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Clan Feud: Forbes vs. Gordon

The bloody feud between Forbes and Gordon was one of Scotland’s most public and enduring. The rivalry began in the 12th and 13th centuries with competing loyalties, was exacerbared by grabs for land and power in the 14th and 15th centuries, flared with murders and battles on both sides, and was barely mitigated by intermarriage and Acts of Parliament.

The House of Forbes was one of the twelve main Celtic land-owning families in Aberdeenshire. The family took its name from their ancestral duchus in northeast Scotland, named after O’Conchar the Bold or "Forbhasach" in Gaelic. In contrast, the Gordons were Norman-French in origin and first settled in southern Scotland and Northern England. According to the Scots Peerage, the Gordons are of “foreign origin” and obtained a grant of lands in Berwickshire, to which they gave their own name. Gordon is first mentioned in 12th and 13th century charters for land in Kelso, Gordon, Coldstream, and Berwickshire around the Scottish Borders. These were granted by the Earl of Dunbar, also called Earl of Lothian, who oversaw lands in southeastern Scotland.


Original lands of the Gordons in Berwickshire, on the Border between Scotland and England

As with many of the Border Clans, the Gordons were originally loyal to the English kings. In fact, Sir Adam Gordon, fourth of that name, first appears on record as doing homage to King Edward I at Elgin on 28 July 1296. In 1306 he held the castle of Inverkip “in the English interest,” located in Renfrewshire in the west central Lowlands of Scotland. King Edward ordered him to imprison Sir Thomas Randolph there. As a reward for doing so, the king granted Gordon Randolph's lands of Stichel (or Stichill) in 1308/09, which was located in the historic county of Roxburghshire, a division of the Scottish Borders. In 1310, the king granted him 100 merks to recompense him for the loss of his lands due to his opposition to Robert the Bruce. Gordon did not turn his back on England until the end of 1313. His new-found loyalty to the Scottish King was rewarded by a new charter of the lands of Stichel, on 28 June 1315, granted by the Earl of Moray and confirmed by King Robert.

In 1320, he was part of the embassy from Scotland that delivered the “Declaration of Arbroath” to Pope John XXII. For this service, he received the grant of Strathbogie, the first land held by the Gordons in the North. This is when they became a neighbor of the long-established House of Forbes.

The Gordons quickly ascended in power and influence in the North – and needed alliances with the neighboring clans. Through most of the 15th century, the Forbeses were their allies and their comrades-in-arms.


Ogilvy, Seton and Gordon forces mass before the Battle of Arbroath in 1445

In 1444, Alexander Seton (son and heir of Alexander Seton, Lord Gordon) granted to Sir Alexander, 1st Lord Forbes, the bulk of his lands in Cluny, Midmar and Tough, rent-free. In exchange, Sir Alexander’s son, James, the Master of Forbes and later 2nd Lord Forbes, agreed to offer Lord Gordon his bond of “manrent,” to provide military aid when requested. The next year, Parliament formally recognized the creation of Alexander Seton, Lord Gordon, as the first Earl of Huntly. In the 1446 Battle of Arbroath, the Lindsays under Alexander Lindsay, 4th Earl of Crawford, (also known as (“Earl Beardie”) defeated the Ogilvies, the Earl of Huntly and Sir William Forbes of Kinaldy and Pitsligo (brother of Alexander, 1st Lord Forbes.)

In 1449, King James II raised Alexander Seton to the office of lieutenant-general of the kingdom and to the peerage by styling him first Earl of Huntly and the Lord of Badenoch, Gordon, Strathbogie and Cluny. Huntley later adopted the family name of Gordon in about 1457, through his marriage of Elizabeth Gordon daughter and heiress of Sir Adam Gordon of that Ilk.


