Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth

4.2 28
by Susan Fraser King

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From towering crags to misted moors and formidable fortresses, Lady Macbeth transports readers to the heart of eleventh-century Scotland, painting a bold, vivid portrait of a woman much maligned by history. 

Lady Gruadh, called Rue, is the last female descendant of Scotland’s most royal line. Married to a powerful


From towering crags to misted moors and formidable fortresses, Lady Macbeth transports readers to the heart of eleventh-century Scotland, painting a bold, vivid portrait of a woman much maligned by history. 

Lady Gruadh, called Rue, is the last female descendant of Scotland’s most royal line. Married to a powerful northern lord, she is widowed while still carrying his child and forced to marry her husband’s murderer: a rising warlord named Macbeth. Encountering danger from Vikings, Saxons, and treacherous Scottish lords, Rue begins to respect the man she once despised–and then realizes that Macbeth’s complex ambitions extend beyond the borders of the vast northern region. Among the powerful warlords and their steel games, only Macbeth can unite Scotland–but his wife’s royal blood is the key to his ultimate success.  

Determined to protect her son and a proud legacy of warrior kings and strong women, Rue invokes the ancient wisdom and secret practices of her female ancestors as she strives to hold her own in a warrior society. Finally, side by side as the last Celtic king and queen of Scotland, she and Macbeth must face the gathering storm brought on by their combined destiny.
Lady Macbeth as you’ve never seen her . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Historical romance novelist King leaps into deeper historical waters with this captivating take on Lady Macbeth, who tells her side of the story with a forceful, uncompromising daring. Gruadh, the future Lady Macbeth and the daughter of 11th-century Scottish prince Bodhe, survives several kidnappings in her girlhood and, determined to uphold the traditions of fierce Celtic women warriors, learns how to fight. "Rue" meets Macbeth, whose royal blood is nearly as pure as hers, but her father marries her off to the warrior Gillecomgan, of whom she grows fond. Macbeth kills him during Rue's pregnancy and immediately marries her, as is his right as victor-and there soon prove to be many more compelling reasons for the match. As King Malcolm's tyranny causes unrest, the Macbeths embark on a bloody campaign to win over their countrymen. Based on historical evidence and recent theories of the era, this is an epic tale written in high-voltage prose. King's novel will thrill lovers of Shakespeare adaptations and delight anyone who wants to enjoy a ripping tale of love and ambition. (Feb.)

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Library Journal

Celtic magic mixed with early Christianity weaves through this retelling of the life of the legendary, power-mad Scottish queen. All the elements of Shakespeare's famous play are present: the betrayals, the magic, the medieval setting, and the bloody rise of Macbeth from lord to king through murder. But King in her hardcover debut draws on the historical record and research done by the great historical novelist Dorothy Dunnett for King Hereafterto rework the familiar story from the viewpoint of Macbeth's lady, whose name according to an 11th-century document was Gruadh. She was of Scots royal blood, and thus it can be gathered, and as King retells it, that she was from an early age a pawn for power. The author has published as Susan King and Sarah Gabriel. Recommended for historical fiction collections.
—Mary Kay Bird-Guilliams

From the Publisher
"The voice of the Scottish queen just burns off the page and will forever change the way you view Macbeth and his lady." —Mary Jo Putney, New York Times bestselling author

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Chapter One

Anno Domini 1025

Scarce nine the first time I was stolen away, I remember a wild and unthinking fright as I was snatched from my pony's back and dragged into the arms of one of the men who rode toward my father's escort party. We were heading north to watch our kinsman, King Malcolm, second of the name, hold an autumnal court on the moot hill at Scone. Proud of my shaggy garron and painted saddle, I insisted on riding alone in the length between my father, older brother Farquhar, and several of their retainers. Then horsemen emerged from a fringe of trees and came straight for us. As men shouted and horses reared, a warrior reached out and plucked me up like a poppet.

