Where did you find your research material for King Hereafter?
Q. I would like to ask Mrs. Dunnett how long it took her to research and
where did she find all of the wonderful history for King Hereafter.
"A detailed answer would hold up Niccolo 8 for a month (my reading list
alone was 700 books long).
1975, Day 1, contract to write the first properly researched historical novel
on the real Macbeth, on which there is ample academic material. (younger son
then aged 11).
Day 2 (virtually), discover the academic material is mostly ancient and full
of gaps, the exception being the deconstruction of Shakespeare, which is popular
and has been well and accurately tackled.
Day 3, sort out which few areas have been updated, mostly in monograph form,
and verify from the universities that absolutely no historical department
is currently re-examining this period.
Day 4, resign myself to collecting and analysing primary material, as soon
as I have read through and noted the secondaries. This included sources (including
foreign ones) for info on the Celts, the Picts, the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons,
on current laws and customs on marriage, fostering, bastardy, kingship, on
the detailed politics of surrounding countries, on biographies of individuals
such as Canute, Emma, PopeLeo, etc. etc. Also early charters, monastic annals,
fragments of early poetry (plus linguistic studies), the Icelandic sagas,
saints' lives, early histories written under the Stewarts, and a lot about
the Norman Conquest (plus Norman and Breton charters) to identify the Normans
who fled to Macbeth. Also everything relevant in archaeology.
Lovely discoveries about the Archbishop of Dol. Travel, including visits to
Rome, Goslar, Vienna, Brittany, Normandy, the Celtic Library at Harvard and
all relevant places in the UK, including many visits to Orkney, collecting
published material and looking at buildings and museums. Compilation incidentally
of 145 interlocking European family trees, laid out in miniscule writing on
a piece of wallpaper 20 feet long.
Discovery that the story still didn’t make sense. Awful dawning realisation
that it did make sense if Thorfinn and Macbeth were not half-brothers but
the same person. Grinding of teeth (original research is not a good idea for
a novelist). Decision (courtesy of my publishers) to continue researching,
and in particular track to its source every accepted fact that contradicted
By the end of 1979, evident to me that the Thorfinn/Macbeth case was stronger
than any other, and the investigation was now academically viable. Moment
of truth; continue for ten years and exhaust all the lines of research? Take
another year, and publish the case as it then stood as non-fiction? Or write,
with the facts I then had, the novel I had been contracted to write in 1975?
I chose to write the novel, beginning in January 1980 and finishing in March
1981 (younger son now aged nearly 17 and forgiving). The rest, as they say
Any influence from Kristin Lavransdatter
Q. After reading and re-reading King Hereafter I wondered if Dorothy
Dunnett had been influenced by Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter.
Kristin appears to take place about two generations after King Hereafter.
It is almost like the gap between Nicholas and Lymond. Naturally, Undset and
Dunnett take a different tack in their books but they both present intricate
"They are wonderful books. I'd never heard of them, much to the shock
of two readers - Judy Amory and her husband from Harvard - who promptly repaired
my ignorance by sending me the whole trilogy. That probably pre-dated King
Hereafter, but my work for that was so different that I don't recall even
thinking about Undset."
Is Thorfinn descended from Einar?
Q. I wish to ask a question about Thorfinn. Was he descended from Einar,
Third Earl (Jarl) of Orkneys? Einar was the son of Rognvald the Wolf, who was
cousin to King Harald Fairhair and mentioned in the Heimskringla quite a bit.