1452 Battle of Brechin

James, 2nd Lord Forbes, fought under Seton at the 1452 Battle of Brechin, in the Royalist army that included Clan Gordon and Clan Ogilvy. They defeated “Earl Beardie” Lindsay who was a leading ally of James Douglas, 9th Earl of Douglas, the leader of the “Black Douglases.” The Forbes family chronicle notes that “Tis certain his deportment and Mien did soe exceedingly endear him to the noble generall, that besides other demonstrations of a gratefull resentment to his family he made choyse of him for his son-in-law, Lord Forbes being shortly after married to the Earl's daughter Dame Christian Gordon, by which honourable match the family of Forbes did first contract Allyance with the Earle of Huntley and the illustrious sirname of Gordone.” According to this manuscript, James, 2nd Lord Forbes, “mightily improved his private fortune by new acquisitiones, particularly the lands of Strathgirnoch on Deeside, which some will have to be the donation of ye Earle of Huntly his father-in-lawfor his honourable service at Brechin.” James's son William, 3rd Lord Forbes, and his wife, Christian Gordon Forbes, had three sons Alexander, 4th Lord Forbes (who died without issue); Arthur, 5th Lord Forbes, (who also died without issue); and John, 6th Lord Forbes.


1488 Battle of Sauchieburn

The first poltical rift between the two families occurred in 1488. The unpopular King James III faced opposition from two powerful border families, the Homes and the Hepburns. They raised a rebellion on behalf of 15-year-old Prince James, Duke of Rothesay, the son of the King and future James IV.

Scottish poet William Drummond Hawthornden (1585 –1649) wrote “When in the year 1488 the majority of the Nobles rose in arms against their King, finding in the north most loyal, the King went thither and levied a considerable army there, held Justice Courts at Aberdeen and Inverness, preparing and modelling his forces to the best advantage. Where among others of the loyal nobility who were flocking to him dayly, Alexander, Lord Forbes, being now in the vigour of his youth, with a gallant company of his friends, allys and vassalls, offers his services, whom the King received with a particular respect, establishing him as Lieutenant in those northern districts beyond the Grampians – the Earls of Huntley being of the contrary faction.”


Alexander, 4th Lord Forbes, fought in the Royalist forces at the Battle of Sauchieburn. King James III lost the battle and lost his life. His son rose to the throne as James IV – and ultimately pardoned Lord Forbes.


Balquhain Castle, Clan Leslie Stronghold

The Gordons and the Forbeses first came to blows as an outgrowth of the Forbes feud with the Leslies. The daugher of Alexander Leslie, first baron of Wardis, was Elizabeth Leslie. Her first husband was William Seton of Meldrum, great-grand-nephew of Alexander Seton, Lord Gordon and first Earl of Huntly. Their son was Alexander Seton of Meldrum. After her husband died, Elizabeth married John Collison, later of Auchlunies, who was elected as a Provost of Aberdeen in 1521.


On the last day of September in 1525, the Aberdeen burgesses ratified a resolution that only residents of the City of Aberdeen should vote for the city officers and that the baillie should prevent any person not eligible to vote from the Aberdeen Tolbooth. This measure was approved of by the whole town, “na maner of persona small nor gryt in na degree opponand nor sayand in the contrar except Johne Collisone elder and certain of his complices to the number of quhilkis opponit and said that gentill men of landuart sic as the lairdis of Drum, Wardes, Balquhyne, and Meldrum suld have thair wottis.” (Memorials of the Aldermen, Provosts, and Lord Provosts of Aberdeen, 1272-1895.)

On October 2, Collison rallied his step-son Alexander Seton of Meldrum, his brother-in-law John Leslie of Wardis, and cousin-in-law William Leslie of Balquhain to attack the City of Aberdeen. As reported in the Annals of Aberdeen (compiled by William Kennedy in 1818), they entered Aberdeen under cover of night, “with their confederates, to the number of four score men, armed with spears, and other warlike instruments.” The Annals relate that they “wreaked their fury on the inhabitants, who flew to arms” and that “eighty of the inhabitants were either killed or wounded, among whom were several of the magistrates.”


