It's no secret that Shakespeare often based his plays on historical chronicles, true stories or tales written by other people. Macbeth is no exception - there really was a King Macbeth whose reign was framed in bloodshed. The locales with which Shakespeare embellished his play, however, Glamis and Cawdor castles, had absolutely nothing to do with the real Macbeth. In fact, they weren't even built during his short, violent life. They're nevertheless well worth visiting for their sheer, romantic Scottishness. Find out about visiting Glamis and Cawdor Castles.
Flattering a King
Shakespeare probably didn't play fast and loose with history and geography just for poetic licence. Sometimes he subtly altered the stories to flatter the ruling monarch - a good way to stay out of trouble. That's probably what happened to the tale of poor King Macbeth.
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Macbeth was King of the Scots from 1040 to 1057. His reign was relatively peaceful. He promoted Christianity in Scotland and even traveled to Rome for a papal jubilee. He came to power after killing King Duncan - in a battle, not by murdering the King in his bed - and he, in turn, was killed some 17 years later by Malcolm, who was Duncan's son - also in battle.
Successions, then, were often disputed and raising an army to kill a king was a pretty normal way to take the throne. Try to get your head around the succession of the early Scots kings and your head will be spinning in no time. Celts, Gaels from Ireland, Normans, Danes and other Viking groups were all part of the mixture of petty kingdoms and clans engaged in pretty constant fighting - thus the martial look of many castles in Scotland built well into the late medieval period.
This is where Shakespeare's touching up of the truth to flatter a king came into play. James I of England, who was also James VI of Scotland and son of Mary Queen of Scots, came to the throne when Elizabeth I died without an heir. He was the first of the Stuart kings, a generally unlucky lot (his son was beheaded, one of his grandsons deposed). Anything that enhanced the legitimacy of the Stuart claim to the Scottish monarchy, going back through the mists of time, was bound to please him.
Historians who do understand how to interpret early medieval Scottish geneology, with its myriad different spellings, regular murders and battles, inherited claims through uncles and wives, say that Macbeth's claim to the throne was better, or at least as good as Duncan's. So Macbeth could easily have been the wronged party, trying to unseat a usurper. Since James would have wanted to trace his lineage back to Duncan, it was in Shakespeare's best interests to clearly make Macbeth the villain of the piece.
Landmarks Real and Not So Real
There are no landmarks associated with the real Macbeth, though you can look for landscapes. He killed Duncan in battle in Pitgavenny, a wood on the southwestern outskirts of Elgin. He ruled from Inverness Castle but not the current castle. After Macbeth was killed, Malcolm erased all trace of him by destroying his castle. The castle that now dominates Inverness was built in the 19th century, is a courthouse complex and is not open to the public. Macbeth himself was killed in battle at Lumphanan, a village west of Aberdeen. There is nothing much there but a grim looking, unrated station hotel called the MacBeth Arms. So definitely a case where the fictional locales trump reality in all respects.