For some people, Macbeth is the fictional character portrayed in William Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth.” The play depicted Macbeth as a young army general who received a prophecy from witches that...
Macbeth (c. 1005 – 1057 AD) was a historical figure who ruled as King of Scotland from 1040 until his death in 1057. His reign and life have been widely popularized and mythologized due to William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy “Macbeth.”
Macbeth, known in Gaelic as Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, was born around 1005 AD.
He was the son of Findláech of Moray, a region in northern Scotland. Macbeth belonged to a line of rulers who were often in conflict with the royal family for control over the broader Scottish realm.
Rise to Power
Macbeth became the Mormaer (a regional chief) of Moray after the death of his father.
In 1040, Macbeth killed King Duncan I in battle (not in his sleep as portrayed in Shakespeare’s play) and subsequently became the King of Scotland. Duncan’s reign had been marked by unrest, and Macbeth’s claim to the throne was as legitimate as Duncan’s based on the succession norms of the time.
Reign (14 August 1040 – 15 August 1057)
Contrary to his portrayal in literature, Macbeth’s reign (1040-1057) was relatively stable and prosperous. He implemented fair laws and was known for his Christian piety.
He made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050, a fact that underscores his devotion to Christianity.
Scotland saw a period of relative peace under his rule, though like all rulers of his era, his reign wasn’t without conflict.
Downfall and Death
In 1054, Siward, the Earl of Northumbria, invaded Scotland, likely with the support of King Edward the Confessor of England. This invasion was on behalf of Duncan’s son, Malcolm.
Macbeth was defeated at the Battle of Dunsinane in 1054 but remained king.
He was eventually killed at the Battle of Lumphanan in 1057 by Malcolm, later known as Malcolm III. Macbeth was succeeded by his stepson, Lulach, who was king for a few months before also being killed by Malcolm.
William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”
Written in the early 17th century, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” is one of his most famous tragedies. It portrays Macbeth as a tragic hero consumed by ambition and spurred to regicide by his wife and supernatural elements, including three witches.
While the play is a work of fiction and takes significant liberties with historical facts, its themes of ambition, power, and fate have made it one of the most enduring works in the English language.
In reality, Macbeth’s life and reign were much more nuanced than the dark and bloody tale told by Shakespeare. However, the literary version has overshadowed the historical truth, and Macbeth is often remembered more for the fictional portrayal than for his actual contributions as a king.