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HISTORICAL MACBETH

IV. SCOTLAND: 325-1066
Late in the fifth century a tribe of Gaelic “Scotti” from the north of Ireland migrated to southwestern Scotland, and gave their name first to a part, then to all, of the picturesque peninsula north of the Tweed. Three other peoples contested the possession of this ancient “Caledonia”: the Picts, a Celtic tribe, established above the Firth of Forth; the Britons, refugees from the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain, settled between the River Derwent and the Firth of Clyde; and the Angles or English between the River Tyne and the Firth of Forth. From all these the Scottish nation was formed: English in speech, Christian in religion, as fiery as the Irish, as practical as the English, as subtle and imaginative as any Celt.
Like the Irish, the Scotch were loath to relinquish their kinship organization, to replace the clan by the state. The intensity of their class conflicts was rivaled only by their proud loyalty to their clan, and their tenacious resistance to foreign foes. Rome failed to conquer them; on the contrary, neither Hadrian’s Wall between the Solway and the Tyne (A.D. 120), nor that of Antoninus Pius, sixty miles farther north between the firths of Forth and Clyde (140), nor the campaigns of Septimius Severus (208) or Theodosius (368) availed to end the periodical invasion of Britain by the hungry Picts. In 617 the Saxons under Edwin, King of Northumbria, captured the hill stronghold of the Picts, and named it Ed(w)inburgh. In 844 Kenneth MacAlpin united the Picts and Scots under his crown; in 954 the tribes recaptured Edinburgh, and made it their capital; in 1018 Malcolm II conquered Lothian (the region north of the Tweed), and merged it with the realm of the Picts and Scots. Celtic supremacy seemed assured; but the Danish invasions of England drove thousands of “English” into south Scotland, and poured a strong Anglo-Saxon element into the Scottish blood.
Duncan I (1034-40) gathered all four peoples—Picts, Scots, Celtic British, and Anglo-Saxons—into one kingdom of Scotland. Duncan’s defeat by the English at Durham gave an opening to his general Macbeth, who claimed the throne because his wife Gruoch was granddaughter of Kenneth III. Macbeth murdered Duncan (1040), reigned for seventeen years, and was murdered by Duncan’s son Malcolm III. Of seventeen kings who ruled Scotland from 844 to 1057, twelve died by assassination. It was a violent age of bitter struggle for food and water, freedom and power. In those dour years Scotland had little time for the frills and graces of civilization; three centuries were to pass before Scottish literature would begin. Norse raiders captured the Orkney Islands, the Faroes, the Shetlands, and the Hebrides; and Scotland lived ever under the threat of conquest by those fearless Vikings who were spreading their power and seed over the Western world.
“The Age of Faith”; Will Durant; “The Story of Civilization”; Volume 4; pp. 501-2
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Duncan I (d. Aug. 1, 1040, near Elgin, Moray), king of the Scots from 1034 to 1040. He was the grandson of King Malcolm II (ruled 1005-34), who irregularly made him ruler of Strathclyde when that region was absorbed into the Scottish kingdom (probably shortly before 1034). Malcolm violated the established system of succession whereby the kingship alternated between two branches of the royal family. Upon Malcolm’s death, Duncan succeeded peacefully, but he soon faced the rivalry of Macbeth, Mormaor (subking) of Moray, who probably had a better claim to the throne. Duncan besieged Durham unsuccessfully in 1039 and in the following year was murdered by Macbeth. Duncan’s elder son later killed Macbeth and ruled as King Malcolm III Canmore (1058-93), and the younger son, Donaldbane, ruled Scotland from 1093-1097. (Vol. III; p. 706)

