Macbeth, King of Scotland
Mac Bethad mac Findlaích (Modern Gaelic: MacBheatha mac Fhionnlaigh, anglicised as Macbeth, and nicknamed Rí Deircc, “the Red King”; died 15 August 1057) was King of the Scots (also known as the King of Alba, and earlier as King of Moray and King of Fortriu) from 1040 until his death. He is best known as the subject of William Shakespeare‘s tragedy Macbeth and the many works it has inspired, although the play presents a highly inaccurate picture of his reign and personality.
Macbeth was the son of Findláech mac Ruaidrí, Mormaer of Moray. His mother, who is not mentioned in contemporary sources, is sometimes supposed to have been Donada, a daughter of the Scottish king Malcolm II (Máel Coluim mac Cináeda).
Findláech was killed in 1020. According to the Annals of Ulster he was killed by his own people while the Annals of Tigernach say that the sons of his brother Máel Brigte were responsible. One of these sons, Máel Coluim mac Máel Brigte, died in 1029. A second son, Gille Coemgáin, was killed in 1032, burned in a house with fifty of his men. Gille Coemgáin had been married to Gruoch with whom he had a son, the future king Lulach. It has been proposed that Gille Coemgáin’s death was the doing of Mac Bethad in revenge for his father’s death, or of Máel Coluim mac Cináed to rid himself of a rival.
The origin myth of the kingdom of Alba traced its foundation to the supposed destruction of Pictland by Kenneth MacAlpin, and its kings were chosen from the male line descendants of Kenneth, with the possible exception of the shadowy Eochaid, said to be Kenneth’s daughter’s son. During the century in which the lists correspond well with the annals, the succession to the kingship of Alba was held in an alternating fashion by two branches of the descendants of Kenneth MacAlpin, one descended from Kenneth’s son Constantín, Clann Constantín mac Cináeda, and one from Constantín’s brother Áed, Clann Áeda mac Cináeda. Alternating succession is also seen in Ireland, where the High Kings of Ireland come from two branches of the Uí Néill, the northern Cenél nEógain and the southern Clann Cholmáin. Both systems have been compared with the concept of tanistry found in Early Irish Law, although the political reality appears to have been more complex.
Both systems of alternating succession coincidentally failed in the early 11th century. In Ireland, the failure of the northern Uí Néill to support their southern kinsman Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill against Brian Bóruma, and the resulting end to the system of Uí Néill High Kingship appears to have been caused by political geography. In northern Britain, the violent struggle between the various candidates for power seems to have removed Clann Áeda mac Cináeda from the contest, leaving only Clann Constantín mac Cináeda, in the person of Máel Coluim son of Cináed, to claim the kingship. Máel Coluim appears to have had rivals from within Clann Constantín killed during his reign.
It has been proposed that the base of Clann Áeda mac Cináeda’s power lay in the north of the kingdom of Alba, beyond the Mounth (eastern Grampians) in what had once been Fortriu and which was now called Moray (in Irish annals of the period, MacBethad is occasionally referred to as King of Fortriu, as well as King/Mormaer of Moray, before his succession to the throne of Alba). It was in this region that Mac Bethad’s kin appear to have been based. Later in the eleventh century, from the time of Gille Coemgáin’s grandson Máel Snechtai, a genealogy was compiled which traced Máel Snechtai’s descent and Clann Ruadrí’s origins to the Cenél Loairn founder Loarn mac Eirc. Loarn was supposedly the brother of Fergus Mór, whom the descendants of Kenneth claimed as an ancestor. The genealogy as it survives is apparently constructed by combining two distinct genealogies which are found attached to the Senchus fer n-Alban, that of Ainbcellach mac Ferchair (died 719), to which has been appended that of Ainbcellach’s kinsman Mongán mac Domnaill. It is likely that this conception of Clann Ruadrí’s origins predates Máel Snechtai and was prevalent in Mac Bethad’s time or even earlier.
The extent to which Gaelic kingship rested on agnatic (male line) descent can be seen in the case of Kenneth MacAlpin’s daughter’s daughter’s son Congalach Cnogba. Congalach was the grandson of High King Flann Sinna of Clann Cholmáin and succeeded to the Uí Néill High Kingship in unusual circumstances on the death of his mother’s half-brother Donnchad Donn. Rather than proclaim his near kinship with recent kings—grandson of Flann, nephew of Donnchad and Niall Glúndub—Congalach’s propagandists preferred to advance his claim to rule as a male-line descendant in the tenth generation of Áed Sláine (died circa 604). Like Congalach, Clann Ruadrí may have had a claim to the kingship in the female line which legal tradition would have considered to be of little importance. It is possible that Ruaidrí, or his father Domnall if he existed, may have married into Clann Áeda mac Cináeda and so inherited the allegiance of that family’s supporters.
