Why Braveheart Is Considered One Of The Most Historically Inaccurate Films Ever

"They may take our lives, but they'll never take... our freedom!" Mel Gibson's 1995 historical epic, "Braveheart," sent chills down my spine when I first heard that classic rallying cry from William Wallace. It's a rousing scene – hundreds of Scots, under the leadership of William Wallace (Mel Gibson) preparing to take on the might of the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. In reality, it was a key moment in the First War of Scottish Independence that saw Wallace become the Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland. But in "Braveheart" it was completely historically inaccurate.

Yes, Wallace and his army did win at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, but the film neglected to mention his ally, Andrew Moray, who was mortally wounded there. Nor did the Scots armies make it as far south as York in the battle's aftermath. And those are just a couple of details that the film got wrong. The truth is, "Braveheart" is one of the most historically inaccurate films of all time.

I saw it in his face on the battlefield.

After "Braveheart," the sight of Mel Gibson in blue face paint became an iconic image. A mere glimpse of his streaked face conjures up that rousing speech and the chanting Scots army. You can practically hear the bagpipes. But it turns out those painted faces and highland kilts are the stuff of pure fantasy. As Peter Traquair explained in his book Freedom's Sword that:

"[Wallace is a] 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)."

In fact, the entire look of William Wallace and his rag-tag band of Scots is completely wrong. During this period, Scots didn't wear kilts. At all. Historian Sharon L. Krossa explains that even when Highlanders did start wearing kits, it wasn't "in the rather bizarre style depicted in the film."

"[It's like] 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."

Now, I'm not the first to suggest that "Braveheart" isn't exactly an accurate portrayal of what really happened. Hilariously, Irish historian Seán Duffy pointed out that "the Battle of Stirling Bridge could have done with a bridge." But it all gets even worse when it comes to the film's ending.

'We all end up dead — it's just a question of how and why.'

After waging a guerrilla war against the English, Wallace is eventually captured. Ultimately, "Braveheart" sees the Scottish legend betrayed by his own men, Lochlan and Mornay, who he kills in retaliation. He's soon captured in Edinburgh and then carted off to London to be brought before an English magistrate. Tried for high treason, he's condemned to a bloody and brutal end, to be hung, drawn, and quartered. In reality, it didn't quite happen like that.

Wallace was actually captured in Glasgow after spending several years in exile in France. Although he was betrayed, it was a Scottish knight, John de Menteith, who turned him over to English soldiers at Robroyston. And he wasn't exactly a man of the people, either. Historian A. E. Christa Canitz explains that Sir William Wallace was actually born into the Scottish gentry.

"[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."

Not quite the Highland farmer we find in "Braveheart."

'Historians from England will say I am a liar.'

After Wallace's death, "Braveheart" marches on to the fields of Bannockburn – the site of a bloody battle between English forces and Robert the Bruce (Angus Macfadyen). There, they are supposed to formally accept English rule. While Wallace himself has died, his spirit lives on.

Now the king of Scotland, Robert the Bruce rallies his men to stand against the English on the battlefield. Invoking Wallace's memory, he asks them to stand with him as they did with Wallace. And in an iconic moment, Hamish (Brendan Gleeson) throws Wallace's sword into the ground before the English army. The men begin to chant Wallace's name as Robert the Bruce leads them into a brutal and bloody conflict. It's a bloody, rousing and inspirational scene which sees the Scottish taking back their independence.

But again, that's not really how it all went down.

What happened at the real battle of Bannockburn?

It's no surprise that Hamish's dramatic sword toss is made up. But the entire scene is a complete fabrication.

"Braveheart" depicts the Battle of Bannockburn as a spontaneous uprising in defiance of English rule, but in reality, Robert the Bruce had been at war with the English for eight years at this point. Essentially, the Scottish uprising at Bannockburn wasn't unplanned, and it wasn't a tribute to William Wallace. And when it comes to the nickname "Braveheart," that wasn't Wallace either – it was actually the name used to refer to none other than Robert the Bruce. Mel Gibson explained to Daily Record:

"Some of the aspects of the battles are there, but they don't follow. Wallace did win the Battle of Stirling. He beat hell out of them, but just not the way I showed it. We boosted it up otherwise it would have been boring," he added. "We wanted to make something a little more cinematically compelling."

What we get is a highly fictionalized take on the Scottish legends. The film's final history lesson isn't exactly accurate either.

'We'll have what none of us has ever had before.'

After a rousing speech, we see the Scots charge headfirst into battle against the English... and as the scene fades to Wallace's sword stuck defiantly in the ground, a triumphant voice tells us what happens next:

"In the year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland, starving and outnumbered, charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets. They fought like Scotsmen. And won their freedom."

It's an emotional ending with a stirring finale that would leave even the most hardened clansman teary-eyed. But while the Scots at Bannockburn may have fought like Scotsmen, they didn't exactly win their freedom. After the Battle of Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce continued his fight against the English monarchy for a further 14 years. The war for Scottish independence was waged through famine, civil war, and great political upheaval until 1328 when the kingdom of Scotland finally won its freedom.

Even then, freedom was short-lived, as Scottish nobles and their English allies refused to accept defeat, forcing the Scots into another war for independence just four years later. Probably not the ending that "Braveheart" director Mel Gibson had in mind.

What "Braveheart" delivered is a hodgepodge of history and make-believe, resulting in one of the most historically inaccurate historical epics of all time. It almost makes "Troy" look like a documentary. Still, it made for one hell of a movie, even if it isn't quite what really happened.