The memories of that day are vivid but disjointed. His furs smelled rancid and smoky; his whiskered chin was broad from my view beneath, trapped before him in the saddle; his fingers on the reins were grimy and powerful. I can recall the russet brown of his cloak, but I do not recall his name. I know it was never spoken in my hearing for years afterward.

Kicking, shrieking, twisting like an eel in the arms of that stranger, I managed to tear his dagger from his belt, slicing my thumb like a sausage. With no idea how to handle the thing, I meant to defend myself. A fierce urge insisted upon it.

He snatched the dagger back, but next I tore the large round brooch from his cloak, shredding the wool, and whipped it upward to jab it into his cheek. That slowed him. Swearing, he released me for an instant, and I lurched from the saddle, falling and breaking my arm in my thud to cold earth. Rolling by accident more than intent, I narrowly missed the forelegs of a horse as my kinsmen thundered past me.

Shouting then, and steel and iron clashed, and within minutes of yanking me from my pretty saddle, the man was dead, and two of his guard with him. My father and the others took them down with swift and ugly certainty.

Huddled beside the road on the frosted earth, I watched, arm aching, heart slamming, while men fought and died. Until then, I had never seen a skirmish, nor so much blood. I had heard steel ring against steel in the practice yard of our fortress in Fife, but I had never seen blade sink into flesh, nor heard the soft, surprised gasp as the soul abandons the body without warning. Since then, I have heard it too often.

I own that cloak pin still, good bronze and smooth jet, and I will never wear it. In the little casket with my jewels, its dusky gleam reminds me to stay strong and wary.

My brother, Farquhar, died of the wounds he took in my defense. I saw the angled sprawl of his body, though my father's men shielded me from the full sight. I remember, too, the taste of my salt tears, and my father's roar of grief echoing in the chill air.

Farquhar left a small son, Malcolm, and a pale wife with a grieving spirit, who soon returned to her Lowland family, leaving Malcolm to foster with Bodhe. My father found solace in the boy's presence, and he swore to discover who had plotted the attack that had nearly taken his daughter and had killed his son.

Through subtle inquiries, Bodhe learned that the men were sent by Crinan, the lay abbot of Dunkeld as well as mormaer--the Celtic equivalent to Saxon earl or Norse jarl--of Atholl. He was married to the king's eldest daughter. My father already loathed him as an arrogant fool, and now outright hated him. At the king's next judgment court, Bodhe accused Crinan of Atholl of plotting to abduct me to marry Crinan's son Duncan, a young warrior, and of cruelly killing Farquhar mac Bodhe. Denying all, Crinan claimed that Bodhe attacked his men without provocation, thereby inviting Farquhar's death himself.

The guilty party would have to pay cro, a customary penalty in recompense, a certain amount of livestock or other goods according to rank. While they awaited the king's decision, tensions were such that Bodhe and Crinan nearly came to blows, but for the king's housecarls who stood between them.

Justice stumbled on barren ground that day, for my father paid, as a prince, many cows each for Crinan's deceased men, some to their families and some to the king. Crinan basked in smug victory, keeping the fat coffers of his church at Dunkeld, and the continued favor of his royal father-in-law. The king, old Malcolm, showed no loyalty toward Bodhe and Farquhar, his own blood kin. My father never forgot it. Added to past offenses, the whole was fuel for fire.

Early on I learned why we despised Malcolm's faction of our kinsmen. Our kin group had endured the deaths of others, including Bodhe's father, King Kenneth, the third of the name. He had been murdered by then-young Malcolm, called the Destroyer, who took his cousin's throne.

My blood had even more merit once Bodhe had no other heir. Because I am descended in a direct line from Celtic kings, the purest royal blood courses through me and blushes my skin. I could prick a finger and it would be gold to some.