Macbeth (d. Aug. 15, 1057, near Lumphanan, Aberdeen), king of Scots from 1040, the legend of whose life was the basis of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” He was probably a grandson of King Kenneth II (ruled 971-995), and he married Gruoch, a descendant of King Kenneth III (ruled 997-1005). About 1031 Macbeth succeeded his father, Findlaech (Sinel in Shakespeare), as “moarmaer,” or chief, in the province of Moray, in northern Scotland. Macbeth established himself on the throne after killing his cousin King Duncan I in battle near Elgin—not, as in Shakespeare, by murdering Duncan in bed—on Aug. 14, 1040. Both Duncan and Macbeth derived their rights to the crown through their mothers, and neither had a superior claim.
Macbeth’s victory in 1045 over a rebel army, near Dunkeld, Perth, may account for the later references (in Shakespeare and others) to Birnam Wood, for the village of Birnam is near Dunkeld. In 1046 Siward, earl of Northumbria, unsuccessfully attempted to dethrone Macbeth in favour of Malcolm (afterward King Malcolm III Canmore), eldest son of Duncan I. By 1050 Macbeth felt secure enough to leave Scotland for a pilgrimage to Rome. But in 1054 he was apparently forced by Siward to yield part of southern Scotland to Malcolm. Three years later Macbeth was killed in battle by Malcolm, with assistance from the English.
Macbeth was buried on the island of Iona, regarded as the resting place of lawful kings but not of usurpers. His followers installed his stepson, Lulach, as king; when Lulach was killed on March 17, 1058, Malcolm III was left supreme in Scotland. (Vol.VI; pp. 430-1)

Malcolm III Canmore (b. c. 1031—d. Nov. 13, 1093, near Alnwick, Northumberland), king of Scotland from 1058 to 1093, founder of the dynasty that consolidated royal power in the Scottish kingdom. The son of King Duncan I (ruled 1034-40), he lived in exile in England during part of the reign of his father’s murderer, Macbeth (ruled 1040-57). Malcolm killed Macbeth in battle in 1057 and then ascended the throne. After the conquest of England by William, duke of Normandy, in 1066, Malcolm gave refuge to the Anglo-Saxon prince Edgar the Aetheling and his sisters, one of whom, Margaret (later St. Margaret), became his second wife.
Malcolm acknowledged the overlordship of William in 1072 but nevertheless soon violated his feudal obligations and made five raids into England. During the last of these invasions he was killed by the forces of King William II Rufus (ruled 1087-1100). Except for a brief interval after Malcolm’s death, the Scottish throne remained in his family until the death of Queen Margaret, the Maid of Norway, in 1290. Of Malcolm’s six sons by Margaret, three succeeded to the throne: Edgar (ruled 1097-1107), Alexander I (1107-24), and David I (1124-53). (Vol. VI; p. 529)

THE UNIFICATION OF THE KINGDOM
In 843 Kenneth I MacAlpin, king of Scots, also became king of the Picts and crushed resistance to his assuming the throne. Kenneth may have had a claim on the Pictish throne through the matrilinear law of succession: probably the Picts, too, had been weakened by Norse attacks. The Norse threat helped to weld together the new kingdom of Alba and to cause its heartlands to be located in eastern Scotland, the former Pictland, with Dunkeld becoming its religious capital. But within Alba it was the Scots who established a cultural and linguistic supremacy, no doubt merely confirming a tendency seen before 843.
As the English kingdom was consolidated, its kings, in the face of Norse attacks, found it useful to have an understanding with Alba. In 945 Edmund of England is said to have leased to Malcolm I of Alba the whole of Cumbria, probably an area including land on both sides of the western half of the later Anglo-Scottish border. In the late 10th century a similar arrangement seems to have been made for Lothian, the corresponding territory to the east. The Scots confirmed their hold on Lothian, from the Forth to the Tweed, when, about 1016, Malcolm II defeated a Northumbrian army at Carham. About the same time, Malcolm II placed his grandson Duncan I upon the throne of the British kingdom of Strathclyde. Duncan succeeded Malcolm in 1034 and brought Strathclyde into the kingdom of Scots. During the next two centuries the Scots kings pushed their effective power north and west—William I was successful in the north and Alexander II in the west—until mainland Scotland became one political unit. Less discernible but as important was the way the various peoples grew together, though significant linguistic and other differences remained.
According to the Celtic system of succession, known as tanistry, a king could be succeeded by any male member of the “derbfine,” a family group of four generations: members of collateral branches seem to have been preferred to descendants, and the successor, or tanist, might be named in his predecessor’s lifetime. This system, in practice, led to many successions by the killing of one’s predecessor. Thus Duncan I was killed by his cousin Macbeth in 1040, and Macbeth was killed by Malcolm III Canmore, Duncan I’s son, in 1057. Shakespeare freely adapted the story of Macbeth, who historically seems to have been a successful king and who may have gone on pilgrimage to Rome. (Vol. 3; p.234) [This section and above three bios from “Encyclopaedia Britannica”]
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HISTORICAL MACBETH

