Or, everything wrong with Braveheart
You know what I really like to do? Trash historical movies from the 1990s. Can you guess what movie I’m going to trash this time?
I mean, I wrote it right in the title. I’m going to shit on Braveheart.
Besides featuring the very odd BDSM fetish of one of my least actors of all time, Mel Gibson, Braveheart is a disaster in terms of historical accuracy. I’m going to talk about the real shitshow that was 13th Century Scotland. Yes, Edward I was still a massive dick, as I’ve previously discussed and as depicted in Braveheart, but it turns out the Scots were kind of asking for it.
To start this story, we need to go back before 1286 during the reign of the Scottish king Alexander III. Alexander III had three children, Alexander, David, and Margaret. Upon the death of his younger son, he became concerned for the succession so he made a provision that, should the younger Alexander die, the crown would go to the offspring of his daughter, Margaret, who had married the Norwegian king Eric. The younger Alexander died, so upon Alexander III’s death, the crown passed to the child Margaret, called the Maid of Norway. Not sensing the danger of dealing with Evil Eddie (as I nicknamed him when I was 12), Margaret was betrothed to Edward I’s son, Edward of Carnarvon. She then set sail for Scotland.
Around this same time, two possible claimants for the throne came forth and demanded it. They were John Balliol and Robert de Bruce, 5th Lord of Annondale. Both of them were descended from a previous Scottish king, David I.
Sadly, Margaret died before ever setting foot on Scottish soil. Her remains were sent back to Norway and the Scottish lords decided to pull what is quite possibly the dumbest decision in medieval history.
They straight up asked Edward I to pick their new king.
Like it had done with Wales, England had long asserted overlordship of Scotland, attempting to treat it as a sort of vassal state. Scotland, like Wales before it, had fought this tooth and nail. Unlike Wales, it had largely succeeded. But this period of instability gave Edward I the perfect opportunity to change that. The marriage of Margaret, the Maid of Norway, to Edward of Carnarvon would have made Edward I de facto king of Scotland. Her death had prevented it. By asking Edward I to intervene and select Scotland’s new king, the Scottish lords had let him right back in.
What followed was a series of bickering back and forth between Edward I and the Scottish lords. He refused to intercede on their behalf until they recognized him as their overlord. They refused, claiming they didn’t have the authority to do so.
Eventually, 14 different claimants came forward, although only four had genuine claims. Those were Robert de Brus, 5th Lord of Annandale, John Balliol, John Hastings, and Floris V of Holland.
John Balliol managed to worm his way forward and was chosen by Edward I with the assumption that Edward of Carnarvon would succeed him. John Hastings was an English citizen and couldn’t inherit Scotland and Floris V was Count of Holland and too far removed from Scottish royalty. Plus, Evil Eddie had Floris V murdered. Because, you know. Evil.
Edward I did what Edward I was really good at. He treated Scotland like shit. He undermined John Balliol’s rule and treated Scotland like a vassal state, expecting monetary and military support for his wars with France and was just an all-around asshole.
Eventually, the Scots grew sick and tired of Edward I and started rebelling. Two men in particular, William Wallace and Andrew Moray, led several campaigns against the English. One of their biggest victories was at the Battle of Stirling Bridge where, vastly outnumbered, they managed to route the English army. John Balliol had been arrested by the English by this point and thrown in jail. Wallace and Moray were named Guardians of the Kingdom of Scotland on his behalf.
At the Battle of Falkirk, Wallace was defeated, though he managed to escape with his life. In 1298, Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland in favor of Robert the Bruce (grandson of the previous Robert de Brus) and John Comyn, John Balliol’s nephew. John Comyn had a decent-ish claim to the throne, being both a nephew of John Balliol and descended from another Scottish king, Donald III, though through a distant line. His descendants would make a few attempts at the crown but were never successful. You see Robert the Bruce in the movie, but Mel Gibson forgot about John Comyn. Which is too bad, seeing as how Robert the Bruce killed him. In a church. Oops. That would have been a fun plot point.
Before he died, John and Robert traded places back and forth a few times as Licker of Edward I’s Boot. One of the provisions of that nomination was handing Wallace over to the English, and Mel Gibson popped a retroactive stiffy when he was hanged, drawn, and quartered.
When Robert killed John in 1306, he moved quickly to take the crown, was proclaimed king, and finally told Edward I to go fuck himself (and the people rejoiced!).
He was forced into hiding the next year but made a comeback and won a resounding victory against Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Hostilities didn’t officially end until Edward II was overthrown by his wife, Isabella of France, and Edward III came to the throne.
Margaret Tudor married a descendent of Robert I, and all British monarchs after 1603 were descended from their granddaughter, Mary Queen of Scots.
Well, for starters, William Wallace was a minor noble, not a peasant. He didn’t have a lady love who was murdered by the English. No one wore kilts, as they weren’t introduced until several centuries later. Even when they were, they weren’t worn like that. The Irish never came to the Scots’ aid. In fact, the newly defeated Welsh came to England’s aid. Edward I did not have the hots for his son’s wife because 1) she was about 8 when the movie takes place and 2) he never cheated on his wife. No one conquered York. York is/was one of the largest and best defended cities in England and no one, certainly not a ragtag group of Scottish farmers, could take it. Edward II was not gay and he did not leave his wife a virgin. Edward II never had a friend/lover named Philip. It’s debatable if his friends (Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser) were his lovers, but he certainly wasn’t gay. Prima Nocte was not a thing. Wallace and Isabella of France never met, and sure as hell never had an affair. Scotland negotiated and maintained a long alliance with France called the Auld Alliance as a result of Edward I’s aggression. By the time Robert the Bruce fought the Battle of Bannockburn, he was already riding a sweep of victories against the English, not about to surrender.
Monuments, statues, plaques, movies, poems, and various other awards to William Wallace litter Scotland and the public consciousness. Most people have, unfortunately, forgotten about Andrew Moray, even though he was just as instrumental in the rebellion. Wallace was hanged, drawn, and quartered. Moray disappeared, although he probably died shortly after the Battle of Stirling Bridge from his injuries.
At the very least, the movie portrays Evil Eddie as an evil sack of garbage. Everything else…
I blame Mel Gibson.
Questions? Comments? Is there another 1990s historical movie you’d like me to trash? I can also be reached on Twitter @Rhydnara.