When I ever get accused of a historical inaccuracy in my stories my defense is always the same. Historicity. Well, first it's a glass of wine to fortify myself. Then it's historicity.
What's historicity mean? Well, the best way I can explain it is with an example. Braveheart. Don't get me wrong, I love that movie. It's filled with passion, gorgeous scenery, haunting music and a swoony early career Mel Gibson (before the scary beard period began) saving the day in a 100% authentic Scottish kilt. Hang on, back up. A kilt? In medieval Scotland?
Now, this isn't going to be a newsletter about the historical accuracy of the movie but more a philosophical question. What's more important? History or the feel of history? The answer lies inside the word. Historicity.
Let me explain. Everything in a movie is a conscious choice. From the positioning of the trees in the background to the clothes the characters wear, someone made a decision about it all. The makers of Braveheart chose to dress their Braveheart in a kilt...
(not worn until the 16th century)
And they covered his face with blue paint...
(not used by the Scots since the Roman invasion more than 1,000 years earlier)
So what would medieval Scots have worn?
Men and women in that time wore much the same thing across Europe. Tunics (a long loose shirt that reached the knees of men and the ankles of women). Men also wore an undertunic and women a kirtle (a simple underdress like a loose slip). Men sometimes wore braies (baggy shorts that reached the knees). Most men and women also wore hose (footless leggings that kept the legs warm).
Man on the left - hose. Man on the right - braies.
Most clothes were made of wool, plain not patterned and most often undyed. The earliest Scottish tartans were simple checks. What we think of today as clan tartans are an 18th century invention. Kilts were not a thing at that time.
What about the face paint?
The Romans called those north of Hadrian's Wall 'Picts,' or painted ones though we don't know why. It's possible they painted themselves but by the 13th century (when the movie is set) face painting is definitely not a thing. So why do it? Well, who does enjoy painting their faces?
(Sports fans! Go team, score the points etc!)
The director painted Braveheart and gave his men kilts for the same reason he gave them wild hair, to create mass appeal to a modern audience.
So is Braveheart accurate or not?
It's likely the costume designer knew that kilts and face paint were inaccurate but he was overruled by the director. Why? Historicity. It's the same reason why Braveheart has wild untamed hair. It's all designed to help viewers feel a bond with Wallace as an alpha hero and hopefully make the movie a hit. For the few people grumbling about the historical errors, the vast majority are just enjoying the ride and then moving on with their day.
So what is historicity?
Historicity is the feel of what we expect from the period of a movie or book rather than the 100% historical accuracy. What will help us enjoy the story more? A strong hero who regularly bathes in steaming hot water? Or the stinking greasy haired gap toothed realistic hero? We want our medieval stories fun, right? But do we want all the mud? The rotten food? The high mortality rates?
Just how accurate do we want our historical stories? 100%? 90%?
What do you reckon?
Get in touch and give me your opinion over on the dedicated Facebook post for this edition of my newsletter. I'd love to hear your point of view. Just how accurate do you want your tales? Does historical inaccuracy spoil your enjoyment?
And most importantly, did a kilt on Mel Gibson ruin Braveheart for you?
Want to read more? This article goes into great detail about the historicity of Braveheart and entertainment in general.