Hail the Usurper!

Prelude II, Usurpation of Macbeth & the House of Moray, 1054-1058

The reign of King Macbeth was a peaceful and prosperous time for the people of the kingdoms of Moray and Alba with a lasting peace between the kingdoms and the Viking Jarldoms to the North from 1040 to the year 1059. Amongst the common folk Macbeth became a revered man, indeed one of the most beloved Kings of Alba since King Duff reigned in 960-969.

Respected by his loyal thanes and feared by his enemies, Macbeth kept the throne with the backing of Moray’s powerful thanes and through the generous benevolence with which he treated even those who had opposed his claim to the rule in 1040. As a result for the first time since the 5th century when the Kings of the Picts ruled Alba, all of Gaelic speaking Scotland was controlled by one king. Macbeth ruled as the King of Alba, King of Strathclyde and Moray.

Battle of elgin

Macbeth then the Mormaer of Moray, preparing to attack King Duncan’s army at the Battle of Elgin in 1040

Indeed there was little bloodshed during the reign of Macbeth before the Battle of Dunsinane Hill was fought in the year 1054. The only exception being the Revolt of Crínán in 1045, in which the Mormaer of Atholl, Crínán father of the slain King Duncan I was killed by Macbeth’s army on the banks of the Firth of Tay. After Crínán raised an army of 180 men in Atholl and marched on St. Andrews, King Macbeth and Macduff the Thane of Fife met the rebels arm against arm in bloody combat. In the subsequent skirmish the rebels were slaughtered to the last man. Crínán was killed by Content Not Found: macduff-thane-of-fife the Thane of Fife ending the revolt.

The Kingdoms of Alba flourished during the reign of Macbeth with plentiful harvests and many regions free from the fear of Norse attack by the sea. The King been loved by the common man as Mormaer of Moray, just as his illustrious father Finlay, the Mormaer of Moray from 984 until the year 1020 had been loved. Macbeth was five & ten when his father was slain by his nephews Máel Coluim & Gille Coemgáin, the young Macbeth fleeing to Ireland to be fostered by the Irish King Bran mac Colggen. As King of Alba he was known for his generosity to the poor folk in both Moray and Alba. Much later in life he was known for his pious devotion to Christianity and for the many monuments, feasts, and offerings which he held in Gods name. Macbeth visited Rome in 1050, meeting with Pope Leo IX during his visit, blessed by him before his return to Alba in 1051.

Princes malcolm and donalbane

Prince Malcolm Canmore and his brother Donald the Fair in 1057 as they enter Strathclyde and begin the Usurpation of Macbeth

When the army of the Jarl of Northumbria Siward the Dane and his nephew Prince Malcolm invaded southern Alba in 1054 they were treated harshley by many, save for those in Strathclyde who long resented the subjugation of the Kings of Strathclyde to the Kings of Alba. This of course dated back to the death of the last King of Strathclyde, the sireless Owain the Bald in 1018, followed by King Malcolm II’s crowning as King of Strathclyde in 1032. Due to this the Mormaers & Thanes of Strathclyde offered little resistance allowing the host of Jarl Siward and the Prince Malcolm to march on Alba.

Macbeth and his armies fled north to the great hill at Dunsinane outside of Scone. It was here that five thousand men of Moray and Alba commanded by the King and his thane Iomhair, son of Moddan, set up defensive works at the summit of the grassy slopes, awaiting the onslaught of the Northumbrians and the lowland traitors who supported Prince Malcolm Canmore. The battle fought on Dunsinane Hill was fierce, certainly the bloodiest engagement fought in Alba since the Rebellion of the Thane of Cawdor in 1038. Thousands met their death in one morning on the battlefield that day where many first and second sons were slain including Siward’s eldest son, Osbeorn, who died bravely in the melee. Jarl Siward killed twelve men upon seeing his sons death before him.

Into the fray by josh skaarup

Into the Fray-Prince Malcolm and his men at Dunsinane Hill in June of 1054

Prince Malcolm & Jarl Siward won a great victory on the day but were robbed of a total victory when Macbeth and his housecarls made a fighting flight from the battlefield. Macbeth fled to Elgin and the Northumbrians withdrew south with Malcolm named the Prince of Cumbria by his uncle, who would die in 1055 of camp sickness. The King would survive three years of hardships, remaining King of Alba whilst he remained in Elgin. Macbeth’s infant son died in the harsh winter of 1055 & his wife Gruoch passed on in the next winter. Under pressure from his step-son, Lulach, the son of his cousin Gille Coemgáin and Macbeth’s late wife Gruoch, he Malcolm’s Crown in 1057 and abdicated the throne after Prince Malcolm and his brother Prince Donalbane invaded Strathclyde. After Lulach and Macbeth’s defeats in the Three Days Battles at Forteviot and Scone, both father and step-son fled to to the safety of Elgin castle yet again.

As the Mormaer of Moray & Thane of Cromarty, Macbeth was still the true power behind the throne of his step-son, Lulach, privately he hoped to both kill the Usurper and take the crown back after. Elgin then as it is now was a most formidable defensive structure, the keep itself the traditional seat of power of the Kings and later Mormaers of Moray. The castle and keep of Elgin are the only structures of their kind in Northern Alba, even the monks of Alba, no strategic masters themselves recognized this fact. Despite holding the defensive capabilities of the keep and the outer-lying territories with the entire strength of Moray, Macbeth chose to sally south in an attempt to raise a second army and to slay the Usurper in single combat. He and his household retainers were intercepted at the ancient Peelring of Lumphanan where Macbeth and his men were slain in battle.

Elgin castle   keep

Elgin castle & keep, Moray, as it appears in the year 1100 AD

Macbeth fought like a demon, fearing nought death or capture. He killed numerous kin of Malcolm in the short melee at Lumphanan, fighting until he was cornered and exhausted. It was recorded by the monks of Alba that many feared to match him arm against arm in close quarters combat and thus he was slain by three spears, hurled from some distance by Malcolm’s housecarls. With the battle won Malcolm personally removed Macbeth’s head, gaining vengeance for his slain father King Duncan I.

Macbeth lumphanan

Macbeth calls his loyal thanes and retainers to battle at Lumphanan

Though many thanes still begrudgingly pledged their loyalty to King Lulach in the Yuletide of 1057 into the spring of 1058, Prince Malcolm Canmore could now shed the title of Usurper and proclaim himself rightful King of Alba. He gained control of Malcolm’s Crown and of Moray under treacherous circumstances however in the year 1058, slaying King Lulach in his own tent as they treated before what became the Battle of Essie.

Their meeting was mediated by Maoldòmhnaich II, High Monk of Alba. Both drank and ate bread for a time hailing and lamenting those who had fallen in the battles which had been fought in their names in the months past. According to Maoldòmhnaich who took rather detailed notes of the meeting, Malcolm moved to kill Lulach after asking him how he felt inheriting the throne from his own father’s’ killer, rising from the table and stabbing the King in the back with a sword. Malcolm cut off his head and hurled it out of the tent signaling to his army to charge into Lulach’s camp, his men were caught unawares and many were slaughtered save for those who retreated or who knelt to King Malcolm III. After the Battle of Essie all the major Thanes and Mormaers hailed Malcolm as the King of Alba, Strathclyde, and Moray.

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