Einar was called by the locals "Torf Einar" as he introduced the burning of
peats to the locals. His half brother Rollo achieved fame as the first Duke
of Normandy and ancestor of the Royals. This is part of my family's 1100 year
history. Thorfinn is my all time favorite character in literature and I'd love
to find a connection no matter how feeble. Of course at this remove, they're
"I'm so glad that you like Thorfinn. And how nice to be descended from
Torf Einar! (What do you cook by?). According to the family trees you read
in the Icelandic Sagas, Torf-Einar was the son of Rognvald of More the Mighty,
and Einar was the father of Arnkel, Erlend and also of Thorfinn Skull-splitter,
who married Grelaud, daughter of Duncan, Earl of Caithness by Groa, daughter
of Thorstein the Red. Sons of this Thorfinn were Arnfinn, Havard, Ljot, Skuli
and Hlodvir. Hlodvir married the daughter of an Irish King and became the
father of Sigurd the Stout, who married twice. By his first wife, Sigurd had
three sons, Somerled, Brusi and Einar Wrymouth. Sigurd's second wife was the
daughter of King Malcolm of Scotland. Their son, and King Malcolm's grandson,
was King Hereafter's Earl Thorfinn the Mighty, who was therefore great-great-grandson
of Torf-Einar. How's that? "
The first in a series of King Hereafter questions from Heike Meyer
Ink at Fulda
Q. In p 1, ch. 18, Lulach utters something strange. He says 'One cold winter,
the ink froze at Fulda.' Thorfinn later remembers this when Archbishop Adalbert
asks him 'who interprets your dreams ?' We couldn’t make head or tail of this,
so could you please help ?
My notes would take weeks to sort out, so this is simply from summaries or
from memory and not to be trusted:
As you have probably worked out, Lulach, poor guy, is the many-tongued voice
of History, which you can't trust either. Everything he says directs attention
to something uncommon relating to the history of Scotland. I wanted to show
that - although the novel should be enjoyed as pure historical romance - there
is a serious basis for the new theories about Scotland it posits, and that
here, in the gap between the real events and the Shakespeare play, is a classic
example of how and why history comes to be distorted. Failing academic footnotes
and appendices, which would have been ridiculous, it seemed appropriate to
put some of the evidence in the mouth of Lulach the Fool, who bore the name
of the prophetic Wild Man of Irish and Welsh history. The Havamal quotation
which prefaces the novel is black irony.
Part 1, chapter 18: everything that Lulach says on this page relates to evidence
for Macbeth's real story. There was a King of Alba went to Rome. This was
Macbeth. How do we know? Because an Irish monk called Marianus Scotus (born
1028) sat in a monastery at Fulda in Germany and recorded it: 1050 - Rex Scottiae
Macbethad Romae argentum pauperibus seminando distribuit. (in MGH). But how
could Macbeth afford to scatter gold like seed to the poor? How could he afford
to take a king's escort from Scotland to Rome and back, with all the rich
gifts he would have to donate? Answer (mine): Macbeth couldn't, but Thorfinn
with his tributes and shipping trade could.
The frozen ink reference (real) was a pointer to anyone interested that the
writings of Marianus Scotus in Fulda would provide food for thought.
(The second time, it crops up because Thorfinn is reflecting that Lulach
is his dream - not to mention nightmare - interpreter). The monks incidentally
were always mumping about the weather: 1047: Nix in occidente in tantum
ut silvas fregisset. Another monastic record supplied the information
about the six-day hurricane in December 1052 which I described in a
scene with Thorfinn in Orkney.
Two more in the series of King Hereafter questions from Heike Meyer
Q. In p 1, ch. 18 Lulach says: 'There was a king who got a child on the
miller’s daughter of Forteviot.' And after Sulien asks‚ 'the same king?', he
answers 'His name was Henry'. Is this a reference to some story mentioned by
Henry of Huntingdon? Or to a poem or ballad concerning two standard characters
of folk-lore, the king and the miller’s daughter? We discovered quite a few
ballads, but none connected with Forteviot.
"The King of Alba who 'murdered his uncle and married his uncle's widow'
was Macbeth, according to a history written 400 years after Macbeth's time
by Andrew of Wyntoun, who professed to think that Macbeth was King Duncan's
nephew. (According to my theory, the king who married his slaughtered uncle's
widow was Malcolm). Wyntoun was also the sole source of the miller's daughter
story, which had King Duncan (who had two lawful sons), begetting a bastard
on the miller's daughter of Forteviot. This son supposedly grew up to be King
Malcolm III, founding a line of Kings and even a Pope (named by Wintoun) 'all
descended from this one humble miller'. A dangerous premise for a court historian,
you would think, except that in early times, a man of illegitimate descent
could become a King (or a Pope), whereas, by the time Wyntoun was writing,
a King born of nephew/aunt incest was a big no-no. So the miller's story could
have been necessary because Wyntoun knew that Malcolm married Macbeth's widow.
