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The story of Macbeth

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Introduction --- Kings of Alba --- Macbeth --- David I --- Robert --- Stewarts

Everyone knows the name of Macbeth from Shakespeare's play. Perhaps not everyone realises that he was a real king of Scotland. The play is, of course, not historically accurate. This chronological list of kings slightly overlaps the previous page.

Anglicised nameMediaeval Gaelic nameReignedLength of reignEnd of reign
Duncan IDonnchad mac Crínáin1034-10406killed in battle with Macbeth
MacbethMac Bethad mac Findlaích 1040-1057 17in battle with Malcolm III
LulachLulach mac Gille Coemgáin1057-1058 1assassinated
Malcolm IIIMáel Coluim mac Donnchada1058-1093 35 killed by steward of Bamburgh Castle
Donald IIIDomnall mac Donnchada1093-1097 4blinded/imprisoned/killed
(Duncan II)Donnchad mac Maíl Coluim(1094) murdered
EdgarÉtgar mac Maíl Choluim1097-1107 10natural death
Alexander IAlaxandair mac Maíl Coluim1107-1124 17natural death
David IDabíd mac Maíl Choluim1124-1153 29natural death

This family tree overlaps the previous tree quite a bit to show relationships. The numbers in brackets are the dates of the reigns, so anyone without numbers was not a king. This is all AD, of course.

                 Malcolm I (943-954)                          
     |                                 |                                    
Duff (962-967)               Kenneth II (971-995)          
     |                                 |
Kenneth III (997-1005)       Malcolm II (1005-1034)
                               Duncan I (1034-1040)
                               |                                                       |
                    Malcolm III (1058-1093)                                      Donald III (1093-1097)
         |              |                       |                    |
Duncan II (1094)  Edgar (1097-1107)  Alexander I (1107-1124)  David I (1124-1153)

Duncan I, Macbeth, Malcolm III and Donald III are all mentioned in Shakespeare's play. Shakespeare was not an historian, he was a playwright writing for the English court, and naturally enough, he wanted to make the monarch look good. This period of Scottish history was a struggle between Duncan I with his descendents, and Macbeth, king of Moray. Shakespeare was writing for James VI of Scotland (James I of England), who was descended from Duncan I, so naturally Duncan becomes the goodie and Macbeth the baddie.

Duncan I was the son of Bethóc, the daughter of Malcolm II. In 1039, Duncan led a large Scots army south to besiege Durham, but the expedition ended in disaster. Duncan survived, but the following year he led an army north into Moray, Macbeth's domain, and was killed there in battle (rather than being murdered in his bed, as in the play).

This page is called the story of Macbeth yet he doesn't appear on the family tree. He is not descended from Kenneth I, like most Scottish kings. His wife (Lady Macbeth according to Shakespeare) was called Gruoch. She was the grand-daughter of King Kenneth, but it is not known whether this was Kenneth II or Kenneth III. The picture on the left is an actress playing Lady Macbeth in the play, not a true representation of Gruoch (but a lovely picture!) When Macbeth became king, then Duncan's sons, Malcolm and Donald fled, as in the play, but probably not into England. There is no ancient evidence that Macbeth was a tyrant, and he had quite a long reign.

Macbeth was eventually met in battle by Malcolm, the future king, and killed. However, Lulach was declared king first. Lulach was the son of Gruoch, so the stepson of Macbeth. This means that he is not in the family tree either. He didn't last long.

Malcolm III had a long reign without much opposition within Scotland. He led several raids into Northumbria. He married the sister of Edgar Ætheling, who claimed the English throne. During his reign, William the Conqueror had invaded England. William also attacked Northumbria, who opposed his reign. Between Malcolm and William, Northumbria did not recover for more than 100 years. Malcolm was eventually killed on one of his English raids by the steward of Bamburgh Castle.

Donald III took the crown by force. Malcolm's son Duncan II tried to take the throne back again, but lasted less than a year. Eventually, another son of Malcolm, Edgar, managed to defeat Donald and become king. The battles between the sons of Duncan I put perhaps a different perspective on Macbeth's own behaviour. Still, from Edgar onwards, things seem to have settled down, and the kings of Scotland managed to die from natural causes rather than in battle or being murdered. Two more sons of Malcolm III became king, the last being David I - see next page.