Macbeth’s Predecessors and Contemporaries

Malcolm, King of Scots (Malcolm II)

      From 1004 to 1034, Scotland was ruled by Malcolm mac Kenneth (Malcolm II). This was an amazingly long rule for a king of Scots, most of whom only lasted about six years before being overthrown or defeated in battle–usually both. But Malcolm held the fractious Scots more or less together by means of a strong army and several astute political alliances. His wife was a relative of the Irish king Brian Boru, and his daughters were married to the chiefs of Atholl and (maybe) Caithness. Findlaech of Moray, Macbeth’s father, was also in Malcolm’s debt due to the high king having arrived to save the day when Findlaech and his kin were being trounced by the Norse. There are even sources that claim Macbeth’s mother was one of Malcolm’s daughters, but this information didn’t crop up until about the 14th century and is therefore suspect.

Thorfinn, Jarl of Caithness and the OrkneysThis infamous Norse ruler is known as Thorfinn the Great, and he was Macbeth’s northern neighbor almost from boyhood, for Thorfinn was only five when he inherited Caithness, which lies just across the Moray Firth from Moray. Upon the death of his Norse father, Sigurd the Stout, he was raised by Thorkel Amundson, known as Thorkel the Fosterer. His mother was the daughter of Malcolm, King of Scots, and Thorfinn owed him allegiance–but whether that was Malcolm II or Malcolm of Moray (Macbeth’s cousin), we cannot be sure, because the Irish monks who recorded this referred to both rulers by the same epithet. At any rate, Thorfinn swore allegiance to the Norwegian king at age 16, so his loyalties were, at best, divided.More about Thorfinn


Cnut, King of Denmark, Norway and EnglandCnut was the powerhouse of his day, ruling from 1016 to 1034. In 1031 he made a treaty with Malcolm II which mitigated–but did not stop–the constant warfare over the province of Mercia and its rich district of Lothian. According to English sources, Malcolm II swore to Cnut “to be his man” and to come to his aid by land or sea. Some scholars question whether this constituted a subordinate relationship, or a treaty between equals.

Siward, Jarl of NorthumbriaNorthumbria was the northernmost English province save Mercia, and it boasted the stronghold city of York. Siward, of Danish descent, was a kinsman of Duncan’s wife, and he supported Edward of England in his bid for the crown. Eventually, at Edward’s request, he helped Duncan’s son Malcolm Canmore defeat Macbeth.

Duncan, King of ScotsA grandson of Malcolm II, Duncan was made king of the client kingdom of Cumbria in 1018 and succeed Malcolm as ruler of Alba in 1034. His two sons, Malcolm Canmore and Donald Ban (Donalbane), later became kings in Alba, as well. His record in battle was dismal and demonstrates a poor grasp of strategy.More about Duncan

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