Among the wounded were 12-year-old William Forbes, the son of John, 6th Lord Forbes. Lord Forbes retaliated against the Leslies by capturing and demolishing their clan seat at Balquhain Castle. Lord Forbes was fined a “vast sum” for this action. However, the revenge did not stop there. A few months later, on January, 30, 1525/26, 15-year-old John, Master of Forbes, and his cousin 16-year-old John Strachan of Lenturk (grandson of William Forbes of Kildrummy) killed Alexander Seton of Meldrum, John Leslie in Kinawty, and Malcolm Leslie in Garioch in the house of Aberdeen Provost Gilbert Menzies of Findon and Pitfodels.

In order to secure a royal pardon for his son the Master of Forbes, John, 6th Lord Forbes, had to pay a fine of five hundred “li,” or pounds, based on the Latin word “libra.” This is the equivalent of over £220,000 in today’s currency.


James V, King of Scots

However, later the two cousins quarrelled. Strachan asked for some favor of John, Master of Forbes, which he refused to grant. Enraged, Strachan informed the Earl of Huntly that Forbes was conspiring to kill King James V in Aberdeen. According to George Buchanan (Rerum Scoticarum Historia, or The History of Scotland, translated from Latin by James Aikman, 1827), “There was one Strachan, fit for any atrocity, who for many years had been the chief companion of Forbes, and acquainted with all his flagitious actions, either as accomplice, or instigator, who, not thinking himself sufficiently rewarded, went to Huntly, his enemy, and either lodged, or, as was suspected, invented along with him a criminal information against Forbes, for conspiring the king's death some years before.”

In 1536, both Lord Forbes and his son John were accused of treason against the king and were imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. Lord Forbes was eventually released but the Master of Forbes was found guilty by judges chiefly bribed by Huntly, “of conspiring to compass the King's death” and was “attainted of treason.” On July 15, 1537, the Master of Forbes, was beheaded and quartered in Edinburgh. On the scaffold, Forbes professed his innocence of treason against the crown but acknowledged that he deserved death for the slaughter of Seton ten years before.


The Scottish lords were scandalized by the trial. Sir Thomas Clifford, governor of Berwick, wrote to Henry VIII of England in 1537: “…this was one of the blackest forgeries that Hell could plot – to take away his life, so that all our Writters unanimously agree that he fell a deplorable victim to the malice of a subtle and formidable enemy.” He continued, “This was so well known that immediately after his death the King, discovering the Knavery, was exceeding sorrowful for the tragical end of this young nobleman – banisht his accuser, restored his successor to all his lands and honours and being deeply touched with remorse for the Injuries done to this family, in compensation thereof out of his princely bounty, heaped new favours upon his nearest relatives and enriched them with new lands, which the Lord Forbes hold to this day.”

The Master of Forbes was pardoned posthumously while the Earl of Huntly was disgraced and lost the lands which he had gained from Forbes. In addition, the king, according to Buchanan, “as if to compensate for this severity, took one brother of Forbes into his own family, and having procured him a noble marriage, restored him the forfeited estate.”


Buchanan refers to the King making William Forbes, later the 7th Lord Forbes, a “gentleman of his bedchamber,” arranging his marriage in 1538 to 15-year-old Elizabeth Keith of Inverugie, and granting him a charter of the Barony of Fiddes. On the other hand, the Earl of Huntly had lost the earldoms of Moray and Mar, which he considered his heritage, and he became an enemy of the new Earl of Moray, the half-brother of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The clans attempted to end the feud 10 years later. In 1548 when John, Master of Forbes and eventual 8th Lord Forbes, was six years old, he was contracted to marry one of the daughters (either Margaret or Jane, then three and two years old) of the Earl of Huntley. John was dutifully wed to Margaret in 1558. However, as noted in the House of Forbes (1937), “Far from helping to heal the ancient feud between Gordon and Forbes, the marriage of John Forbes and Margaret Gordon produced further troubles.”

Mary, Queen of Scots


Plaque commemorating the 1562 Battle of Corrichie

Meanwhile, the national poltical environment aggravated the feud. Queen Mary was six days old when her father King James V died and she acceded to the throne in 1542. The country was ruled by regents while Mary lived in France and was married to Francis II of France. After he died, she returned to Scotland in 1561 to find the country torn between Catholic and Protestant factions. The Catholic George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly, then Lord Chancellor, was dismayed by Queen Mary’s acceptance of Protestants in her privy council and led a rebellion against her in the Highlands.

