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Macbeth

King of Scotland, 1040-1057

Macbeth

Mac Bethad mac FindlŠich was born in Moray about 1005. His father was FindlŠich, Earl of Moray; his mother was closely related to King Malcolm II.

Having a marginal claim to the Scottish throne, Macbeth's family was often beset with internal violence as family members fought each other for position. In 1020, FindlŠich was killed by two of his nephews. His death was subsequently avenged when one nephew, Gillacomgain, died in a fire, probably at the hands of Macbeth. Macbeth subsequently married Gruoch, Gillacomgain's widow and a granddaughter of King Kenneth III (reigned 997-1005). The couple had no children, so Macbeth's stepson, Lulach, became his heir.

The death of FindlŠich made Macbeth Earl of Moray, and Macbeth's marriage to Gruoch made him a part of the court of King Malcolm II. By his mid-twenties he had become a prominent political figure in the northern parts of Scotland. Malcolm was a ruthless and despotic king, and in 1034 was ambushed and mortally wounded at Glamis. He was succeeded by his grandson, Duncan I, a succession that was immediately challenged by many. Macbeth initially served Duncan as commander of the royal army, but as Duncan began trying to impose his authority in northern Scotland Macbeth became part of the opposition. On August 10, 1040, Macbeth killed Duncan at Bothgowanan and claimed the Scottish throne; he was immediately crowned by his supporters at Scone to legitimize his position.

Macbeth proved to be a wise king, and most of his reign was peaceful. The only real threat to his rule did not come until 1045, when he faced a rebellion at the hands of Duncan's father, Abbot Crinan, whom he defeated and killed. In fact, he felt confident enough in his position that, in 1050, he even embarked on a long and dangerous pilgrimage to Rome.

Macbeth ruled in relative peace until 1054, when Malcolm III, son of Duncan, and Earl Siward of Northumbria defeated him at Dunsinane, but failed to dethrone him. In 1057, Malcolm again met Macbeth in battle, this time at Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire. Malcolm was ultimately defeated, but Macbeth was wounded during the battle and died on August 15, 1057.

Macbeth was succeeded by his stepson Lulach, who was himself killed in an ambush and succeeded by Malcolm in 1058.

William Shakespeare's play Macbeth was very loosely based on an account of Macbeth's life as given in Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande. In fact, the only historically accurate part of Shakespeare's play is the death of Duncan at the hands of Macbeth.

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This page was last updated on October 25, 2017.