on 3 August 2006
After all the biographies of Wallace released in recent years, largely prompted by the success of 'Braveheart,' one might be forgiven for thinking that the Wallace tale, such as it is, had been explored thoroughly. However, in this new book author Chris Brown claims to have written the first purely academic account of Scotland's famous rebel. Consequently, the book vaunts itself as the definitive Wallace tome by virtue of its author's background in medieval studies, and by a rather unfair denigration of attempts by other authors to recount Wallace's life.
Unfortunately, the problem with Brown's source-based biography is that the sources relating to Wallace are so few and unsatisfactory so as to provide only the faintest outline of the man's life. Hence, what could be summed up in six or seven lines is instead blagged out valiantly over the first seventy or eighty pages; references to Wallace being dispersed piecemeal in between hefty portions on the 'socio-economic conditions of Scotland c.1300'. All of which is helpful to the student preparing for an essay or exam on the subject, but frustrating for the general reader whose chief curiosity is Wallace himself. Indeed, some aspects of the man's life, such as his capture, imprisonment, trial and execution are dealt with in a few sentences, despite the fact that a large number of English administrative documents exist which relate these in detail. On the other hand, Brown does make some interesting suggestions, for instance he argues on the likelihood of Wallace acquiring a great deal of personal wealth out of his guardianship, as well as trying to relate the public mood towards the disgraced guardian in the years after his defeat at Falkirk.
After Brown offs Wallace circa page eighty, the bulk of the remainder of the book is devoted to 'exploring' in a pretty aggressive way other accounts of Wallace and Scottish history in both literature and film. Indeed, Brown is at his most lucid when laying into something, be it the film 'Braveheart', its makers and devotees, the Scottish education system, or even bogus books about templar knights, freemasons, and buried treasure (this was one of the more fanciful tangents). Yet the bulk of Brown's venom is aimed at chief Wallace biographer Andrew Fisher, whose book he charges with the heinous crime of leading many students towards their academic doom via 'unsatisfactory' exam results. Notwithstanding that his main gripe with Fisher's book is that it actually succeeds as a BIOGRAPHY, is popular without being controversial, and doesn't bang on about social and economic factors all the time.
Finally, the last few chapters provide the accounts of Wallace by the Scottish chroniclers Fordoun, Wyntoun, and Bower. Unfortunately, the book does not mention when these men wrote their accounts, nor does it make use of the French and English accounts regarding Wallace's travels in France, or his eventual capture and trial. It is small quips like these, combined with the occasional grammatical errors and the odd poor sentence structure, that make you wonder whether or not the original manuscript was hurried to the publisher before the author had a chance to proofread it. I imagine a second edition is necessary to clear a lot of these up.
In truth my only real gripe is that the title 'The True Story of Braveheart' is misleading in that it implies a detailed account of Wallace himself. What you get instead feels like a series of essays detailing 'the political, social, and economic conditions' of late 13th and early 14th century Scotland with bits on Wallace hurled in every so often. This is good in that it gives you a better understanding of the bigger picture and puts those six or seven facts about Wallace that we do know into some form of context, yet all the same for £17.99 you feel a bit cheated. This book should really be titled along the lines of: 'William Wallace and Scotland: c.1270-1305'. I would recommend anyone studying this period to read it, since it will complement an essay or dissertation handsomely. Yet the general reader would, i think, have to read a couple of other books on the period before trying to tackle this one.
3 and a half out of five stars.
on 6 January 2006
This thoroughly researched book is well worth a read if you are interested in Wallace and his times. Despite the authors' best efforts to objectively reveal the real Wallace, this Scottish hero stills shines. This is because Chris Brown cannot provide any evidence that conclusively denies Wallace's image. There is a lot of information about the practices of armies during the period of Wallace. This book is aimed at people who need to know what Wallace was really like. Very thought provoking. Some fascinating references and excerpts from letters and documents of the time. On the down side, there are some spelling and typing mistakes, although Chris Brown probably spent so long researching this book he didn't have time to proof read it! Overall a refreshing change from the usual heroic eulogy to Scotland's greatest and mysterious individual.