that character [Edward II] and to understand his plight and his pain. . . . But it just stopped the film in the first act so much that you thought, 'When's this story going to start?'[47][better source needed]

The actual Edward II, who fathered five children by two different women, was rumoured to have had sexual affairs with men, including Piers Gaveston, on whom the Prince's male lover Phillip was loosely based.[citation needed]

Gibson defended his depiction of Prince Edward as weak and ineffectual, saying:

I'm just trying to respond to history. You can cite other examples – Alexander the Great, for example, who conquered the entire world, was also a homosexual. But this story isn't about Alexander the Great. It's about Edward II.[48]

In response to Longshanks's murder of the Prince's male lover Phillip, Gibson replied: "The fact that King Edward throws this character out a window has nothing to do with him being gay ... He's terrible to his son, to everybody."[49] Gibson asserted that the reason Longshanks kills his son's lover is because the king is a "psychopath".[50] Gibson expressed bewilderment that some filmgoers would laugh at this murder.

Wallace's military campaign[edit]

"MacGregors from the next glen" joining Wallace shortly after the action at Lanark is dubious, since it is questionable whether Clan Gregor existed at that stage, and when they did emerge their traditional home was Glen Orchy, some distance from Lanark.[51]

Wallace did win an important victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, but the version in Braveheart is highly inaccurate, as it was filmed without a bridge (and without Andrew Moray, joint commander of the Scots army, who was fatally injured in the battle). Later, Wallace did carry out a large-scale raid into the north of England, but he did not get as far south as York, nor did he kill Longshanks' nephew.[36] (However this was not as wide of the mark as Blind Harry, who has Wallace making it as far south as St. Albans, and only refraining from attacking London after the English queen came out to meet him.)[29] Edward's nephew John of Brittany did take part in the Wars of Scottish Independence, but he was not killed at York.

The "Irish conscripts" at the Battle of Falkirk are also unhistorical; there were no Irish troops at Falkirk (although many of the English army were actually Welsh), and it is anachronistic to refer to conscripts in the Middle Ages (although there were feudal levies).[36]

The two-handed long swords used by Gibson in the film were not in wide use in the period. A one-handed sword and shield would be more accurate.[52]

Accusations of Anglophobia[edit]

Sections of the English media accused the film of harbouring Anglophobia. The Economist called it "xenophobic",[53] and John Sutherland writing in The Guardian stated that: "Braveheart gave full rein to a toxic Anglophobia".[54][55][56]

In The Times, MacArthur said "the political effects are truly pernicious. It’s a xenophobic film."[55] Ian Burrell of The Independent has noted, "The Braveheart phenomenon, a Hollywood-inspired rise in Scottish nationalism, has been linked to a rise in anti-English prejudice".[57]


On February 9, 2018, a sequel titled Robert the Bruce was announced. The film will lead directly on from Braveheart and follow the widow Moira, portrayed by Anna Hutchison, and her family (portrayed by Gabriel Bateman and Talitha Bateman), who save Robert the Bruce, with Angus Macfadyen reprising his role from Braveheart. The cast will also include Jared Harris, Patrick Fugit, Zach McGowan, Emma Kenney, Diarmaid Murtagh, Seoras Wallace, Shane Coffey, Kevin McNally and Melora Walters. Richard Gray will direct the film, with Macfadyen and Eric Belgau writing the script. Helmer Gray, Macfadyen, Hutchison, Kim Barnard, Nick Farnell, Cameron Nuggent and Andrew Curry will produce the film.[58]