All subsequent historians ignored the miller.
The reference to Henry and another variety of miller relates I think to King
Henry I and his mistress, a real situation which might have coloured Wyntoun's
little scenario. "
Robert le Bourguignon
Q. In p. 3, ch.13, Thorfinn and Alfgar discuss Robert le Bourguignon. And
T. adds: 'Lulach says that because of a nephew and a great-grandson of Robert
the Burgundian there sprang a new line of kings for England and Scotia, and
some love songs.[...] Because of Robert’s great-nephew, the seats of Lulach’s
descendants were occupied by Jerusalem, although against the monks of Loch Leven,
even Jerusalem failed.'
Now we’ve been searching our heads off for suitable relatives of Robert’s, who
e.g. supported the Anjou-Plantagenets in their struggle for power. The poet
and crusader Maurice de Craon, the supporter of King Henry II, could be the
great-grandson, and some members of the Nevers and Semur families provide the
nephew and great-nephew, but which of them are meant? Someone suggested that
Robert the Burgundian is no reference to Robert de Nevers, surnamed‚ Le Bourguignon,
but to his uncle Robert, Duke of Burgundy (which would make William the Conqueror
his nephew by marriage and Guillaume d’Aquitaine his great-grandson). Can you
And what is meant by the Jerusalem reference? A religious order like the Templars
or the Hospitallers, which had its roots in the Holy Land? We discovered that
the Culdees of Loch Leven were still there when the Culdee movement as a whole
had already vanished (actually we found this in an article about medieval cheese-making
– obviously they payed their taxes to the king partly with cheeses!), but in
the 14th century St. Serf’s seems to have been also a Augustine priory. But
we couldn't find anything to connect the Augustines with Jerusalem. Or is it
a reference to the growing influence of the English (and one of the Plantagenet’s
ancestors was king of Jerusalem, at least)?
"I seem to remember infinite numbers of Robert le Bourguignons, all
of them a pest. They do, however, constitute a wonderful invisible link to
Scotland.. The charters for these families are good and only have to be analysed
(in their hundreds). If I've mixed up the Roberts, let me know next year (!),
but in this instance, it doesn't affect the point Lulach was making. As you
suggest, the poet Maurice de Craon was the song-maker. The first R de B I'm
concerned with, went to the Holy Land and died, 1098. His son, Robert le B
de Sable, died by 1110. A surviving son, Rainald le B, swapped Sable for Craon.
Rainald's son, R le B of Craon (Palestine 1138/48) was Grand Master of the
Order of Knights Templar, (founded just before David became King of Scotland,
and later replaced by the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem). About
1128 the monks of the monastery of St Serfs in what is now Fife, Scotland,
successfully lodged a complaint against R le B, seigneur de Sable who had
taken a bit of their land of Kirkness. This was formerly royal land, and Lulach's
heritage, (as were Mar and Moray, in which the Templars would also hold land).
In 1145 King David gave St Serfs into the keeping of the canons of St Andrews.
And lastly, R de B of Sable (d by 1110) was a cousin by marriage of Alan FitzFlaald
(Fleance), whose family formed the link between the Archbishopric of Dol and
their stewards who came from Brittany to Scotland, and by marrying into the
Bruces, gave rise to the Stewart kings of Scotland and England."
The fourth and fifth in a series of King Hereafter questions from Heike
The House of the Grey Sandal-hose
Q. In p.4, ch.3, Lulach says to Crinan junior: ‘Three Kings, two Ediths,
and the House of the Grey Sandal-hose.’ We had a rather heated discussion about
the meaning of this, especially ‘House of the Grey Sandal-hose’. Is it the English
translation of a family’s name, which is originally in another language , e.g.
Gaelic? Or is it a reference to the descendants of someone known for his funny
trousers, e.g. Ragnar Lodbrok ? My theory – which may be totally off the track
– is, that the whole passage refers to the forthcoming events in 1066; the three
kings being the three rulers of England in that year (Edward, Harold, William),
the Ediths the Queens of Edward and Harold, and the House of the Grey Sandal-hose
a reference to Ragnar Lodbrok’s descendant Harald Hardrada . Are we all wrong
"I have been waiting twenty years to be asked this question. One of
the kings is Henry I, as above, who also accounts for an Edith. All the answers
have to do with an unnoticed connection with Scotland. And the key to the
whole thing - wait for it - is Tarzan."