I am Gruadh inghean Bodhe mac Cinead mhic Dubh--daughter of Bodhe son of Kenneth son of Duff. My grandfathers going back were kings of Scots, and I was born a princess of the house of Clan Gabhran that boasts Kenneth mac Alpin, the first king of Scots and Picts together. The line reaches back to the Picts who were native to this land, and the Scotti who came over from Ireland to settle as the Dalriadans in Argyll. We are proud of our heritage, and know the old names by heart: son of, son of.

My lineage combines the ancient royal branches of Scotland through my father, and through my mother, the proud line of the high kings of Ireland back to Niall of the Nine Hostages and beyond. Our old tree has many branches, some warring and some not, and divides along two main trunks, Clan Gabhran and Clan Loarne, descended from a single king, ages past.

Because a man could claim the throne of Scotland by marrying me, I was not safe. Nor were my kinsmen, come to that: if they were killed, one after another, our line would be eliminated at its heart, making room for others' ambitions. Such is the way of things when one's heritage is ancient, pure, and royal.

Little good did the blood of ancients do me. I was like a lark spiraling upward, unaware of the hawks above judging time and distance to the prize.

The second time I was snatched off, I was walking the hills with my cousin Bethoc and Aella, my Saxon maidservant. I was a fortnight past thirteen, having been born in the last of July after the Feast of the Seven Sleepers. We were plucking wildflowers for Bethoc's mother, Mairi, a healer. She had sent us to search out club moss, yarrow, and heather--including the rare white sort if we found it--and we were dropping blossoms into the large basket that Aella lugged along. Finding club moss, we were careful to pick it with our right hands tucked through our left sleeves, so as not to taint the plant's healing power.

The summer sun was warm that day, and I was glad to be dressed simply in a tunic gown of lightweight blue-gray wool, a gauzy shift beneath, and plain leather shoes. Earlier my nurse, Maeve, had braided my hair out of the way into one fat braid, looping and securing it with a thong. Bethoc remarked that my hair's sheen, like bronze, looked like a fire beacon in sunlight, so that Maeve, who had kept close watch over me since my mother's death two years before, could see me from the walls of Abernethy, and be content in my whereabouts.

"Once I marry I will cover my head with a veil," I replied. "And Maeve will not be able to spot me when I go searching for heather and lavender."

"Those flowers, my mother says, will keep spies away," Bethoc said. "Maeve, too." We all laughed. My cousin Bethoc, daughter to my father's cousin and Fife born, knew our Celtic customs well. Aella was of Saxon birth, stolen away as a small girl and enslaved by the Irish, then rescued by Bodhe, who bought her in a Dublin market. She did not know Scottish traditions so well and was wary of them. But she knew the Saxon tongue and taught that to us, as we taught her the Gaelic.

Below the hills where we walked, men were busy far out in the golden spread of fields, taking in the hay; that morning, women had sained their cattle, putting a spell of protection around them with juniper smoke and tying fresh juniper to their tails. The Gaels have a sian, as is properly said, for every situation and every creature. No one had sained us that day as we went into the hills to search for blossoms among turf and rock.

Talking and laughing, not looking about as we should, we ran ahead and left my guard, Dugal, well behind. Bethoc, whose angelic fair-haired looks hid a talent for mischief, began a game of guessing how long it might take lazy, good-natured Dugal to catch up to us, following the torch of my hair in the sunlight.

Then men appeared over the rim of the hill. My constant guard was not with them. His head, however, was.

Bethoc screamed, Aella dropped the basket, and I stood transfixed in horror. Two more men surged out from behind a cluster of boulders and then we ran, but my friends were thrown roughly aside. One assailant grabbed me up while I dragged and struggled. Another took my feet, and we went over the hill with me slung between them like a whipping hammock.