  1. ^"Braveheart (1995)". British Film Institute. Retrieved March 28, 2017. 
  2. ^ abcd"Braveheart (1995)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 7, 2013. 
  3. ^THR Staff (April 18, 2017). "Mel Gibson Once Threw an Ashtray Through a Wall During 'Braveheart' Budget Talks". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 18, 2017. 
  4. ^Michael Fleming (25 July 2005). "Mel tongue-ties studios". Daily Variety. 
  5. ^"Braveheart 10th Chance To Boost Tourism In Trim". Meath Chronicle. August 28, 2003. Retrieved April 30, 2007. 
  6. ^Chris Probst (1 June 1996). "Cinematic Transcendence". American Cinematographer. Los Angeles, California, United States: American Society of Cinematographers. 77 (6): 76. ISSN 0002-7928. 
  7. ^Classification and Rating Administration; Motion Picture Association of America. "Reasons for Movie Ratings (CARA)". Archived from the original on 2010-12-11. 
  8. ^"The best – and worst – movie battle scenes". CNN. 30 March 2007. Archived from the original on 8 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-01. 
  9. ^"Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" Voted Worst Oscar Winner". hollywood.com. Archived from the original on 2013-02-03. 
  10. ^"Empire Award Past Winners - 1996". Empireonline.com. Bauer Consumer Media. 2003. Retrieved September 16, 2011. 
  11. ^"Scotland a nation again for a night". The Herald. Glasgow. 4 September 1995. Retrieved 10 July 2016. 
  12. ^Zumkhawala-Cook, Richard (2008). Scotland as We Know It: Representations of National Identity in Literature, Film and Popular Culture. McFarland. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-7864-4031-3. 
  13. ^MacLellan, Rory; Smith, Ronnie (1998). Tourism in Scotland. Cengage Learning EMEA. p. 230. ISBN 978-1-86152-089-0. 
  14. ^Martin-Jones, David (2009). Scotland: Global Cinema – Genres, Modes, and Identities. Edinburgh University Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-7486-3391-3. 
  15. ^"The 68th Academy Awards (1996) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on 2012-09-23. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  16. ^"UPDATE: How "Toxic" Is IFTA's Best Indies?". Deadline. Retrieved January 23, 2017. 
  17. ^AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies(PDF). Retrieved 2013-06-20. 
  18. ^AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains NomineesArchived August 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^"AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 2014-03-28. Retrieved 2013-06-20. 
  20. ^"HollywoodBowlBallot"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 2014-03-28. Retrieved 2013-06-20. 
  21. ^"Movies_Ballot_06"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 2014-03-28. Retrieved 2013-06-20. 
  22. ^"AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot"(PDF). Retrieved 2013-06-20. 
  23. ^Boztas, Senay (31 July 2005). "Wallace movie 'helped Scots get devolution' – [Sunday Herald]". Braveheart.info. Archived from the original on 2013-07-02. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  24. ^"Wallace statue back at home of sculptor". The Courier. 16 October 2009. Archived from the original on 20 October 2009. Retrieved 17 October 2009. 
  25. ^Hal G. P. Colebatch (8 August 2006). "The American Spectator". Spectator.org. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  26. ^Kevin Hurley (19 September 2004). "They may take our lives but they won't take Freedom". Scotland on Sunday. Retrieved 16 October 2009. 
  27. ^"Wallace statue back with sculptor". BBC News. 16 October 2009. Retrieved 16 October 2009.
Gibson (right) on set with 20th Century Fox executive Scott Neeson
Tom Church's Freedom statue.

One of the frequently remarked-on inaccuracies of Braveheart (1995, dir. Mel Gibson) deals with Princess Isabella (Sophie Marceau). In the film, Isabella is an adult woman (her age is unclear; Marceau was 29 at the time, but Isabella seems to be younger, perhaps early 20s), who gets married to Prince Edward (the future Edward II) during the course of the film. She falls in love with Wallace (Mel Gibson), has sex with him, and at the end of the film taunts Edward I by telling him that she is carrying Wallace’ baby and that her child will eventually supplant Edward II as king.

Sophie Marceau as Isabella

In reality, Isabella was born in 1295, and since the film is set around 1297, that means she was 2 years old and living in France at the time. She married Edward II in 1308, at the age of 13, and hadn’t even been to England when Wallace rebelled. So this romance is entirely fictitious. It’s easy to discount this as simply the sort of obligatory romance that every Hollywood action film has to include; Gibson, in the DVD commentary track, dismisses it as just exactly this. But if we assumed that, we’d be entirely wrong. The romance between Isabella and Wallace is, in fact, critical to the entire film; without it, this movie couldn’t have been made in 1990s Hollywood.

