On this day in 1040 King Duncan I was killed in battle against his first cousin and rival Macbeth. The latter succeeded him as King of Scotland.
The early period of Duncan’s reign was apparently uneventful, perhaps a consequence of his youth. Macbeth is recorded as having been his dux, today rendered as “duke” and meaning nothing more than the rank between prince and marquess, but then still having the Roman meaning of “war leader”.
In context — “dukes of Francia” had half a century before replaced the Carolingian kings of the Franks and in England the over-mighty Godwin of Wessex was called a dux — this suggests that Macbeth may have been the power behind the throne.
In 1039, Duncan led a large Scots army south to besiege Durham, but the expedition ended in disaster. Duncan survived, but the following year he led an army north into Moray, Macbeth’s domain, apparently on a punitive expedition against Moray.
There he was killed in action, at Bothnagowan, now Pitgaveny, near Elgin, by the men of Moray led by Macbeth, probably on 15 August 1040. He is thought to have been buried at Elgin before later being relocated to the Isle of Iona.