History of the World According to the Movies: Part 22 – Renaissance France and Scotland

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A scene from the 1971 film on Mary, Queen of Scots starring Vanessa Redgrave in the title role where she marries her half-cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley in a Catholic ceremony. Sure this may look like a fairy tale wedding to some people but those who know anything about the story of Mary, Queen of Scots knows that it all goes downhill from there. Seriously, Darnley was a real jerk as Timothy Dalton played him.

Of course, if there’s a movie about Tudor England, chances are that you will have either France or Scotland as their enemies (or Spain but that’s for another post). Nevertheless, these countries go well together with the Renaissance era since they both had Catholic monarchs as well as a large number of Protestants in them. It also helps that Mary, Queen of Scots grew up in France and was married to the French king (I’m not kidding on this for her first husband was Francis II). France during the 1500s was ruled by the Valois family as well as the place where the Catholic and Protestant clashes came to a head with religious wars and the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Yet, you also had a guy like Henri of Navarre who was willing to convert to Catholicism and marry a French princess so the country could be at peace. Of course, once he ascended the French throne, he issued the Edict of Nantes which brought religious toleration to the Catholic country. Then you have Scotland, home of Mary, Queen of Scots who was one of the most unlucky monarchs of history with a poor choice of men as well as a Catholic queen in a country with a Protestant majority population. Not to mention, she’d end up abdicate for her son and would later be beheaded by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I in England. Nevertheless, movies about Renaissance Scotland and France do contain their share of errors which I shall list accordingly.

France:

Catherine de’ Medici:

Catherine de’ Medici instigated the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. (Sure she was anything but a saint and she saw little wrong with the travesty, but she’s probably innocent of starting the whole thing. Also, she was planning to ally herself with the Navarre family who were Protestants. The massacre was probably more likely a spur of the moment thing started by the Guise family because of the marriage between Medici’s daughter and Henri of Navarre. And the Guises were more extremist Catholics than the French royal family. Still, Henri Duke of Guise would later apologize for the whole affair and put the Huguenots under his personal protection.)

Catherine de’ Medici poisoned Queen Jeanne III of Navarre. (Jeanne died of natural causes but people suspected poison.)

Henri III:

Veronica Franco slept with French King Henri III and convinced him of a Franco-Venetian alliance. (Yes, she did sleep with him while he visited Venice, but she didn’t convince him to ally with the city-state. She wrote poems for him as well as dedicated poetic works to the French king though.)

Henri, Duke of Anjou (later King Henri III) had a clothing obsession and dressed in drag in front of the English court of Queen Elizabeth I. (Yes, he did like clothes and occasionally dressed in drag. Yet, he never actually went to England or met Queen Elizabeth I. His brother Francois did and was one of Elizabeth’s few suitors to court her in person earned the nickname of “Frog.”)

King Henri III was a flaming cross dresser. (Yes, he was a cross dresser but he was anything but gay since the number of female mistresses he had was unaccountable. Thus, he was more of a cross dressing skirt chaser extraordinaire.)

Henri III had an incestuous relationship with his aunt Scottish Queen mother Mary of Guise. (They never had a sexual relationship. Also, they never met or were blood related. She was just his brother’s mother-in-law. Oh, and Mary of Guise was a member of an extremely Catholic family in France who were rivals to the Valois royals.)

Marguerite of Valois:

Marguerite of Valois’s lover Joseph La Mole was wounded by marauding Catholics during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. (This is based on a true story, but she claimed the man was a different guy named Monsieur de Teian. Still, it’s said she and La Mole were involved, but that’s as far as it goes.)

Marguerite of Valois was a beautiful ivory skin brunette as well as poisonous. (From contemporary portraits I’ve seen of her, she seems to have lighter hair as well as bears a strong resemblance to Catherine de Medici {who wasn’t the most attractive woman}. However, she probably got by on her fashion sense and personality since she had a string of lovers. Also, she was used more as an unwilling pawn than anything.)

Other:

Charles IX died of arsenic poisoning and was mistakenly assassinated by his family. (He died of tuberculosis, not poison. Also, his family wasn’t trying to assassinate Henri of Navarre for he was too valuable for them to kill.)