While the Lords Forbes held much of their estate from Huntly and had entered into agreements of mutual defense against a common foe, the Government formally released them from these oaths. This allowed Lord Forbes to join Clan Fraser, Clan Munro, Clan Mackenzie, Clan Mackintosh, Clan Mackay, Clan Murray, and Clan Cameron to rally to the Royalist cause while Huntly rallied Clan Gordon and Clan Brodie.


The armies met at Corrichie, near Aberdeen, Scotland, on October 28, 1562. The Royalist forces were commanded by Queen Mary’s half-brother, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray. Under him, William 7th Lord Forbes commaded the local clans of the Forbes, Leslie, Irvine, and Hays. The Queen's forces achieved a resounding victory in the Battle of Corrichie, with about 120 Gordons killed and another 100 captured. Both the Earl of Huntly and his eldest son Sir John Gordon of Findlater were among those captured. Huntly was already on a horse to be taken to Aberdeen when he suddenly died. Sir John Gordon was taken to Aberdeen and executed three days later. The Earl of Huntly’s body was preserved and taken to Edinburgh for trial. The Earl's younger son, 17-year-old Adam Gordon of Auchindoun, was also captured at Corrichie but was spared. This act of clemency led to more bloodshed between the Gordons and the Forbeses.

As reward for his loyalty, Lord Forbes received a charter in 1563 from Queen Mary promising him Huntly’s lands, since they would be held direct by the Crown. As directed, George Gordon, 5th Earl of Huntly, the second son of the George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly, granted a fresh charter of Smythston, Nocht and other lands to John, Master of Forbes (later 8th Lord Forbes) in 1568. This was confirmed under the Great Seal in 1573. This meant theat the lands under the control of the Lords Forbes included estates in the parishes and districts of Alford, Forbes, Tullynessle, Auchindoir, Kearn, Keig, Tough, Cluny, Midmar, Glenmuick, Kincardine o' Neil, and as far away as Foveran. This meant that the Lords Forbes became a greater challenge to the Gordons in North of Scotland.

The political environment shifted greatly when many Scottish Protestant lords forced Queen Mary to abdicate in 1567. As Catholics, the Gordons supported the deposed Queen. As a Protestant, William, 7th Lord Forbes, supported her half-brother James Stewart, Earl of Moray, the Regent for her infant son James. After the Earl of Moray was assassinated in 1570, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, became the Regent for his grandson King James VI. In September 1571, the Regent, the Earl of Lennox, was killed during a raid on Stirling Castle, led by the George Gordon, 5th Earl of Huntly.


On October 10, 1571, Forbeses gathered to reconcile their own family grievances and “to enterprise something against the Gordons and the rest of the the Queen’s favourers in these parts,” according to The History of the Feuds and Conflicts among the Clans in the Northern Parts of Scotland (printed in Glasgow by J. & J. Robertson in 1780.) This source also reported that “Adam Gordon of Auchindowne having secret intelligence (his brother the Earl of Huntlie being then at Edinburgh) he assembled a certain number of his kindred and followers to cross the proceeding of the Forbeses, who were all conveened at Tilliangus above Druminour." The result of this ambush was the Battle of Tillieangus.

The Protestant Forbes forces were led by "Black Arthur" Forbes of Putachie, stepbrother to William, 7th Lord Forbes, through their father’s third wife Elizabeth Barclay. According to The History of the Feuds and Conflicts, “This Arthur was a man of great courage, ambitious, and ready to undertake anything whatever for the advancement and reconciliation of his family.” The battle was “sharp and cruel” and the Gordons were successful in dispersing the Forbeses.

According to William Douglas Simpson (The Earldom of Mar, Being a Sequel to the Province of Mar, 1949, University Press), Black Arthur, “defended the rear in retreat. He was a man of remarkable bodily strength and energy, and kept the pursuers at bay, till coming to a brook he stooped down to quench his thirst and one of the Gordons gave him his death blow through an open joint of his armour.” In a letter of November 16, 1571, Bishop of Galloway reported to the Earl of Shrewsbury that the Gordons killed 36 gentlemen of the name of Forbes, including Lord Forbes's stepbrother, and another 100 prisoners taken, including a younger son of Lord Forbes.