Another of Heike's King Hereafter Questions
Threefold Death Prophecy
Q. In p.4, ch.14, Sulien and Thorfinn discuss the Threefold Death prophecy.
T. says: 'A German historian and a French poet told such a story of Alexander
the Great, and because of another poet called John, a prophecy came to rest
against my name.' Is he speaking about Otto von Freising, Walter of Chatillon
and John Maior?
"Again, without my notes, the following is a series of half-recollections.
This particular pronouncement of Lulach's refers to the trick of the Walking
Wood, which becomes attached to the Macbeth legend, 400 years after his time,
in the form of the doom-story about Birnam Wood marching to Dunsinane. It
is lifted from classic folk lore, and the nearest example of that, for Scots
poets and ballad-makers, is in the Buik ofAlexander, based on the French Les
Voeux du Paon. The John I was thinking of is probably John Barbour, whose
work on The Bruce inspired Wyntoun, who dreamed up the Birnam story. I can't
now remember who the German historian was - his name might not be known -
but you might be able to trace his work if you follow back the Alexander the
Great/Walking Wood references in early literature."
Q. To create your Groa, you blended the persons of the historical Ingibjorg
Finnsdottir and Macbeth’s Queen Gruoch. Now I’m no adherent of the ‘Macbeth
is Thorfinn‘ theory, and the main reason for this are their respective wives.
They obviously lived at the same time, Gruoch in 1032, at the death of her first
husband, already was mother of a son, and she is mentioned about 1050 as a benefactress
to the Loch Leven monks. Ingibjorg was already married to Thorfinn at the time
Rognvald was killed, which is estimated about 1045. But she can’t have been
born much before 1030, because the genealogies give her as the granddaughter
of King Harald’s full brother. Even if this brother was born at the earliest
possible time, about 995/6, this would make him a very young grandfather. And
Ingibjorg bore at least three children to Malcolm Canmore, which would be possible,
but not probable, for a woman high in her forties, as Gruoch would have been.
To give Groa a birthdate about 1015 AND call her the great-niece of King Harald
is - no offence intended – rather improbable. So is this a case of poetic licence,
or did you discover something during your research for KH to support a theory
that Ingibjorg and Gruoch are truly the same person ?
"Well, not poetic licence, as five years in the salt mines will testify!
But as is maybe evident, 99 per cent of the evidence for both the traditional
interpretation of this reign and for mine is circumstantial, which makes it
hard to answer simple questions in less than three weeks. Disentangling Macbeth/Thorfinn
has to be followed by disentangling the wives, which is much more difficult,
partly because the dates you quote can't all be trusted. (Many Scottish historians
have believed, for example, that there were two people, mother and daughter,
called Ingibjorg, and King Malcolm married the daughter). The Historiographer
Royal for Scotland, who followed all my research, pointed out that my theory
would solve the whole problem and allow Thorfinn's wife to be young enough
to bear children to Malcolm (actually only one son, Duncan, is fully authenticated:
Donald and Malcolm are not). A lot depends on the Icelandic sagas, but oral-based
history is awful for dates. They all sat round the fire chanting their family
trees, which are usually handed down in brilliant order, but dates are generally
absent or wrong. They have to be independently corroborated.
Deep breath. Queen Asta married twice. Her first offspring included St Olaf,
born in 993, if I can understand the only notes I have to hand. By her second
marriage, date unknown, she had several children, including King Harold Hardradi
(supposedly born 1015) and Halfdan father of Bergljot mother of Ingibjorg.
Halfdan was older than Harold. If Asta got off her mark and remarried as soon
as she was widowed, Halfdan could have been born, as you say, in 995/6 which,
if he were a fast developer, would mean that Bergljot could have been born
in 1011 and had her daughter Ingibjorg about 1024. This has to be checked
(and I can't just now) against the other known dates, if any, of Bergljot's
marriage and childbearing range. But if it's all true, it means that Asta
had a procreation period from about 991 to 1015 with a potential gap of 20
years between the first and last children of her second marriage.