Trigger Warning: This post discusses rape.

A Bummer of an Action Film On the surface, Wallace’ story is poor fodder for Hollywood. He was a rebel in a political dispute that happened 700 years ago that Americans would not have had any real understanding of. He had one major military success that wasn’t fully his, got defeated at his next major battle, and was eventually captured, tortured and executed. The end.

In other words, Wallace lost. His rebellion achieved comparatively little of lasting impact, although it helped to stir up Scottish resistance against the English and laid seeds for Robert Bruce to harvest more than a decade later. That’s not the sort of story that Hollywood likes to tell. It rarely offers films in which the hero dies at the end (among recent action films, Gladiator is the only other one I can think of off the top of my head), but if the hero dies, he must certainly die victorious.

So how can one pull a serious victory out of Wallace’ story? The film certainly builds up the idea that Wallace inspired Bruce to make his rebellion, but that’s still a fairly intangible sort of victory by Hollywood standards. To supplement that, Braveheart’s screen-writer Randall Wallace (note the last name) added the Wallace-Isabella romance so that Wallace can impregnate Isabella and thereby eventually supplant the villainous Edward I and his pathetic son Edward II.

Quite simply, Wallace wins by knocking up Isabella. His military victory is entirely irrelevant to the story, except insofar as it inspires Isabella’s love. In other words, what actually matters in the film in terms of the ending is Wallace’s sexual prowess, not his military prowess. Without the Wallace-Isabella romance, Wallace simply loses, and that’s not acceptable in a Hollywood film. So while the film pretends to be a war movie, it’s actually a porn film in which the whole plot is a contest to see who’s get to boink the leading lady.

Lights! Camera! *Ahem* Action! Once you start to realize what the real plot of the film is, it begins to read very differently. It’s really about a competition to see who is more sexually potent, the Scottish or the English. Early on, King Edward (Patrick McGoohan) announces that “the problem with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots!” and then declares that he will remedy this problem by reinstituting what the film calls ius prima noctis. This “right of the first night”, more properly called by the French term droit du seigneur (“the lord’s right”), was a fictitious notion that medieval nobles had the legal right to sleep with a peasant woman on her marriage night before her husband did. It’s completely fictitious; no medieval noble every enjoyed a formal legal right like that. But as the movie presents it, it is this fact that triggers the Scottish rebellion. The Scots rebel because the English want to sleep with Scottish women.

But the film thinks that this mass rape of Scottish women is not enough to have inspired Wallace; his rebellion has to be personal. So in the film, Wallace rebels not because of ius prima noctis but because an English soldier tries to rape Wallace’s wife, Murron (Catherine McCormack). The soldier is unsuccessful; Murron fights so hard he’s unable to accomplish his goal, but she gets arrested and executed. So the film doubly determines the film’s rebellion as being about the English desire to have sex with Scottish women.

That sets up a theme of sexual competition between the Scots and the English, in which the issue is which side is sexually superior. And the answer to that question is fairly clear. The Scots are sexually skilled and the English are sexually inept. The English soldier fails to conquer Murron. Later in the film, Isabella’s handmaiden comments that she spent the whole night with an English noble, but all he did was talk, because “the English do not know what to do with their tongues”. In contrast, Wallace is so sexually compelling, Isabella falls in love with him before she meets him; in one of the few actually medieval-feeling details of the film, the first time she hears his name, she is so overwhelmed she has to sit down. And, of course, Wallace spends an awful lot of time waving that anachronistic great sword around…