MACBETH (1040-1057), king of Scots
Few details of Shakespeare’s play come close to reality, except the central theme of bitter conflict between Macbeth and Duncan I. Possibly the son of Malcolm II’s daughter by Finlay, mormaer of Moray, Macbeth’s marriage to a royal kinswoman strengthened his claim to the throne. His struggle with Duncan was also a campaign against growing English influence at court; he was a champion of the Scottish north. When Duncan was slain near Elgin (1040), Macbeth mounted his throne. For the next seventeen years, he defended his position against Duncan’s son, Malcolm Canmore, and his allies in Orkney and Northumbria, who occupied part of southern Scotland. Macbeth felt secure enough to make a pilgrimage to Rome (1050), but he was killed by Malcolm and the Northumbrians at Lumphanan. With the overthrow of his stepson and heir (1058), his line’s regal pretensions ended. Apart from Duncan II (1094) and Donald Bane (1097), Macbeth was the last Scottish king to be buried on Iona. (“The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy”; John Cannon & Ralph Griffiths; p. 96)
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HISTORICAL MACBETH

In the middle of the eleventh century the Mac Alpin dynasty ran into trouble. Automatic primogeniture had never been practiced. But Malcolm II (r. 1005-34) and the various candidates for the throne—Duncan I (r. 1034-40), Malcolm II’s grandson, Macbeth of Moray (r. 1040-57), Malcolm II’s nephew, and Lulach of Moray (r. 1057-8), Macbeth’s stepson—all became embroiled in an elaborate feud. This was nothing unusual in medieval dynasties, but the sensational treatment of the episode by William Shakespeare has turned it into an archetype of bloodthirsty treachery and usurpation, replete with witches and sexual jealousy:
I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er. (III.v.135-7)
Shakespeare did not hint to his English audience that similar tragedies had occurred nearer home; and he dragged the whole of Scottish history into that same sea of gore and nihilism:
Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (V.v.22-7)
These may be lines of unsurpassed magnificence. Yet they hardly match the historical record. Macbeth was sufficiently sure of his throne to be the only King of Scots to visit Rome, where “he scattered money like seed to the poor.” He held on to the sceptre despite the defeat at Dunsinnan (1054), and he was finally killed by Duncan’s son, Malcolm Canmore. As part of his military strategy, he imported the first contingent of Norman knights to Scotland. This event signalled a trend which in the next generation would transform the cultural and ethnic landscape of the Lowlands. (pp. 264-5)

Nonetheless, a very special fate overtook the memory of the Gaelic Kings of the Scots, and particularly of Macbeth. Unlike its neighbours, early Scotland did not experience a “Great Catastrophe” comparable to the Norman conquest of England or the Plantagenet invasion of Ireland. The Gaelic monarchy of Scotland was not overthrown by violent external attack. It was undermined by the internal policies of later kings from the House of Canmore who destroyed the Gaelic supremacy from within. By the thirteenth century at the latest (see Chapter Six), Scotland’s centre of political gravity had shifted decisively away from the Gaeltacht and into the Lowlands. Power moved into the hands of a Lowland aristocracy, which had strong Norman connections, which spoke Scots not Gaelic, and which viewed the Highland Gaels as troublesome aliens. When the new Scottish elite began to trace their roots, therefore, they found that they had nothing in common with illustrious predecessors like Macbeth. Macbeth, in fact, was an embarrassment. He had been overthrown by Malcolm Canmore, an ancestor of the Stewarts. In reality Macbeth was no assassin; but his reputation had to be assassinated. Step by step, the stains were spread. Already by the fourteenth century the Scots chronicler John of Fordon, who invented the figure of Banquo, was calling Macbeth a usurper. And early in the fifteenth century, Andrew of Wyntoun was putting the tag of murder onto Duncan’s death. Yet it was the sixteenth-century scholar Hector Boece who did the decisive damage. Boece turned the historical Queen Gruoch into the hideous Lady Macbeth and introduced the theme of conspiracy. As one of Boece’s many Scots imitators put it:
[Macbeth’s] wife, impatient of lang tarry (as all women ar) specially quhar they are desirus of any purpos, gaif him gret artation to pusew the weird that sche might be ane queene, callend him off tymis febye cowart and nocht desirus of honouris, sen he durst not assailze the thing with manheid and curage quilk is offerit to hym be the benivolence of fortoun…
Boece wrote in Latin. But his spin was picked up by the two leading historical writers of the next generation—George Buchanan in Scotland and Raphael Holinshed in England. Hence, when William Shakespeare was looking for a story for an intended Scottish play, he found it ready made. All he had to do was to add the words. And he gave the world a Macbeth of whom “the devil himself could not pronounce a title more hateful to mine ear.”
A historical source that is much closer in time to the historical Macbeth provides the following portrait:
The strong one was fair, yellow-haired, and tall.
Very pleasant was the handsome youth to me.
Brimful of food was Scotland, east and west,
During the reign of the ruddy, brave king.
One may be forgiven for suspecting that myths are more powerful than history. (pp.300-2) “The Isles: A History”; Norman Davies
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HISTORICAL MACBETH