Other men met us, all of them strangers to me. Someone bound me with ropes and swathed me in a blanket--a filthy thing, nipping with fleas--and put me on a horse to ride in front of a silent warrior. Over hours and near a day, I was moved from the horse to a cart that rumbled over rough terrain, and finally to a boat, gliding on lapping water. When the blanket was removed, night had descended, the air fresh and sea-damp. The men dipped oars over a distance through mist, and no one spoke to me. Among them I heard more Norse than Gaelic, and heard them speak of boats, oars, and the sea. Then I knew them for Vikings: no Gael would name such things directly while on the water. I hoped the Norsemen would invite bad luck to themselves so that I could escape, but we reached shore safely.

Recalcitrant by nature, I refused to walk, but going limp earned me nothing. Thrown over a shoulder, I was carried. In all that time, I was not mistreated, but for being dragged about and frightened. They gave me a hard oatcake to eat and swallows of ale from a hide flask.

"I am a princess," I told them. "And Bodhe mac Kenneth mac Duff will come after you and kill you." Someone laughed.

We entered a long hall, larger even than my father's hall at Abernethy, though not near so fine. This compound was more like a farm than a fortress. The house had a sunken floor that ran the center length of the smoky, firelit room. Raised platforms along the walls to either side held benches where people sat eating and talking. Beds were fitted against the walls behind curtains, and in the shadows I saw men and women embracing in ways they might better have done in private. Other than guarded and curious glances, I was ignored by those present as my captors took me toward a far corner.

Someone tied my hands and feet with ropes and left me on a narrow bed behind a red curtain. Firelight spilled through the fabric, reddening all, including my temper. My bed niche was at the end of the room nearest the attached animal byre, and I heard the lowing of cows and the bleating of goats. Smelled them too, the odor leaking through cracks between the wall planking. My father's hillfort was a clean place, with a hall perched high on a center mound and separate buildings for animals, a byre for the cows, a stable for the horses, a smaller building for our hawks and falcons. We did not dwell with the beasts.

After a while, an elderly woman pushed aside the curtain to hold a wooden cup to my lips, grumbling something in Norse. I drank thirstily of some foamy dark ale, and then she went away.

Hands and feet tied, I lay on my back and kicked at the curtain and the wall, shouting and making noise deliberately. No one rushed to my aid. I whispered a charm for angelic protection: "Mhiceil nam buadh, bi fein mi ro chul"--Michael the victorious, be at my back. Finally I slept, curled and weepy, stirring only when the old woman returned.

She glared and grumbled as before, but brought food in clean wooden dishes. Freeing my hands and feet, she snarled a warning that was clear in any language, and left me a bucket in which to piss before yanking the red curtain shut.

The drink tasted of apples and spice, the porridge was soggy with onions, and I did not like the fish, wrapped in greasy parchment, but I ate a little. I glanced about in the reddish darkness of my enclosure wondering if I dared run while my limbs were free.

But the house was filled with Vikings, and I was not a fool. When the footsteps returned, I expected to see the old woman.

This time a man entered the sleeping space, long haired and bearded, broad and frightening in leather and furs. I backed into a corner as he sat on the straw-filled mattress and reached toward me. He smelled strongly of ale and wood smoke, and he smiled and touched my cheek gently. I stared at his braided brown hair, as fine and glossy as a girl's, his ruddy beard braided into tips. Then he traced his fingers down over my chest. Horrified, I bucked like a colt. He grabbed my arm, and at the same time, fumbled under his tunic.

Though I tried to yank my arm back, he threw himself on me. His hands shoved at my garments, dragging them upward, terrifying me. The texture of sound beyond the curtain--voices, laughter, music--was loud. I shrieked but no one came to my aid, and my cries were muffled by the big man's shoulder smothering my face as I struggled against his hands.

