Macbeth, So you think you know him?

Most of us roughly know the story of Macbeth. Well, we think we do. But, how many of us actually know the Shakespeare version and have never actually thought about the historical figure of Macbeth. Be honest now.


Shakespeare tells us of a Scottish general named Macbeth meeting up with 3 witches on a scary moor……. ooooooo (that’s my scary voice).   They prophesise he will become the King of Scotland, excited, he goes home and lets the Mrs know. The then King Duncan comes to the Macbeths for a wee visit with his lads. Macbeth and his good Lady decide this is the perfect time and kill the King, only, another nobleman, Macduff, has seen the treachery. The Kings sons flee and obviously this is spinned into it looking like they did the deed. Du du daaaaa.

Anyhoo, Macbeth embarks on a reign of terror killing a few folk, including the wee nobleman Macduffs family, sees a ghost or 2 and becoming more and more paranoid by the minute.

He goes to see the witches again, you know to give it a bit more ………ooooooo and is told not to worry as no one born from a woman can harm him, there’s a wee twist for you.

Macduff goes off to the English court to seek Malcolm, the late King Duncans son, to raise an army and get back Malcolms rightful crown. Together they Invade Scotland, meanwhile, Lady Macbeth is not doing too well and has been sleepwalking and talking to her doctor, she then commits suicide. Well….. Macbeth is beside himself.

Malcolm has now surrounded Macbeths castle and a battle ensues, Macduff challenges Macbeth and Macbeth remembering what the witches said, thinks ‘aye right, moan then’ ahhhh but there’s a twist Macduff was born by caesarean section, du du daaaaaa, and kills Macbeth, giving his head to the new King Malcolm and peace comes to Scotland.  The end.  Oh and this supposedly all happens within a year.

Ok, so, I know a pretty rubbish summary but it’s been a while since I was at school, but you get the jist.

The real historical figure of Macbeth was not some tyrant who stole the crown in fact I think you’ll be surprised.

Macbeth is thought to have been the son of Findlay of Moray and possibly the grandson of Malcolm II. He became Momaer (king-ish) of Moray in 1032, how he got this is a wee bit dubious. The previous Mormaer, Gillecomgan, was killed in a fire alongside 50 of his men. A wee whodunit there then.   Macbeth not only became the Mormaer but also married Gillecomgans widow, Grouch, bit dodgy, who was a princess in her own right being Kenneth III granddaughter. Although Macbeth also took on her son Lulach as his own so not too dodgy the couple never had any children.

Now you have to remember Scotland was very different, it was a patchwork of loosely connected kingdoms. Alba the largest, then there was the Jarldom of Orkney, which encompassed the Outer Hebrides and the Northern tip of the Mainland, Strathclyde was Glasgow to Penrith and Moray which included Inverness and Aberdeenshire. Not the Scotland we see today.

In 1040 Duncan I King of Alba led an attack into Moray and was killed in action, Macbeth then succeeded him with what looks like no opposition at all, becoming King of Alba and Moray. Duncans widow fled with her sons, to either Orkney or England. There’s no actual record, although later her son Malcolm is at Edward the Confessors court.

All in all it looks like Macbeth had a very successful and peaceful 17 year reign apart from a wee hiccup in 1054 when Siward, earl of Northunbria, with Edward the Confessors blessing, tried a wee invasion.   Attempting to put Malcolm, Duncans I son, on to the throne.

In Fact it looks like Macbeths reign was so secure that in 1050 he and his wife went on a 6 month pilgrimage to Rome, where he is said to given money to the poor and was a generous friend to the church. He also encouraged the spread of Christianity through Scotland and, I like this one, gave daughters the same rights of inheritance as sons, as well as placing laws to defend women and orphans. He was well liked and ruled with an even hand.

In August 1057 at the Battle of Lumphanan, after 3 years of Malcolm III wee incursions here and there, Macbeth was finally killed.  His body was taken to Iona to be buried alongside Scottish Kings. His stepson Lulach ruled for 6- 7months before being killed by Malcolm III men, by treachery it is said. Malcolm claimed the throne and his descendants thereafter. There is no record to say of what became of Lady Macbeth.

Well, that’s a wee bit different from auld Shakespeares version. It looks to me like Macbeth was a good King and all in all ruled a peaceful kingdom.  It does make me wonder why Shakespeare chose this King to slur?


About Nikki Laird

I am a daft kilt maker who loves finding out about new interesting information about Scotland and work here at ScotClans

View all posts by Nikki Laird →

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *