Everything 'Outlaw King' Gets Wrong About History And Robert The Bruce

In the true story of Outlaw King, Robert the Bruce didn't fight a showdown duel with King Edward II of England. His wife didn't end up locked in a cage. And the Scots wore a lot more yellow, with a pretty disgusting origin. While taking a few liberties with actual Robert the Bruce facts, the 2018 Netflix movie Outlaw King captures the spirit of Scotland's war for independence, even if it gets a few historical details wrong. Outlaw King also comes out on top when it goes head-to-head with the factual inaccuracies in Braveheart, another film about Scotland's successful revolt against English rule.

Compared with the real life of Robert the Bruce, the movie leaves out some surprising moments, like the lesson the outlaw king supposedly took from a spider. In other areas, the film does a good job showing the military tactics and technology the Scots and English threw at each other.

  • Robert The Bruce Might Not Have Used Guerrilla Tactics
    Photo: Netflix

    Robert The Bruce Might Not Have Used Guerrilla Tactics

    Robert the Bruce found himself severely outnumbered when he went up against King Edward and the English army. In Outlaw King, Robert uses guerrilla tactics like destroying castles to win the war. As Dauvit Broun, professor of Scottish history at the University of Glasgow, told Time:

    He resolved that every castle he took he would destroy because he reckoned that, for the King of England to win, he would need to garrison Scotland, and you can't do that unless you've got castles. It's a bit like taking a bomb and destroying Buckingham Palace. But Robert I took the view that if he was going to win, it was only going to be because he had the support of the people, so he didn't need castles.

    But other scholars believe Robert didn't fight a guerrilla war at all - instead, they say he used conventional medieval methods. Medieval expert Chris Brown, author of King and Outlaw: The Real Robert the Bruce, points out that Robert advanced slowly, seizing towns and castles. And while Robert avoided pitched battles, Brown terms this "prudent" rather than evidence of intentional guerrilla tactics.

    Other scholars disagree. Historian Michael Brown of Scotland's University of St Andrews argues that the strategy followed modern guerilla tactics long before the term was invented: "It's essentially run away and hide. Take to the hills, harry [the enemy's] flanks, stop them living off of the land, but don't risk a battle."

  • His Brother's Execution Was Much Bloodier
    Photo: Netflix

    His Brother's Execution Was Much Bloodier

    When the English chased Robert the Bruce from his throne, they also forced his family to flee. Robert's brother Neil made it to Kildrummy, but the English besieged the castle and captured him. Outlaw King shows Edward I hanging Neil.

    The real execution was far more involved. On the English king's orders, Neil was hanged, drawn, and finally beheaded. And though they initially escaped Kildrummy, Robert's sisters, his wife, and his young daughter were found by Edward's men and held captive for many years.

  • Robert The Bruce Didn't Let His Enemy Leave The Battle Of Loudoun Hill
    Photo: Netflix

    Robert The Bruce Didn't Let His Enemy Leave The Battle Of Loudoun Hill

    At the climactic end of Outlaw King, Robert the Bruce takes on a much larger English army in the Battle of Loudoun Hill. But the movie's portrayal of the conflict as a major showdown between Robert the Bruce and Edward II is simply wrong.

    Edward II wasn't even at the battle, so the scene where Robert duels the new king simply never happened - nor did he generously let his enemy escape after the battle.

    Outlaw King manipulates the timing of the battle for cinematic effect: Edward I was not dead when the confrontation occurred in 1307, so his son had not yet been crowned.

  • The Scots Would Have Worn Yellow On The Battlefield
    Photo: Netflix

    The Scots Would Have Worn Yellow On The Battlefield

    If Outlaw King stuck with the most common dyes in medieval Scotland, more Scottish fighters would be wearing yellow. Historian Fergus Cannan, the author of Scottish Arms and Armour, points out, "The yellow war shirt is never shown in any film or popular image, and yet it is something that all the original writers comment on."

    Scottish leaders could afford saffron to dye their clothes yellow, but poorer clansmen would have used bark and leaves or horse urine - an inexpensive and common ingredient, especially with the cavalry.

  • Robert The Bruce Might Have Planned To Get Rid Of John Comyn
    Photo: Netflix

    Robert The Bruce Might Have Planned To Get Rid Of John Comyn

    Robert the Bruce wanted to rule Scotland, but rival John "The Red" Comyn stood in his way. As one of the strongest noblemen in the country, Comyn could have blocked Robert's claim. In 1306, Comyn was eliminated after a meeting with Robert.

    In Outlaw King, Robert slays Comyn after the nobleman tries to block his path to becoming king. In reality, historians debate exactly what happened between the two men. Some argue Robert didn't even commit the crime, while others say he ordered his followers to take out Comyn. It's also possible Robert wasn't in on the plot.

    According to English sources, Robert the Bruce arrived with a plan to end Comyn. But some scholars think it's more likely that a fight broke out in the heat of the moment, as shown in Outlaw King.

    Regardless of how Comyn died, Robert the Bruce was crowned king just six weeks later.

  • The Film Gets A Few Things Wrong About Medieval Armor
    Photo: Netflix

    The Film Gets A Few Things Wrong About Medieval Armor

    Overall, Outlaw King does a relatively good job of showing the clothes and armor that medieval Scots would have worn in the early 1300s - except when it comes to chain mail. While the chain mail accurately represents what top military leaders wore to battle, it appears on too many people in Outlaw King. As an expensive defensive item, only the wealthiest men could afford chain mail.

    The movie leaves out the much more common - and more affordable - form of medieval armor known as jack. This thick, padded cloth often incorporated metal to block blows. But jack doesn't make the same cinematic impression as chain mail, which might explain the choice.