Catherine de’ Medici’s children committed incest together while Henri III had feelings for his mother. (This is highly unlikely, but this was probably started by Alexandre Dumas in his novel  Le Reine Margot.)

Diane de Poitiers plead the king for mercy on behalf of her husband Count Louis de Breze who’s been charged with treason while the adult prince Henri wrestled with his groom. (It was her father who was charged with treason which was in 1523 when Prince Henri was 4 years old.)

Stuart Scotland:

Mary of Guise:

Queen mother Mary of Guise rode in front of her troops on the battlefield with both legs over the horse. (Even a reigning queen wouldn’t ride in front of her troops {and she actually refused to do so} as well as rode side-saddle. Oh, and she sent a fleet against the English and rebelling Scottish Protestant landlords with a fleet.)

Queen mother Mary of Guise was killed by Francis Walsingham. (She died in June 1560 of dropsy realizing she had it the previous April.)

Mary, Queen of Scots:

Mary, Queen of Scots made decisions based on her emotions. (There were perfectly logical theories why she’d marry Darnley and Bothwell, neither of these guys were good men.)

Mary, Queen of Scots was petite. (She was said to be 6 feet tall.)

Mary, Queen of Scots approved the murder of her husband Lord Darnley. (We don’t know whether she approved or not {though many historians think she was innocent} but still, having him alive wasn’t going to make her life better and it’s not like the guy didn’t deserved it because he was kind of a bastard. I mean the guy killed one of her friends in front of her while she was pregnant. He was also said to have died under mysterious circumstances. Also, the authenticity of the Casket Letters has been hotly debated.)

Mary, Queen of Scots was abused by her jailer. (Her jailer, Amyas Paulet treated her rather well.)

Mary, Queen of Scots had a Scottish accent. (She had been living in France since she was a child and was once married to the French king. She would’ve had a French accent.)

Mary, Queen of Scots had a West Highland White terrier. (It appeared in Scotland in the 19th century.)

Mary, Queen of Scots was executed for no reason. (She was involved in the Babington Plot which was a conspiracy to put herself on the English throne {though she wasn’t originally a part of it though getting her in might have been a job by Francis Walsingham}.)

Mary, Queen of Scots was blonde. (She was a redhead.)

Mary, Queen of Scots was executed by a single swift axe stroke. (It took two ax strokes to lop her head off with the executioner using the axe as a saw. Some said it took three.)

Mary, Queen of Scots’ execution was held indoors. (It took place in the great hall at Fotheringay castle, which isn’t near the Scottish mountains but in flat English countryside.)

Mary, Queen of Scots had James VI of Scotland (or James I of England) at the Earl of Bothwell’s estate. (He was born in Edinburgh castle.)

Mary, Queen of Scots was pretty right up to her execution. (She wore a wig at the time and had suffered from wearing lead based makeup. Oh, and she died at 44 and had been in custody at various places.)

It was only the English Protestants who wanted Mary, Queen of Scots dead. (The Continental Catholic powers might’ve been involved as well. After all, who would support the overthrow of a Protestant monarchy for a woman shacking up with her husband’s killer? She was worse than worthless to them alive.)

Mary, Queen of Scots escaped with the Earl of Bothwell after the Rizzio murder. (She didn’t. She actually escaped with Darnley, believe it or not.)

Mary, Queen of Scots married her last two husbands for love. (Darnley maybe, but Bothwell, no way.)

Mary, Queen of Scots was romantically involved with her secretary David Rizzio. (They weren’t involved but Darnley did suspect it. Still, there’s no question that Darnley was the father of James I of England.)

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley:

Lord Darnley had a homosexual affair with David Rizzio. (He was actually jealous of Rizzio for his association with his wife, which was the reason he killed him.)

Lord Darnley was sent to Scotland to woo Mary, Queen of Scots. (It was to help his dad, Lennox with financial stuff.)

Lord Darnley was a member of one England’s oldest Catholic families at the time. (His dad was an exiled Scottish lord while his mother was a Tudor and a Douglas. Also, he was Mary’s half-cousin who did have rights to the Stuart crown.)