Which makes something awe-inspiring of Snorri's tale of how St Olaf took his
half-brothers Halfdan and Guthorm on his knee when his youngest half-brother
Harold was three (thus presumably in 1018) to compare the two boys and their
brother. For this scenario, Halfdan would have to be born no earlier (to be
kneeworthy) than 1012, which would make Bergljot born 1028 plus, and Ingibjorg
1041 plus, too late to marry Thorfinn whoever he was. So back to the drawing-board,
remembering that at that time people had two wives at once, and what do we
know about Queen Asta anyway?
My conclusion, wading through all this porridge (and this is just the bit
I remember) was that the sanctifying of St Olaf had led to a lot of cleaning
up in the background; that Halfdan's dates and even parentage were shaky,
and that there was no proof that Ingibjorg couldn't have been born about 1015-17.
This, if she became Gruoch, would make her a (very) young mother of Lulach,
and later of Thorfinn's two sons, followed by a Queen Asta-like gap of about
23 years (medical reasons? political reasons? children we don't know about?)
before she bore Duncan to King Malcolm in 1058 at the earliest.
Lastly, Gruoch qua Gruoch. As with Ingibjorg, there are no records
to tell when she was born, what she looked like, or when she died. In all
history, her name appears only once: in the record you mention where the Irish-trained
Culdee monks of St Serfs monastery in Loch Leven in Alba attest to a gift
of land called Kirkness, made to the monastery between 1040 and 1057 by 'Machbet
son of Finlach, and Gruoch daughter of Bodhe, King and Queen of Scots.' The
attestation itself is thought, because of anachronisms, to be slightly faked:
the monks are known to have rewritten their charters before protesting their
rights to a later King. This King was probably David (1124-53), and the occasion
was likely to be the dispute over Kirkness (see above) between the monastery
and Robert le Bourguignon.
At least one of David's charters was witnessed by someone called Macbeth son
of Thorfinn, who was probably the same as Baron Macbeth of Liberton who gave
land to several churches about 1141. The monks may have attributed the gift
of Kirkness to the earlier royal Macbeth to strengthen their claim. (And I
checked the dates. Macbeth died in 1057. This Macbeth son of Thorfinn is not
a direct descendant, but the conjunction of names is rather interesting).
The monks knew the name of Gruoch from two registers in their possession,
later lost. The historian Wyntoun, who was prior of St Serfs in 1393, is believed
to have found the name there and used it in his account, unique to him, of
how Macbeth 'killed King Duncan his uncle', and married 'King Duncan's widow,
Dame Grwok.' Wyntoun's history is the only other place where the name is to
Historians have found one other possible reference to the Lady's family (but
not to her) in the Annals of Ulster for 1033, which say that Mac meic Boete
meic Cinaedha (Kenneth) has been slain by Malcolm son of Kenneth. This may
mean either 'the son of the son of Boete', or 'the son of MacBoete;' and the
premise is that Boete is the Bodhe mentioned at St Serfs. There were several
Kings called Kenneth, and several Boete's, giving rise to many possibilities.
Gruoch, who is not mentioned anywhere, might be descended from one of the
King Kenneths, and the Boete son of Kenneth killed by Malcolm (King Malcolm
II, it is suggested) might be an unknown brother of hers. Nobody knows. But
this idea, followed through, could make her Irish, royal, and with a claim
to the Scottish throne which (it was thought) would explain why Macbeth married
her. But he was already King Malcolm's grandson, as Duncan was.
Take your pick. But I plumped for the Moray/Norway alliance as being the most
compelling reason for marrying. Also, Professor Munch (Chron Man), is on record
as saying that 'Gruoch' is an Irish scribe's rendering of the Norse/Icelandic
name 'Groa'. Renaming was not only common but virtually compulsory on switching
cultures, and led, for me to the likelihood of an Ingibjorg/ Margaret/Meregrota
evolution. And if you want to speculate further, Bodhe and Bergjlot are not
all that dissimilar.
