'This Castle hath a pleasant seat; the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses'
Visitors often ask about the link between Macbeth, Cawdor and Shakespeare. This is a complicated web. A pithy, but not the most helpful explanation was given by the 5th Earl Cawdor: "I wish the Bard had never written his damned play!"
Macbeth was born about 1005. His mother was Donada, second daughter of King Malcolm II of Scotland, and his father was Findlay, chieftain of Moray. Macbeth married Gruoch, a widowed grand-daughter of King Kenneth III. Gruoch's brother and her first husband died at the hands of Malcolm's followers, headed by another grandson and his successor, King Duncan I.
Avenging his wife and disputing the throne, Macbeth brought Duncan's rule to an abrupt end on the 14th of August 1040. Duncan was mortally wounded at Pitgaveny, and died at Elgin Castle in Moray. Macbeth was crowned High King of Scots at Scone outside Perth, with his Queen.
The skilled recorders of early Scottish history were the monks. Andrew of Wyntoun, a canon of St Andrews in Fife, completed his Cronykil in 1406, setting down facts in sequence, and embroidering them with old fables and older myths.
He spins us a tale about Macbeth who is asleep, dreaming of three weird sisters, who in turn murmur about his destiny: the Thane of Cromarty, the Thane of Moray, and lastly the King.
A later historian, Hector Boethius (or Boyis, a Dundee family) published his Chronicle in 1527. He drew upon Wyntoun's story of Macbeth, but decided to change the predicted titles to the Thane of Glamis and the Thane of 'Cawder'.
Boethius changed several other aspects of Wyntoun's story and invented the character of Banquo, Thane of Lochaber, to extend the royal Stuart line back to the nebulous personage of King Arthur - to please King James V. The romantic, raffish Stuarts actually emanated from prosaic Brittany in France.
The Scottish Play
William Shakespeare wrote the final version of The Tragedie of Macbeth during the spring of 1606. Holinshed's narrative of witches, prophesy, treason, execution and murder were topics that fascinated King James VI of Scotland (and by then James I of England) to the point of obsession. This opportunity was not lost on Shakespeare, who put the finishing touches to the script in time for a special royal performance at Hampton Court that same summer to entertain the King and his brother-in-law, Christian IV, King of Denmark. Although the murder of Duncan takes place in Inverness Castle, it is often associated with Cawdor Castle.
The truth is, Cawdor Castle was not built until the late 14th century, therefore it is impossible for King Duncan to have lost any blood or Lady Macbeth much sleep in this particular house.