Lord Darnley was in love with Mary, Queen of Scots. (He probably didn’t love her.)

Lord Darnley had syphilis in the days following his death. (We’re not sure what he had or whether it was syphilis, smallpox, fever, or poisoning. Yet, it didn’t kill him.)

Lord Darnley had set the explosion at Kirk o’ Field to kill his wife Mary, Queen of Scots. (We’re pretty sure that he didn’t set the explosion.)

James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell:

The Earl of Bothwell and Mary, Queen of Scots had a loving relationship. (I don’t think Mary felt any love for this man.)

The Earl of Bothwell was at Mary and Darnley’s wedding. (He was in exile at the time.)

James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell was in love with Mary, Queen of Scots and thought about her best interests. (Bothwell wasn’t exactly what you’d call a nice guy. Sure most historians believe that he killed Lord Darnley but that’s not the worst thing he did {actually he kind of did Mary a favor}. He squandered his fiancée out of her possessions and later abandoned her {which will later cause him to spend the last ten years of his life in prison}. He was said to have gotten divorced from his first wife for fooling around with a servant {or because he had his eye on Mary or the crown}. Then there’s how he managed to get hitched to Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary, Queen of Scots says that the two were in love and she freely consented. But actual historical accounts say that they were just friends before the two married and that Bothwell was more or less after her for power. Also, Bothwell might have even kidnapped and raped her in order to secure her marriage to her and the crown. Not to mention, they were married in a Protestant rite, which wouldn’t be what Mary had in mind. Still, Mary’s marriage to Bothwell was one of the reasons why she was forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son James VI {who’d eventually become James I of England} and was later imprisoned by her own people before Elizabeth I got her.)

The Earl of Bothwell was executed by dragging. (He died in a Danish prison.)

James Stewart, Earl of Moray:

The Earl of Moray plotted against Mary, Queen of Scots and wished to use his half-sister as a figurehead. (Despite their religious differences, Mary, Queen of Scots and the Earl of Moray seemed to get along rather well. He only turned against Mary in opposition to her marriage to Lord Darnley but he was pardoned after returning to Scotland from seeking shelter in England.)

Other:

Scottish lords wore kilts in Mary, Queen of Scots’ court. (Scottish lords didn’t wear kilts in 16th century Scotland.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 8- Medieval Scotland

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Braveheart: How Mel Gibson killed history for the sake of entertainment. Sure it has inspirational tidbits like “You can take our lands but you’ll never take our FREEEEEDDDDDOOOOMMMMMM!” Yet, it’s notoriously one of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made, which is sad considering that there aren’t a lot of movies about medieval Scotland. Yet, use any image of Mel Gibson in a kilt and blue paint, and medieval historians will scream in absolute horror. A historic travesty of 1995.

While most medieval movies usually take place in either England or France, movies on medieval Scotland deserve special mention since the most historically accurate movie on anything related to Scotland in the Middle Ages is a Disney Pixar film. Yes, you hear me. Scotland during the Middle Ages may not get much attention in movies, but when it does, they usually tend to be very historically inaccurate. Of course, most historians don’t mind when it comes to filming Macbeth because it’s a notable Shakespearean play with great literary value (though it makes Richard III look historically accurate in comparison). Besides, most people don’t know that Macbeth was a real guy. However, Macbeth was a real Scottish king who did come to power through killing his predecessor Duncan as well as ended up dead when Duncan’s son Malcolm challenged his rule. However, the historical Macbeth was never the guy depicted by Shakespeare nor were some of the characters either. Also, who knows what Lady Macbeth was like for there’s little information about her. Still, though a more historically accurate Macbeth would merit a very different story, most people don’t watch the play on its lack of historic merits anyway. Besides, Shakespeare probably had some excuse to depict such events as inaccurately as he did like James I, for instance. And then you got Braveheart which managed to win Oscars despite being one of the most historically inaccurate movies of all time that most of the errors I will list come from this very movie. And no other movie has ever made medieval historians cry in sheer anger and disgust over what Hollywood would ever consider such historical disasterpiece as something worthy of critical acclaim, let alone film awards. Many historians would think that Monty Python and the Holy Grail has more historical merits than this. And when you’re historical epic has more inaccuracies than a movie with killer rabbits, you have a problem. Sure, Gibson probably wasn’t aiming for historical accuracy and used the screenplay from a guy who claimed descent from William Wallace. However, now that this historical piece of shit may now be on its way on becoming a classic, most people unfamiliar with William Wallace and the Scottish Wars of Independence may now actually take Gibson’s vision of Scottish history seriously. Yes, unfortunately, people tend to believe things presented in historical movies regardless of the weight of inaccuracy. At least the guys making Spartacus had some concern for accuracy which is why the 1960 film is actually more historically reliable than the Howard Fast novel it’s based on. But you don’t see the concern for authenticity in Braveheart. And this it will be forever by trashed by medieval and Scottish historians as well as anyone who actually cares about history in general. I mean, I don’t expect historical movies to be 100% accurate, but not with an inaccuracy level like Braveheart. Nevertheless, here’s what Hollywood gets wrong about Scottish history.

