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Macbeth [Mac Bethad mac Findlaích]free

(d. 1057)
  • Dauvit Broun

Macbeth [Mac Bethad mac Findlaích] (d. 1057), king of Scots, was the son of Findlaech mac Ruaidrí (d. 1020), king of Moray, and (probably) nepos (nephew or grandson) of Malcolm II (d. 1034). Macbeth became king of Moray in 1032 when his cousin Gille Comgáin mac Maíl Brigte was burnt with fifty of his followers, possibly at Macbeth's instigation. Gille Comgáin and his brother Mael Coluim (d. 1029) had killed Macbeth's father, Findlaech, in 1020. Macbeth married Gille Comgáin's widow, Gruoch, the daughter of Boite mac Cinaeda, who was probably a son of Kenneth II (d. 995). As king of Moray, Macbeth had to contend with the growing power of Earl Thorfinn of Orkney. The Norse Orkneyinga Saga (a source of dubious reliability) relates how Karl Hundason (probably to be identified with Macbeth) campaigned unsuccessfully to assert his control over Caithness and Sutherland. Macbeth had better fortune against Duncan I, king of Scots, whose campaign against Moray in 1040 culminated in Duncan's death in battle against Macbeth, probably at Pitgaveny near Elgin on 14 August. What had been Duncan's opportunity in the crisis of succession in 1034 now became Macbeth's, and Macbeth became king of Scots.

Whatever dynastic claim Macbeth may have had, it is notable that both his father, Findlaech, and his cousin Mael Coluim were described as 'king of Scotland' in their obits, even though their power base seems to have been Moray. Perhaps Macbeth's accession was simply the culmination of Moray's increasing dominance over the more prestigious kingship of 'Scotland'. Macbeth also had land and influence beyond Moray (perhaps through his wife, Gruoch, who belonged to the once dominant lineage of descendants of Kenneth I), and is recorded as a benefactor of the Céli Dé of Loch Leven, to whom he and his wife granted estates in Fothriff (west Fife). Macbeth's kingship did not go uncontested, however. In 1045 he defeated and killed Duncan I's father, Crinán, abbot of Dunkeld. But by 1050 Macbeth's position was sufficiently stable to allow him to make a pilgrimage to Rome—the only reigning king of Scotland to do so—where he 'scattered money like seed to the poor' (Anderson, Early Sources, 1.588). He was alive to developments in the wider world, and in 1052 took two Norman knights into his service—the first Scottish king to take such recruits. In 1054 he faced a strong challenge from Duncan I's now adult son, Malcolm Canmore [see Malcolm III], who was backed by a powerful Northumbrian army. A bloody battle took place on 27 July, probably at Dunsinane (in what is now Perthshire), after which Macbeth was forced to give Malcolm some lands and position. This set up Malcolm to challenge Macbeth, and he killed him on 15 August 1057 at Lumphanan in Mar. The chief beneficiary, however, was Macbeth's stepson, Lulach [see below], who became king. His father, Gille Comgáin, had been killed by Macbeth. It may be that when Macbeth was finally overcome it was by the combined might of the sons of the kings he had killed in the advancement of his own career. A late (and debatable) source alleges that he was buried on Iona.

The Macbeth of Shakespeare's play was largely drawn from Ralph Holinshed's Chronicles, published in 1577. Holinshed followed the history of Hector Boece, who copied and enlarged the narrative in Andrew Wyntoun's metrical chronicle, written in the early fifteenth century. Wyntoun described Macbeth as 'thane of Cromarty' and 'thane of Moray'. Whether or not Macbeth was 'thane of Cromarty' cannot now be ascertained, but he was certainly not a mere 'thane' of Moray. Boece, without any apparent authority, altered these titles to the 'thane of Glamis' and 'thane of Cawdor' and Shakespeare followed this baseless attribution.

Lulach [Lulach mac Gille Comgáin] (d. 1058), king of Scots, was the son of Gille Comgáin mac Maíl Brigte (d. 1032), king of Moray from 1029, and Gruoch, who was the daughter of Boite mac Cinaeda and who subsequently married Macbeth. King-lists of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries describe him as (fatuus'stupid') or (infelix'unlucky'). He became king on Macbeth's death on 15 August 1057. It is usually argued that, despite defeat against Malcolm Canmore, son of Duncan I, Macbeth's followers were still able to seize the kingship for Lulach ahead of Malcolm. Lulach was soon defeated and killed 'by treachery' by Malcolm on 17 March 1058, at Essie, near Rhynie, in Strathbogie (in what is now Aberdeenshire). An alternative scenario, however, is that Lulach and Malcolm had been allies against Macbeth, who may have been responsible for the deaths of both their fathers. A late (and debatable) source says Lulach was buried on Iona. He had a son, Mael Snechta (d. 1085), king of Moray until dispossessed by Malcolm Canmore in 1078, and an unnamed daughter, whose son Angus (Óengus) was king of Moray until his death at the battle of Stracathro in 1130.


  • A. O. Anderson, ed. and trans., Early sources of Scottish history, ad 500 to 1286, 1 (1922), 551, 571, 580–604
  • A. O. Anderson, ed., Scottish annals from English chroniclers, ad 500 to 1286 (1908), 84–6
  • A. A. M. Duncan, Scotland: the making of the kingdom (1975), vol. 1 of The Edinburgh history of Scotland, ed. G. Donaldson (1965–75), 90–100
  • M. O. Anderson, Kings and kingship in early Scotland, rev. edn (1980), 265–89
  • B. E. Crawford, Scandinavian Scotland (1987), 71–4
  • H. Pálsson and P. Edwards, eds. and trans., The Orkneyinga saga: the history of the earls of Orkney (1978)