Macbeth of Scotland

Macbeth of Scotland

Infobox Monarch
name=Macbeth ("Mac Bethad mac Findlaích") | title="King of Scotland"

predecessor = Duncan I ("Donnchad mac Crínáin")
successor = Lulach ("Lulach mac Gille Comgaín")
heir =
consort =
issue =
royal house = Moray
date of birth=
place of birth=
date of death=death date|1057|8|15|df=y
place of death=Lumphanan or Scone
place of burial=Iona
father=Findláech mac Ruaidrí

Mac Bethad mac Findlaích (Modern Gaelic: "MacBheatha mac Fhionnlaigh"), ["Mac Bethad mac Findlaích" is the Medieval Gaelic form.] anglicised as Macbeth, and nicknamed Rí Deircc, "the Red King" [William Forbes Skene, "Chronicles", p. 102.] (died 15 August 1057), was King of the Scots (also known as the King of Alba) from 1040 until his death. He is best known as the subject of William Shakespeare's tragedy "Macbeth" and the many works it has inspired, although the play is historically inaccurate.

Origins and family

Macbeth was the son of Findláech mac Ruaidrí, Mormaer of Moray. His mother is sometimes supposed to have been a daughter of the Scottish king Malcolm II (Máel Coluim mac Cináeda). This may be derived from Andrew of Wyntoun's "Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland" which makes Macbeth's mother a granddaughter, rather than a daughter, of Malcolm. [Hudson, "Prophecy of Berchán", pp. 224–225, discusses the question, and the reliability of Wyntoun's chronicle. ]

Macbeth's paternal ancestry can be traced in the Irish genealogies contained in the Rawlinson B.502 manuscript:cquote|Mac Bethad son of Findláech son of Ruadrí son of Domnall son of Morggán son of Cathamal son of Ruadrí son of Ailgelach son of Ferchar son of Fergus son of Nechtan son of Colmán son of Báetán son of Eochaid son of Muiredach son of Loarn son of Eirc son of Eochaid Muinremuir. [Rawlinson B. 502 ¶1698 "Genelach Ríg n-Alban."] This should be compared with the ancestry claimed for Malcolm II which traces back to Loarn's brother Fergus Mór. [Rawlinson B. 502 ¶1696 "Genelach Ríg n-Alban."] Several of Macbeth's ancestors can tentatively be identified: Ailgelach son of Ferchar as Ainbcellach mac Ferchair and Ferchar son of Fergus (correctly, son of Feredach son of Fergus) as Ferchar Fota, while Muiredach son of Loarn mac Eirc, his son Eochaid and Eochaid's son Báetán are given in the "Senchus fer n-Alban." So, while the descendants of King Kenneth MacAlpin (Cináed mac Ailpín) saw themselves as being descended from the Cenél nGabráin of Dál Riata, the northern kings of Moray traced their origins back to the rival Cenél Loairn. [Duncan, "Kingship of the Scots", p. 32; Sellar, "Moray".]

Macbeth's father Findláech was killed about 1020 - one obituary calls him king of Alba - most probably by his successor as ruler of Moray, his nephew Máel Coluim mac Máil Brigte (Malcolm, son of Máel Brigte). ["Annals of Tigernach" 1020.8; "Annals of Ulster" 1020.6.] Máel Coluim died in 1029; although the circumstances are unknown, violence is not suggested; he is called king of Alba by the "Annals of Tigernach." ["Annals of Tigernach" 1029.5; "Annals of Ulster" 1029.7.] However, "king of Alba" is by no means the most impressive title used by the Irish annals. Many deaths reported in the annals in the 11th century are of rulers called "Ard Rí Alban" - High-King of Scotland. It is not entirely certain whether Máel Coluim was followed by his brother Gille Coemgáin or by Macbeth.

Gille Coemgáin's death in 1032 was not reported by the "Annals of Tigernach", but the "Annals of Ulster" record:cquote|Gille Coemgáin son of Máel Brigte, mormaer of Moray, was burned together with fifty people. ["Annals of Ulster" 1032.2.] Some have supposed that Macbeth was the perpetrator. [Sellar, "Moray".] Others have noted the lack of information in the "Annals," and the subsequent killings at the behest of King Malcolm II to suggest other answers. [Duncan, "Kingship of the Scots", p. 32.] Gille Coemgáin had been married to Gruoch, daughter of Boite mac Cináeda ("Boite son of Kenneth"), with whom he had a son, the future king Lulach.