A NOTE ON THE SOURCES
If we turn to books, it is evident that Shakespeare’s chief debt is to Holinshed’s “Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland.” In Holinshed Shakespeare found not only the story of Macbeth, who killed King Duncan, but another story of regicide that suited his purposes even better. Holinshed says that Duncan was “negligent,” and that during his reign “many misruled persons took occasion thereof to trouble the peace and quiet state of the commonwealth.” According to the “Chronicles,” Macbeth, with Banquo, openly killed the king; Macbeth’s wife is mentioned only once. Shakespeare, clearly, had to dissociate Banquo from Macbeth, and perhaps give Macbeth some other ally. He found a way in Holinshed’s story of Donwald, who, urged by his wife, killed his guest, the pious King Duff. But even the story of Donwald and his wife did not contain the sleepwalking scene that Shakespeare invented for Lady Macbeth. A study of the episodes in Holinshed shows that Holinshed actually provided only the broad outline of the story and some hints for particular episodes rather than the characters as we know them or the moral feeling as we sense it.
Other books provided some additional material: possibly Shakespeare browsed through several works on witchcraft and on Scottish history; possibly Seneca’s “Agamemnon” helped him (in its portrait of Clytemnestra) to draw Lady Macbeth; certainly “Agamemnon” gave him a few verbal tags, as did the Bible, which also gave him, more important, a conception of the consequences of sin. Finally, it should be mentioned that Shakespeare, like other writers, borrowed from himself. Macbeth owes something to Tarquin in “Lucrece,” who at night performs a deed he knows is repellent and who is aware of his shortsightedness in giving up what Macbeth calls his “eternal jewel”:
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy? (lines 213-14)
“The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare”; Sylvan Barnet; pp. 1230-1
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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

Great information, stratford. Thanks for all the research.
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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

You are most welcome. It took a VERY long time.



Everyman wrote:
Great information, stratford. Thanks for all the research.


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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

Your article reminded me. A few years ago my husband and I vacationed in Scotland and took a ferry to Iona. There is a large burial mound there said to contain the remains of many early Scottish kings, including the real MacBeth. A very evocative setting.
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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH



katknit wrote:
Your article reminded me. A few years ago my husband and I vacationed in Scotland and took a ferry to Iona. There is a large burial mound there said to contain the remains of many early Scottish kings, including the real MacBeth. A very evocative setting.


I loved my visit to Iona. I bet Choisya or Laurel can find us some neat web sites about it to give a flavor of the island to those who've never had the benefit of going there.
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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

Holy cats, Stratford! Thanks for all the information :smileyhappy:
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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH



stratford wrote:
According to the “Chronicles,” Macbeth, with Banquo, openly killed the king;

The term used is "slew," which sounds more like he was killed in battle than in bed. I'm not sure that Macbeth killed Duncan at all, but I'm quite sure from the reading I've done that he didn't kill him in the castle while he slept. That was pure dramatic invention.
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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

Here's the actual excerpt of what Holinshed wrote:

At length therefore, communicating his purposed intent with his trustie friends, amongst whome Banquho was the chiefest, vpon confidence of their promised aid, he slue the king at Enuerns, or (as some say) at Botgosuane, in the sixt yeare of his reigne.

