Macbeth’s early life and ancestry are uncertain. It’s believed that he had some royal blood through his mother as a descendent of King Kenneth II. However, it is known that his father was Findlaech, the chief of Moray in northern Scotland. Upon his father’s death in 1031, Macbeth became the next chief. He eventually married Gruoch, a descendant of King Kenneth III. As a result, the chief strengthen his ties to the Scottish throne.
During the reign of King Duncan I, Macbeth decided to press his claim to the throne. Seeking to eliminate any potential rivals, the king had led an army to Moray to kill Macbeth. On August 14, 1040, both men fought each other near Elgin. As their forces clashed, Macbeth met Duncan in single combat and killed him. With Duncan dead and his heirs still young, Macbeth claimed the Scottish throne as his own. Despite his victory, Duncan’s children managed to escape to England.
King of Scotland
Over the following seventeen years, Macbeth faced many attempts to overthrow him. In 1045, Crinan, the Abbott of Dunkeld, began a revolt in support of Duncan I’s son, Malcolm. The former king’s heir had been living as an exile in England since Duncan’s death. In response, Macbeth swiftly defeated the rebels and killed Crinan. The following year, England’s king, Edward the Confessor, endorsed an invasion of Scotland by Malcolm’s guardian, Earl Siward.
Unlike Crinan, Siward managed to defeat Macbeth, which caused him to flee. In turn, the earl appointed a puppet ruler in the king’s place. Although defeated, Macbeth rallied his supporters and overthrew his replacement. As a result, Siward’s campaign collapsed, and he was forced to return to England empty-handed. With his throne secured, the king enjoyed eight years of peace.
In 1054, Earl Siward launched a second invasion of Scotland. Although the earl successfully overcame Macbeth’s mercenaries, the battle claimed Siward’s eldest son. With his army depleted, Siward failed to capitalize on his victory. In turn, Macbeth remained in control of Scotland. Despite the earl’s failure, the now-grown Malcolm had rallied enough support in England to prepare his invasion.
In 1057, Malcolm and his army arrived in Scotland. His invasion prompted Macbeth to raise an army to meet the exiled prince at Lumphanan. During the ensuing battle, Malcolm personally killed the king on August 15, 1057. Having avenged his father’s death, the prince went on to kill Macbeth’s successor, Lulach, the following year. With both men dead, the newly crowned Malcolm III established the Canmore’s as Scotland’s new ruling dynasty.
Centuries after his death, Macbeth’s legend would be written about in William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. The play portrayed the king as a blood-thirsty man who had betrayed Duncan I and seized his throne. Despite this false representation, Macbeth is still commonly viewed this way. Although details of his life have been lost to time, what is known shows that the king’s infamous reputation isn’t entirely deserved.
Oram, R. (2006). The Kings & Queens of Scotland. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Macbeth. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Macbeth-king-of-Scots.