Born in the early 11th Century, Macbeth came from a noble background. His father, Findlaech mac Ruaidrí, was king of Moray, and Macbeth himself was probably the nephew or grandson of Malcolm II. In 1032, after his cousin Gille Comgáin and fifty of his followers were burned to death, Macbeth became king of Moray. Although evidence is very limited, it is easy to see Macbeth as having had a role in the burning: in one fell swoop the killer of his father and the major barrier to his taking of the kingdom was conveniently removed. After his cousin's death, Macbeth married Gruoch, Gille Comgáin's widow and the granddaughter of Kenneth II. In suspicious circumstances, indicating ruthlessness on Macbeth’s part, he had taken his rival's life, crown and spouse.
Although weighed down by the growing power of the Earl of Orkney, Macbeth was able to put up a steady defence against the aggressions of Duncan I. The latter's attack against Moray in 1040 ended with Duncan's death in battle, probably at Pitgaveny on 14 August. It should be noted that there is no indication that Duncan was killed by Macbeth personally, as occurs in Shakespeare's play.
Macbeth's accession to the crown of Scotland does not appear to follow the Machiavellianism of the play, in which the crown is violently and opportunistically seized. Instead, Moray's increasing Scottish hegemony should be considered. Both Macbeth's father and cousin, while never kings of Scotland, had sometimes been dignified with the title 'king of Scotland', as a mark of prestige. Macbeth himself exerted influence beyond the Moray area: his wife's good lineage was appreciated nationwide, and there is evidence that he owned land elsewhere and was able to grant estates in West Fife.
Following the defeat of a rebellion by Duncan I's father in 1045, a degree of stability appeared to return to Macbeth's kingdom. In 1050, Macbeth became the only reigning king of Scotland to make a pilgrimage to Rome - his ability to leave his kingdom...