What is the True Story?
For generations, William Wallace has been a hero to Scotland and a patron of freedom. After Mel Gibson�s portrayal of Wallace in the award winning movie, Braveheart, there was a dramatic rise in the popularity and recognition of the Scottish hero. The story of William Wallace has been passed down through many different generations. These generations include people of English, Scottish, and Irish decent, a few among many. All of these different cultures have passed down different versions of stories and records about William Wallace.
Since there are many different stories about the same man, historians and scholars find it difficult to determine the actual truth about William Wallace and his past. As a result, historians are often left with conflicting opinions about who William Wallace really was. Historians, therefore, disagree on such issues as the date of his birth, birthplace, facts concerning Wallace�s elimination of English tyranny in Scotland, and the roles Wallace played in battles with the English.
In this paper I am going to show the conflicting views about William Wallace�s life. I will use a wide variety of sources including the movie Braveheart�s script, Internet web pages, and written history in order to support my thesis. I will conclude with the fact that William Wallace was truly a worthy patriot of his native country Scotland. He fearlessly led his fellow patriots into battle, and gained freedom for Scotland from the tyrannical rule of the English King, Edward I.
In May of 1995 the film Braveheart came out in theaters. Braveheart is mainly a biographical movie about William Wallace. It portrays Wallace as a tall, strong, and brilliant man and military soldier. On many occasions, it shows Wallace defeating the English Army, which always outnumbered his troops. His most famous battle at Stirling Bridge is what many consider to be his most glorious battle. It is the battle in which he was outnumbered the most and in which he triumphed over this obstacle and managed to win freedom for all of Scotland. Braveheart, however, was written by Randall Wallace and directed by Mel Gibson. Both men are of Scottish decent and thus would have portrayed William Wallace in a great patriotic light. This is not meant to mean William Wallace was not a hero, but the two may have exaggerated such things as battles, intelligence, etc.
The movie, however, seems to avoid certain conflictions about his life. For example, in the script the young William Wallace was written as being at the age of eight when his father and brother died. Yet the year in which he was born is never mentioned. Many scholars debate about the possible years in which he could have been born. According to James Mckay, his research provides him that the best date is either the year 1272 or 1273, although many other scholars place it anywhere from 1260 to 1278. The reasons placed behind the disbelief of such numbers is simple. If he were born in 1260 then at the time that he fought the English at Stirling he would be 37 years old, which is a bit beyond the normal life expectancy for someone at that time. If he were born in 1278 then he would only be 19 at the time that he fought the English and therefore, this would seem somewhat ridiculous because there would not be a great amount of time in which he could learn such amazing military tactics that were used at Stirling. However, if it is stated that he was born in 1272 then there is a hole of about 5 years in between his defeat at Falkirk and his capture by the English. Explanation of this period of question is thought to be that this is the period in which Wallace hid out in the forests, slowly gathering troops and ambushing and destroying anything that had an English insignia on it.
Another debate about his life that is avoided by the movie is his place of birth. Over time as with many stories, words and their meanings have gotten a little mixed up. This mix up has been traced back no later than the Eighteenth century. All belief of Wallace�s birthplace has been derived from the fact that he was raised in Ellerslie. His father was also raised in Auchenbothie and Ellerslie. Since Auchenbothie is in Renfrewshire it has been believed that Ellerslie has referred to the Renfrewshire town of Elderslie. This is wrong, it should be noted that Ellerslie and Elderslie did both exist, yet Ellerslie is the actual birthplace of William Wallace.
Another topic under heavy debate between scholars is William Wallace�s size. In the movie there is a line which boasts him as over seven foot tall. While this line is meant to portray the legendary status of Wallace throughout Scotland, it is also meant to symbolize that he was a tall man. Many people state the fact that the average height during that point in history was a little over five feet. However, two arguments show this may be false in the case of William Wallace. First is the example of King Edward I. Many scholars note Edward I, whose nickname was Longshanks, to be a man of considerably above average height. If this is the case for Edward I, could it not also be true for William Wallace? Another example is William Wallace�s sword. It is believed that Wallace had a legendary 5 foot long sword. The sword that is believed to be his is kept in The New National Wallace Monument in Stirling. This sword is so long and heavy it is obvious that the man that used it had to be both of great physical stature and over six feet six inches tall. Thus it is believed that William Wallace was six feet seven inches tall.