Scottish men like William Wallace wore kilts during the Middle Ages. They also painted their faces and all armies wore uniforms in battle. (William Wallace’s men actually wore saffron shirts, not kilts for they didn’t come around until much later and so did army uniforms. Not to mention, they haven’t painted their faces since the Dark Ages.)

Prior to the 13th century, Scotland had always been subject to English rule. (Actually it had enjoyed a century of peace before Edward I tried to take it for himself when Scotland was in a messy political crisis regarding succession. The English were backstabbing encroachers, not overlords.)

Banquo and Fleance are the ancestors of the Stuart monarchs. (Shakespeare made up these guys to satisfy James I who was descended from Duncan.)

Bagpipes were outlawed in 13th century Scotland. (They weren’t and were very popular in England.)

There was no Stirling Bridge in the Battle that bears its name. (There too was a bridge, but Gibson wanted to save money. Also, Andrew Moray, the man instrumental in that battle is absent from the film.)

There were Irish conscripts at the Battle of Falkirk. (There’s no record of this.)

Most noblemen in Scotland were Gaels. (They were culturally similar to English nobles and would’ve dressed more like their English counterparts. Also, many of them were related to English royalty, spoke a Scottish dialect of English and/or Anglo-Norman French.)

The sons of Scottish knights dressed in rags. (Even poor Scots would know how to sew or at least was related to someone who did. Even poor people couldn’t afford to have their clothes disintegrate for being unhemmed.)

13th Century Scottish men had long hair they braided as well as tied bits of fur and feathers even though it was messy most of the time. (There’s no reason to think this.)

Pikes were used against the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. (They were at Falkirk though.)

Macbeth:

Macbeth was only King of Scotland for two years after he killed Duncan in his bed just to get his throne. (For one, Macbeth ruled Scotland for 17 years {which proves he wasn’t a weak ruler} and even spent a several month trip to receive a blessing from the Pope. He was also known as a good king known for his charity, not a bad king who slaughtered his friends {he was actually good to his friends}. As to Duncan’s death, Macbeth killed Duncan in battle because Duncan was encroaching on his territory so the motive was self-defense after a failed invasion in England. And it was Duncan who was the young, violent tyrant but Shakespeare couldn’t say that because King James I was descended by him. As for Lady Macbeth, she is almost a complete fabrication in which nothing is known about her than her name {Gruoch}, the fact she was married before, and that she had at least a son from that marriage. And that son would later succeed Macbeth before Duncan’s son Malcolm gained power and killed him mostly because he didn’t think the guy was a legitimate king.)

King Duncan was a wise old king. (Duncan was younger than Macbeth and was a worthless wastrel who the latter killed in a fair fight in battle on his land. So in reality, Duncan got what he deserved.)

King Malcolm III:

Everyone in Scotland seemed to accept Malcolm’s kingship. (He was able to seize the throne of Scotland because England was able to support him. Scotland actually resisted his rule because their standards differed considerably from England on what consists of royal legitimacy. Also, Macbeth’s stepson and friends also campaigned against Malcolm.)

