What Happened To The Real William Wallace (& What Braveheart Leaves Out)

Warning: This article contains descriptions of Medieval torture. 

Mel Gibson's Academy-Award-winning film Braveheart focuses on the life and legacy of Sir William Wallace - but leaves out certain details regarding his final fate. Sir William Wallace was a Scottish knight who fought during the First War of Scottish Independence, which lasted from 1296 to 1328. Although the legend of Wallace often conflicts with the reality, there's still historical documentation of his deeds during his lifetime, many of which are emphasized in Blind Harry's 15th-century epic poem that chronicles the Scottish warrior's legacy, The Wallace.


The Wallace would serve as inspiration for Mel Gibson's 1995 film, Braveheart, which takes a healthy amount of creative deviations from the actual history of Wallace's life while also encapsulating his true legacy. Braveheart was written by Randall Wallace, who was inspired to write the film after visiting Scotland. Gibson directed Braveheart and played Wallace, with the movie ultimately winning five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Related: The Northman's Trick Means It Beats Both Gladiator And Braveheart

The end of Braveheart features Wallace's capture, trial, and death, which is a harrowing experience to watch, especially after being won over by the character throughout the film. There is much that the ending gets right about Wallace's end, including his statement that he never swore allegiance to King Edward I (played by Columbo actor Patrick McGoohan) and thereby could not be a traitor. His execution is portrayed in mostly accurate fashion but does leave out some key details that make his death much worse than portrayed onscreen. In the film, he is brought to his place of execution in front of a mob, where he is hanged, then eviscerated (offscreen) before being decapitated. While it's difficult to watch, the lengthier death he suffered, in reality, is much worse.

What Braveheart Left Out About William Wallace's Death

In 1305, Wallace was captured and brought to London, where a "show trial" was put on. He was charged with high treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered the following day. Stripped naked and dragged by horses from Westminster Hall to Smoothfield, Wallace was beaten with sticks and whips by an angry mob, who also threw trash and feces at him as he was led to the gallows. There, his true pain began, as he was hanged almost to the point of death, then emasculated and eviscerated, having his intestines burned in front of him. In Braveheart, this horrific torture is implied but not seen, choosing to omit the more gruesome historical aspects in similar fashion to Gibson's The Patriot.

The last steps of Wallace's real-life death were having his heart cut out and displayed to the crowd before being beheaded. One would think this was enough, but the quartered aspect of his punishment was still to come. Wallace was cut into four pieces, and each piece was put on display at various locations throughout England, including Berwick, Stirling, Perth, and Newcastle, while his head was dipped in tar and stuck on a pike on London Bridge. All this was done as a display to show King Edward I's might and dissuade future Scottish rebellions. However, it would only serve to revitalize the Scottish independence efforts, as Robert the Bruce would lead the rebellion to Scottish independence in 1314, nine years after the sacrifice of Wallace.

The Legacy Of William Wallace In Other Films

There are two recent notable films that also focus on the aftermath of William Wallace's death aside from Braveheart. The first is a 2019 spinoff sequel, Robert The Bruce, which sees Angus Macfadyen reprising the role of the would-be King of Scotland as he recovers from battle injuries in the wake of restarting the rebellion and coming to terms with his future role as King of Scotland. Outlaw King, released in 2018 by Netflix, starred Chris Pine as Robert The Bruce, tracing his journey to the Scottish crown and rebellion against England directly after Wallace's death, and even features a scene that shows the left quarter of Wallace hung on a bridge.