Forbes Clan History

Forbes is a parish in the Aberdeenshire area. A reliable tradition tells that the ‘Braes o’ Forbes’ were once uninhabitable because of bears living in the area. Oconachar, founder of the clan, killed the bears and claimed the land as ‘first occupier’. The present chief still holds part of the Lordship of these Forbes lands.

A 19th century depiction of a Forbes clansman by R.R. McIanA 19th century depiction of a Forbes clansman by R.R. McIan

In 1271, the chief of the time, Duncan de Forbes, obtained a charter from Alexander III for the land, confirming his claim. In the fourteenth century John de Forbes of the Black Lip had four sons with whom the family expanded widely and prosperously. William began the Pitsligo line, John was progenitor of the branch of Polquhoun and Alistair of Brux was ancestor of extensions in Skellater and Inverernan.

Alexander, the eldest of the brothers, fought in the 1411 Battle of Harlaw against the invaders from the Isles, led by Donald. He was created Lord Forbes by James I around 1444. To this day the Lordship is regarded as Scotland’s premier. His own three sons would extend the family with the branches of Corsindae and Monymusk, Corse, and later the Baronets of Craigievar.

There was a point where, from the coasts of Banff and Buchan, to the mountains of Aberdeenshire, there were one hundred and fifty Forbes houses and estates. Clan Forbes was, through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, constantly at odds with their powerful, predatory neighbours the Gordons, Earls of Huntly. The consistent murders by both sides escalated, fuelled with the excuses of religious self-importance, into two battles at Craibstone and Tillieangus during 1571.

These were followed by the plunder of Lord Forbes’ seat itself, and then the murder of twenty-seven Forbes’ of Towie at Corgarff. It eventually took two Acts of Parliament to force them to lay down their arms against each other.

During the 1715 rebellion, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, President of the Court of Session, was in opposition to the Jacobite cause. He is remembered however, for his efforts to win the rebels better treatment from their captors. Speaking out for the people after Culloden, Butcher Cumberland responded with the sneer, ‘that old woman talked to me about humanity.’ A memorial to Duncan Forbes stands in the Parliament Hall at Edinburgh.

Built in 1815, Castle Forbes stands on the land claimed by Oconachar, overlooking the Don.