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Posted on Oct 2, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Behind the Real Braveheart Battle

By Ben Herndon

You don’t recall a bridge? Or a disastrous river crossing nearly 700 years later in Mel Gibson’s 1995 Oscar-winning epic “Braveheart?“ That’s because the filmmakers dispensed with strict historical fidelity for the Battle of Stirling, opting instead for a more sweeping treatment. Gibson admits as much on the commentary track of the “Braveheart” DVD, stating, “actually the battle of Stirling was not fought like this.” And speaking as a director, Gibson is probably right when he compares his movie version with historic reality by saying “it was not as cinematically compelling, I think, as what we devised.”

In “Braveheart”, rude behavior by the Scots lures the English cavalry directly into the nest of schiltrons — tightly packed spearmen with 12-foot long metal-tipped pikes. Then, with a hearty “Alba gu bra”, (Scotland Forever!”) Gibson leads the way – waving an enormous replica of the mighty “Braveheart” claymore sword.


Scottish actor and historian Jock Ferguson and my son atop the Wallace Monument

Scottish actor and historian Jock Ferguson and my son atop the Wallace Monument.

Gibson’s wild Highland Charge was not filmed in central Scotland, but on the Curragh plain in County Kildare, Ireland. The thousands of 13th century English foot soldiers were actually members of the Irish Army Reserve (who welcomed the chance to knock heads with British stuntmen.) When asked by the locals why there was no Stirling Bridge in “Braveheart”, the filmmakers claimed “the bridge got in the way.“

“Aye,” observed the locals. “That’s what the English found!”

Historical chronicler of the battle, Walter de Hemingford, the Canon of Guisborough, wrote, “there was indeed no better place in all the land to deliver the English into the hands of the Scots.”

The River Forth meanders through Stirling in large loops. After their crossing, the 2,000 English troops were forced to deploy onto a large land loop of treacherous, marshy ground surrounded on three sides by the river. The narrow bridge they had just crossed now proved to be a deadly bottleneck.

From the top of Abbey Craig signal horns now sounded the death knell for the English troops on the wrong side of the bridge (sorry, no skirl of bagpipes playing “Highland Laddie” – the first recorded use of pipes was at the Battle of Bannockburn, more than 15 years later.) Wallace and his strong right hand, Andrew de Moray, rode at the head of 600 warriors. They were brandishing Wallace’s contribution to Scottish warfare – more of those deadly schiltrons.

Wallace Monument atop Abbey Craig

Wallace Monument atop Abbey Craig.

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1 Comment

  1. Edward I was the “Hammer of the Scots” – not the “Anvil” lol.