Lulach, King of Scots for less than one year, died on the 17th March, 1058.
Lulach (Lulach mac Gilla Comgáin) was born around 1029-32 and he was the son of Gilla Comgáin, Mormaer of Moray, and Gruoch, who was the daughter of Beoedhe and granddaughter of Kenneth III. Lulach was the stepson of Macbeth, whom you will have heard of. Lulach’s mother’s married Macbeth, who became king, but Lulach’s claim to the throne was based on the fact that his mother, Princess Gruoch (the real Lady Macbeth), was the granddaughter of Kenneth III, rather on his being a son, albeit stepson, of Macbeth.
Lulach's survival into adulthood could be described as a bit of a miracle as
the internecine warfare of the time meant that rivals were being wiped out left, right and centre. The story of Macbeth as portrayed by Shakespeare is pure invention, but the theme of murder and betrayal certainly had a parallel in historical reality. After Malcolm II killed Kenneth III and his son and co-ruler, Giric II, at the Battle of Monzievair, he might have thought he’d wiped out any future competition for the crown from that side of the House of Alpin. However, fortunately for Lulach, he was overlooked when the assassins were doing their rounds.
Malcolm II certainly lived up to his epitaph of 'the Destroyer' and it was never so relevant as when dealing with his rivals – and their families – in trying to secure the succession of his own bloodline. The trouble was, in rampaging around and killing anyone remotely likely to become or beget a rival for the throne, Malcolm overlooked a couple, Lulach and his mother, Grouch. The list of Malcolm's victims included the aforementioned Kings, Kenneth III and Giric II; Kenneth's grandson (whatever he was called); Bodhe mac Cináeda (Boede or Boedhe of Duff), a son of Kenneth III (Kenneth II, according to some) and the father of Gruoch; Malcolm mac Bodhe (MaelBaethe), Gruoch's brother; and, in 1032, Gille Comgáin, Mormaer of Moray and husband of Gruoch, who was at risk because of his wife's lineage.
Lulach's mum was no shrinking violet and she, along with her husband, father and brother, had instigated a revolt against the plans of Malcolm II for his grandson, Duncan, to succeed him as Duncan I (which he did, by the way). That revolt resulted in Malcolm's slaying of Bodhe mac Cináeda, leaving his heiress, Grouch, and her husband, with a significant sovereign claim. Gruoch went on to muster continued, fierce opposition against Malcolm, who raised the men of Atholl to attack Gille Comgáin in his fortress, where Gruoch's husband and fifty of his men were burnt to death. It was intended that Grouch and her infant son Lulach were to be dispatched also, but she was visiting relatives elsewhere at the time and survived. Gruoch fled with her son to the protection of her cousin-in-law, Macbeth, whom she married that same year of 1032. The following year, Malcolm II managed to have Malcolm mac Bodhe killed, but Lulach and his mum survived.
Lulach’s coronation is the first of a King of Scots for which recorded details survive. He was crowned on the ancient Coronation Stone (a.k.a. Stone of Destiny, etc.) at Scone Abbey in August, 1057. But his reign was short lived as Malcolm ‘Canmore’ was on the rampage and wanted the crown for himself. Canmore was in the line of succession, too, with a reasonable claim, but, more importantly, for that’s the way it went in those days, he had more powerful forces to back up his claim than poor Lulach had to maintain his.
Lulach was known as 'the Simple' or 'the Fool' and there is evidence to suggest that he was mentally retarded or somewhat backward. He was also, conceivably, allied with Malcolm Canmore against Macbeth, but if he was, it didn't do him any good. Maybe Lulach didn’t have his wits about him, but let’s just say he was easily led.
After Macbeth was killed, in 1057, in a battle against Malcolm Canmore, the King's followers placed Lulach on the throne, despite strong resistance from the alliance formed by Canmore to overthrow Macbeth. In effect, Lulach was King only in the north, essentially in the old Pictish territories and of the far north, including Orkney and Shetland, where there were family connections to ensure loyalty. Malcolm Canmore and his faction assumed the kingship in the south.
Seven months later, Canmore led an army northwards once again, to seek out and slay Lulach. The King wasn’t killed in battle; some say he was assassinated or slain ‘by treachery’. Whatever the means of Lulach's death, it was at the instigation of Malcolm Canmore and occurred at Essie, in Strathbogie, on the 17th of March, 1058. Canmore immediately became Malcolm III, King of Scots, and started a whole new dynasty of Kings of Scots. Some might say that after Malcolm Canmore defeated and killed Macbeth and had seen off his stepson, Lulach, order had been restored. Malcolm then succeeded to the throne previously held by his father, the grandson of Malcolm II, Duncan I, whom Macbeth had defeated in 1040. What goes around, comes around.
Lulach was the last King of the House of Alpin, a dynasty that started with Kenneth I (Kenneth mac Alpin) when he initiated the union of the northern Picts and the Scots of Dalriada to become, in effect, the first King of the embryonic nation of Alba in 843. The House of Alpin was interrupted by the House of Dunkeld, which led to that of Canmore.
Lulach’s line didn’t entirely go away, though. His son, Maelsnectan, retired to a monastery, giving up any thoughts of Kingship, but his daughter survived to have a son called Angus (Óengus), who inherited the title of Mormaer of Moray. Later on, in the reign of David I, he made an unsuccessful attempt to reclaim the throne, which ended in his defeat and death, at Stracathro, in 1130. In the aftermath of Óengus's army's defeat at Stracathro, the province of Moray was taken under direct royal control. Independence from that quarter wasn't restored until 1312, when King Robert I granted the earldom of Moray to his nephew, Thomas Randolph.
Lulach’s body was taken to the island of Iona, where he became the last King of Scots to be buried on the sacred Isle. He was interred alongside his stepfather, Macbeth.