14th August 1040. ‘Lead on Macduff’.

The title of this piece relates to one of the more famous misquotations of Shakespeare, and refers to Macbeth’s last words before Macduff kills him in combat.

It should in fact read,’Lay on Macduff’-press on- and comes when Macduff, Thane of  Fife, challenges Macbeth to yield, but is rebuffed.(1)

Even to those with only a passing knowledge of the Bard, the names in the play, ‘Macbeth’ resonate in the national psyche: Banquo, (Macbeth’s friend); Macduff, (Thane of Fife); Lady Macbeth; The Three Witches, and Duncan Ist, ( King of Scotland (Alba) who Today in 1040, was murdered by his protagonist Macbeth near Elgin.(2).

Macbeth is the darkest and most powerful of Shakespeare’s plays, set in Scotland it illustrates the damage both physical and psychological, of the effects of ambition on those seeking power for its own sake.

Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches, from Holinshed Chronicles 1577.

Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches, from Holinshed Chronicles 1577.

Macbeth has received a prophecy from three witches that one day he will be king of Scotland, and so consumed by ambition, and spurred on by his wife, the scheming Lady Macbeth, he murders Duncan.

He then becomes a tyrannical ruler wracked with guilt and paranoia and is forced to commit the murder of Lady Macduff, and Banquo who returns to haunt him, to protect himself from enmity and suspicion.

Charles Macready playing Macbeth in 19thc print.

Charles Macready playing Macbeth in a 19thc print.

The arrogance and madness results in a bloodbath of civil-war, Lady Macbeth’s suicide, and death by Macduff of Macbeth.

Malcolm becomes King of Scotland and the Witches’ prophecy regarding Banquo’s son, to become king, is realized in reality, when his supposed descendant James VI, becomes James I of England.

(1) Macbeth replies: ‘before my body I throw my warlike shield, lay on Macduff’.

The misquote appears in Punch Magazine 1867 when the narrator in conversation with Punch says. ‘Lead on Macduff’.

In H.Rider Haggard’s, King Solomon’s Mines, when told to prepare to enter the Place of Death, Captain Good tells Gagool to ‘Lead on Macduff’.

It was also reported that a criminal arrested in Villiers Street, London uttered the words as quoted both in the Nottingham Gazette (Saturday 12.2.1898), and in the Illustrated Police News (Saturday 19.2.1898).

(2) Duncan I of Scotland’s son was Malcolm III who was to marry Margaret of Wessex.

Ref:  britannica.com. Duncan King of Scots. The date is from Marianus Scotus and is recorded in Annals of Tigernach.

Ref: historyhouse.co.uk/articles/macbeth.

Ref: listverse.com/top 10 Shakespear misquotes.

Ref; the Real Duncan/Macbeth-King of Scots. historic-uk.com/historyuk/Historyof Scotland.

Ref: British Royal Families, The Complete genealogy, A Weir 2011, Google.co.uk.

Ref: wikipedia.org/macbeth/image.


Duncan followed his grandfather Malcolm after his death on 25.11.1034.

The historical Duncan as opposed to Shakespeare’s was a younger man.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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