It is not clear whether Gruoch's father was a son of King Kenneth II (Cináed mac Maíl Coluim) (d. 1005) or of King Kenneth III (Cináed mac Duib)(d. 997), either is possible chronologically. [See Duncan, "Kingship of the Scots", p. 345; Lynch, "Oxford Companion", p. 680; Woolf, "Macbeth".] After Gille Coemgáin's death, Macbeth married his widow and took Lulach as his stepson. Gruoch's brother, or nephew (his name is not recorded), was killed in 1033 by Malcolm II. ["Annals of Ulster" 1033.7. The victim is reported as "M. m. Boite m. Cináedha", which is variously read as "the son of the son of Boite" or as "M. son of Boite". Although Miles thinks he's not real.]

Mormaer and "dux"

When Canute the Great came north in 1031 to accept the submission of King Malcolm II, Macbeth too submitted to him:cquote|... Malcolm, king of the Scots, submitted to him, and became his man, with two other kings, Macbeth and Iehmarc ... ["Anglo-Saxon Chronicle," Ms. E, 1031.] Some have seen this as a sign of Macbeth's power, others have seen his presence, together with Iehmarc, who may be Echmarcach mac Ragnaill, as proof that Malcolm II was overlord of Moray and of the Kingdom of the Isles. [Compare Duncan, "Kingship of the Scots", pp. 29–30 with Hudson, "Prophecy of Berchán", pp. 222–223.] Whatever the true state of affairs in the early 1030s, it seems more probable that Macbeth was subject to the king of Alba, Malcolm II, who died at Glamis, on 25 November, 1034. The "Prophecy of Berchan" is apparently alone in near contemporary sources in reporting a violent death, calling it a kinslaying. [Hudson, "Prophecy of Berchán", p. 223; Duncan, "Kingship of the Scots", p. 33.] Tigernan's chronicle says only:

Malcolm II's grandson Duncan (Donnchad mac Crínáin), later King Duncan I, was acclaimed as king of Alba on 30 November, 1034, apparently without opposition. Duncan appears to have been "tánaise ríg", the king in waiting, so that far from being an abandonment of tanistry, as has sometimes been argued, his kingship was a vindication of the practice. Previous successions had involved strife between various "rígdomna" - men of royal blood. [Duncan I as "tánaise ríg", the chosen heir, see Duncan, "The Kingship of the Scots", pp. 33–34; Hudson, "Prophecy of Berchán",pp. 223–224, where it is accepted that Duncan was king of Strathclyde. For tanistry, etc., in Ireland, see Ó Cróinín, "Early Medieval Ireland", 63–71. Byrne, "Irish Kings and High-Kings", pp. 35–39, offers a different perspective.] Far from being the aged King Duncan of Shakespeare's play, the real King Duncan was a young man in 1034, and even at his death in 1040 his youthfulness is remarked upon. [Annals of Tigernach 1040.1.]

Due to his youth, Duncan's early reign was apparently uneventful. His later reign, in line with his description as "the man of many sorrows" in the "Prophecy of Berchán", was not successful. In 1039, Strathclyde was attacked by the Northumbrians, and a retaliatory raid led by Duncan against Durham in 1040 turned into a disaster. Later that year Duncan led an army into Moray, where he was killed by Macbeth on 15 August 1040 at Pitgaveny (then called Bothnagowan) near Elgin. [Hudson, "Prophecy of Berchán", p.223–224; Duncan, "The Kingship of the Scots", pp.33–34.]

High-King of Alba

On Duncan's death, Macbeth became king. No resistance is known at this time, but it would be entirely normal if his reign were not universally accepted. In 1045, Duncan's father Crínán of Dunkeld was killed in a battle between two Scottish armies. ["Annals of Tigernach" 1045.10; "Annals of Ulster" 1045.6.]

John of Fordun wrote that Duncan's wife fled Scotland, taking her children, including the future kings Malcolm III (Máel Coluim mac Donnchada) and Donald III (Domnall Bán mac Donnchada, or Donalbane) with her. Based on the author's beliefs as to whom Duncan married, various places of exile, Northumbria and Orkney among them, have been proposed. However, the simplest solution is that offered long ago by E. William Robertson: the safest place for Duncan's widow and her children would be with her or Duncan's kin and supporters in Atholl. [Robertson, "Scotland under her Early Kings", p. 122. Hudson, "Prophecy of Berchán", p. 224, refers to Earl Siward as Malcolm III's "patron"; Duncan, "The Kingship of the Scots", pp. 40–42 favours Orkney; Woolf offers no opinion. Northumbria is evidently a misapprehension, further than that cannot be said with certainty.]

After the defeat of Crínán, Macbeth was evidently unchallenged. Marianus Scotus tells how the king made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050, where, Marianus says, he gave money to the poor as if it were seed.

