Many countries in the world have, or have had in earlier times, freedom fighters. In Scotland, one of the most famous is Sir William Wallace, who became known throughout the world from the film Braveheart. How many other famous freedom fighters can you think of?
Braveheart, from 1995, was directed by Mel Gibson, who also played the leading role. The film won 5 Academy Awards, including one for best picture and one for best director. The film tells the story of Sir William Wallace and his fight against Edward I of England, for the freedom of Scotland.
William Wallace lived from c.1270 to 1305. There are many stories connected with him, but little is known for sure about his early life. He was probably the son of a minor landowner. The Scottish king, Alexander III, died in an accident in 1286, and his granddaughter in 1290, leaving no direct heir. Edward I of England invaded Scotland in 1296 and demanded that the Scottish nobles recognize him as king.
Wallace, according to the tales about him, seems to have started out as a guerrilla fighter or, from the English point of view, a terrorist. He attacked and killed the sheriff of Lanark, who had murdered Wallace’s wife. In 1297, Wallace and Andrew Murray, the leader of a rebellion in the north-east, joined their forces together and met and routed the English army at Stirling Bridge.
After driving the English out of Scotland, Wallace was knighted and appointed the Guardian of Scotland for the absent king, John Baliol, who was a prisoner in England. However, many of the Scottish nobility did not support him. The English returned the following year and eventually defeated the Scots at Falkirk. Wallace escaped and though he had lost the battle, he had strengthened the Scots' resistance to the English. This resistance continued, now led by many of the nobles who previously had not supported Wallace.
Edward I invaded Scotland again in 1303 and conquered the Scots. The only thing remaining was to capture Wallace who symbolised Scotland’s resistance. The English king put a price on Wallace’s head and he was betrayed and captured in 1305. He was taken to London, tried and executed for treason in the barbaric way of being hung, drawn and quartered. His head was displayed on London Bridge as a warning to those who tried to oppose the English king. However, Edward I had created a martyr who became the symbol of Scotland’s opposition to the English and has continued to be so.
In 1997, the referendum to vote for the new Scottish Parliament was held on 11 September, the 700th anniversary of Wallace’s victory over the English at Stirling Bridge in 1297.
Working with the Film
- When and where is the film set?
- Who are the main characters?
- Describe William Wallace, his appearance and personality.
- What leadership qualities did he have?
- Who is the antagonist in the film?
- Apart from battles, what strategies does Longshanks (the King of England) use to defeat the Scots?
- How do the Irish fool the English at the Battle of Falkirk?
- William Wallace finds himself betrayed by Robert the Bruce and the other Scottish noblemen at the Battle at Falkirk. However, Robert the Bruce also received a "taste of his own medicine" later in the movie. Explain.
- How is the Prince of England portrayed in the movie?
- In what way does the Princess of England have "the last laugh" while the king is on his death bed?
- What makes a person lead the fight for his country’s freedom?
- What kind of personal qualities does he/she need?
- Do you think that he/she might have other reasons than just wanting to get rid of the invaders and be free?
Work in pairs/groups. One of you is a news reporter, the other is Wallace or Edward I. Carry out one of the interviews and then reverse roles.
- Interview Wallace at the beginning of his campaign.
- Interview him after his arrest.
- Interview King Edward I of England after the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
Write a newspaper report of your interview.
Is the film historically correct? You will find some comments on this at the following links: Braveheart Errors Medieval Scotland, Braveheart Errors Wikipedia (go to Historical Inaccuracies) and William Wallace.
- which of the main characters were real historical characters
- which of the battles were real events
- were the dates correct
Working with the Film - Answers
- At the end of the 13th century. Mainly in Scotland.
- William Wallace, Edward I King of England, Prince Edward, Princess Isabella, Robert the Bruce, Campbell
- For example: wild, impressive, tough, strong, sensitive, charismatic, intelligent, etc.
- Charismatic, strong bond to his followers, clear goals, etc.
- Edward I King of England
- He offers land and gold to Scottish noblemen in return for their allegiance to England and he re-enforces the law of First Night with the idea of "breeding out" the Scots.
- They lead the English to believe that they will fight on their side. However, they turn and join the Scots' army.
- Braveheart is invited to come and talk with Robert the Bruce and the noblemen. However, Robert the Elder and the noblemen have negotiated "the price" for Robert the Bruce's crown. That price being Wallace.
- weak, homosexual, naive, afraid of his father....
- The King has lost his ability to speak. Learning this, she tells him that she is pregnant with an illegitimate child (Wallace's). Furthermore, she tells him that she will ensure that the Prince does not have a long reign.
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