How historically accurate is Braveheart
Braveheart was a very popular movie in 1995 that featured Mel Gibson playing the role of William Wallace, a Scottish knight who became a hero in the Scottish rebellions against the English in the late 13th and early 14th century. The significance of the movie is it helped to inspire Scottish national pride while also, to some, represent an early, Medieval warrior who fought for freedom for himself and his people. While much of the story depicted did occur, including the English occupation of Scotland during the time of Edward I, king of England, the depiction of the revolt against the English and other events do not correspond well to historical accounts
Early Years of William Wallace
In the movie, William Wallace is suggested to have traveled in Europe during the early years of Edward I's occupation of England. However, in reality little is known about Wallace's early years. First, it is assumed Wallace came from a noble family; two villages are often claimed as his birth places (Elderslie and Ellerslie), both on the western part of Scotland. We do know that Wallace was an experienced swordsman and knight, which indicates he may have fought in wars prior to his own rebellion and participation in the wars against the English. In fact, one possibility is he fought with king Edward I as a mercenary during that king's wars against the Welsh. That may have been the most feasible path for him to have gained fighting experience and possibly learn about English war tactics.
Revolt Against the English
In the movie, the trigger that led to William Wallace to fight against the English was the death of his wife, who was killed by the English. In fact, no records exist of William Wallace having ever been married. However, a later poem did mention he had a wife that was killed and it led him to seek revenge. More likely, Wallace was either ambitious to break English authority or resented English occupation of his ancestral lands. This could have been a more likely trigger for him to become one of the chief early rebels. In fact, in the movie, Wallace's actions are suggested as the trigger to a wider rebellion that started against the English. However, a rebellion across various parts of Scotland had already started, with William Wallace joining William, Lord of Douglas as an ally. One of the first major acts of rebellion was the assassination of the Sheriff of Lanark, William Heselrig. The account by Thomas Grey does indicate a woman or girl present with William Wallace. Some have suggested this was his wife. Similar to the movie, Wallace may have left the town initially then came back with some supporters to lead an attack where the Sheriff was then killed. As the events occurred at the same time as other rebellious acts across Scotland, the attack may have been a premeditated and coordinated event.
The first major battle William Wallace fought in was the Battle of Sterling Bridge. In the movie, the English are tricked into marching their heavy cavalry into a trap, with the resulting infantry slaughtered in a futile charge. In reality, the battle was one by the Scottish because the English became trapped on Sterling Bridge, where they were not able to use their superior numbers. Many English soldiers fell in the river and likely died from drowning as the bridge may have collapsed during the battle.