King Alexander III:

King Alexander III died in 1280 without a son. (He died without a son in 1286 after falling off his horse {since the Scottish throne went to his young granddaughter Margaret of Norway [so the country was ruled by regents] until she died in 1290 on the way there} but he and his two sons were still alive by 1280. It was only after Margaret’s death in 1290 when his brother-in-law King Edward I got involved because the Scottish noblemen couldn’t trust each other and Scotland was in a political crisis as well as headed for civil war.)

William Wallace:

Scottish men like William Wallace wore kilts during the Middle Ages. They also painted their faces and all armies wore uniforms in battle. (William Wallace’s men actually wore saffron shirts, not kilts for they didn’t come around until much later and so did army uniforms. Not to mention, they haven’t painted their faces since the Dark Ages.)

William Wallace grew up as a poor man who became a great liberator and had an affair with English  Queen Isabella, which resulted in Edward III. He ended up captured by the English because of Robert Bruce’s betrayal and was hanged drawn and quartered. (Actually, William Wallace was a well-educated minor aristocrat whose dad actually fought for the English and owned land {though we don’t know who he was} and might have been a scholar or been on his way for a career in the Church. He may have used a longbow as a weapon of choice {unlike the sword he’s usually depicted with in Braveheart}. He briefly served as a Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland {it’s kind of like being a Steward of Gondor except that they didn’t rule by themselves} until his military reputation tanked at the Battle of Falkirk. He engaged in diplomatic correspondence with Lubeck and Hamburg as well as went on a diplomatic mission to France and Rome before returning to his home after the Scottish surrender in 1302. Not to mention, he was said to be Welsh since his name either means “Welsh” or “foreigner” so the notion of growing up a Scottish highlander is out of the question. Also, he certainly didn’t have an affair with Queen Isabella of England for she was ten and wasn’t even living in England yet {and younger than that during the Battle of Falkirk}, didn’t father Edward III who was born seven years after he died, Edward II was only thirteen, and he wasn’t directly betrayed by Robert Bruce either. And as for his method of execution, Wallace was hanged, cut open, castrated, chopped to pieces, and finally beheaded. And before that, he was stripped naked and dragged by a horse carriage by a rope around his ankles and afterwards dipped in tar and put on public display.)

William Wallace had easy access to large quantities of gasoline. At the battle of Falkirk, he apparently has a tanker truck parked behind the lines, so that he can wet down a broad stretch of the front-line as a death trap for the enemy. It was then set alight by flaming arrows, to set the enemy stuntmen on fire so that they can run around screaming while the flammable stunt clothing blazes merrily over their Nomex jumpsuits. William Wallace can also generally get his hands on fire starter whenever he wants to burn English soldiers to death in a cottage. [From A Common Place Book](You should know this isn’t true at all.)

William Wallace was called Braveheart. (Actually that was a nickname of his contemporary, Robert Bruce who would become Scotland’s eventual king and he only acquired the nickname after his death when his heart was carried by a general around his neck into battle. It was Robert Bruce’s heart that led the Scots into battle not Wallace’s.)

William Wallace was the architect of Scottish independence and was an all-around nice guy. Robert Bruce is overrated. (Wallace also raped women and burnt down schools with kids and monks still inside. Not only that, but he used conscription and was willing to hang those refusing to serve. As with Robert Bruce, he’s still one of Scotland’s national heroes and was far more successful than Wallace ever could be {though he still could be brutal to his enemies and manipulative if need be as well as got excommunicated for murdering his rival in a church}. Not to mention, Bruce never personally betrayed Wallace, ever because they never met in the first place. Also, Wallace didn’t initially support Bruce’s claim to the throne and backed the exiled Scottish King John Balliol who was held prisoner in the Tower of London {and later sent to France} who Bruce and his family considered an usurper. Not to mention, Bruce was originally playing on both sides for a while {for personal reasons} until the Battle of Stirling Bridge and didn’t establish full claim to the Scottish throne until after his Carlisle governor father died in 1304.)