From the Hardcover edition.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"The voice of the Scottish queen just burns off the page and will forever change the way you view Macbeth and his lady." —-Mary Jo Putney, New York Times bestselling author

Meet the Author

SUSAN FRASER KING lives in Maryland with her husband, sons, and a Westie.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Lady Macbeth 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Forever etched in memory as a villain by Shakespeare¿s play, the wife of the Scots King Macbeth is redeemed by Susan Fraser King¿s portrayal in Lady Macbeth. The author breathes new life into the character of Lady Gruadh, nicknamed Rue in her childhood and relies heavily on historical details to flesh out the life of one of Scotland¿s most enigmatic and maligned queens. From Gruadh¿s tragic beginnings, with the deaths of her siblings and mother, to her ill-fated first marriage, her ties to the Scottish crown weigh heavily upon her. Treachery abounds in the land as Vikings from the north, Saxons from the south and other Scottish lords set their sights on the crown. Union with the chieftain Gilcomgan of Moray places Gruadh at the center of conflict between her husband and Macbeth, who will do anything to regain his ancestral home at Moray. When Gilcomgan dies tragically in a fire, Gruadh marries Macbeth, despite knowing in her heart that he made her a widow and left her newborn son Lulach fatherless. She recognizes Macbeth¿s true ambitions and despises him, but in time, Gruadh comes to understand her role in his life and in Scottish history. Through further tragedy and betrayal, Gruadh and Macbeth scale the heights of power in their quest to unite Scotland against its enemies. I highly recommend Lady Macbeth to readers of historical fiction, lovers of Scottish history and those who want to be transported on an engrossing journey to the past. Ms. King truly brings to life a time where kings and queens shaped the destiny of their countries through intrigue and skilled maneuvering. The historical detail is rich, with well-known figures interspersed among a myriad of characters. In her portrayal of Lady Gruadh, King strips away the myths and legends surrounding a woman much maligned by history to reveal a queen who was foremost, a dutiful mother and a true partner to her husband.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Every now and then a historical novel comes along that has everything fans of the genre are looking for: Rich, jump-off-the-page characterizations, well-researched, makes learning about the time period fascinating, so suspenseful that you can't put it down, and written in first person so captivating that you're drawn into it on page one. Susan Fraser King's Lady Macbeth is such a book. She just shot to the top of my list of favorite historical fiction writers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Susan King's work has never been better. I am glad to see this novel receive the attention that it deserves. King has obviously done extensive research into real historical documents, and her interest in Celtic lore exudes from the book's pages. While Lady Macbeth's character has been largely stereotyped in the last few centuries, King provides a refreshing and informative take on this 'villainess.' The depth of the character and the development of Macbeth actually make her a strong and sympathetic individual. Moreover, she has a wonderful sense of humor, which was an unexpected treat in the novel.
juleecm1 7 months ago
Enjoyed this book very much. Am familiar with the opera and studied the role (of Lady Macbeth), but she never made much sense to me. What drove her? There was no real backstory, and playing her as a bloodthirsty woman-behind-the-man was not satisfying. Enter Susan Fraser's Lady Macbeth. What a revelation! Now there is both an historical and social context for Lady Macbeth's actions. First of all, she wasn't a bloodthirsty, mentally unstable wack job, secondly, her husband was really the ambitious one (which doesn't come across in the opera -- in the opera he is a weak puppet, manipulated by Lady Macbeth). While we can't know if this story is accurate, at least it gives a very interesting idea of how Lady Macbeth may have grown up, why she was a part of history, and the socio-political forces that may have shaped her world. And guess what? Macbeth reigned for 17 years IN PEACE, meaning both lady Macbeth and Macbeth himself were clearly not the horrific, grasping, unhinged people portrayed in the opera. As a side note, I have been watching a series on the Celts (BBC - Amazon Prime) that beautifully complements Susan Fraser's book. If you are interested in more information about Celtic customs, the way they waged war, their beautiful metal work, etc., watch this series. If I were performing Lady Macbeth today, this series, along w/ Ms. Fraser's book, would be required viewing/reading.
Anonymous 9 months ago
What could gave bee a fascinating atory was only marginally interesting; had to orce myslf to complete so dissapounted
