May of 1297 marks the first appearance in the historical record of Braveheart hero William Wallace … so we mark today the undated (and presumably fictional) execution/murder of his wife that, by the most cinematic account possible, set Wallace on his own path to the scaffold.
Marion (or Marian) Braidfute, she’s called by the Scottish poet Blind Harry in the epic dating near two centuries after famed rebel’s rising. Not wanting audiences to confuse her with Robin Hood sweetie Maid Marian, the Braveheart script renamed her Murron MacClannough.
In Mel Gibson’s gory silver screen epic, Wallace is, at this point, a determinedly apolitical commoner — a stance contrasting markedly with a backstory of nationalistic identity-forming experiences, like having his father and brother killed by the English. He’s radicalized only after his attempt to protect Murron from rape results in her demonstrative summary execution.
And of course, Wallace then wreaks a bloody revenge (complete with summary execution of his own) that soon has the country in flames.
Hollywood’s avenging-his-woman angle exploits a folkloric embroidery of a female character perhaps created by Blind Harry, writing in the 15th century. In “The Wallace”, the titular hero is already well along his conflict with the English crown when he weds Marion — whose story arc differs greatly from that of the peasant eye candy Mel Gibson taps. In the poem, Marion is exposed to the vengeance of the Sheriff of Lanark, William Heselrig, when Wallace goes off to fight and refuses to take her along.
Now fierce with Rage the cruel Foe draws near,
Oh does not Heaven make Innocence its Care!
Where fled thy guardian Angel in that Hour
And left his Charge to the fell Tyrant’s Power,
Shall his fierce Steel be redned with thy Gore
And streaming Blood distain thy Beauties o’er?
But now awaken’d with the dreadfull Sound
The trembling Matron threw her Eyes around,
In vain alace were all the Tears she shed
When fierce he waves the Fauchion o’er her Head
All Tyes of Honour by the Rogue abjur’d
Relentless deep he plung’d the ruthless Sword;
Swift o’er her Limbs does creeping Coldness rise
And Death’s pale Hand seal’d up her fainting Eyes.
Wallace slays Heselrig the next day, according to the poem — the actual historical event of May, 1297,* that marks Wallace’s emergence from the dim fogs of history. (In the film Braveheart, the chronology is unstated, but Wallace is revenged before Murron’s burial.)
The same year William Wallace lifted up his head from his den — as it were — and slew the English sheriff of Lanark, a doughty and powerful man, in the town of Lanark. From that time, therefore, there flocked to him all who were in bitterness of spirit, and weighed down beneath the burden of bondage under the unbearable domination of English despotism; and he became their leader. He was wondrously brave and bold, of goodly mien, and boundless liberality … So Wallace overthrew the English on all sides; and gaining strength daily, he, in a short time, by force, and by dint of his prowess, brought all the magnates of Scotland under his sway, whether they would or not.
* “In the month of May the perfidious race of Scots began to rebel.” (Walter of Hemingborough)