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Scotlands History

Macbeth - The real Scottish King

For all those schoolchildren ploughing disconsolately through another turgid Shakespeare play. Good news: There really was a King called Duncan and another called MacBeth and the facts are almost as good as the fiction.

Duncan was the King of an area in what was to become Scotland, called Strathclyde. The other areas of Pictland such as Atholl, Gowrie, Fife etc were governed by Mormaers, literally great stewards. The Mormaers had great authority and had an almost quasi-royal status.

When Duncan became King, his elevation was resented by MacBeth, who at that time was Mormaer of Moray. MacBeth was also a grandson of Malcolm II and expected to become King through the rules of Tanistry.

This resentment grew and he formed a Northern League against Duncan, along with his first cousin, Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney. The League confronted Duncan in A.D. 1040, which resulted in the defeat and death of the King.

MacBeth then assumed the Kingship and although taken by force, his power remained reasonably stable. This is shown by his ability to leave the country and travel to Rome, for example, on a journey that took in both religious significance and diplomatic.

As a generalisation, Government at this time was at a primitive stage. The King and his immediate council (which included both the warlords and the church) would decide policy and try to implement it as best as possible. In addition, early diplomacy would often be attempted in a crude, but often effective manner, by offering "homage" to neighbouring, more powerful "courts".

Pictures of Castles