Corgarff Castle, site of murder of Margaret  Campbell Forbes and her daughters

After the victory at Tillieangus, Gordon marched on to Castle Forbes (now known as Druminnor Castle) to burn and sack the Forbes clan seat. They also destroyed many documents in the Forbes charter chest. Eleven years later in 1582, King James VI granted a comprehensive charter covering many of the lost ones: “James, be the Grace of God King of Scottis to our trusty and Well beloved cousin of the barony and lands which have been in continued possession of his family in times past the memory of man.”


After he dispersed the Forbes forces and sacked their clan seat, Adam Gordon of Auchindoun sent Captain Thomas Kerr 26 miles southwest of Tillieangus to Corgarff Castle, built in about 1550 by John Forbes of Towie. Margaret Campbell Forbes, wife of John Forbes of Towie, was in control of the castle and refused to surrender.


Gordon ordered the castle to be burned with its occupants, including Lady Towie. According to Richard Bannatyne, secretary to religious reformer John Knox, 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 notes that the castle was under “assurance” since Lady Towie was the sister of Katherine Campbell, Countess of Crawford. Nevertheless, “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 and ends with the lines:


Oh pity on yon fair castle,

That was biggit wi' stane and lime

And wae for Lady Campbell herself,

Burnt wi' her bairnies nine

Oh three o' them were mairried wives,

And three o' them were bairns

And three o' them were leal maidens,

That ne'er lay in young men's airms.


In the meantime, John, Master of Forbes, hastened to Stirling Castle, the seat of the Government at the moment, where his herditary mormaer, John Erskine, Earl of Mar, was Regent for the infant James VI. Simpson relates that “The regent gave him five companies of footmen and some horsemen, with letters to such of the adjoining nobility as favoured and followed that party, desiring them to associate and join themselves unto the Forbeses.” Forbes felt that he was sufficiently furnished to expel Gordon of Auchindoun from Aberdeen.

However, the Gordons were similiarly reinforced. Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon and cousin to Queen Elizabeth I, kept a careful eye on Scottish events as Governor of Berwick-upon-Tweed and Warden of the Eastern March. On November 11th, 1571, he wrote to the Queen’s Secretary of State, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, “Huntly has sent soldiers to maintain the Gordons against Lord Forbes with promise to send more, and a commandment to offend the Forbeses all that they can.”

Gordon learned in advance of the Forbes’s approach to Aberdeen. He sent a compamy of musketeers to lie in ambush at the Craibstane, southwest of Aberdeen, on November 20, 1571. After the Gordon musketeers killed a number of the Forbeses, both armies “joined with great violence.” As Simpson relates, “after a cruel conflict, with incredible obstinacy on either side, the laird of Pitsligo (Forbes) his two brethren, with divers other gentlemen of the surnamc of Forbes, were there slain.” At this Battle of Craibstane, Gordon captured the Master of Forbes and imprisoned him in Strathbogie Castle (later called Huntly Castle), the clan seat of the Gordons, and later moved to Spynie Castle.

Baron Hunsdon again wrote to Baron Burghley on November 11th, 1571, and reported that “I am presently advertised that whereas the King's side sent 200 harqubusiers into the north for the maintenance of the private quarrel between the Forbossys and the Gordons, all are overthrown by the Government, the Captain slaign and the Master of Forbes and sundry others taken. I shall know the certainty in a day or two.”

Plaque noting the 1571 Battle of Crabstane

John, the Master of Forbes was not released until 1573. A year later, he explained to the Privy Council that he “was taken be Adam Gordoun of Auchindoun and detenit in captivitie as presoner within the Castell of Spynie quhill by the pacificatione he was set at libertie. Yet, nevertheless before he was relievit he was compellit to cause some of his friendes to become suretie for payment to George erle of Huntlie and Adam Gordoun of Auchindoun of the sum of £705 punds and now the said erle is claiming this sum from the sureties.” John, Master of Forbes, requested that the obligation should voided and this was sustained by decision of the Council and confirmed by the Regent.


