Monday, March 4, 2013

Focus on Heroes: Macbeth, King of the Scots

A look at the Hero, Macbeth, available in the Scots list for the Saga wargame from Gripping Beast.

I guess I am not the only person hearing the name Macbeth and picturing an ambitious tragically flawed character from a Shakespeare play? So, how does the real man stack up with legend and of course, his role in the Saga wargame....

NEW: Gripping Beast Macbeth model is now out (edit 04/2014)...


Glamis Castle

His reign in Scotland came at the end of the period we know as the Dark Ages and took place in the region of Morayshire in the far North. His name 'mac-Bethad mac Findlaich' means "Son of Life" but was nicknamed "Ri Deirrc" ('The Red King').

His Mother is reputed to have been Donada, a daughter thought to be of the Scottish king Malcolm II. His father was Finlay McRory, a Mormaer (Lord) of Moray.

Macbeth married Gruoch, a grand-daughter of either Kenneth II or III who were Kings of Alba. She already had a son, Lulach, by a first marriage to Gille Coemgain's (another Mormaer of Moray. Macbeth adopts the boy as stepson.

Malcolm II, Macbeth and Duncan I:

Malcolm II
In the early 1030s it seems likely that Macbeth was subject to the king of Alba, Malcolm II, who died at Glamis Castle on 25 November 1034.

Malcolm II's grandson Duncan (Donnchad mac Crinain), was acclaimed Duncan I King of Alba on 30 November 1034, apparently without opposition.

Far from being the aged King Duncan of Shakespeare's play, the real King Duncan was a young man in 1034, and even at his death in 1040 his youthfulness is remarked upon.

Macbeth became the commander-in-chief of King Duncan's army.

Duncan I
Because of his youth, Duncan's early reign was apparently uneventful. His later reign, in line with his description as "the man of many sorrows" in the Prophecy of Berchán, was not successful.

In 1039, Strathclyde was attacked by the Northumbrian's and a retaliatory raid led by Duncan against Durham in 1040 turned into a disaster. Later that year Duncan led an army into Moray, where he was killed by Macbeth on 15 August 1040 at Pitgaveny (Bothnagowan) near Elgin.

Macbeth succeeded Duncan to the throne. Duncan's son, the future King Malcom III (called "caen more" or Canmore - large head) fled to England.

Macbeth's Reign and Malcolm III's succession:

Unlike Shakespeare's version, Macbeth was a powerful and successful monarch who ruled from 1040 to 1057.

Macbeth found time and money to go on a pilgramage to Rome in 1050. He is said to have been generous with his coin while there.

There are no contemporary sources citing Macbeth as a tyrant. A book dating to the reign of Malcolm III, calls him "Mac Bethad the renowned". The Prophecy of Berchán, a verse history which purports to be a prophecy, describes him as "the generous king..." and says:
"The red, tall, golden-haired one, he will be pleasant to me among them; Scotland will be brimful west and east during the reign of the furious red one".
In 1052, Macbeth was involved indirectly in the strife in the England between Earl Godwin of Essex and Edward the Confessor. He made a possibly fateful decision to receive a group of Norman exiles from England in his court.

"Let every man be master of his time" - Macbeth from 'Macbeth' by William Shakespeare.

Macbeth was defeated by Malcolm Canmore with an English army at Dunsinane in 1054. He continued to rule for another three years (another change from Shakespeare as I recall). A second invasion in 1057 saw his defeat at the battle of Lumphanan, near Aberdeen. He was killed by Malcolm and his English allies led by Earl Siward of Northumbria.

Malcolm III
Like many of his royal predecessors, Macbeth was buried on the isle of Iona. His rule is believed to have been the end of an era of the traditional Celtic way. After this, Scottish Kings adopted the Anglo-Norman laws and traditions.

His stepson, Lulach, became king thereafter but himself did not last long (August 1057 to March 1058) dying at the hands of Malcom Canmore, soon to be Malcom III.

Malcolm went on to give quarter to some Saxons fleeing the Norman advance. Later he pushed the boundary of his Kingdom south into Cumbria but was eventually pushed back into Scotland by the forces of William II. He was killed in battle at Alnwick. Bloody times!

Saga Rules:

Hero of the Viking Age - Macbeth would normally get 3 Saga dice as a Hero but this is surpassed by....

Great Ruler - With Macbeth on the table, the Scots faction always generates 6 Saga dice per turn.

Norman Exiles - One unit of mounted Hearthguard (up to 8 models) may be upgraded to Normans. Each of these Norman exiles generates one additional Attack Dice when they engage an enemy in melee (not when they themselves are engaged in melee).


We can see that a minor power enhanced by the Norman Exiles is available to a Scots faction fielding Macbeth as its Warlord.

The really big and key power is the ability to always have 6 Saga dice while Macbeth is alive and well. This provides some interesting opportunities to field some different forces, i.e. more Levies than expected. The key is in keeping your Hero alive.  You can bet your bottom dollar that the opposing force will be bent on the destruction of Macbeth.

This would appear to be in keeping with the longevity and power of Macbeth's reign mixed with the tenacity that his opponents have when trying to defeat him on the field of battle. When he is dead, his power dissipates.

Author's Note: I found researching into Macbeth was fascinating and hope that the mere mention that he is leading your Scots army and always gets 6 Saga Dice is enough to give your opponent a lot to be worried about. Add into the mix a unit of Norman Knights on the attack and you may just tip the balance and turn that very "Straight" Scots force into a tour-de-force to be reckoned with.

You can find suitable figures at Crusader and Gripping Beast.

About the Author: "ambler" / Mike lives in the North West of the UK. After years of RPG's and GW wargaming he now plays in a long running Amber Diceless RPG and plays Flames of War at the NWGC in Stockport. Saga is a recent addition to the games-under-the-belt collection. Check out his blog: www.not2oldtowargame.wordpress.com

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