Karl Hundason

The "Orkneyinga Saga" says that a dispute between Thorfinn Sigurdsson, Earl of Orkney, and Karl Hundason began when Karl Hundason became "King of Scots" and claimed Caithness. The identity of Karl Hundason, unknown to Scots and Irish sources, has long been a matter of dispute, and it is far from clear that the matter is settled. The most common assumption is that Karl Hundason was an insulting byname (Old Norse for "Churl, son of a Dog") given to Macbeth by his enemies. [However Macbeth's father may be called "jarl Hundi" in "Njál's saga"; Crawford, p. 72.] William Forbes Skene's suggestion that he was Duncan I of Scotland has been revived in recent years. Lastly, the idea that the whole affair is a poetic invention has been raised. [Anderson, "ESSH", p. 576, note 7, refers to the account as "a fabulous story" and concludes that " [n] o solution to the riddle seems to be justified".]

According to the "Orkneyinga Saga", in the war which followed, Thorfinn defeated Karl in a sea-battle off Deerness at the east end of the Orkney Mainland. Then Karl's nephew Mutatan or Muddan, appointed to rule Caithness for him, was killed at Thurso by Thorkel the Fosterer. Finally, a great battle on the south side of the Dornoch Firth ended with Karl defeated and fugitive or dead. Thorfinn, the saga says, then marched south through Scotland as far as Fife, burning and plundering as he passed. A later note in the saga claims that Thorfinn won nine Scottish earldoms. ["Orkneyinga Saga", cc. 20 & 32.]

Whoever Karl son of Hundi may have been, it appears that the saga is reporting a local conflict with a Scots ruler of Moray or Ross:

Final years

In 1052, Macbeth was involved indirectly in the strife in the Kingdom of England between Godwin, Earl of Wessex and Edward the Confessor when he received a number of Norman exiles from England in his court, perhaps becoming the first king of Scots to introduce feudalism to Scotland. In 1054, Edward's Earl of Northumbria, Siward, led a very large invasion of Scotland. The campaign led to a bloody battle in which the "Annals of Ulster" report 3,000 Scots and 1,500 English dead, which can be taken as meaning very many on both sides, and one of Siward's sons and a son-in-law were among the dead. The result of the invasion was that one Máel Coluim, "son of the king of the Cumbrians" (not to be confused with Máel Coluim mac Donnchada, the future Malcolm III of Scotland) was restored to his throne, i.e., as ruler of the kingdom of Strathclyde. [Florence of Worcester, 1052; "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle," Ms. D, 1054; "Annals of Ulster" 1054.6; and discussed by Duncan, "The Kingship of the Scots", pp. 38–41.] It may be that the events of 1054 are responsible for the idea, which appears in Shakespeare's play, that Malcolm III was put in power by the English.

Macbeth certainly survived the English invasion, for he was defeated and mortally wounded or killed by the future Malcolm III on the north side of the Mounth in 1057, after retreating with his men over the Cairnamounth Pass to take his last stand at the battle at Lumphanan. [Andrew Wyntoun, "Original Chronicle", ed. F.J. Amours, vol. 4, pp 298-299 and 300-301 (c. 1420)] The "Prophecy of Berchán" has it that he was wounded and died at Scone, sixty miles to the south, some days later. [The exact dates are uncertain, Woolf gives 15 August, Hudson 14 August and Duncan, following John of Fordun, gives 5 December; "Annals of Tigernach" 1058.5; "Annals of Ulster" 1058.6.] Macbeth's stepson Lulach mac Gille Coemgáin was installed as king soon after.

Unlike later writers, no near contemporary source remarks on Macbeth as a tyrant. The "Duan Albanach," which survives in a form dating to the reign of Malcolm III calls him "Mac Bethad the renowned". The "Prophecy of Berchán", a verse history which purports to be a prophecy, describes him as "the generous king of Fortriu", and says:

Life to legend

Macbeth's life, like that of King Duncan I, had progressed far towards legend by the end of the 14th century, when John of Fordun and Andrew of Wyntoun wrote their histories. Hector Boece, Walter Bower, and George Buchanan all contributed to the legend.

The influence of William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" towers over mere histories, and has made the name of Macbeth infamous. Even his wife has gained some fame along the way, lending her Shakespeare-given title to a short story by Nikolai Leskov and the opera by Dmitri Shostakovich entitled "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk". The historical content of Shakespeare's play is drawn from Raphael Holinshed's "Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland", which in turn borrows from Boece's 1527 "Scotorum Historiae" which flattered the antecedents of Boece's patron, King James V of Scotland.

