The real Macbeth


Macbeth in a painting by George Cattermole (1800-68).

With a new movie version of Shakespeare’s play due for UK release next month, it’s worthwhile to dust off the medieval history behind all the drama and tragedy.

The real Macbeth (Macbethad mac Findlaích) was a lord of Moray who became a prominent figure in Scottish politics in the middle decades of the eleventh century. His ambition gained him the kingship of the Scots in 1040, a position he held until his death in 1057 – except for a brief hiatus when he was deposed by a rival. His life ended in a battle against Malcolm Canmore (Máel Coluim mac Donnchadha) who went on to depose Macbeth’s stepson Lulach in the following year. Malcolm then ruled the Scots until his own death at the battle of Alnwick in 1093.

A useful list of historical information relating to Macbeth has recently been placed online at Buzzfeed, courtesy of Marian Toledo Candelaria. Marian is a PhD student at the University of Guelph in Canada and an assistant editor at the International Review of Scottish Studies. The subject of her doctoral thesis is Malcolm Canmore, so she is very well-placed to give us the lowdown on one of his greatest foes.

Click the link below…

Marian Toledo Candelaria: Top 10 historical misconceptions about Macbeth

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For more insights into this turbulent period in Scottish history, take a look at Marian’s blog. Marian can also be followed on Twitter at @malcolmcanmore

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Macbeth and his wife Gruoch (Lady Macbeth) are discussed in an older blogpost here at Senchus.

My interest in Macbeth stems mainly from his involvement in the last phase of the kingdom of Strathclyde. I’ve written about this at my other blog Heart of the Kingdom under the title ‘A Govanite on the Scottish throne’. The same topic formed the subject of an article in the magazine History Scotland and is also covered in Chapter 9 of my book Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age.

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This entry was posted in Scots and tagged .

6 comments on “The real Macbeth

  1. Thanks for this, Tim!

  2. Like Macbeth I am a Son of Finlay,do you know if the Finlayson name originates with Macbeth through his father Findleach.

    • Tim says:

      The traditional story of Finlayson origins traces the ancestry back to Finla Mor (Finlay the Great) who fought at the battle of Pinkie in 1547. The surname is an Anglicisation of Mackinlay (‘son of Finlay’) where initial F becomes silent after Gaelic ‘mac’.

  3. Peter says:

    Tim, have you every contemplated writing a book on Macbeth?

  4. Tim says:

    Not been on my to-do list, Peter, although it would be an interesting subject to tackle. There are a couple of Macbeth biographies out there, so maybe the ground is well-trodden anyway. As far as this period in Scottish history is concerned, I’m eagerly awaiting Neil McGuigan’s biography of Malcolm Canmore, due for publication next month and likely to be an essential study of the period.

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