It is not clear whether Gruoch’s father was a son of King Kenneth II (Cináed mac Maíl Coluim) (d. 995) or of King Kenneth III (Cináed mac Duib) (d. 1005), either is possible chronologically. After Gille Coemgáin’s death, Macbeth married his widow and took Lulach as his stepson. Gruoch’s brother, or nephew (his name is not recorded), was killed in 1033 by Malcolm II.
Mormaer and dux
When Cnut the Great came north in 1031 to accept the submission of King Malcolm II, Macbeth too submitted to him:
… Malcolm, king of the Scots, submitted to him, and became his man, with two other kings, Macbeth and Iehmarc …
Some have seen this as a sign of Macbeth’s power, others have seen his presence, together with Iehmarc, who may be Echmarcach mac Ragnaill, as proof that Malcolm II was overlord of Moray and of the Kingdom of the Isles. Whatever the true state of affairs in the early 1030s, it seems more probable that Macbeth was subject to the king of Alba, Malcolm II, who died at Glamis, on 25 November 1034. The Prophecy of Berchan is apparently alone in near contemporary sources in reporting a violent death, calling it a kinslaying. Tigernach’s chronicle says only:
Máel Coluim son of Cináed, king of Alba, the honour of western Europe, died.
Malcolm II’s grandson Duncan (Donnchad mac Crínáin), later King Duncan I, was acclaimed as king of Alba on 30 November 1034, apparently without opposition. Duncan appears to have been tánaise ríg, the king in waiting, so that far from being an abandonment of tanistry, as has sometimes been argued, his kingship was a vindication of the practice. Previous successions had involved strife between various rígdomna – men of royal blood. Far from being the aged King Duncan of Shakespeare’s play, the real King Duncan was a young man in 1034, and even at his death in 1040 his youthfulness is remarked upon.
Because of his youth, Duncan’s early reign was apparently uneventful. His later reign, in line with his description as “the man of many sorrows” in the Prophecy of Berchán, was not successful. In 1039, Strathclyde was attacked by the Northumbrians, and a retaliatory raid led by Duncan against Durham in 1040 turned into a disaster. Later that year Duncan led an army into Moray, where he was killed by Macbeth on 15 August 1040 at Pitgaveny (then called Bothnagowan) near Elgin.
High King of Alba
On Duncan’s death, Macbeth became king. No resistance is known at that time, but it would have been entirely normal if his reign were not universally accepted. In 1045, Duncan’s father Crínán of Dunkeld (a scion of the Scottish branch of the Cenel Conaill and Hereditary Abbot of Iona) was killed in a battle between two Scottish armies.
John of Fordun wrote that Duncan’s wife fled Scotland, taking her children, including the future kings Malcolm III (Máel Coluim mac Donnchada) and Donald III (Domnall Bán mac Donnchada, or Donalbane) with her. On the basis of the author’s beliefs as to whom Duncan married, various places of exile, Northumbria and Orkney among them, have been proposed. However, the simplest solution is that offered long ago by E. William Robertson: the safest place for Duncan’s widow and her children would be with her or Duncan’s kin and supporters in Atholl.
After the defeat of Crínán, Macbeth was evidently unchallenged. Marianus Scotus tells how the king made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050, where, Marianus says, he gave money to the poor as if it were seed.
In 1052, Macbeth was involved indirectly in the strife in the Kingdom of England between Godwin, Earl of Wessex and Edward the Confessor when he received a number of Norman exiles from England in his court, perhaps becoming the first king of Scots to introduce feudalism to Scotland. In 1054, Edward’s Earl of Northumbria, Siward, led a very large invasion of Scotland. The campaign led to a bloody battle in which the Annals of Ulster report 3,000 Scots and 1,500 English dead, which can be taken as meaning very many on both sides, and one of Siward’s sons and a son-in-law were among the dead. The result of the invasion was that one Máel Coluim, “son of the king of the Cumbrians” (not to be confused with Máel Coluim mac Donnchada, the future Malcolm III of Scotland) was restored to his throne, i.e., as ruler of the kingdom of Strathclyde. It may be that the events of 1054 are responsible for the idea, which appears in Shakespeare’s play, that Malcolm III was put in power by the English.