Ok, so let’s get all Freudian. The film repeatedly invokes sexual imagery during its battle scenes. I’ve already explored how badly wrong the film’s version of the battle of Stirling Bridge is. Instead of the historical battle, the film’s battle is structured as a series of efforts to prove sexual prowess. The Scots taunt the English by flipping up their kilts and displaying their penises; the English, being dressed differently, can’t do the same. Instead, they respond with a couple volleys of arrows that mostly fail to penetrate the Scots, although one Scot is hit in the ass. The Scots respond with further sexual taunting, and the English retaliate by making a rather foolish lance change. Yet this attempt to penetrate the Scots also fails, because the Scots successfully penetrate the English with their spears. During the battle, there’s a brief shot of a Scotsman driving his sword into an Englishman’s groin, symbolically penetrating and castrating him at the same time.

Lest you think I’m reading too much into this, shortly before the battle scene, Wallace meets with his men in a forest to discuss strategy. Hamish, one of Wallace’s lieutenants, makes a joke about the size of his dick, just after Wallace looks up at the long, straight tree-trunks around them and hits upon the idea of making them into spears. So the film pretty much tells us that the spears are really Scottish cocks.

Another example of the film’s Freudianism comes a little after the battle of Stirling. Wallace’ men lay siege to York (which didn’t happen), and they take a battering ram to the gate. They struggle to force their way in, especially since the English are pouring flaming oil on them, but Wallace jumps in to lend a hand. A moment later, the gates are knocked in and there is an eruption of fire. I dare you to watch that scene and not think of ejaculation.

See what I mean?

So for Braveheart, war is all about sex. Wallace is fighting Edward I, but he’s not just fighting him militarily. The two men are locked in a competition to see who gets to sleep with Princess Isabella. The film repeatedly suggests that Edward I has carnal thoughts about his daughter-in-law. In fact, when he declares the revival of ius prima noctis, he does so while he’s looking straight at Isabella. His lust for her inspires the actions that lead to the Scottish rebellion. But Edward doesn’t get to sleep with Isabella; Wallace does. Edward may fantasize about boning her, but Wallace is the one who actually knocks her up. That’s why Isabella’s pregnancy is such a powerful symbol; Wallace gets to have what Edward wants, and the long-term consequences are that Edward’s line is supplanted by Wallace’ seed.

And Here’s Where the Film Gets Ugly In many Hollywood films, the female lead is the prize for victory. But not in Braveheart. Wallace gets Isabella, but he doesn’t get to keep her, because he’s executed. Instead of being the prize, Isabella is just a tool for Wallace’ victory (along with Wallace’ tool, that is). The film treats her like a brood mare or a field to be plowed and sown with seed.

However, unlike her namesake in Ironclad, Isabella has some real agency. She chooses to offer Wallace strategic information, and at the end of the film she announces her intentions to destroy Edward I’s family line. The problem, however, is that her agency is entirely devoted to helping and avenging Wallace.

The film’s only other important female character, Wallace’s wife Murron (where the hell did Randall Wallace come up with that name? It makes her sound like a cattle disease. The woman’s real name was allegedly Marion.), is similarly devoted to Wallace. She is sexually faithful to him to the point of preferring death over being raped. Obviously a woman might make such a difficult choice even if she weren’t committed to her husband, but Murron’s fidelity is reinforced in other scenes. Her faithfulness is supernaturally strong; she returns to him twice after her death, both times to offer him reassurance at difficult moments. While the film is ambiguous about whether Wallace is just dreaming her up or whether her ghost is actually there, the overall impression is that she’s come back from the dead because of her love for him.

Murron, the first time she returns from the dead

So consider what the film has done with its two female characters. Wallace’s wife is intensely, supernaturally, faithful to him. She seemingly returns from the dead twice because even though she’s dead, she’s still his wife and he needs her. Wallace, however, feels no such obligation to Murron, because he sleeps with Isabella once Murron is dead. She is faithful to him even though he is not faithful to her, and her second visitation comes as he’s being executed, after he’s essentially cheated on her. So Murron is willing to ignore his infidelity, simply because she loves him. Braveheart is offering up a classic male sexual fantasy driven by the double-standard. Women exist to provide sex, love, and emotional support and so are expected to be committed to their man, while men are able to sleep around as they choose without losing their exclusive claim on their wives. When you put that together with the fact that Isabella’s entire purpose in the film is to get knocked up so Wallace can defeat her father-in-law, it seems clear that far from being romantic, Braveheart is actually quite misogynist and demeaning to women.

