Macbeth: the Man and the Myth 

Macbeth is one of my favourite plays. That’s saying something, because I’ve only ever seen half the play. But I’ve read the script hundreds of times, and each time is as thrilling as the time before.

Finding out the play was was based on actual history was amazing. Who was the real Macbeth? Was he as ruthlessly ambitious as his fictional counterpart?

Macbeth was born in the eleventh century. His grandfather was Malcolm II, King of Scotland. Pretty much nothing is known about his childhood. In the eleventh century, a person’s childhood was rarely considered interesting enough to be recorded.

In 1020, Macbeth’s father was killed by a man named Gille Coemgáin. How did Macbeth feel about this? Was he angry, or was he forgiving?

All that is known is that Gille Coemgáin died before 1032, burned to death along with fifty of his men. No one knows who started the fire that Gille Coemgáin died in, but Macbeth is high on the list of suspects.

Afterwards, Macbeth married Gruoch, Gille’s wife. No one knows how this marriage came about, or what Gruoch thought of marrying a man suspected of murdering her husband.

Gruoch and Gille had at least one son, Lulach. Macbeth raised him as his own.

Malcolm II died in 1034, and was succeeded by Macbeth’s cousin Duncan. You might remember him from Shakespeare’s play. In the play, Macbeth murdered him to gain the throne. But was Duncan murdered in real life?

Duncan was probably not a popular king. His nickname was ‘An t-Ilgarach’, meaning ‘the diseased’. Duncan ruled for less than a decade. For some reason, Duncan decided it would be a good idea to lead an army against Moray—Macbeth’s territory.

Unsurprisingly, Macbeth defended himself against this attack, and Duncan was killed in the process. Death in battle is a different thing from being stabbed in your sleep. In this, at least, Macbeth was justified.

Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donald were children at the time. Malcolm, it is believed, was taken to England for safety, and Donald to Ireland.

Guess who seized the throne in the meantime? Yes, none other than Macbeth himself. In the play, Macbeth’s rein is portrayed as short, a few years at most. In reality, Macbeth ruled Scotland for seventeen years.

Then Malcolm, now an adult made his comeback. With the help of the English, he set out to regain his throne. Macduff, however, did not join Malcolm’s army. Why? Simple, really. As far as the evidence goes, Macduff never actually existed.

Records from the time claim Malcolm was the one who killed Macbeth. Although it could be that Malcolm stole another man’s glory, to make himself look better. Hard to tell, now that the battle’s lost and won.

Shakespeare’s play was based on real events—but very loosely. The facts are
fascinating, and I hope to learn more about the real Macbeth in the future.

If you have any thoughts on Macbeth you would like to share, feel free to leave a comment.

Gruoch, Wikipedia

Duncun I, Wikipedia

 

the Daughter of Marie-Antoinette

Who hasn’t heard of Marie-Antoinette? Even those who don’t know who she was know her name. But does anyone know the story of Marie-Antoinette’s daughters?

The children of Marie-Antoinette have fascinated me since I was a child. Yes, we all know what happened to Mary-Antoinette herself, but what happened to her children? The history books available contained no information, other than acknowledging these children’s existence.

Marie-Antoinette had four children, two of whom were daughters: Marie-Thérèse, her eldest child, and Sophie. Only one would live to adulthood.

Her firstborn, Marie-Thérèse, was born in December. Most of the court was disappointed; not a future king, but a girl. But Marie-Antoinette was happy. She looked at her newborn daughter and said: “Poor little one, you are not desired, but you will be none the less dear to me! A son would have belonged to the state—you will belong to me.”

Marie-Antoinette had a second child several years later—a boy, Louis Joseph, heir to the throne. Her second son, Louis Charles, was born in 1785. Marie-Antoinette then gave birth to her final child, Sophie, a second daughter.

What did Marie-Thérèse, then seven years old, think of the new baby? Was she jealous? Or was she delighted with her baby sister?

Eleven months and ten days later, Sophie died. Her death was likely the result of tuberculosis; she suffered from convulsions for nearly a week before she died.

Marie-Thérèse must have been devastated. The royal family was down one daughter; only the eldest remained.

Two years after Sophie passed away, Louis Joseph joined her in death. He was seven-years-old at the time, the closest in age to Marie-Thérèse. Four-year-old Louis Charles was now heir to the throne.

Mere months after Marie-Thérèse lost her brother, the palace of Versailles was stormed by an crowd of angry working women, who’d spent the last months struggling to get enough for their families to eat. The royal family was forced to take shelter in the king’s apartments. The crowd demanded the king and his family be removed from Versailles, to Tuileries Palace in Paris.

Together, both Marie-Antoinette and the king planned to escape France, and the Revolution. On June 21, 1791, both Marie-Thérèse and Louis Charles were disguised as middle class girls, and their mother as a middle class women. The royal family got into a six horsed carriage, and the escape began.

On June 22, one day later, the king and his family were recaptured. They were brought back to Paris and placed under house arrest.

In 1793, the king was executed. One evening in July, guards marched in the royal families apartment, and tore eight-year-old Louis Charles away from his mother and sister.

Marie-Antoinette was taken away a month later. Her daughter never saw her again, and for a two long years, had no clue whether her mother was alive or dead.

Marie-Thérèse was finally released in 1795, the day before her seventeenth birthday, and taken to Austria, her mother’s birth country.

The ruler of Austria, Marie-Thérèse’s uncle, had worked hard to get the royal family released. By the time he succeeded, only Marie-Thérèse was left. Louis Charles had died several months before.

Marie-Thérèse married Louis-Antoine in 1799. The two had no children; they rarely, if ever, slept together. Perhaps after the events of her own childhood, Marie-Thérèse was unwilling to risk children of her own.

In the following years, Marie-Thérèse attempted to return to France, but was forced, after a brave resistance, to leave by Napoleon. Surprisingly, Napoleon paid Marie-Thérèse what could be described as a compliment, saying she was the ‘only man in her family’.

On October 19, 1851, Marie-Thérèse died, the eldest daughter, and only surviving child of Marie-Antoinette. Hopefully her death reunited with her sister, Sophie and her brothers.

Sources

Mary-Thérèse, Wikipedia

Sophie, Wikipedia

Marie-Antoinette, Wikipedia

Marie Thérèse, History and Other Thoughts