Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Macbeth (d.1057)

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MACBETH (d. 1057), king of Scotland, son of Finlay, was apparently one of the sub-kings who submitted to Canute in the reign of Malcolm II [q. v.] in 1032. He was a Mormaer, or district chief, in Moray, and became commander of the forces of Duncan, king of Scotland. But he rebelled against his master, slew him at Dunsinane in Perthshire, and took his kingdom on 14 Aug. 1040. His ally, the Norse Jarl Thorfin, became the chief power in the north-east, possessing, according to the probably exaggerated statement of the ‘Orkney Saga,’ ‘nine earldoms in Scotland, the Sudreys (or Hebrides), and a great kingdom in Ireland.’ Macbeth's wife, Gruach, was daughter of Boete, son of Kenneth, and grand-niece of another Boete, son of Kenneth, slain in 1037 by Malcolm II. Through his marriage Macbeth had thus perhaps acquired a claim to the Scottish throne. He seems to have represented the Celtic and northern element in the population as against Duncan and his family, who were gradually drawing south and connecting themselves by intermarriage and customs with the Saxons of England and Lothian.

In 1050 Macbeth went to Rome and distributed money broadcast (seminando) among the poor (Marianus Scotus), perhaps to obtain the pope's absolution, as Thorfin is said to have done in the same year (Orkney Saga). He also conferred on the Culdees of Lochleven the lands of Kirkness and Bolgyn. In 1054 Siward, earl of Northumbria, the maternal uncle or cousin of Malcolm Canmore [q. v.], son of Duncan, invaded Scotland, and defeated Macbeth on 27 July, the day of the seven sleepers. This victory, according to Florence of Worcester, enabled Siward to establish Malcolm as king of Cumbria. Siward advanced by land and sea (the Firth of Tay), and though he is said by the ‘Saxon Chronicle’ to have won a stoutly contested battle, did not effect his object of driving Macbeth from the throne. Macbeth still maintained his power north of the Mounth, but three years later, after the death of Siward, Malcolm himself succeeded in defeating and slaying Macbeth at Lumphanan in Mar on 15 Aug. 1057, and Earl Thorfin having died in the same year (Skene, Celtic Scotland, p. 412), Malcolm reacquired the whole of his father's kingdom. For this defeat and its result we have the independent evidence of Marianus Scotus, the Scottish monk of Cologne, and Tighernac, the Irish annalist, both contemporaries. Macbeth left a nephew, Lulach, son of Gilcomgain, called the Idiot (Fatuus), who was killed by Malcolm in the following year by ambuscade or treachery (per dolum) at Essie in Strathbogie. The Macbeth of Shakespeare was drawn from Holinshed's ‘Chronicle of Scotland.’ Holinshed followed the history of Hector Boece, who copied and enlarged the narrative in Wyntoun's ‘Chronicle.’

[Tighernac in Chronicle of Picts and Scots, pp. 65, 78, 369; Marianus Scotus; Annals of Ulster; Orkney Saga (Anderson's edition), p. 43; Saxon Chronicle and additions in Simeon of Durham and Florence of Worcester are the earliest sources; Skene's Celtic Scotland; Robertson's Early Kings of Scotland.]

Æ. M.