Macbeth did not survive the English invasion, for he was defeated and mortally wounded or killed by the future Malcolm III (“King Malcolm Ceann-mor“, son of Duncan I) on the north side of the Mounth in 1057, after retreating with his men over the Cairnamounth Pass to take his last stand at the battle at Lumphanan. The Prophecy of Berchán has it that he was wounded and died at Scone, sixty miles to the south, some days later. Macbeth’s stepson Lulach mac Gille Coemgáin was installed as king soon after.
Unlike later writers, no near contemporary source remarks on Macbeth as a tyrant. The Duan Albanach, which survives in a form dating to the reign of Malcolm III, calls him “Mac Bethad the renowned”. The Prophecy of Berchán, a verse history which purports to be a prophecy, describes him as “the generous king of Fortriu“, and says:
The red, tall, golden-haired one, he will be pleasant to me among them; Scotland will be brimful west and east during the reign of the furious red one.[26
Fearing civil war between the Bruce and Balliol families and supporters, the Guardians of Scotland wrote to Edward I of England, asking him to come north and arbitrate between the claimants in order to avoid civil war.
Edward agreed to meet the guardians at Norham in 1291. Before the process got underway Edward insisted that he be recognised as Lord Paramount of Scotland. During the meeting, Edward had his army standing by, thus forcing the Scots to accept his terms. He gave the claimants three weeks to agree to his terms. With no King, with no army ready, and King Edward’s army at hand, the Scots had no choice. The claimants to the crown acknowledged Edward as their Lord Paramount and accepted his arbitration. Their decision was influenced in part by the fact that most of the claimants had large estates in England and, therefore, would have lost them if they had defied the English king. However, many involved were churchmen such as Bishop Wishart for whom such mitigation cannot be claimed.
On 11 June, acting as the Lord Paramount of Scotland, Edward I ordered that every Royal Scottish Castle be placed temporarily under his control and every Scottish official resign his office and be re-appointed by him. Two days later, in Upsettlington, the Guardians of the Realm and the leading Scottish nobles gathered to swear allegiance to King Edward I as Lord Paramount. All Scots were also required to pay homage to Edward I, either in person or at one of the designated centres by 27 July 1291.
Balliol was named king by a majority on 17 November 1292 and on 30 November. He was crowned King of Scots at Scone Abbey. On 26 December, at Newcastle upon Tyne, King John swore homage to Edward I for the Kingdom of Scotland. Edward soon made it clear that he regarded the country as a vassal state. Balliol, undermined by members of the Bruce faction, struggled to resist, and the Scots resented Edward’s demands. In 1294, Edward summoned John Balliol to appear before him, and then ordered that he had until 1 September 1294 to provide Scottish troops and funds for his invasion of France.
On his return to Scotland, John held a meeting with his council and after a few days of heated debate, plans were made to defy the orders of Edward I. A few weeks later a Scottish parliament was hastily convened and 12 members of a war council (four Earls, Barons, and Bishops, respectively) were selected to advise King John.
Beginning of the war: 1296–1306
The First War of Scottish Independence can be loosely divided into four phases: the initial English invasion and success in 1296; the campaigns led by William Wallace, Andrew de Moray and various Scottish Guardians from 1297 until John Comyn negotiated for the general Scottish submission in February 1304; the renewed campaigns led by Robert the Bruce following his killing of The Red Comyn in Dumfries in 1306 to his and the Scottish victory at Bannockburn in 1314; and a final phase of Scottish diplomatic initiatives and military campaigns in Scotland, Ireland and Northern England from 1314 until the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328.
The war began in earnest with Edward I’s sack of Berwick in March 1296, followed by the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Dunbar and the abdication of John Balliol in July. The English invasion campaign had subdued most of the country by August and, after removing the Stone of Destiny from Scone Abbey and transporting it to Westminster Abbey, Edward convened a parliament at Berwick, where the Scottish nobles paid homage to him as King of England. Scotland had been all but conquered.
The revolts which broke out in early 1297, led by William Wallace, Andrew de Moray and other Scottish nobles, forced Edward to send more forces to deal with the Scots, and although they managed to force the nobles to capitulate at Irvine, Wallace and de Moray’s continuing campaigns eventually led to the first key Scottish victory, at Stirling Bridge. Moray was fatally wounded in the fighting at Stirling, and died soon after the battle. This was followed by Scottish raids into northern England and the appointment of Wallace as Guardian of Scotland in March 1298. But in July, Edward invaded again, intending to crush Wallace and his followers, and defeated the Scots at Falkirk. Edward failed to subdue Scotland completely before returning to England.