A traditional family story relates that the Forbeses exacted their revenge on the Gordons for the slaughter at Corgarff Castle in a particularly dramatic fashion. The incident, complete with fabricated dialogue, is printed in Traditional Stories of Old Families, published in 1833. The author affirms that the story was told to him by Sir John Hay, 6th Baronet of Smithfield and Haystoun (1788 –1838) who was the son of Sir John Hay, 5th Baronet of Smithfield and Haystoun (1755-1830) and Mary Elizabeth Forbes, daughter of Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, 6th Baronet.


The story relates that, after the burning of Corgarff Castle, the Forbeses invited the Gordons to a “meeting for reconciliation” in a castle, “probably Drimminor.” The families reconcile and enjoy their drinks after a feast. The story-teller relates that “the clansmen being of equal numbers, and so mixed, as had been arranged, that every Forbes had a Gordon seated at his right hand.” The “Gordon of Huntly” enquires what would have happened if the families did not reconcile. Lord Forbes is reputed to have claimed “bloody work” would have ensued: “I had only to give a sign by the stroking down of my beard, thus, and every Forbes was to have drawn the skein from under his left arm, and stabbed to the heart his right hand man."

Apparently, the Forbes clansmen “mistaking this involuntary motion in the telling of his story for the agreed sign of death, struck their weapons into the bodies of the unsuspecting Gordons.” Nonplussed, Lord Forbes supposedly commented, “This is a sad tragedy we little expected - but what is done cannot be undone, and the blood that now flows on the floor of Drimminor will just help to sloaken the auld fire of Corgarff."


Clearly, this story is more wishful thinking than fact. George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, died at Strathbogie, in 1576 by a stroke or a collapse caused by food-poisoning, while playing football. In addition, no mention of this slaughter is mentioned in Ancient Criminal Trials in Scotland, From A.D. M.CCCC.LXXXVII (1487) to A.D. M.DC.XXIV (1624), compiled by Robert Pitcairn, High Court of Justiciary in 1833. This journal includes all court actions of the day including the murder of “King Henry Darnley” in 1567/68, the slaughter of George Craw by Alexander Howe of Manderstoune (1572), the raid on Leith by Alexander Campbell of Knoknane (1572), and even incest on the part of Gilbert Young who had “lyne in ffornicatioune” with the sister of his wife, Marioune Reid (1573.) No criminal proceeding is mentioned concerning such an inportant figure as the Earl of Huntly or any of his clansmen.

Druminnor_Viewfrom SE 2a.jpg

Druminnor Castle, original Castle Forbes

Two years after the battles of Tillieangus and Craibstane, Lord Forbes received some compensation from the government for the losses at the hands of the Gordons. On September 17, 1573, the Privy Council made him a “gift” of the “nonentry duties of the lands of Fortherbirsc and Abirgardine in the Lordship of Aboyne, Corsindawe, Gabedy, Ordequbork, Auchtabedy, Ruvyn, Auchlauch and Tulycarse, Tullereoch and Tullachguenis, Little Tolmad, Wester Tolmad, Tornavechin, Drumlassie, Barglassy in Cluny, Tulyfour and Tulykery in the Lordship of Tullyt and barony of Cluny. Suchnahunny in the barony of Midmar (with the Mains of Cluny and other lands to be held in warrandice of the same) and of the annual rent of £4 furth of the lands of Kinstair; for all the years the lands have been in the King's hands by reason of nonentry since the decease of Umqh George Earl of Huntlie and the annual rent since the decease of Umqh John Lord Forbes, father to the said William.”

