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Forbes Women

For the first few centuries of the House of Forbes, women brought land, money, and influence to their husbands, fathers, and brothers. However, in the past few centuries, Forbes women have come into their own in the arts, sciences, military, politics and literature.

Elizabeth Douglas Forbes (1398 - 1460)


In 1421, Forbes married Elizabeth, the only daughter of George Douglas, Earl of Angus, and granddaughter of Robert III. In 1423, his friend Alexander Stewart, the Earl of Mar, granted Forbes the lands of Alford, the foundation of the estates around the present Castle Forbes (Putachie.) In 1430 King James, his wife’s uncle, granted to "dilectis nostris Alexandro de Forbes, Militi, et Elizabeth, sponsae sue" additional lands in Edinbanchory, Kearn and Mar. By July 1445, Forbes was made a Lord of Parliament. Thus through Alexander Forbes’s battle skills and bravery, the House of Forbes was firmly established with land, title, and a royal bloodline. Learn more here:  


Marjory Preston Forbes (born 1390)

In 1420, Sir John Forbes (c. 1390 – c. 1454), third son of Sir John Forbes “of the black lip,” married Mariota (Marjory), daughter of Sir Henry Preston (c. 1368 – c. 1433), Thane of Fermartyn. In that year, Forbes and his wife took possession of the castle and "Preston's Tower" was built.  Upon Sir Henry’s death in 1433, Sir John, now 1st Lord of Tolquhon, inherited the lands of Tolquhon, which were half of the thanage of Fermartyn (now Formartin) which extends north from the River Don to the River Ythan. When Sir Henry died, he left nearby Fyvie Castle to his other son-in-law, Alexander Meldrum of rival Clan Gordon. Learn more here:


Margaret Campbell Forbes of Towie (died 1571)

After the victory at 1571 Battle of Tillieangus, Adam Gordon of Auchindoun marched to Castle Forbes (now known as Druminnor Castle) to burn and sack the Forbes clan seat. After he dispersed the Forbes forces and sacked their clan seat, he sent Captain Thomas Kerr to Corgarff Castle, built in about 1550 by John Forbes of Towie. Towie's wife, Margaret Campbell Forbes, was in command of the castle and refused to surrender. Gordon ordered the castle to be burned with its occupants, including Lady Towie. According to Richard Bannatyne, Gordon “had not onlie defait the Forbesses (as befoir is said); bot also went to the hous of Towie, whilk he brunt and 24 persones in the same, never one escaping, but one woman that come through the cornes and hather.” (Journal of the Transactions In Scotland During the Contest Between The Adherents Of Queen Mary, And Those Of Her Son, 1570, 1571, 1572, 1573.) He relates that, “Adam Gordouns men laid the cornes, and tymbers, and hather about the hous, and set all on fyre.” A popular Scottish ballad called “Edom o' Gordon,” first printed in 1755 by Robert and Andrew Foulis, recounts the tragic events. Learn more here:


Anne Forbes (1745-1834)


Anne Forbes was born to Hugh Forbes in Inverask in 1745. Hugh was the son of Lieut.-Colonel John Forbes and Elizabeth Graham, daughter of an Edinburgh merchant. When Anne was 15, her father Hugh died in 1760 and left her widowed mother and two elder sisters in “genteel poverty.” In 1767, family friend Robert Chalmers saw some of her pastel (crayon) drawings and felt she had enough talent to study in Italy. She settled in Rome with her mother as chaperone in 1768 and studied under Scottish artists Gavin Hamilton and James Nevay. She started in drawing in chalk and went on to use oils.Forbes moved to London in 1772 and made a comfortable living from painting and teaching. In 1788 she was appointed Portrait Painter to the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh. She never married and died in 1834. Learn more here: 


Catherine 'Kate' Furbish (1834 –1931)


Kate Furbish was born on May 19, 1834 in Exeter, New Hampshire, to Benjamin and Mary Lane Furbish. The family moved to Brunswick, Maine, where her father walked with his children in the woods. Furbish pursued her passion for both painting and botany. She studied painting in Paris for a year and attended botany lectures in Boston. Between 1870 and 1908, Furbish traveled thousands of miles across Maine painting, collecting, and classifying plants. This resulted in over 4000 sheets of dried plants and ferns, and included sketches of Maine’s 500 mushrooms. She discovered two new plants that now bear her name: Pedicularis furbishiae or Furbish's lousewort and Aster cordifolius L. var. furbishiae. Furbish donated her "Flora of Maine" to Bowdoin College, gave her pressed ferns to the Portland Society of Natural History, and contributed her 4,000 sheets of dried plants to the New England Botanical Club, now in the University of Harvard's Gray Herbarium.


Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale. (1883 – 1967)

Beatrice Forbes-Robertson was born in England, the daughter of Gertrude Knight and Ian Forbes-Robertson (1857 - 1936) and grand-daughter of John Forbes-Robertson (1822 - 1903). John Forbes-Robertson took that hyphenated family surname after marrying Margaret Forbes.At the age of 17, Beatrice became an actor, following the footsteps of her uncles, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson and Norman Forbes-Robertson. Forbes-Robertson became active politically as a member of Heterodoxy, a feminist debating club based in Greenwich Village. She was also an outspoken advocate for a woman’s right to vote and was an active lecturer. In 1914, she wrote the book What Women Want: An Interpretation of the Feminist Movement. She went on to write other books, including the novel The Nest Builder (1916), Little Allies: A Story of Four Children (1918), and What's Wrong with Our Girls? (1923). Learn more here:


Esther Louise Forbes. (1891 – 1967)

Esther Louise Forbes was born as the youngest of five children in Westborough, Massachusetts, to William Trowbridge Forbes and Harriette Merrifield Forbes. Both her parents were historical enthusiasts. In 1919, she joined the editorial department of Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston. From 1924 to 1926, she wrote feature articles for the Boston Evening Transcript. In 1926, Forbes published her first novel, O Genteel Lady!, which was selected by the newly formed Book of the Month Club. Forbes wrote a series of historical novels set in New England from colonial times through the early years of the Republic, all with female protagonists. The New York Times described her as “a novelist who wrote like a historian and a historian who wrote like a novelist.” With the research of her mother, Forbes wrote the historical biography, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, which won the 1943 Pulitzer Prize in History. She later wrote Johnny Tremain, a historical novel of a young boy growing up in the time of the American Revolution. In 1944, the book won the Newberry Award for best children's literature and became an instant Young Adult classic which was taught in many schools. Learn more here: 

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Dame Katherine Jane Trefusis Forbes. (1899 –1971)


Dame Katherine Jane Trefusis Forbes, Lady Watson-Watt, DBE, was the youngest of six children of Edmund Batten Forbes (1847–1924), a civil engineer, and his wife, Charlotte Catherine Agnes (Wauchope). In 1916, she left school and volunteered for the Women’s Volunteer Reserve. She first served as a private and a driver, and later received her commission as a second Lieutenant. In 1936, Forbes assisted in launching the Emergency Service, to train women to be prepared in case of war. Forbes was appointed Chief Instructor of the Auxiliary Territorial Service School of Instruction in 1938 and then as Director of the British Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1939. In January 1944, Forbes was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). After the war, she served on numerous charitable and advisory bodies, particularly ones concerned with ex-forces personnel, disabled people and housing. Learn more here: 


Kate Elizabeth Forbes (born 1990)

Kate Elizabeth Forbes was born in 1990 in in Dingwall in Ross and Cromarty in northern Scotland. She spent three years living in India and returned to Scotland to enroll in a Scottish Gaelic school. At the age of 10, she studied at the Woodstock School in India and then finished her schooling at the Dingwall Academy. She went on to earn her BA in history at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and a MSc in Diaspora and Migration History at the University of Edinburgh. Forbes was elected to the Scottish Parliament in the 2016 election, representing the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch constituency. She then became the Convener of the Scottish Parliament's Cross-Party Group on Gaelic. In 2018, she was appointed to the Scottish Government as Minister for Public Finance and was appointed as Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy on May 20, 2021. In March 2022 Ms Forbes launched a report outlining Scotland’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation, a plan to improve Scotland's economy over the next 10 years.

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