Historical Events  People
William Wallace

William Wallace (Braveheart) wore a kilt

William Wallace (Braveheart) did not wear a kilt

They'll never take our freedom!

The first thing that pops into many people's minds when they think of Scottish men is a noble windswept figure on the glen, proudly displaying his kilt.

This image has been portrayed so many times it's ingrained deeply in the world's minds for generations. But has it always been so?

No Scotsman fulfils the image of a fierce warrior fighting for his country more than William Wallace, who was famously brought to the big screen in Braveheart, played by Mel Gibson. Wallace lived in the late 1200s, and it's now come to light that this image of him, and the one generally regarded, means things are not quite right in the clothing department.

The background of Wallace

Its not known who the parents of William Wallace were for certain apart from some differing reports of his father's name being Alan, but it is recorded that he was a minor member of the nobility.

His fame comes undoubtedly from his victory over the English in 1297 at the Battle of Stirling Bridge during the First Scottish Independence War, and this was brought to the masses via Hollywood in Mel Gibsons 1995 Braveheart movie. This depicts most soldiers wearing kilts, but it turns out it's just playing to the masses here, and reinforcing the stereotype, because they were definitely not what the soldiers would choose for battle. In fact, they would have looked similar to the English soldiers, wearing chain leggings when on horseback and a long shirt, again made of chain, which would have had their coat of arms laid over it. It's likely they wore bright yellow shirts, with no Tartan in sight at all.

Afterward, however, things changed dramatically. The kilt was indeed adopted as the Scottish national battle garment from the 16th century onwards, and it became such a prominent symbol that it was actually made illegal by the English in 1746. It was seen as an act of rebellion against the English to wear one. Offenders were instantly given 6 months in jail for the first offence. On the second they were sent to the colonies for 7 years. The law was rescinded in 1782.

It must be pointed out the kilt worn in battle was not the one we think of today. The weather and environment wasn't that different, so instead it was more of a total body garment up to 12 layers deep. It would, however, have had the distinctive Tartan pattern we'd recognise today.

So no, unfortunately it was far too early for Braveheart to have worn one, and history seems to have conflated the idea he did over the generations since. It's not just the movies either, many statues and paintings continue to perpetuate this myth.

There are other issues too. It's well-known the Braveheart movie took many liberties with the truth, but some historians go further and argue Wallace was probably not a highlander, but also quite possible Welsh, and not Scottish at all. These will have to be left for another day...