© 2019 by Clan Forbes Society, Inc.

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A stone roughly carved into the shape of a bear’s head was discovered near the site where O’Conchar Forbhasach II is reputed to have killed a great bear. This is now embedded above the main fireplace at Castle Forbes.

James Ochoncar Forbes, 17th Lord Forbes (1765–1843), named after O’Conchar Forbhasach.

Origins of Forbes


Forbes is an ancient Scottish family in the district of Mar in Aberdeenshire, in the north-east of Scotland. In ancient times, this was Pictland (or Pictlavia), the land of the Picts. In the 6th and 7th centuries, Gaelic invaders from northern Ireland (called "Scoti" by the Romans) created the overkingdom of Dál Riata  (also called Dalriada) in the islands and highlands of Scotland. Dalriadic warriors pushed eastward into Pictland and intermarried with the Picts.

According to legend, around 775 A.D., the Dalriadic warrior  O’Conchar Forbhasach II killed a bear at the Nine Maidens’ Well at Logie, in the parish of Auchindore, near Castle Forbes. For this valiant achievement, he won the “duthchas” (the Gaelic word for domain by right) for a substantial estate in Aberdeenshire. His descendants later intermarried with the Pictish people. A stone roughly carved into the shape of a bear’s head was discovered near the site and is now embedded above the main fireplace at the current Castle Forbes (formerly Putachie.) This is the reason for the three muzzled bear heads on the coat of arms for Lord Forbes.

The first recorded Chief is Duncan de Forbes, who received a charter of the Barony of Forbes from King Alexander III of Scotland in 1272. Duncan built the first Castle Forbes at Druminnor, which is still the home of a Forbes 750 years later. The title Lord Forbes was created 600 years ago, around 1430, for Sir Alexander de Forbes. Lord Forbes has been the premier Lord of Parliament in the Peerage of Scotland since 1633. Today, the Chief of the House of Forbes is Malcolm, 23rd Lord Forbes.  He is seated at Castle Forbes, near Alford in Aberdeenshire, the heart of the Forbes country. Over the centuries, over 100 branches of the House of Forbes descended from the main line of the Lords Forbes.  

Several members of the House of Forbes have been named after their bear-killing forebear:


  • James Ochoncar Forbes, 17th Lord Forbes (1765–1843), was the eldest son of James Forbes, 16th Baron Forbes, by Catherine, only daughter of Sir Robert Innes, baronet, of Orton. He began his military career in 1781 in the Coldstream Guards and rose to General in 1819. His daughter Charlotte Elizabeth married Sir John Forbes, 7th Baronet (1785–1846), and was the mother of William Forbes-Sempill, 17th Lord Sempill and James Ochoncar Forbes, of Corse Castle.

  • James Ochoncar Forbes (1837—1900) inherited Corse Castle while his brother  William Forbes-Sempill, 17th Lord Sempill, had inherited Craigievar Castle and a peerage from a cousin. On the death of Forbes in 1900, the estate was inherited by his son John Walter Forbes, who died unmarried in 1912, and then by his younger son Lieutenant Colonel James Ochoncar Forbes (1867—1945), a Deputy Lieutenant for Aberdeenshire.

  • Rear-Admiral The Hon. Arthur Lionel Ochoncar Forbes-Sempill (1877 – 1962) was the fourth son and youngest child of William Forbes-Sempill, 17th Lord Sempill and Frances Emily Abercromby, daughter of Sir George Abercromby. Forbes Sempill commanded the cruisers HMS Blonde and HMS Cordelia, and was present in the latter at the surrender of the German navy in 1918. By 1919, he was in command of HMS Colossus.