A Tale of Clan Menzies

There is one unsubstantiated piece of the legend, as received and relayed by Shakespeare, that does fit rather nicely with a folk tale from the Clan Menzies (pronounced “men-jeez”). The Menzies trace their origin to the city of Dunkeld in Atholl, to a man named Crinan, and they tell of their forebears joining Malcolm Canmore against Macbeth. These would be Scots whom the high king might reasonably expect would help him to repulse the invasion by Canmore and Earl Siward. “Were they not forced with those that should be ours …”

Along the way, the warriors clipped sprigs of rowan to pin to their tunics to show their loyalty to Malcolm Canmore. And where did they get these tree clippings? I only know that to travel from Dunkeld to the hill fort at Dunsinane, they had to pass through Birnam Wood…

So here is my fanciful explanation of how Dunsinane may have figured into the story. Battered by the battle near Dundee, perhaps Macbeth retreated through the hills to Dunsinane and holed up there, waiting for reinforcements. Most of his support was in the north, after all, in his home territory of Moray, and he might well have called for additional troops once Canmore’s force was sighted. If we accept the Menzies’ legend of their warriors coming to Canmore’s aid, however, they could have reached the beleaguered king before anyone from Moray. Perhaps it was they who besieged Macbeth in the crumbling bulwark, reviving the old enmity between Atholl and Moray, signaling an end to the alliance which had kept him in power.

It could have happened.

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