Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1057, died Macbeth, king of Scots.

Macbeth was a contender for the throne, who killed Duncan I in battle, not sleeping as in Shakespeare, and became a conventional king, not a tyrant as in Shakespeare, and eventually lost the throne to a young prince, who defeated him in the same manner.

Mac Bethad mac Findláich, known as Macbeth, was the grandson of King Kenneth II, on his mother’s side, and was married to Gruoch, a descendant of King Kenneth III. About 1031, he succeeded his father, Findlaech, Sinel in Shakespeare, as mormaer, that is chief, of Moray.

When Malcolm II, king of Scots, died in 1034, he left the succession to the throne in dispute. The two major claimants, Duncan and Macbeth, each tried to gain the support of the nobles in a bitter power struggle, in which Duncan was successful and was crowned king. The disgruntled Macbeth used what support he had to raise an armed rebellion and defeated Duncan in battle at Dunkeld, near Elgin, the Birnam Wood of Shakespeare’s play.

Macbeth ruled Scotland in an efficient manner, not as a tyrant as in Shakespeare, until 1054, when he in turn was defeated in battle and slaughtered by Duncan’s son Malcolm. Macbeth’s stepson, Lulach, reigned for a brief while, until he was deposed by Malcolm, who reigned as Malcolm III.

The story of Macbeth was originally written by Hector Boece, a churchman who was indebted to his patron, James IV of Scots, for founding for him a college, King’s College, Aberdeen, now Aberdeen University. Boece wrote an account of Macbeth, which flattered James’ ancestors, Duncan and Malcolm, and made their adversary Macbeth into a tyrant. Boece’s account of events was taken up by the English chronicler Holinshed, whose material Shakespeare used for many of his plays. Shakespeare in turn embellished Boece’s description, in order to flatter his patron, James I of England and VI of Scots, a descendant of James IV, and of kings Duncan and Malcolm. Shakespeare took what was already an embellished plot and turned Macbeth from a tyrant into a fiend. He takes the young king Duncan and turns him into a wise old king who is treacherously murdered in his bed by the villainous Macbeth. He takes the young prince Malcolm and makes him the model of virtue and integrity. He even introduces the saintly English king, Edward the Confessor, who blesses Malcolm’s enterprise to overthrow Macbeth. James I (VI of Scots) was eminently satisfied with Shakespeare’s production, but sad to say, the plot bears no resemblance to reality.

Macbeth is buried in Iona, in the company of venerated Scottish kings, in a location reserved for true kings, not usurpers. [St Oran’s Chapel, Iona Abbey, Isle Of Iona, PA76 6SN]

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