“I will not yield" - the Death of Macbeth in the Battle of Lumphanan

15 August 1057, Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, King of the Scots, better known as Macbeth, is killed in the Battle of Lumphanan, 25 miles west of Aberdeen, by Máel Coluim mac Donnchada, the later King Malcolm III of Scotland.

“I will not yield, / To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet, / And to be baited with the rabble's curse. / Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane, / And thou oppos'd, being of no woman born, / Yet I will try the last. Before my body / I throw my warlike shield: lay on, Macduff; / And damn'd be him that first cries, "Hold, enough!" (Shakespeare, “Macbeth“)

The imagination of the arrival of Malcolm’s army at Dunsinane in a dramatic Scottish landscape by the English Romantic painter John Martin (1789 – 1854) alternatively called “The Battle of Dunsinane” or “Macbeth” (1813).

The 17 years of Macbeth’s rule as King of the Scots were, the continuous feuds between the various northern petty kingdoms, the Northumbrians and the mighty Danish kings who still held the islands of Scotland’s eastern coast, taken into account, relatively peaceful and prosperous. In 1050, Macbeth could even undertake a pilgrimage to Rome for several months and was still king after his return. A state of things that could absolutely not be taken for granted during the early High Middle Ages in Scotland. If the murder of relatives of possible aspirants to the throne, if it happened at all, was regarded as usual business, is not handed down, though there was an attempt by Malcolm’s family on the throne in 1040, early in Macbeth’s reign that claimed the life of Malcolm’s grandfather. However, the gory tyrant portrayed in Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play” has almost no basis in history.

William Hole: Malcolm III and his second wife Margaret Canmore (1898)

Malcolm, the son of the unfortunate King Duncan, who was indeed slain by his war leader Macbeth in 1040, possibly grew up in various courts, that of the Kings Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor among them and was probably in his mid-twenties when he marched north with the help of Edward and the Earl of Northumbria. The latter had attempted an invasion of Scotland a couple of years before, was bloodily repulsed and it might well be that Malcolm was used as a pawn by the Northumbrians during their next stage of attack that finally drove Macbeth north into Aberdeenshire.

An 1884 Chicago poster advertising  the staging of Shakespeare's "Scottish Play"

We know next to nothing about the Battle of Lumphanan other than that Macbeth retreated over Cairnamounth Pass into the Mounth hills and that he was slain – probably not by Macduff, Thane of Fife, who is, despite local legends and the likewise legendary accounts of the origins of Clan MacDuff, entirely fictional. A stepson of Macbeth was crowned and survived for a year after the battle, but was disposed by Malcolm who became King Malcolm III in 1058 and founder of House Dunkeld that ruled Scotland until the death of Alexander III in 1258, marking the beginning of hereditary monarchy and the introduction of the feudal system that displaced the old tribal structures, as well as the growing influence of Anglo-Norman lords in the Lowlands that culminated in the First War of Independence in 1296.