Adam Gordon of Auchindoun and George Gordon of Gight were allowed to go to France as part of the treaty called the "Pacification of Perth." This 1573 treaty was intended to ended the war between the Roman Catholic supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots and the Protestant Lords who had forced her 1567 abdication. In 1574, 23-year-old Arthur of Logie (1550 – 1574), fourth son of William, 7th Lord Forbes, travelled to Paris and attempted to exact revenge for the death of his uncle at the battle of Tilliangus and for the massacre at Corgarff Castle. According to C.A. Gordon (History of the Gordons, 1754 and reprinted 1890), Forbes and his accomplices lay in wait for Gordon and “discharged their pistols upon Auchindown as he passed by them and wounded him in the thigh.” Gordon’s kinsman John Gordon, Lord of Glenluce and Lord of the Bedchamber to the King of France, went with the palace guards to where Forbes had escaped. According to the History, “When they were arrived at the place, Sir Adam's servant, being impatient, rushed violently into the house and killed Forbes; but his associates were all apprehended and thereafter broke on the wheel.”

According to historian Rev. John B. Pratt (Buchan, 1858 and reprinted 1901), George Gordon, third laird of Gight was “cut off in the prime of life in a duel fought with Alexander Forbes of Towie, on the shore of Dundee in 1578.” However, John Malcolm Bulloch (House of Gordon, 1903) reports that Alexander Gordon 4th Laird of Gight “was killed on the shoar of Dundee by the Mr of Forbes and the Goodman of Towie Forbes, where the Laird of Gight and the Goodman of Towie killed each other.” The author calls the Gordons of Gight “the most unruly family that ever reigned in Aberdeenshire.”


Castle Knock 

Another enduring myths of retribution involved Henry (Harry) Gordon of Knock and “Alexander Forbes of Strathgirnoc.” The story goes that Harry’s seven sons  went out one day to cut peat and “unwittingly” set to work on Strathgirnoc’s land.  Forbes caught them with his servants and struck off their heads which were then stuck onto the top of their “flauchter-spades” (peat cutters.) When a servant told Gordon of the fate of his sons, “he fell over the bannisters, and was killed.” However, this is also fantasy.

See: Myth of Harry Gordon of Knock

The Forbes and Gordon families continued their feud in the law courts and in Parliament. In 1576, Adam Gordon of Auchindoun started legal proceedings to evict the Forbeses from their lands of Keig (Putachie) and Monymusk. Motivated by the complaints of Lord Forbes and his family, the Scottish Parliament passed in July 1578, “Ane commissioun grantit to certane lordis to decyde in ane caus betuix the Gordounis and the Forbes” which was regarding the “possessors of the lands and barony of Craig and Monymusk” against George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, Adam Gordon of Auchindoun, Patrick Gordon in Moyness, and others. The act states that William, 7th Lord Forbes, and his family had been “possessors and occupiers of all and whole the said lands and barony by themselves and their tenants” as a part of their ancestral lands “in all time bygone, past memory of man.” The act also refers to the “late rebellion begun by George, earl of Huntly, father to the said George, earl of Huntly, who now is against our said sovereign lord and his authority royal; for defence and maintenance whereof, a great number of the said complainers' name and friendship spent their lives in the battles at Tillyangus and Craibstone.”


The Gordons ignored Parliament and so Lord Forbes lobbied for another act in October 1579, “Act tuecheing the proceidingis in the cause betuix the Gordonis and Forbes.” The act notes that Lord Forbes “sustained great depredations, harm and violent injuries from the time of the first abstinence taken at Leith on 31 July 1572, until the pacification concluded at Perth, 23 February 1572 [1573], ratified and approved in parliament held at Edinburgh in April 1573, thereafter making mention that where they, being utterly ruined in their moveables and violently dispossessed of their lands and livings in the time of the late civil troubles by the force of the rebellious subjects, adversaries of his highness's authority.”

The next month, November 1581, Parliament passed another “Act anent the debetable caus betuix the Gordonis and Forbes.” This act notes that Lord Forbes “declares and decrees the act of parliament purchased by the said lord and master of Forbes, their kin and adherents in the parliament held at Edinburgh on 11 November 1579, to be expired and extinct in all times hereafter, which act discharged the lords of council and session to proceed in the cause of removing of the said lord and master and their friends from the lands and barony of Keig and Monymusk until decreets were pronounced in the actions of plunder, depredations and demolitions pursued by the said lord, master and their friends against the said Earl of Huntly, his father's brother and others aforesaid.”

