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Gaelic Territories

MacBeth: The True History of the Man and His Times

by Mick Baker, 2 June 2007

 

 

Part 1 Part 2

Part 2: MacBeth

MacBeth returned to rule for seven more years!

In 1052, when the English king, Edward the Confessor, was expelling his Norman retainers, two of them fled north to seek sanctuary at the court of MacBeth. Pious in the way that Fulk Nerra was pious, more acquainted with the world beyond the Tweed than any of his predecessors, MacBeth found himself assailed from within and without.

Duncan's father Crinan, lay abbot of Dunkeld, attacked MacBeth from within resulting in Crinan's defeat and death in 1045 and Siward of Northumbria attacked him from without, momentarily defeating the king in 1046.

A temporary setback

MacBeth was perhaps only expelled from Lothian, which he soon recovered. (MacBeth is mentioned prominently in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in its account of Siward's invasion, to which the closely contemporary evidence of Florent of Worcester can add no more than accounts of MacBeth's generosity and hospitality, one of these confirmed by the Irish chronicler, Marianus Scotus).

In July 1054 a second Northumbrian expedition again succeeded in expelling MacBeth from part of his kingdom (again perhaps Lothian and Strathclyde?), and set up Malcolm III, Duncan's elder son, as king. In 1057 MacBeth was defeated and killed at Lumphanon and a year later his stepson, Lulach, whom some had rallied to was slain at Essie by Malcolm III.

MacBeth's success can be seen as a native, or Celtic, reaction against the new southern ways, and it is significant of the prevailing distrust of those ways that he was able to rule for such a lengthy and uninterrupted period of time. He was generally acknowledged as a worthy ruler and his reign was characterised by peace and tranquillity.

Many contemporary sources record the reign of MacBeth as a time of great abundance. The Chronicle of Melrose states:

MacBeth became king of Scotland for seventeen years; and in his reign there were fruitful seasons...

In addition, Wyntoun's Cronykil, drawing upon earlier sources, says:

'... seventeen winters as king in Scotland,' and 'all his time was of great plenty, abounding both on land and sea.'

There is also consistent evidence from a range of sources to indicate MacBeth having been particularly remembered for his remarkable personal generosity.

He was especially magnanimous to the church, ('MacBeth, son of Finlach, and Gruoch, daughter of Bodhe, King and Queen of Scots, granted Kyrkenes to Almighty God and to the culdees of the island of Lochleven for prayers and intercessions...' from the Register of the Priory of St. Andrew's), and it was only intervention from England that ultimately brought about his downfall.

MacBeth had represented the old ways, and like almost all the mac Alpin kings before him, was buried in Iona; which fact alone recognises the legitimacy of his kingship, whereas Malcolm III and his English wife, Margaret, when they died in 1093, were buried at Dunfermline.

There was a brief return to Celtic ways when the 'incorrigible old Celt' Donald Bane, Malcolm's younger brother, came to the throne. He was the last Scottish king to be buried in Iona.

MacBeth was the last true Celtic king of Scotland. His stepson, Lulach, only reigned for some seven months before:

Lulach, king of Alba, slain by Duncan's son, by treachery.

 

Chronology

1033

Duncan mac Crinan, grandson of Malcolm II, marries Sybil, daughter of Siward the Stout, Earl of Northumbria.

1034

The death of Malcolm II. The accession of Duncan I, known to the Vikings - according to one theory - as 'Karl Hundisson'.

Duncan ('Karl') demands tribute for Caithness from Earl Thorfinn the Mighty. This is refused, which act provokes war. 'Karl' installs his nephew Muddan as chieftain in Caithness and suffers the first of several defeats. Muddan is killed in Thurso. 'Karl' is defeated in a naval battle off Deerness on Orkney.

1035

Duncan ('Karl') is defeated in a second naval Battle at Tarbat Ness.

1038

Duncan is defeated by Eadulf of Bamburgh, a rival of Siward.

1039

Duncan and Siward lay siege to Durham. Duncan is again defeated with heavy losses.

1040

Duncan, in a vain attempt to restore his prestige, engages on a Royal Progress through the land of Moray, where MacBeth is Mormaer (sub-king). This proves to be a grave error of judgement as the men of Moray, under MacBeth, probably aided by Thorfinn, rise up and kill Duncan at Pitgaveny. Thorfinn and MacBeth partition the Kingdom. MacBeth attains the royal title, ruling well for seventeen years, whilst Thorfinn takes nine earldoms.

1045

MacBeth defeats and kills Crinan of Dunkeld, Duncan's father.

1046

Siward succeeds in momentarily expelling MacBeth from Lothian, and briefly installing Duncan's brother Maldred on the Scottish throne. MacBeth swiftly recovers his lost lands.

1050

MacBeth and Thorfinn both embark upon a pilgrimage to Rome.

1054

Siward and Malcolm Ceann Mor set off on a campaign to defeat MacBeth. They defeat him at Dunsinnen wresting Lothian and possibly Strathclyde from him, but fail to depose him. Ceann Mor is set up as King Malcolm III at least of Cumbria (Strathclyde).

1055

Siward of Northumbria dies at York.

1057

Malcolm Ceann Mor defeats and kills MacBeth at Lumphanon.

1058

Lulach, MacBeth's stepson, becomes king. He reigns for just seven months before being slain by Malcolm (Ceann Mor). Accession of Malcolm III.

 

 

Primary Sources

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Annals Of Ulster

Annals Of Tigernach

Chronicle Of Melrose

Cronykil Of Andrew Of Wyntoun

Florent Of Worcester

Marianus Scotus

Orkneyinga Saga

Prophecy Of Berchan

Register Of Priory Of St Andrews

Symeon's History Of The Church Of Durham

 

Secondary Sources

Bingham, Caroline - Kings And Queens Of Scotland

Biographical Dictionary Of Dark Age Britain c.500c.1050

Dickinson, William Croft A New History Of Scotland Vol 1 From The Earliest Times To 1603

Donaldson, Gordon A Northern Commonwealth

Donaldson, Gordon Scottish Historical Documents

Donaldson, Gordon Scottish Kings

Duncan, A A M Scotland The Making Of The Kingdom Vol 1

Ellis, Peter Beresford Macbeth High King of Scotland 1040-1057

Higham, N J - Northumbria AD 350-1100

Macbeth On The Internet

Marsden, John Alba Of The Ravens, Scotland's Kings And Queens

Shakespeare, William - Macbeth

 

 

     
Images Caliban Films/Playboy Productions. Text copyright Mick Baker. An original feature for the History Files.