Not very like the play's version, is it?
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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

And it's not clear whether Holinshed was right about Macbeth killing Duncan; according to some other versions, it was Torfinn who killed Macbeth.
http://www.thelandofmacbeth.com/torfinn.htm
At any rate, it seems pretty clear that Duncan was killed in battle or skirmish.
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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

It is too small to have many websites Everyman - they probably want to keep the beauty of it secret! When did you visit Iona and was the ferry crossing calm when you did?:smileysurprised:

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/Scotland-History/StColumba.htm

http://www.scotshistoryonline.co.uk/dukes.html




Everyman wrote:


katknit wrote:
Your article reminded me. A few years ago my husband and I vacationed in Scotland and took a ferry to Iona. There is a large burial mound there said to contain the remains of many early Scottish kings, including the real MacBeth. A very evocative setting.


I loved my visit to Iona. I bet Choisya or Laurel can find us some neat web sites about it to give a flavor of the island to those who've never had the benefit of going there.


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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

Who knows after all these many years? I still think it more likely that Macbeth would have cast the final blow because he was ambitious for the crown and would have wanted to know for certain the king was dead. Scottish clans were forever fighting, skirmishing or battling, this was just one more killing of a clan leader by a clan leader:smileysad:. Perhaps Shakespeare thought Macbeth had a better ring to it tham Torfinn, which sounds more Viking than Scottish and would not perhaps have pleased a Scottish king.



Everyman wrote:
And it's not clear whether Holinshed was right about Macbeth killing Duncan; according to some other versions, it was Torfinn who killed Macbeth.
http://www.thelandofmacbeth.com/torfinn.htm
At any rate, it seems pretty clear that Duncan was killed in battle or skirmish.


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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

No, but a king was slain which was regicide and that was a good basis for a play for a Scottish king, which told of the evils of regicide and the come-uppance of its perpetrators. .




Everyman wrote:
Here's the actual excerpt of what Holinshed wrote:

At length therefore, communicating his purposed intent with his trustie friends, amongst whome Banquho was the chiefest, vpon confidence of their promised aid, he slue the king at Enuerns, or (as some say) at Botgosuane, in the sixt yeare of his reigne.

Not very like the play's version, is it?


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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

Slay, slew, slain - from Middle English - to kill violently. I suppose you can be killed violently in bed too but I agree that historical evidence points to Macbeth (or whoever!) killing Duncan in a battle or a skirmish.



Everyman wrote:


stratford wrote:
According to the “Chronicles,” Macbeth, with Banquo, openly killed the king;

The term used is "slew," which sounds more like he was killed in battle than in bed. I'm not sure that Macbeth killed Duncan at all, but I'm quite sure from the reading I've done that he didn't kill him in the castle while he slept. That was pure dramatic invention.


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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

I visited it back in 1961, and to call the boat that went over then a ferry would be a significant compliment. I can't say the ride was smooth, but it wasn't seriously stormy. But I was glad I had taken my dramamine.
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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH

[ Edited ]
Great post Stratford - thanks. I wouldn't go so far as to call the Scottish clan system during Macbeth's time a royal dynasty, it was characterised by bitter feuding and division of lands for centuries. 'The Great Catastrophe' of Scotland was the invasion by Edward I's English army in 1296 which was resisted by the clans, led by William Wallace ('Braveheart'). After Wallace's defeat in 1298 Robert the Bruce became Guardian of Scotland and following his defeat of the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 Chief Clansmen petitioned to the Pope for Scotland to have independent status, with Robert the Bruce as the first king of the whole of an independent Scotland (1324). (BTW I am supposedly descended from Robert the Bruce, although my grandfather always said it was the spider because my long legs made me tall for a girl.:smileyvery-happy:)

http://hazel.forest.net/whootie/stories/bruce_and_spider_scotland.html

Message Edited by Choisya on 03-06-200707:13 PM

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Re: HISTORICAL MACBETH



Choisya wrote:
No, but a king was slain which was regicide and that was a good basis for a play for a Scottish king, which told of the evils of regicide and the come-uppance of its perpetrators.


That's for sure. Shakespeare hammers home the lesson that -- SPOILER!! -- even if you think the fates are on your side, killing a king is a very, very bad career move both for oneself and for one's family.

Which is, of course, why he can't mention that in fact the death of Duncan led to a very nice 17 year reign for Macbeth before death caught up with him, which was a pretty good run for a king in that day and age. But it would be highly impolitic to suggest in front of the king that killing a king can lead to a quite lengthy reign.
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