Behind the Real Braveheart Battle
Hollywood has often played fast and loose when portraying the story behind historic battles. No matter how intriguing the real story behind great conflicts, the studios and screenwriters have never let the facts get in the way of a rattling good action scene. The recent WWII epic “Pearl Harbor” had scenes with schoolboys playing baseball and housewives hanging laundry around 7:30a.m. in the morning — pretty early to be up an around on the Day of Infamy.
And then there’s the classic Errol Flynn classic “They Died With Their Boots On” — an exciting swashbuckler of a Western. But “Boots” no more gives an accurate depiction of General Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Bighorn than if they’d shown Custer facing invaders from Mars.
On the other hand, films like “Enemy At The Gates” and “Gettysburg” get high marks for an essentially accurate portrayal of, respectively, the 1942 Battle of Stalingrad and the American Civil War’s bloody turning point.
After a vacation to Scotland, a recent re-viewing of Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning “Braveheart” started me wondering — how authentic is that film’s big set piece, the Battle of Stirling?
Wallace Monument in the distance as seen from the battlements of Stirling Castle.
Cast your imagination back 700 years ago – when King Edward I, the Anvil of the Scots, sent nearly 7,000 men north to wipe out the Highlanders rallying under Sir William Wallace once and for all. Three times since sunrise on the morning of September 11th, 1297, the English troops crossed the River Forth. Only wide enough for two horsemen to ride abreast, the narrow Stirling Bridge would prove to be the gateway to a death trap.
Frustratingly, the English had been recalled to cross again since John de Warrene, the Earl of Surrey, had not yet risen. The vanguard re-crossed the bridge — and were recalled yet again –when Scottish nobles James the Stewart and the Earl of Lennox arrived to report on lack of progress in some last minute peace talks. The Guardian of Scotland, Sir William Wallace, had responded to entreaties of surrender with the famous retort, "take back this reply, that we are not here to make peace but to do battle, to defend ourselves, and liberate our kingdom. Let them come on and we shall prove this in their very beards!”
By the time the English army had crossed the Stirling Bridge for the third and final time that day, their tactics had been well telegraphed to Wallace from his vantage high on the Abbey Craig north of the river. Confident of an easy victory, the English sent only 2,000 men, including cavalry, archers, and foot soldiers across the River Forth to meet the enemy. They would quickly find themselves trapped on the wrong side of the bridge — wiped out by a fierce counter-attack from 6,000 Scotsmen.
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