William Wallace, Scotland’s greatest hero, who was gruesomely executed in 1305. If you’ve heard of him, it’s probably thanks to Braveheart. The great 1995 movie that depicted a ‘Freedom!’ screaming Wallace, torn up by his wife’s murder at the hands of the English, and brandishing his ridiculously giant claymore sword to avenge her, as well as obtain freedom for the Scots. But Braveheart was historically inaccurate. Hugely inaccurate. So what facts do we know about the real William Wallace?
1# Stature or Statue?
To begin with, he likely didn’t look as damn sexy as Mel Gibson. In fact, we don’t even know how he looked at all. But that hasn’t stopped the Scots from dotting the entire country with statues and portraits of their greatest champion of independence, alongside King Robert the Bruce.
William origins are almost as obscure. Legends place his birth in Elderslie, Renfrewshire, around 1270. He was the son of Alan Wallace, a minor nobleman. Little William was believed to have travelled a lot, spending time in Rome, and learning several languages, including French and Latin. Sounds like William was the deadliest nerd ever.
2# Wallace’s wife and his revenge
In Braveheart, he is shown to fall in love with a Scottish peasant, called Murron, and begins a vendetta against the English when they kill her in cold blood. Blind Harry’s poem, Wallace (1478), depicts him as being in love with a woman called Marion Braidfute, and after she was murdered in Lanark, William killed the English Sheriff of Lanark, Sir William Heselrig, in retaliation. The later was a recorded event, however, there is no evidence of Marion’s existence. The truth is, Wallace was already a staunch opponent of English occupation before the Lanark incident. When the rest of the nobility submitted to Edward’s I claim of lordship over Scotland in 1291, and again in 1296, William refused.
3# Robert the Bruce. A betrayal?
William’s legend began during the First Scottish War of Independence (1296-1327), when he rallied and lead the kingless Scots, together with Andrew Murray, against the English King Edward I. Together, they defeated the English army in the Battle of Stirling Bridge, 11th September 1297. In Braveheart, Wallace gives an inspirational speech, and later the Scots tease the enemy by flashing their asses. Maybe you’re wondering why there was no bridge depicted in the movie, if it’s called Battle of Stirling Bridge. Mel Gibson doesn’t need a bridge to beat the bad guys ok?
But boy, the awesome dramatic scene where Gibson-Wallace is crushed after discovering the man he admires has betrayed him… speechless.
#4 William Wallace’s child
Let’s destroy another Braveheart myth, shall we? William Wallace didn’t bed the French wife of the Prince of Wales, Isabella. And he certainly didn’t leave her pregnant with the future Edward III. Isabella was born in 1295, making her only TWO years old during the events of the film. Sadly, William Wallace didn’t get his revenge against Edward by shagging his daughter-in-law, and placing Wallace Jr. on the English throne. But I reckon Hollywood couldn’t have thought of a nastier revenge.
Not much is known of William Wallace after he resigned his guardianship in 1298, but some letters exchanged between Philip IV of France and the Pope, hint that he might had been abroad, trying to enlist the support of the French and the Roman Church. William probably returned to Scotland in 1304, renviving his vow to bother Edward like a fly does to a horse. In fact, the rest of the Scottish nobility had laid down arms and surrendered. But William refused to hand himself over and, unyieldingly, kept skirmishing against the English as a fugitive.
On the 5th of August 1305 he was captured and handed to Edward by the knight, John de Menteith, NOT Robert the Bruce’s father, the nasty old leper in Braveheart. Wallace was mailed to London, where he was tried for treason. To which he replied, ‘I can’t be a traitor to Edward, for I’ve never been his subject’. On 23rd August, he was stripped naked and dragged through the streets to Smithfield. There, he was strangled, and while still alive, was disembowelled and castrated. Finally, William’s head was cut off, along with his limbs, and each one was sent to Newcastle, Perth, Stirling and Berwick. The head was put on top of a spike on London Bridge, as a warning to future rebels.
#6 William Wallace’s sword
The fearsome painted faces, the anachronistic kilts, and a giant sword. A fear-inspiring warrior, was Wallace in Braveheart. In such movies, the bigger the weapon, the more virile the character. But did William use such a colossal blade? It is suspected that the Wallace clan were actually prouder of their archery skills. A bow and arrow are depicted in William’s seal, in 1297, when he wrote a letter to the German city of Lübeck, as the Guardian of Scotland, to encourage trade.
Is it possible then, that the 13th century metal belonged to the original Wallace sword, and was later used to patch up a modern relic? Possibly. There’s no way of telling. Don’t blame the blacksmith responsible for it though. After all, haven’t you copied and pasted from other works for your university papers? The sword was heroic recycling.