There have been, however, several stories regarding Wallace and what he did after the Battle of Falkirk. It is said by some sources that Wallace travelled to France and fought for the French King against the English during their own ongoing war while Bishop Lamberton of St Andrews, who gave much support to the Scottish cause, went and spoke to the pope.
Wallace was succeeded by Robert Bruce and John Comyn as joint guardians, with William de Lamberton, Bishop of St Andrews being appointed in 1299 as a third, neutral Guardian to try and maintain order between them. During that year, diplomatic pressure from France and Rome persuaded Edward to release the imprisoned King John into the custody of the pope, and Wallace was sent to France to seek the aid of Philip IV; he possibly also travelled to Rome.
Further campaigns by Edward in 1300 and 1301 led to a truce between the Scots and the English in 1302. After another campaign in 1303/1304, Stirling Castle, the last major Scottish held stronghold, fell to the English, and in February 1304, negotiations led to most of the remaining nobles paying homage to Edward and to the Scots all but surrendering. At this point, Robert Bruce and William Lamberton may have made a secret bond of alliance, aiming to place Bruce on the Scottish throne and continue the struggle. However, Lamberton came from a family associated with the Balliol-Comyn faction and his ultimate allegiances are unknown.
After the capture and execution of Wallace in 1305, Scotland seemed to have been finally conquered and the revolt calmed for a period.
Primeiro Wallace foi enforcado até ficar quase inconsciente, e então, amarrado a uma mesa, foi castrado, estripado, e suas entranhas – ainda presas a ele – foram queimadas. E então, finalmente, foi libertado do seu sofrimento inimaginável pela decapitação. Seu corpo foi esquartejado, e os pedaços, enviados para Newcastle upon Tyne, Berwick,Perth e Stirling. Sua cabeça foi colocada em um pique na Ponte de Londres, de modo que todos a vissem, como advertência para outros possíveis “traidores”.
King Robert the Bruce: 1306–1328
On 10 February 1306, during a meeting between Bruce and Comyn, the two surviving claimants for the Scottish throne, Bruce quarrelled with and killed John Comyn at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries. At this moment the rebellion was sparked again.
Comyn, it seems, had broken an agreement between the two, and informed King Edward of Bruce’s plans to be king. The agreement was that one of the two claimants would renounce his claim on the throne of Scotland, but receive lands from the other and support his claim. Comyn appears to have thought to get both the lands and the throne by betraying Bruce to the English. A messenger carrying documents from Comyn to Edward was captured by Bruce and his party, plainly implicating Comyn. Bruce then rallied the Scottish prelates and nobles behind him and had himself crowned King of Scots at Scone less than five weeks after the killing in Dumfries. He then began a new campaign to free his kingdom. After being defeated in battle he was driven from the Scottish mainland as an outlaw. Bruce later came out of hiding in 1307. The Scots thronged to him, and he defeated the English in a number of battles. His forces continued to grow in strength, encouraged in part by the death of Edward I in July 1307. The Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 was an especially important Scottish victory.
In 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath was sent by a group of Scottish nobles to the Pope affirming Scottish independence from England. Two similar declarations were also sent by the clergy and Robert I. In 1327, Edward II of England was deposed and killed. The invasion of the North of England by Robert the Bruce forced Edward III of England to sign the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton on 1 May 1328, which recognised the independence of Scotland with Bruce as King. To further seal the peace, Robert’s son and heir David married the sister of Edward III.
O Fhlu\ir na h-Albann,
cuin a chi\ sinn
an seo\rsa laoich
a sheas gu ba\s ‘son
am bileag feo\ir is fraoich,
a sheas an aghaidh
feachd uailleil Iomhair
‘s a ruaig e dhachaidh
air chaochladh smaoin?
Na cnuic tha lomnochd
‘s tha duilleach Foghair
mar bhrat air la\r,
am fearann caillte
dan tug na seo\id ud gra\dh,
a sheas an aghaidh
feachd uailleil Iomhair
‘s a ruaig e dhachaigh
air chaochladh smaoin.
Tha ‘n eachdraidh du\inte
ach air di\ochuimhne
chan fheum i bhith,
is faodaidh sinn e\irigh
gu bhith nar Ri\oghachd a-ri\s
a sheas an aghaidh
feachd uailleil Iomhair
‘s a ruaig e dhachaidh
air chaochladh smaoin.