Forbes, the surname of a clan, though not a Celtic one, having its possessions principally in Aberdeenshire, and the chief of which is Lord Forbes; its badge being the common broom, and the gathering shout or slogan, Loanach, the name of a hill in the district of Strathdon.
The traditions regarding the origin of the surname of Forbes are various; and some of them very fanciful. The principal of these, which seems to have been accepted by the family, as it is referred to by Sir Samuel Forbes in his 'View of the Diocese of Aberdeen,' (MS. quoted by the Statistical Account of Scotland, art. Tullynessle and Forbes,) states that this name was first assumed by one Ochonchar, from Ireland, who having slain a ferocious bear in that district, took the name of Forbear, now spelled and pronounced Forbes, in two syllables; although the English, in pronunciation make it only one. In consequence of this feat the Forbeses carry in their arms three bears' heads.
A variation of the story says that the actor in this daring exploit was desirous of exhibiting his courage to the young and beautiful heiress of the adjacent caste, whose name being Bess, he, on receiving her hand as his reward, assumed it to commemorate his having the bear "for Bess."
Another tradition states that the name of the founder of the family was originally Bois, a follower of one of our early Scots kings, and that on granting him certain lands for some extraordinary service, his majesty observed that they were "for Boice." The surname, however, is territorial, and said to be Celtic, from the Gaelic word Ferbash or Ferbasach, a bold man.
It seems more likely to have been originally Forbois, of a Latin-French derivation, signifying a wild wood country, where bears abounded. According to Skene, in his treatise De Verborum Significatione, Duncan Forbois got from King Alexander (but which of the three kings of that name is not mentioned) a charter of the lands and heritage of Forbois in Aberdeenshire, whence the surname. In the reign of King William the Lion, John de Forbes possessed the lands of that name. His son, Fergus de Forbes, had a charter of the same from Alexander earl of Buchan, about 1296.
Next of this race are Duncan de Forbes, his son, 1262, and Alexander de Forbes, grandson, governor of Urquhart castle in Moray, which he bravely defended for a long time, in 1304, against Edward the First of England, but on its surrender all within the castle were put to the sword, except the wife of the governor, who escaped to Ireland, and was there delivered of a posthumous son. This son, Sir Alexander de Forbes, the only one of his family remaining, came to Scotland in the reign of Robert the Bruce, and his patrimonial inheritance of Forbes having been bestowed upon others, he obtained a grant of other lands instead. He was killed at the battle of Duplin, in 1332, fighting valiantly on the side of King David, the son of Bruce. From his son, Sir John de Forbes, 1372, all the numerous families in Scotland who bear the name and their offshoots, trace their descent. (Low's Scott. Heroes, App.)
Sir John's posthumous son, Sir Alexander de Forbes, acquired from Thomas, earl of Mar, several lands in Aberdeenshire, the grant of which King Robert the Second ratified by his charter in the third year of his reign. By King Robert the Third he was appointed justiciary of Aberdeen, and coroner of that county. He is witness to a charter of Isobel, countess of Mar, of the lands of Bonjedworth to Thomas Douglas, her nephew, of date the 10th of November 1404. He died the following year.
By his wife, a daughter of Kennedy of Dunure, he had four sons, namely, Sir Alexander, his successor, the first Lord Forbes; Sir William, ancestor of the Lords Pitsligo; Sir John, who obtained the thanedom of Formartine (which now gives this title of viscount to the earl of Aberdeen) and the lands of Tolquhoun, by his marriage with Marjory, daughter and heiress of Sir Henry Preston of Formartine, knight, (of the Dingwall family,) and was ancestor of the Forbeses of Tolquhouns, Foveran, Watertoun, Culloden, and others of the name; and Alexander, founder of the family of Brux, and others.
Alexander, the eldest son, and first Lord Forbes, was among the Scottish forces sent to the assistance of Charles, dauphin of France, afterwards King Charles the Seventh, and had a share in the victory obtained over the English at Beauge, in Anjou, 22d March 1421; but soon after, at the desire of King James the First, then a prisoner in England he quitted the French service, with several others of the Scots auxiliaries, and subsequently obtained three safe-conducts at different times to visit England, with a hundred persons in his retinue each time, to wait upon his sovereign James the First. He was created a peer of parliament sometime after 1436. The precise date of creation is not known, but in a precept, directed by James the Second to the lords of the exchequer, dated 12th July 1442, he is styled Lord Forbes. He died in 1448. By his wife, Lady Elizabeth (sometimes called Lady Mary) Douglas, only daughter of George earl of anus, and granddaughter of King Robert the Second, he had two sons and three daughters.
James, the elder son and second Lord Forbes, was knighted by King James the third. This nobleman built the strong castle of Druminner, in the parish of Forbes (now united to that of Tullynessle), the ancient seat of the Lords Forbes. The license to build it, obtained from James the Second, is dated 14th May 1456. He died soon after 1460. By his wife, Lady Egidia Keith, second daughter of the first earl Marischal, he had three sons and a daughter; namely, William third Lord Forbes; Duncan, of Corsindae, ancestor (by his second son) of the Forbeses of Monymusk; and Patrick, the first of the family of Corse, progenitor of the Forbeses, baronets, of Craigevar, and of the Irish earls of Granard. The daughter, Egidia, became the wife of Malcolm Forbes of Tolquhoun.
William, third Lord Forbes, married Lady Christian Gordon, third daughter of Alexander, first early of Huntly, and had, with a daughter, three sons, Alexander, fourth lord; Arthur, fifth lord; and John, sixth lord.
