James MacKay,
William Wallace: Brave Heart
(Mainstream, 1996)

My parents treated my brothers, sisters and me as small adults, so we were permitted choices that were often unusual. At the age of 9, when they were going to redo my room, I choose the Wallace Plaide (plaid or tartan to you Yanks!) for my bedspread and drapes. This dumbfounded my parents and grandfather, for my family came from the MacGillivrays, Ogilvies, Frasers, Grants and a few later interloper Montgomeries. But even at that age, Wallace was such a great, sweeping hero that he captured my heart and imagination.

While most kids played during the summer, my wicked grandfather conducted "summer school" for the grandchildren. A historian with a captured audience, he spoonfed us history, so Wallace, the Bruce, True Thomas and Andrew de Moray were not ancient heroes nearly forgotten -- they were alive to us. Wallace held my imagination as a child, made me think, so I was glad to see Mel Gibson bring him to the consciousness of the world. Braveheart made Wallace well-known in the far corners of the earth, and the film captures the spirit of Scot stubbornness, a willingness to give your life for an idea.

But the real story is so much MORE. And to get this view of Wallace, one cannot do better than James MacKay's William Wallace: Brave Heart.

No, Wallace did not romance the she-wolf, Edward II's wife, and father Edward III. She was a tiny babe at the time! The film version of the Battle of Sterling was missing a very vital bridge. Wallace was not the son of the peasant Malcolm Wallace, but of Alan.... Well, one could debate the film on and on and that is not the purpose of this review.

MacKay gives the real story of Wallace, providing history only alluded to in the movie. Ultimately, the book is more compelling than the film. For writing straight history, MacKay's style is fluid and easy to read, more in the manner of fiction. He compels you to follow, to learn of Wallace, of the circumstances that pushed him into being an outlaw, a rebel, a man who challenged the most ruthless King England has ever known. Wallace was a complex man, as were the Bruce and Longshanks, driven men that were willing to fight for concepts and die for them. It is especially necessary to understand that Scotland as a national entity was in its infancy at that time. Clan allegiances were always taken more seriously than oaths to a single king. Wallace fought not only for a free Scotland, but for an idea that was very new to the Scots. At the point of his rising, Scotland's nobles were as much English or tied to England through their lands and titles in both countries. Many of Scotland's most powerful clans, such as Dunbar, came in on the side of Longshanks in this struggle. Not all of Scotland wanted to be free from the English.

Yes, Wallace was my hero as a child, but as I grew and my ability to understand the complexity of these three men that so shaped Scotland and England, I was mesmerised and awed. Wallace was not a mythical legend, he was a man and man driven to do what I don't think many of us could. And MacKay makes you see Wallace the man -- and the political climate that fermented him -- who was willing to sacrifice all to achieve freedom for Scotland. Wallace did not fight for power, personal gain or glory. At every step, he made it clear he fought for the king of the Scots.

So for those wishing to know more about the REAL Wallace, MacKay's book is an excellent study of a man willing to die for an idea.

- Rambles
written by DeborahAnne MacGillivray
published 1 March 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.