Stirling work by William Wallace
‘They can take away our lives, but they can’t take away our freedom!’ shouts William Wallace (Mel Gibson) from his horse before the battle of Stirling Bridge. The writers of Braveheart, the movie might also say they can’t take away our creative licence!
Maybe someone should!
We at the Creative Licence Police submit the following evidence:
Men in kilts in thirteenth century Scotland. Kilts did not become fashion until the Seventeenth century. In the thirteenth century they wore whatever they could find to keep them warm.
But this is Hollywood’s version of Scotland. The accent and the highland scenery just aren’t enough to go on; heavens above, people might wonder where on earth these people lived if they didn’t have kilts on!
Gibson’s blue face paint was also well out of use by Wallace’s time. The Picts in Roman Briton wore it to scare away Romans, but that was a thousand years before.
It is true that William Wallace led a rebellion against the English in the battle of Stirling Bridge, the first major battle of Scottish Independence, on 11th September 1297. What is not evident in the movie is a bridge.
The bridge, which was narrow and only allowed two cavalry horses abreast, was an essential part of the tactical victory. The Scots were lying in wait on the north of the river. John De Warenne, the Earl of Sussex, who with Hugh De Cressingham (Edward l’s treasurer in Scotland) led the English forces, fatally underestimated how effective the new Scottish army had become under Wallace. History reports that on the morning of the battle De Warenne slept in!
When the advance guard, about five thousand English and Welsh infantry and a few hundred cavalry, had made their way over the bridge, the Scottish troops viciously attacked them and they were cut off from the rest of De Warenne’s army. Hugh De Cressingham was flayed alive according to the Lanercost Chronicle, and Wallace took a long piece of his skin to make a baldrick (a belt-like holster) for his sword. Snazzy.
In Braveheart we are led to believe that the Scottish spearmen used shiltrons, those circular hedgehog formations of spears that were so impenetrable to the English forces, but there is no record of this formation being used at Stirling Bridge.
There is however mention of it at the Battle of Falkirk, where Wallace was defeated. It was also used later at Bannockburn in 1314, another decisive victory in the Scottish War of Independence in which Stirling was once again of strategic importance. The English had been on their way to re-capture Stirling Castle when they were defeated at Bannockburn.
But back to the Battle of Stirling Bridge, and Wallace’s triumph. After seeing five thousand infantry and a hundred cavalry so readily killed, and the rest fleeing for their lives, De Warenne, who waited on the south side of the bridge with a healthy contingent of archers, was still in a good position to succeed, but the poor man had lost his confidence and, frankly, who can blame him?. He ordered the destruction of the bridge and retreated.
Many historians believe William Wallace was already a knight at the time of Battle of Stirling. Though Braveheart’s writers depicted him as a pauper, in fact he may have been the son of a laird, a Scottish landowner, though there is scant evidence to prove these points either way.
Stirling Bridge was rebuilt further downstream in 1500, but the stone piers of the earlier wooden structure remain, and can still be seen occasionally when the water level is low, a remnant of that bloodthirsty day.
Archie Gibson is a member of the support team at www.HighlandTitles.com. Highland Titles sells plots of Scottish land to people all over the world, many of whom have an affinity with Scotland and Great Britain.