William Wallace was a Scottish knight active during the late 13th and early 14th century, and an instrumental figure during the Scottish wars for independence. Many people wonder what really happened to William Wallace, and how William Wallace actually died. In 1297, he defeated an English army and was subsequently named Guardian of Scotland. A few years later, in 1305, he was captured and sentenced to death by King Edward I of England for treason and other crimes.
William Wallace's execution was featured in the 1995 film Braveheart, which was directed by and starred Mel Gibson. What happened on film was very different from what happened in real life, however. The Braveheart inaccuracies include Wallace's death scene, which was severely toned down and did not portray the torture and pain that the real Wallace endured before crossing over into whatever it is that comes next.
According to legend, Wallace's enemies took him from Westminster Hall, where he was tried and found guilty of treason - the punishment for which was drawing. He was forced to remove all of his clothing and tied to horses, which dragged him approximately six miles away to Smoothfield.
While the horses were pulling him, bystanders threw garbage, excrement, and other objects at Wallace as he made the journey to the gallows. They also hit him with sticks and whips. In the film, the crowd at the gallows pelted Gibson with rotten food and other objects, but he is wearing clothes and not covered in human excrement.
Next, Wallace was hanged as punishment for robbery and homicide. Dying in this traditional way wouldn't have been adequate punishment for Wallace's purported crimes in the eyes of the British monarchy, however.
Rather, being strung up from the gallows was just another step in an unbelievably drawn-out execution.
Once Wallace was secured, his executioner sliced off his genitals (called "emasculation"). Then, the executioner removed his intestines (known as "disembowelment" or "evisceration") and burned them, making sure Wallace witnessed the act. He was disemboweled for sacrilege.
In Braveheart, Gibson's face is shown contorted in pain, but whatever happens below the waist is not shown on film. There is a shot of several knives on a table and another one of the executioner ripping off Gibson's shirt with a bladed weapon, but the viewer never sees how they are used.
The mark of a truly exceptional executioner was that they could not only pull the heart out of a criminal's chest, but they could also keep it beating the whole time. While there's no record of Wallace's hangman's success in terms of keeping his heart beating, Wallace did have his heart removed after his entrails and genitals.
The hangman then declared, "Behold the heart of a traitor," as he held it up for the crowd to see.