Macbeth, King of Scotland.

Macbeth is best known as the bloody tyrant from Shakespeare’s play who murders anyone whom he considers to be a threat to his power. It usually comes as a surprise to learn that there was a real king of Scotland named Macbeth. There was a Lady Macbeth, too - her name was Gruoch. 

Macbeth did kill King Duncan, but not when he was a guest in his house. In fact, the real Duncan was not the wise, royal father figure of Shakespeare’s play but a rash man, about thirty years old, whom Macbeth killed in battle. Duncan’s queen and sons fled the country, and in 1040 Macbeth was proclaimed king. He still had a few political odds and ends to clear up: he killed in battle Duncan’s father, who led an uprising against him, and he made a truce with Throfinn the Mighty, the Viking earl of Orkney. The powerful Siward clan invaded the Scottish county of Lothian, but Macbeth drove them back. In 1050 he felt so sufficiently confident of the stability of his kingdom that he and Thorfinn made the long pilgrimage to Rome, where, as one chronicler reports, Macbeth “scattered alms like seed-corn.”

In 1054, Duncan’s son Malcolm, backed by the Siwards and an English army, entered Scotland and fought Macbeth at Dunsinane. The battle appears to have been a draw, but for some reason, in order to make peace, Macbeth turned over to Malcolm the Scottish counties of Lothian, Cumbria, and Tayside. Three years later Malcolm made war on Macbeth again. At the Battle of Lumphanan, Macbeth fell in combat. Although the king was dead, his army was victorious, and Macbeth was succeeded by his stepson, Lady Macbeth’s boy, Lulach. Ironically, Macbeth was killed on the seventeenth anniversary of the day he killed Duncan.


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