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The overly harsh review sounds like it was written by a bitter, pretentious wannabe author. This was an excellent and entertaining story. I greatly enjoyed it. The characters are likeable and believable although I would've liked them to have more depth. The plot moved along very well and it is a page turner. The only thing that I did not enjoy was that the timeline jumps forward rather abruptly two or three times toward the end when it flowed more smoothly for the first 3/4 of the book. A lot more happened in the last 3/4 but it seemed rushed through. Overall it was a great book.
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AngieJG More than 1 year ago
I liked this book very much. I felt I learned more of the real MacBeth than the one depicted in Shakespeare. This book, however, is not about the man so much, as the wife. The author states at the end of the novel that there is very little information on Lady MacBeth, so much of the story is fictional. The story inspired me to learn more about the real MacBeth. As the far as the novel goes, I wish that the author spent some time developing MacBeth's character. After all, it is he who helps shape the life of Lady MacBeth. I felt there was a lot of one sentence utterances from the man, and he fell flat. Lady M, however, is painted as a strong,  yet tragic figure. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the novel that induced me to read more Historical Fiction! It is VERY interesting and fast-paced, with numerous twists and problemz that arise in the plot periodically throughout the novel. Definitly read if you are fond of the lives of kings and queens, marriage, warriors and action, and an overall WONDERFUL display of Historical Fiction
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am quite familar with Shakespeare's so called 'histories' even though he took great liberties in his fictionalizations of historical facts, choosing instead to manipulate them into situations more befitting his personal intepretations. This novel goes a long way in dispelling many of these falsehoods manipulatedinto making MacBeth a villian who murdered his king in cold blood. Oops, Shakespeare neglected to mention the man on the throne was NOT the rightful ruler. A refreshing read that finally sheds light on factual accounts of what really occured in Scotland at that time. Great book.
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theBookChubi More than 1 year ago
Lady MacBeth is a very heavy novel with more battle and heartache than fanciful moments. Conspiracy, murder, and paranoia are key elements that infuse every moment and every word. As per the times, you never feel truly safe for the characters you care for most. The only trouble I had while reading the novel was the time jumping which was frequent at the beginning (setting up Lady MacBeth's childhood) and occurred again toward the end which gave you a plot twist and then segued back in time to explain the events leading up to the twist only to somewhat jarringly return to that surprising moment. If my explanation seems hard to follow that was because the organization of those passages was just as hard for me to follow. It is a debate with myself (and one you must decide for yourself) whether these time leaps were a great method of providing dramatic plot points or mismanaged time warps. Overall, this novel was enchanting and captured my attention with beautiful writing which matched the state of mind of our heroine (starting young and simple and developing into elegant and aristocratic). I never thought I would fall in love with Shakespeare's greatest villains, but now I find myself tearing up over the tragic tale of MacBeth and his Queen. Read the full review at
goldlute More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this novel. It was well written and well researched. I usually do not read novels of this period or region but, I was glad I purchased this one. Ms. King's story telling ability is superb throughout this novel. It held my interest from the beginning. I would like to read her next one.
emmi331 More than 1 year ago
Susan King has written an intriguing interpretation of the Scots medieval queen. Gruath (Rue) grows up as many Celtic women did - fiercely independent and steeped in the ancient warrior culture. She is as skilled with weaponry as she is with embroidery. One of the last in her line of noble lineage, Gruath is considered a prize as a marriage partner. She is not particularly surprised when she is pressured to marry MacBeth after he has murdered her first husband. She learns to love and respect him, and though they remain childless (Gruath has a son by her first marriage), they remain together. Machinations, plotting, and assassinations abound throughout the story as men jockey for power. But it is the lives of the women in the domestic setting, with its routines, rituals, and element of magic in daily life that enchanted me. Lady MacBeth is not portrayed as a killer, but as a fiercely loyal wife who, as a mother, still fiercely fights to keep the children of her husband's enemies from being murdered. I felt the story dragged a bit at times, but was still absorbing. And the descriptions of the beauty of Scotland, even during the harshest seasons, are irresistible.