Gateway to the Classics: Scotland's Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Scotland's Story by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

Macbeth—The Murder of Banquo

King Duncan had two sons, one called Malcolm Canmore, or Bighead, the other Donald Bane, or White. When these two princes heard what had happened to their father, they fled away, fearful that Macbeth would kill them too.

Malcolm Canmore fled to England to the court of Edward the Confessor. Edward received him very kindly, for he remembered that he too had been driven from his own land and had been an exile in France for many years. Donald Bane fled to Ireland. The King there also received him kindly and treated him with honour.

Macbeth then caused himself to be crowned. And because he was so strong and powerful the lords and people of Scotland accepted him as King.

And although he had come to the throne in such an evil way, Macbeth proved to be a good king. For some years he ruled well, if sternly. He made good laws; he punished the wicked, and rewarded the good, and tried in every way to make people forget how he had won the crown.

But the people did not forget, and they did not love Macbeth. Neither could Macbeth forget what he had done. Although he was a good king, he was a most unhappy man. When he thought of the three Weird Sisters and their words he felt more unhappy still. For he remembered that they had said that Banquo's children, and not his, should rule over Scotland.

Then he began to hate Banquo and to fear him. "Will not Banquo kill me in order to get the crown just as I killed Duncan?" he asked himself. The more he thought of it the more sure he felt that Banquo would murder him, and at last he made up his mind to rid himself of this fear.

One evening Macbeth asked Banquo and his son Fleance to supper. Suspecting no evil, they came. Macbeth provided a splendid supper for them which lasted until very late. At last when it was quite dark and every one else had gone to bed, Banquo and Fleance said good-night and started homeward.

Now Macbeth intended that they should never reach home again. He dared not kill them in his own house lest people should find out that he was the murderer. So he paid a large sum of money to wicked men, who promised to lie in wait for Banquo and Fleance and kill them on their way home from the supper.

In the quiet, dark night, as father and son walked home together, these wicked men suddenly set upon them and tried to kill them. They did kill Banquo, but Fleance escaped through the darkness and fled away to Wales. There he lived safely for a long time, and married a Welsh lady. Many years after, his son Walter came back to Scotland. Walter was kindly received by the King who was then on the throne, and he was made Lord High Steward of Scotland. He was called Walter the Steward. The title was given to his sons and grandsons after him, and soon Steward, or Stewart, came to be used as the surname of his family. For in those days people often received their names from their work or office. At last a High Steward married a royal princess. Their son became King, and was thus the founder of a race of Stewart kings who reigned for many years in Scotland.

In this way what the Weird Sisters had foretold to Banquo came to pass.

After the murder of Banquo, Macbeth was no happier, nor did he feel any safer than before. Indeed he began to dread, and to look upon every man as an enemy.

Macbeth's fears turned him into a tyrant. For very little cause he would put a noble to death and take his land and money for himself. No man knew when his life was safe, and the nobles one and all began to dread the King.

At length Macbeth found pleasure only in putting his nobles to death, for in this way he not only rid himself of his enemies, but he became daily richer and richer.

With the money of the dead nobles he paid an army of soldiers, some of whom he kept always round himself as a bodyguard. But in spite of his army of soldiers Macbeth's fear of being killed grew greater and greater. At last he went to the Weird Sisters to ask them for advice.

"How shall I keep myself safe," he asked, "when every one around me is trying to find a way to kill me?"

And the old women answered:

"Be lion mettled, proud, and take no care

Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are;

Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until

Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill

Shall come against him."

Macbeth went home feeling much comforted and quite safe, for how could Birnam wood come to Dunsinane? They were twelve miles apart, and it was impossible for trees to uproot themselves and walk all these miles through the valley to the hill beyond. Macbeth began to believe that he would never be killed at all. Feeling safe, he treated his nobles even worse than before, so that they grew to hate him more and more, and many of them turned their thoughts to the banished sons of the gracious King Duncan, and longed for one of them to come and be their King.

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