As stated before, Wallace had to be of great physical strength and stature in order to carry such a sword, yet a few people are undefinitive of whether or not he was strong and intelligent. However, the other argument brought about is that he was knighted by the nobles of Scotland and pronounced, "The Guardian of Scotland". Would a man who is weak and unable to think quickly in battle be relied upon to be the guardian of a country? In order for a man to become a leader, he had to either be born into such a title, or earn his rank with feats of battle. At times such as these battle prowess depended upon your quick thinking, physical strength, and daring feats. It is hard to imagine William Wallace as a weak man if this is true.
Some scholars debate about the way William Wallace fought in battle. This is also part of the debate about his physical stature. It is portrayed in the movie that he fought with an intense anger. An anger brought about by the killing of his love, Marian Braidfoot (even the spelling of this woman�s name is debated. It is found in many different spellings). This is untrue. It is known that in 1291 William Wallace got into a skirmish with a young Englishman named Selby. Selby attempted to pick a fight with William and Wallace proceeded to kill Selby and either murder or wound the few friends that accompanied Selby. He ran to his uncle�s house and was hidden from the clutches of the English. From here William fled and joined another uncle, Sir Richard Wallace and stayed with him until April 1292. After living with this uncle for quite some time he yet again encountered Englishmen. This time it was five English soldiers passing by as he was fishing. The men attempted to take his fish and when William stood up for himself one of the soldiers lunged at him. William struck him with his fishing pole and stole his sword with which he smote down 2 of the other soldiers. The other two escaped. With these two scenarios being before he met his love, Marian, it is quite believable that this rage against the English came from something other than the killing of Marian. Quite possibly it was the tyrannical rule of Scotland or the constant presence of English soldiers in his homeland.
A lot of debate is also centered around who actually betrayed him into the hands of the English. In Braveheart it is shown as Robert the Bruce who betrayed him. Some scholars claim that it was Scotsman John Mentieth, and even other�s say it was Mentieth�s servant. Most likely it is how James McKay writes it. Robert the Bruce had wanted a meeting with Wallace. Wallace and his page went to meet with the Bruce for seven nights in a row, each time finding the Bruce had not shown. The eighth night Mentieth, under orders from King Edward, followed Wallace and his page as they made their way back home. The two supposedly had been sleeping, and this is when Mentieth�s men seized William. Wallace awoke to find no weapons next to his bed and killed two men with his bare hands before being told by Mentieth that there were almost 60 knights and guards awaiting outside and that resistance was futile. Wallace then gave up and arrived outside only to find a few of Mentieth�s men, hardly worthy of being called knights.
After Wallace was caught he was taken to London to be executed. His crime was treason of the King of England, although he never swore allegiance to him. He was stretched, beaten, disemboweled, had his entrails set aflame, and yet he did not ask for mercy from the English magistrate.
This paper was meant to single out a few of the many debates about William Wallace. Among the questions discussed, it seems clear that he was born in Ellerslie in the year 1272. It should be believed that William Wallace was a giant man, towering almost one foot and seven inches over the average man�s height at six feet seven inches. He was well built and very strong. Being taught by priests as a young man he was very brilliant and used this intellect and quick thinking on the battlefield. William Wallace fought with a passion, a passion that arose from the hatred of the English. He was betrayed by one of his own countrymen and given into the hands of the English. It is in this way that he was brutally murdered for treason to a King he never swore loyalty to. William Wallace died a criminal to the English but a martyr to his fellow Scotsman. William Wallace truly earned his title, "The Guardian of Scotland". Wallace guarded his homeland from the English with a passion brought about by his family�s motto, "Pro Libertate", which, in Latin means, "For Freedom".