Alexander, fourth lord, attached himself to the party of King James the Third, and after that unfortunate monarch's assassination, on his flight from the field of Sanchiburn in June 1488, with a rent and blood-stained shirt, suspended from the end of a spear, as that of their murdered sovereign, he rode through Aberdeen and other places in the north of Scotland, and endeavored, Mark Antony-like with the mantle of "dead Caesar," to rouse the people to arms to avenge his death. A formidable insurrection was on the point of breaking out, when it was suddenly extinguished by the defeat of the earl of Lennox at Tillymoss near Stirling.
Lord Forbes soon after submitted to the young king, James the Fourth, who gave him in marriage his eldest cousin, Lady Griesel Boyd, only daughter of Thomas, earl of Arran, grand-daughter of King James the Second. She had no issue to him, and he died, while yet young, before 16th May 1491.
Arthur, fifth Lord Forbes, succeeded his brother, and being under age at the time, he was placed, as one of the king's wards, under the guardianship of John Lord Glammes, whose daughter he had married, but he died soon after his accession to the title, without children.
His next brother, John, became sixth Lord Forbes, before 30th October 1496, at which date he is witness to a charter. On July 29th, 1533, he and his two sons, John, master of Forbes, and William his brother, with William Forbes of Corsindae, and another, found security to appear at the next court of justiciary at Aberdeen, to take their trial for having treasonably set fire, under cloud of night, to certain sheep pens, built of wood, belonging to the earl of Huntly, the Gordons and the Forbeses being at deadly feud, and on May 10th, 1539, the same parties found similar caution.
In the latter year, however, Lord Forbes was committed to Edinburgh castle, on the far more serious accusation of treason against the king, but after a tedious confinement, he was exculpated from every charge, and restored to liberty. His son, the master of Forbes, was not so fortunate, having been convicted and executed.
The sixth lord died in 1547. He was thrice married: first, to Lady Catherine Stewart, second daughter of John, earl of Athol, uterine brother of King James the Second, and by her he had a son, John, who died young, and a daughter Elizabeth, married to John grant of Grant; secondly, to Christian, daughter of Sir John Lundie of that ilk, and by her he had two sons and four daughters; and, thirdly, to Elizabeth Barlow, of Barclay, relict of the first Lord Elphinstone, killed at Flodden in 1513, and by her had a son, Arthur Forbes of Putachie, and a daughter, Janet, who was also thrice married.
The elder son of the second marriage, John, the master of Forbes above mentioned, is stated to have been a young man of great courage and good education, but of a bold and turbulent spirit. On October 10, 1530, with two others, he was indicted at the justiciary court at Dundee for the slaughter of Alexander Seton of Meldurm, but the same date he obtained remissions for the crime, under the great seal.
His father, Lord Forbes, appears to have been inculpated in the same charge, as on 27th August 1530, no less than seventeen landed gentlemen were fined for not appearing to enter on his assize. On 26th, April 1536, he and four others became cautioners to satisfy the parties for assythment of the slaughter.
On the 12th June 1536 the master was accused by the earl of Huntly, before the king and privy council, of treasonable conspiracy against his majesty's life and plotting the destruction of the king's army at Jedburgh. Protesting his innocence, he offered to maintain it against his accuser by single combat, an ordeal often allowed under the feudal system. The council, on this occasion, did not authorize the resort to judicial combat, as it was styled; but Huntly was required to give a bond, under the penalty of thirty thousand marks, to make good his accusation, while the master was ordered to enter himself prisoner in the castle of Edinburgh, or to find security in twenty thousand marks to stand his trial.
On the 8th of December, in consequence of a warrant from the king, the council ordered Lord Forbes, as wall as his son, to find security that they should remain in Edinburgh castle till they each found bail to the extent of ten thousand marks to answer to the charge when called upon. The former, as already stated, was freed from the accusation, but the master was brought to trial before the high court of justiciary, 14th July 1537, and being found guilty, was condemned to be drawn on a hurdle through the causeway or High Street of Edinburgh, and hanged on a gallows, and his body quartered as a traitor, his lands and goods being forfeited. To spare his relations the more ignominious part of the sentence, he was beheaded instead of being hanged, on the 17th of the month.
On the scaffold he declared his innocence of the crime of treason of which he had been convicted, but acknowledged that he deserved death for the murder of the laird of Meldrum. The principal evidence against him was an unprincipled follower named John Strachan, who, on being refused a gift which he had asked of the master, went to the earl of Huntly, the enemy of the Forbeses, and accused him of having for a long time designed the death of the king, that the Douglasses might be restored.
It is also stated that to procure the conviction of the unfortunate master, Huntly, the main accuser, did not scruple to bribe his judges. Strachan, for being a participator in, and treasonably concealing the alleged conspiracy, was ordered by the king's letter to be banished beyond the water of Dee.
After the execution of the master, the king (James the Fifth) seems to have been anxious to compensate the family for his severity towards them, by admitting his next brother, William, into his favor. He restored to him his brother's honors and estates, and in 1539, appointed him one the of gentlemen of his bedchamber. This William succeeded his father in 1547, as seventh Lord Forbes, and died in 1593.
He had married Elizabeth Keith, daughter and co heiress, with her sister, Margaret, Countess Marischal, of Sir William Keith of Inverugie, and had by her six sons and eight daughters. The sons were, John, eighth Lord Forbes; William of Fodierhouse; James, of Lethendy; Robert, prior of Monymusk; Arthur, of Logie, called from his complexion, "Black Arthur," after mentioned; and Abraham, of Blacktoun. The third daughter, Christian, married George Johnston of Caskieben, and was mother of the celebrated Dr. Arthur Johnson, physician in ordinary to Charles the First.
Anderson, W. The Scottish nation. 3v. 1862.