Pitsligo Castle & Kirk

In 1423, William Forbes of Druminor, a younger brother of the First Lord Forbes married Agnes, the only daughter of William Fraser of Philorth. In that year, James Douglas, Lord of Balveny, granted William a charter to lands in the barony of Aberdour formerly owned by William Fraser. The next year, William secured a charter for the lands of Achmacludy and Petslegach (Pitsligo.) King James I confirmed this charter on July 18, 1426. By 1429, William had acquired enough additional land to be considered a “free barony” and he was styled Sir William Forbes, Knight. By 1432, he had acquired more land from a charter from Alexander Seton, Lord of Gordon, which secured for him a territorial title to a junior branch. Consequently, he was named Lord Forbes of Pitsligo by Royal Charter in 1433.

Sir William began work on his stronghold in Pitsligo in 1424 with the tower and courtyard wall. Datestones indicate additional work over the next 200 years. For example, the 1577 datestone probably indicated the repairs following damage caused by Clan Gordon between 1571 and 1573. Stones dated 1603 over the entrance archway and 1663 on the garden wall indicate more repairs and additions. The floorplan below indicates the sequence of building basedon the analsis of several architectural historians.


In 1634, Lord Pitsligo obtained an Act of Parliament creating a new parish of Pitsligo mainly formed out of his own estates, which had been mainly in the parish of Aberdour. In 1634, he built the Pitsligo Kirk with a wonderful laird's loft over a family burial vault.

Unlike the Lords Culloden, the Lords Pitsligo were partisans of the cause of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” to restore the deposed monarchy of the Stuarts over the Hanoverian William III and Mary I, who assumed rule during the 1688 “Glorious Revolution.” The Pitsligo estate was already bankrupt by 1700. The last Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, another Alexander, supported both the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite rebellions. After the 1746 Stuart defeat at Culloden, the crown seized the Pitsligo Estate, ransacked Pitsligo Castle, declared Forbes an outlaw, and placed a price on his head. While most Jacobite leaders fled abroad to save their lives, Forbes stayed in Scotland and relied on the loyalty of his people. They didn’t let him down. He was never betrayed to the government soldiers who sought him and he died of old age in 1762.

Pitsligo Castle decayed for centuries until 1988 when American publishing magnate Malcolm Forbes purchased the castle ruins and its gardens of nine acres from farmer George Chalmers. Forbes, a descendant of Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, repaired the fortress enough to prevent further decay. Forbes died in February 1990. In 1995, his children gave the castle to the Pitsligo Castle Trust, a charity formed for the purpose of maintaining the both the castle and the historic laird’s loft in Pitsligo Kirk.