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The Forbes Family History & Ancestry

Family Crest Motto: GRACE ME GUIDE

Let me share with you the fascinating history of your family, the Forbes clan. Your family’s ancestral lands stretch across north-east Scotland, from Aberdeenshire’s mountain ranges to the coastal regions of Banff and Buchan. In this picturesque landscape, numerous great houses and estates once stood, totaling around one hundred and fifty at their peak. Along the meandering rivers that flow eastwards and northwards, these grand residences were nestled. Today, overlooking the River Don, you can find Castle Forbes, which was constructed in 1815. Remarkably, these lands were bestowed upon Duncan Forbes in 1271, and to this day, his direct descendants reside in the castle. The surname ‘Forbes’ has its roots in a Gaelic place name, signifying a field or district. While there are many captivating legends surrounding the origins of your family, most can be considered little more than stories. One such tale depicts the mythical progenitor, Oconachar, clearing the lands of Forbes from wild boars and subsequently claiming the uninhabited territory as his own.

The Forbes family rose to prominence in Aberdeenshire throughout the 14th century. Sir John Forbes of the Black Lip, a notable figure, had four sons who played significant roles in shaping your family’s history. William, the first son, became the progenitor of the Pitsligo line. John, the second son, was the ancestor of the Forbes of Polquhoun. Alistair, the third son, founded the lines of Skellater and Inverernan through his efforts in Brux. The eldest son, Alexander, fought alongside the Earl of Mar in the victorious Battle of Harlaw in 1411 against the invading Donald of the Isles. As a result of his bravery, Alexander was elevated to the peerage sometime between 1443 and 1445. Since then, the title has been passed down through successive generations, and Forbes holds the distinction of being the premier lordship of Scotland, a position it maintains to this day. However, the Forbeses found themselves burdened by constant feuds with the powerful Gordons, leading to significant debt and necessitating the sale of much of their land in later years.

Among the notable figures in your family’s history is James David Forbes, the fourth son of the seventeenth lord. He was a pioneering physicist and glaciologist, renowned for his studies on heat conduction and seismology. In fact, he invented the seismometer in 1842. By 1859, he had risen to the position of Principal at the University of St Andrews. His son, George Forbes, also left a lasting legacy. An accomplished scientist, inventor, and explorer, he made significant contributions to the field of hydroelectricity and played a key role in implementing the world’s first electric railway in London. His advancements in electricity generation have had a profound impact on the modern world, making him one of the unsung heroes of history.

The surname Forbes originated from the Braes of Forbes in Aberdeenshire. According to one fanciful tradition, your ancestor, Ochonochar from Ireland, slew a bear, claiming the previously uninhabitable territory as his own. In a charter granted by Alexander III in 1271, the land’s tenure was altered to become feudal.

During the late 13th century, Alexander de Forbes fiercely opposed Edward I of England’s claim to be the Overlord of Scotland and died defending Urquhart Castle. His son lost his life supporting David II against Edward Balliol at the Battle of Dupplin in 1332. It is from Sir John de Forbes, Alexander’s son, that the numerous branches of the family originated. These branches include Brux, Corse, Craigievar, Culloden, Echt, Kildrummy, Monymusk, Pitsligo, Polquhoun, Rothiemay, Skellater, and Inverernan.

Sir John’s eldest son, Alexander, demonstrated his valor by fighting against Donald of the Isles in the Battle of Harlaw in 1411. As a reward for his bravery and due to his marriage to a granddaughter of Robert II, he was created Lord Forbes. In the Union Roll of 1707, Forbes was officially recognized as the premier lordship of Scotland.

Throughout the 16th century, the Forbes family found themselves entangled in conflicts with both the Leslies and the Gordons. The Master of Forbes was accused of conspiring to murder James V following the murder of Seton of Meldrum. Although he was found guilty and executed, the sentence was overturned, albeit too late to appease the Master or his followers. The Forbes-Gordon feud reached its climax in 1571 with the battles of Tillieangus and Craibstone. It took two acts of Parliament to enforce peace between the clans.

During the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, who served as Lord President of the Court of Session from 1685 to 1747, opposed the cause of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. However, he used his influence to mitigate the severe repercussions inflicted upon the Highlands in the aftermath. Another notable figure, Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo (1739-1806), became a prominent partner in the banking firm of Coutts & Co. and was a founding member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Additionally, Alexander Penrose Forbes (1817-1875) was consecrated as the Bishop of Brechin in 1848.

These are just some of the remarkable individuals and events that have shaped the rich history of your esteemed Forbes family.

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