In modern times, Dorothy Dunnett's novel "King Hereafter" aims to portray a historical Macbeth, but proposes that Macbeth and his rival and sometime ally Thorfinn of Orkney are one and the same (Thorfinn is his birth name and Macbeth is his baptismal name). John Cargill Thompson's play "Macbeth Speaks 1997", a reworking of his earlier "Macbeth Speaks", is a monologue delivered by the historical Macbeth, aware of what Shakespeare and posterity have done to him.

Scottish author Nigel Tranter based one of his historical novels on the historical figure ("MacBeth the King"). This account by Nigel Tranter, a recognized expert among modern historians, describes Macbeth as originally the King of Moray, under the rule of Duncan, who fell suspect to Duncan's insecurities, and was attacked. Macbeth joined forces with his half-brother Thorfinn, who was the son of Macbeth's father's second wife, a Norse woman. Duncan was defeated and killed in battle, and Macbeth took the throne. It mentions various feats during his tenure as King, which are based on some fact, such as his support of the celtic catholic church, as opposed to the roman catholic branch which was in charge in England. It mentions his trip to Rome to petition the celtic church to the Pope, and it claims he travelled in his brother's Viking ships, and there was mention in the annuals in Rome of vikings sailing up to the city. Though the two cannot be confirmed accurately. It mentions his defiance of England's claim over the Scottish throne, and that being the reason Macbeth was attacked, and the more English friendly Malcolm III being installed.

The animated television series Gargoyles also included a character based on the historic Macbeth, while retaining elements from Shakespeare's play.



Primary sources

* [ CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts] at [ University College Cork] including:
** [ Genealogies] from Rawlinson B.502 (no translation available)
** [ Gaelic notes from the Book of Deer] (with translation)
** [ The Annals of Ulster] ( [ translation] )
** [ The Annals of Tigernach] (translation in progress)
**The Chronicon Scotorum reproduces a considerable part of the Annals of Tigernach and is available in [ translation] .
*The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Mss. D and E, various editions including [ an XML] version by Tony Jebson.
* [ The Chronicle of the Kings of Alba]
*The "Chronicon ex chronicis" attributed to Florence of Worcester.

econdary sources

*Barrell, A.D.M., "Medieval Scotland." Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000. ISBN 0-521-58602-X
*Barrow, G.W.S., "Kingship and Unity: Scotland 1000–1306." Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, (corrected ed.) 1989. ISBN 0-7486-0104-X
*Byrne, Francis John, "Irish Kings and High-Kings." Batsford, London, 1973. ISBN 0-7134-5882-8
*Crawford, Barbara, "Scandinavian Scotland." Leicester University Press, Leicester, 1987. 0-7185-1282-0
*Duncan, A.A.M., "The Kingship of the Scots 842–1292: Succession and Independence." Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2002. ISBN 0-7486-1626-8
*Hudson, Benjamin T., "The Prophecy of Berchán: Irish and Scottish High-Kings of the Early Middle Ages." Greenwood, London, 1996.
*McDonald, R. Andrew, "Outlaws of medieval Scotland: Challenges to the Canmore kings, 1058–1266." Tuckwell, East Linton, 2003. 1-86232-236-8
*Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí, "Early Medieval Ireland: 400–1200." Longman, London, 1995. ISBN 0-582-01565-0
*Sellar, W.D.H., "Moray: to 1130" in Michael Lynch (ed.), "The Oxford Companion to Scottish History." Oxford UP, Oxford, 2001. ISBN 0-19-211696-7
*Smyth, Alfred P., "Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD 80–1000." Edinburgh UP, Edinburgh, 1984. ISBN 0-7486-0100-7
*Taylor, A.B., "Karl Hundason: King of chickens" in the "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland", LXXI (1937), pp. 334–340.
*Woolf, Alex, "Macbeth" in Lynch (2001).

Further reading

*Tranter, Nigel "MacBeth the King" Hodder & Stoughton, 1978.
*Aitchison, Nick "Macbeth" Sutton Publishing, 2001 , ISBN 0750926406.
*Dunnett, Dorothy "King Hereafter" Knopf, 1982 , ISBN 0394523784.
*Ellis, Peter Berresford "Macbeth: High King of Scotland 1040-57" Learning Links, 1991 , ISBN 0856404489.
*Marsden, John "Alba of the Ravens: In Search of the Celtic Kingdom of the Scots" Constable, 1997, ISBN 0094757607.
*Walker, Ian "Lords of Alba" Sutton Publishing, 2006, ISBN 0750934921.

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