#7 The modern symbol of freedom
In 1327, Robert the Bruce achieved Wallace’s dream, of a free, sovereign Scotland, 22 years after the legendary champion of independence had been executed. In 1304, William had been declared an outlaw, by the Scottish Parliament in Saint Andrews. But today, his name is evoked in defiance of tyranny, ringing with prideful patriotism in the fight to preserve human and political rights, against absolutism and abuse.
Guys like Wallace might not have what it takes to become successful rulers like Robert the Bruce. But humankind, for many centuries and those yet to come, has looked and will again look up to role models. Like the real William, a man of flesh and bones? No, rather like William Wallace, a symbol of hope and freedom.
Just saw the movie. Was wondering if he really banged that sweet Isabella ASS!
That sweet ass was just two years old when William fought his battles against the English so I think not
Having done my genealogy, I have just discovered to my surprise that William Wallace is my 23rd great-grandfather. I has been a real joy and source of inspiration to discover what strength of character I come from.
That’s so cool. He is still quite the hero in Scotland
But….as I understood it…..Wallace sired no children.
So…how’s he anyone’s great grandfather?
I’ve met two other people claiming Wallace heritage.
Neither were believable.
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Wallace still exists as surname true, because he wasn’t the only Wallace around. Wallaces today are not necessarily blood-related to William Wallace kin
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Response to concerns that Wallace was not married:
In those days, noblemen in Scottish clans married. Like other noble clan marriages at that time in history, marriages were kept secret because the English over-lord claimed a first right of bedding any new wife before the new husband, and so men wanted to protect their bride, and some kept their marriage secret as long as they could from the English. It is presumwd that he married Marion Braidfute of Lamington and their daughter was Elizabeth Wallace.
After William Wallace was executed by the reigning crown, his name was disgraced, and no one could risk being associated with him for about 100 years. His children were at risk of execution too. The children of the last Welsh Prince of Wales went into hiding too for centuries.
It is extremely unlikely he was not married. Even gay-inclined men married, as marriage and inheritance was the key way in the feudal economic system for each generation to further establish claims to property and feudal authority.
Marriage was above all a property contract. (Even today marriage is a property contract.) In the feudal period property conferred wealth and power. Property was passed on the basis of birthright. Men of noble lineage or property married women with similar noble lineage or property in the feudal period.
Jobs were determined by what your father did, and men married women whose father was in a similar class and profession. Princes married princesses, and fishermen married fisherman’s daughters. A match was rarely random, it with someone suitable for their inherited profession, and of the same religion, tribal or national loyalties.
Wallace was a nobleman and had a social obligation to identify suitable brides and limit falling in love with one who was suitable as a wife for his line of work. A nobleman’s job was to act as a warrior of behalf of those to whom was shared a fealty obligation of protection.
A wife was an alliance and contract with society as a whole not just between two people. Wars could be fought over noble marriages that harmed the populace it affected.
In Wallace’s day, the noblemen of Scottish clans were basically illegally booted out of their land rights by the English noble lines.
It would have been unseemly for a nobleman like Wallace to have no wife from a suitable Scottish family.
in that political era, there were some secret marriages, and after Wallace was executed, any descendant would have feared for their life to claim Wallace as an ancestor.
The Scottish clans were never reinstated, although gradually some married into English noble lines. In time, a great bulk of the dispossessed Scottish clans were pushed into emigrating to America. After the Battle of Culloden, the highland clans were murdered en masse and survivors fled to America. Later, the Highland Clearances saw the English set fire to thousands of Scottish clan homes at a time, leaving the dead and destitute.
The native Scotsman had very good reason to keep Wallace as an ancestor a secret. Wallace was once enemy number one of England, and the English would have suppressed any revitalization of the Scottish nationalistic claims of Wallace. In a feudal world where paternity was destiny, revealing the rebel Wallace as an ancestor would have been unwise.
How can that be? He had no children. There is no official record of him ever having a child. Who on earth is helping you with your geneology??
23rd Great Grandfather? Ughh? Excuse me! I am the 23rd great nephew of Sir William Wallace. He never had kids. Do your research!
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wow i am sure you have done your home work regarding Sir William Wallace from now on i will only take info regarding your 23rd Great Grandfather from you. i am so thrilled, would love to know more about this great man. about the film brave heart but a lot in the film is not true as you know.
How lucky to come from such great ancestors and such a beautiful country
Sorry, William Wallace left no children, nor, if he had any, knowledge of siblings.
family, professional genealogist/author
glad I found this page – I am currently reading jack whyte’s the forest laird and it is a page turner. since not much is really known about William Wallace, this allows for a lot of “artistic license” and I really like this version.
But the end is really gruesome and he never tells about the battle of Stirling bridge
Loved the book but very disappointing the way he ends
Hi John, in the link below you’ll find some supplementary information about the battle of Stirling Bridge. What aspects you didn’t like in the end? Thanks for the feedback
Interesting reading .