Malcolm Wallace had two sons named John and William in 1280 in a town of Paisley. (He had three including his eldest also named Malcolm and he wasn’t a commoner either, assuming that Sir Malcolm of Elderslie was William’s father. Then again William Wallace’s dad could be named Alan of Ayershire {yet no contemporary evidence links him to either location}. Still, William Wallace only appears on the historic record from 1297 when he killed an English sheriff in Lanark {said in order to avenge his wife’s murder} to his death in 1305. So how many kids William’s father had was anyone’s guess.)

William Wallace’s father and brother John were executed by the English when William was a boy. (William lost his father as an adult while his brother John was executed a year after him.)

William Wallace returned to Scotland in 1296 after spending his adolescence abroad. (He never stepped foot out of Scotland until his 1297 invasion of Northern England.)

William Wallace carried out large-scale raids in the north of England and killed Edward I’s nephew in York. (While he did stage long scale raids in Northern England, he didn’t make it as south as York.)

William Wallace’s wife Murron died shortly after their wedding. After this, he killed the English Sheriff by slitting his throat. (It’s said they had two sons, if he had a wife which is very likely. Yet, legend says her name was Marion Braidfrute, though there is no solid evidence if he was married. As for the Sheriff, Wallace cut him to pieces with a sword while his men proceeded to burn two houses with English guards inside of them.)

William Wallace’s best friends were Hamish and his dad Campbell as well as Stephen of Ireland. (The first two are fictional characters while the latter’s existence is questioned. Also, Andrew Moray may be a better candidate though he’s absent in Braveheart though they did join forces before the Battle of Stirling Bridge.)

William Wallace was executed around the same time Edward I died. (Edward I would live for a couple more years and would die on campaign {not in bed as depicted in Braveheart}.)

The Irish fought with William Wallace. (Most Irish fought against him and certainly didn’t switch sides at Falkirk {though the Welsh archers threatened to but only out of fear}.)

Scottish nobles deserted William Wallace. (There’s no report of this happening, well, maybe with John Comyn and his supporters who did abandon him there but there’s no solid evidence. Oh, and he was opposed to fighting at Falkirk because it didn’t offer the advantages at Stirling Bridge.)

William Wallace was captured by the English at Edinburgh after being betrayed by Noble Craig and Robert Bruce’s old man. (The old man Robert Bruce was dead by Wallace’s capture while Craig never existed. Also, he was captured near Glasgow after being betrayed by Scotsman John Menteith.)

William Wallace had no intention to fight the English to free his country until his wife was killed by them. (He was already an outlaw against the English since he refused to sign the Ragman Roll from the very beginning. The English killing his wife would’ve angered him even more. Oh, and William Wallace would’ve never whipped out a concealed nunchaku, which is from China for God’s sake!)

William Wallace was clean shaven. (He had a beard and was at least 6 feet tall. But he’s played by Mel Gibson so I’ll let this slide.)

William Wallace was knighted after Stirling Bridge. (He was knighted a few years later.)

Robert Bruce:

Robert Bruce disowned his leprosy afflicted but dominating father. (There is no evidence Bruce’s old man had ever contracted it though it’s thought that Bruce himself might’ve suffered from it. Also, there’s no evidence whether Bruce disowned his father or whether he was dominated by his dad. Still, he was quite capable of making his own decisions and choices.)

The Scots won their independence when Robert Bruce changed his mind about a peace parley. (It was at the battle of Bannockburn after an English army arrived to lift the siege at Stirling Castle, nine years after Wallace’s death while engaging in guerrilla warfare for years, though Bruce would be crowned king a year after Wallace’s execution {though he was dead by the time actual independence would be won}. Also, Scottish independence didn’t last and Edward III managed to conquer more of Scotland than his grandfather ever had.)

Robert Bruce was the 17th person with the name in his family. (He was the 7th with the name and the 7th Lord of Annandale.)

Robert Bruce was present with King Edward I at Falkirk. (It’s likely he wasn’t there or at least did nothing significant. He was more likely at home in Carrick.)