Finally, later that month, the Parliament passed “Act of compromit betuix the Gordonis and Forbes” wich required the families to “submit all quarrels, deadly feuds and cause debatable, as well criminal as civil, that have fallen out and happened between them since 1 September 1571.” A commision was finally established which would “determine the said debatable cause, deadly feuds and controversies in the king's majesty's presence where his highness shall happen to be for the time, upon such day or days as his highness and the said lords being with his majesty shall appoint, so that always their sentence, decreet arbitral and deliverance shall be pronounced between now and 10 February 1582.”


The result of these legal wranglings were clear: Lord Forbes maintained his estates in Keig (Putachie) and Monymusk. His political acumen was further rewarded when he, along with his hereditary mormaer, John Erskine, Earl of Mar, were appointed to the King’s Privy Council on January 18, 1594. (Certane noblemen and uthiris nominat tobe of the privie counsale quhill the parliament.) Conspicuously absent from the list of 19 nobles was any member of the House of Gordon.

The two families attempted to heal their rift through marriage in subsequent years. Most notably, Mary Forbes, daughter of the Alexander Forbes of Tolquhon, 1st Lord Pitsligo, married Sir John Gordon of Haddo (1610 –1644) in 1630. He was a Royalist supporter of Charles I during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Created a baronet in 1642 for his services, he was excommunicated and forced to surrender by the Covenanters under Argyll at Kellie in 1644. He was beheaded for treason at Edinburgh. Their children included Sir John Gordon, 2nd Baronet, of Haddo (circa 1632-1665) and George Gordon, 1st Earl of Aberdeen (1637–1720). The present-day Haddo House, which dates from 1732, is on the site of the old Kellie Castle, which was burned down by the Covenanters. A descendent of Mary Forbes and Sir John Gordon was George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen, the British prime minister from 1852–1855.


Margaret (daughter of William, 11th Lord Forbes) married first about 1668, Alexander, 1st Lord Duffus, who died 1674. She was his fourth wife and had no children by him. She married, secondly, in about 1675, Sir Robert Gordon, 2nd Baronet of Gordonstown, and son of the 1st Sir Robert, who was fourth son of the 12th Earl of Sutherland and Jean Gordon (formerly Lady Bothwell). Styled Lady Gordon of Gordonstown, Margaret died in April 1677 at the birth of her only child, a daughter, Jean became, in 1699, the wife of John Forbes of Culloden and died in 1717 without issue.


In 1741, James, 15th Lord Forbes, as his second wife, married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Gordon of Park, sister of Sir William Gordon and half-sister of James Gordon of Cobairdy, who had married his daughter Mary. This made James Gordon of Cobairdy both brother-in-law and son-in-law to Lord Forbes.


In 1754, Alexander Forbes, 3rd Lord Blackford, married Catherine Gordon of Badenscoth, and had Alexander and John, who both succeeded him, and three daughters: Mary, married Peter Gordon, 11th of Abergeldie, son of Charles Gordon, the unwilling Jacobite of 1715, and of Rachel, daughter of the 8th Laird, and last of the old stock. Elizabeth and Grace both died unmarried.


The ultimate reconciliation of the families occurred in the 19th century to create the family of Forbes-Gordon. Arthur Forbes (1806 – 1873) was the son of Lieut.-Colonel Arthur Forbes, 32nd Regiment, fifth son of Arthur, 4th Baronet of Craigievar, and Isabella Macleod Forbes (1786–1856). He inherited the Rayne estate from his cousin John Gordon of Avochie and Rayne, Aberdeenshire. He then legally changed his name to Arthur Forbes-Gordon. He aas a Justice of the Peace and held the office of Deputy Lieutenant. He and his wife had four children: Charlotte Susan Forbes-Gordon (died 1925), Arthur Newton Forbes-Gordon (1844 – 1930), Captain William Balfour Forbes (1845 – 1928) and John Whetham Forbes-Gordon (1849 – 1928.)

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