While We’re At It, Let’s Be Homophobic as Well But Isabella’s decision to commit herself to Wallace has a problem with it. She’s married to another man. Broadly speaking, Hollywood morality tends to frown on adultery. Most Hollywood films tend to do one of two things with adultery. Either it is a bad choice that usually leads to worse things like a decision to murder one’s spouse, and must therefore turn out badly and be punished, or it must be presented in a sympathetic light; the marriage has to be bad, the cuckolded spouse must be neglectful or abusive, and the other man has to be obviously a better choice morally. Since Isabella’s adultery has to be presented in a sympathetic light, it has to be clear to the audience that Isabella has a really good reason for cheating on her husband, Prince Edward.

And so the film makes the choice to depict Prince Edward as a classic example of the Hollywood Sissy. Braveheart’s Prince Edward (Peter Hanly) is a slightly-built, almost delicate man. He is far more interested in his boyfriend’s clothing than in either his new wife or in manly pursuits like warfare. He can’t be dragged away from his lover long enough to participate in political councils, so he sends his wife instead. At one point, Edward I throws his son’s boyfriend out a window; when Prince Edward tries to attack him, Edward bitch-slaps him and takes his knife away with contemptuous ease (symbolically castrating him, I suppose). All-in-all, Prince Edward is a pathetic little sissy boy.

He just wants to sing!

This is completely ahistorical. The actual Edward II was a tall, handsome, physically robust and athletic man. Among his hobbies were ditch-digging and brick-laying (rather odd hobbies for a medieval noble, but clearly evidence of his physicality). He loved swimming and rough-housing, and once seriously hurt one of his companions with rough play. At the battle of Bannockburn, when it became clear the English were losing, Edward had to be physically dragged off the field because he wanted to stay and fight. Whatever his sexual preferences might have been (and scholars still debate exactly what his relationships with Piers Gaveston and the Despensers were), it’s clear that the actual Edward was not the limp-wrist he is in Braveheart.

But the historical Edward won’t do. He’s too close to the sort of man the film wants to present Wallace as. Isabella’s choice to cheat on the historical Edward II would be more puzzling, so Randall Wallace and Mel Gibson resort to the oldest and most offensive stereotype of homosexuals Hollywood knows. (To be fair, however, Randall Wallace is not the only author to demonize Edward II; most historical novelists who choose to write about him do similar things.)

I dislike Braveheart because of its numerous historical inaccuracies, its anachronistic notions of ‘freedom’ and its rather simplistic narrative. I hate it because of its deeply-rooted misogyny and homophobia. Gibson demeans women, gays, and the English all so he can run around battlefields stabbing people with his enormous penis substitutes and live out a male fantasy of sexual potency and female devotion.

Years ago, during a class on medieval warfare, some students asked me what I thought about Braveheart. That question is a sure-fire way to sidetrack me for 20 minutes, and I gave them a condensed version of this analysis. A year later, I ran into one of the students from that class. He said, “I went back and rewatched Braveheart, and you’re completely right!” So go ahead, rewatch it and tell me whether you think I’m right. Because once you start to see how Freudian the film is, you can’t stop seeing it.

Want to Know More?

Braveheartis available on Amazon.

Kathryn Warner is pretty much the leading expert on Edward II, and her book on him, Edward II: The Unconventional Kingis one of the best things written about him, although I’m not convinced by her argument that he survived his eventual deposition. Her blog about Edward II is definitely worth a look if you want to know more about him than you ever thought possible.

I wish I could recommend a book about Isabella of France, but frankly everything I’ve seen written about her is complete crap. Stay away from Alison Weir’s book.

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