The evidence on both sides is weak, and a decisive answer may one day turn
up. But meanwhile, I rather share Thorfinn’s fondness for Groa. I am only
sorry that we know nothing personal about her whereas we know exactly what
Thorfinn looked like, for example. Whoever she was, for us she can only be
Two more in a series of King Hereafter questions from Heike Meyer.
Bishops in King Hereafter
Q. Are your bishops Hrolf and Jon based on real persons?
Adam von Bremen says that Archbishop ordained three or four bishops for Orkney,
of whom two stayed there only for a short time. Of the other two, Thorolf became
Bishop of Birgisherad/Birsay in 1054/55, the other was called Johannes Scotus
and is obviously confused by Adam with another Johannes Scotus (your Bishop
John in the Goslar scene). Are these two the models for Hrolf and Jon?
"Hrolf and John are real. There are bits about them in several histories,
but they all seem to derive from the original references in Adam of Bremen.
Brogger writes of Thorfinn's bishop Torolf of Birsay (Dowden calls him Thorulf),
consecrated for Orkney in 1050 by Archbishop Adalbert, and of Bishop Jon,
consecrated in 'Scotland or Ireland', and sent to Orkney 1043x50 by Adalbert.
The Orkneyinga Saga mentions another bishop called Adalbert, whom I didn't
use, and another saga refers to a Bishop Sigurd attending St Olaf Adam himself
talks of Turolf appointed by Archbishop Adalbert to the Orkneys; John, who
had been consecrated in 'Scotland', and a certain other bearing his own name
Adalbert. Isleifr was sent to Iceland (where the sagas tell us a lot about
him and his white bear)."
"There were also three bishops without sees whom Archbishop Adalbert
liked to keep beside him. One of these was John, a bishop of Scotland/Ireland,
'a simple and God-fearing man' who was later sent into Slavia, where he was
killed. This last, and I hope he'll forgive me, was the model for my innocent
bishop at Goslar. Also at Goslar I introduced the Bishop Jon who would eventually
join Thorfinn, and gave him the first name of Sigurd. I can't remember whether
there was a basis for this (Olaf's bishop John was known also as Siegfreid),
or whether it was introduced to distinguish between the two Johns. All the
other characterisation was mine: there was nothing else on record that I could
find. On Sulien of course there is a lot elsewhere. The University Library
of Edinburgh has the Ricemarcus Psalter, written by one of his sons in the
special flat-topped script all the family used."
Q. I know that you don’t like to answer questions about how your work should
be read, but I’ll try all the same ;-)
In p.1, ch.9, Sulien makes a condition before he tells Thorfinn about the impending
attack. First I thought this is about not killing Gillacomghain, as would befit
a churchman (and remembering S’s astonishment at Chester when he recognizes
that T. is watching while his brother is apparently drowning), but this doesn’t
make sense. T. is furious when he discovers that Thorkel has already killed
Gillacomghain and says to Sulien that his condition has been obeyed to the letter.
Does Sulien try to save T. from getting obsessed with desire for revenge, and
therefore prefers to see G. die by some other’s hand ? Later in the book T.
is very reluctant to kill even his proven enemies or potential rivals, like
Duncan, Duncan’s sons, and Rognvald, but he had no ties to Gillacomghain, and
killing was a leader’s business. So what was this condition?
"Your feeling about this was right. Sulien betrayed Gillacomghain's
plans, but on condition (I wanted to convey) that Thorfinn should not take
personal revenge on Gillacomghain or Maddan. It was asking a lot: Gillaconghain
and his brother had burned to death Thorfinn's stepfather Findlaech. On the
other hand, Gillacomghain was Thorfinn's (step) cousin, and had a wife and
a baby. In fact, as usual Thorkel did the wrong thing for the right reasons
and removed the onus and the future danger by getting rid of both men before
Thorfinn could arrive. Thorfinn's first thought was that Sulien had collaborated
with Thorkel: taking action against Gillacomghain to save Thorfinn himself
from the sin. Even before Thorkel refutes this, Thorfinn surely realises that
of course Sulien would never do such a thing. He is furious that Gillacomghain
has died when he had braced himself to obey Sulien and spare him. He can do
nothing about it. Hence the bitterness with which he assures Sulien that he,
Thorfinn, has obeyed to the letter his instructions not to kill."