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Clan Feud: Leslie

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

The feud between Clan Forbes and Clan Leslie started in 1400 with a Leslie stealing and marrying the fiancée of a Forbes – and ended with a Forbes purchasing the Barony of Leslie, thus becoming Forbes of Leslie.

Sir Andrew Leslie, 3rd Baron of Balquhain had voracious sexual appetite and had many, some say over 70, illegitimate children who took his surname. One of these “natural” sons was “Red Sir Andrew” Leslie of Pitscurry (circa 1380 – 1419). In 1400, he absconded with the daughter of Thomas Bisset of Balhagarty. This “Fair Maid of Kemnay,” as she was known, was unfortunately already betrothed to Sir John “of the Black Lip” Forbes of Druminnor. At 50 years old, Forbes was Crowner (or Sheriff) of Aberdeenshire and the Earl of Mar’s bailie (or magistrate) for lands of Balhagarty. He had lost his first wife Elizabeth Kennedy, daughter of Sir Gilbert Kennedy of Dunure.

Ruins of Balquhain Castle, Leslie Ancestral Home

In retaliation, Forbes and his men attacked and burned Balquhain Castle, the ancestral home of the Leslies. In revenge, Leslie and his men destroyed Castle Forbes (now called Druminnor Castle), devastated much of the Forbes lands and killed many of his tenants. By doing so, he made an enemy of Earl of Mar, the Forbes mormaer, and so he escaped an old Leslie fortress on the 2,000-foor-high peak of Bennachie. He remained there until he made his peace with the Earl of Mar and returned to Balquhain Castle.

However, the skirmishes between the families of Forbes and Leslie continued. Sir Andrew Leslie once again withdrew to his fortress on Bennachie. In January 1419/20, the Sheriff of Angus assembled a force against him. Leslie, with his friends and vassals, battled them at Braco, about two miles from Bennachie. In the middle of the battle, his wife, Isabel Mortimer, entreated them to stop but her efforts were in vain. Leslie was killed, along with many of his men.

The feud continued and was further inflamed a hundred years later. On October 1, 1525, Alexander Seton of Meldrum, John Leslie of Wardhouse, William Leslie of Balquhain entered Aberdeen during the night. With them were about 80 men, armed with spears and and other weapons. They clashed with citizens of the city, who eventually drove them out of the city. As a result, about 80 of the inhabitants were either killed or wounded, among whom were several of the magistrates and 12-year-old William Forbes, the son of John, 6th Lord Forbes. Lord Forbes retaliated by capturing and demolishing the clan seat at Balquhain Castle. Lord Forbes was fined a “vast sum” for this action.

Then on January 27th, 1527, two of John Forbes' sons, William, Master of Forbes and later 7th Lord Forbes, and Alexander were indicted for participation in the killing of Alexander Seton of Meldrum, John Leslie in Kinawty, and Malcolm Leslie in Garioch in the house of Menzies of Pitfodels in Aberdeen. Alexander Forbes, commonly called “Spangare,” was himself slain on February 9th of the same year by three of the Leslies, for which deed they obtained a remission under the Privy Seal, February 9th, 1527. A month later Lord Forbes and Leslie of Balquhain entered into a mutual agreement to keep the peace. William Forbes, then about 14 years old, was later exonerated. The Master of Forbes obtained a remission under the Great Seal, October 10th, 1530.

The Forbeses exacted the ultimate revenge another hundred years later when they assumed control of the entire Barony of Leslie. The barony is said to have derived its name from a family who held the lands so early as the eleventh century. According to legend, in 1067 Bartholomew Leslyn, son of Walter de Leslyn, a Flemish knight saved Queen Margaret, the wife of King Malcolm III, when she was thrown from her horse while crossing a river. He later married the sister of Malcolm Ceanmore, appointed Governor of Edinburgh Castle, and made Lord Leslie.

By 1615, George, 8th Lord Leslie of That Ilk, and John Leslie of Pitcaple had assumed most of the debts for James Leslie of Otterston. However, he could not immediately pay this massive debt. The bond changed hands and was eventually assumed by John Forbes of Enzean, third son of William Forbes of Monymusk, June 1, 1617. As a result, George Leslie executed a disposition of the Barony of Leslie in favour of John Forbes of Enzean, on July 18, 1618. Forbes received the charter of the lands of Auchinleck and of the Barony of Leslie from King James VI on January 22, 1619. John Forbes of Enzean thus became Baron of Leslie. In 1620, Leslie refused to implement the transaction but Forbes was successful in his legal action to press his suit.

Forbes married Anna Leslie, daughter of Patrick Leslie, 1st Lord Lindores. Their son was William Forbes, Second Laird of Leslie. He married, secondly, Margaret, daughter of Alexander Skene of Skene, and by her had John of Balfluig; Alexander of Auquhorthies; and Margaret. William Forbes rebuilt Leslie Castle and placed an inscription on the wall, dated June 17, 1661. He also included the Forbes of Leslie coat-of-arms on the wall of the castle and, over the entrance, the Latin inscription: “Hæc Corp Sydera mentem” (“here the body, in the stars the mind.”)

His son John, 3rd Laird of Leslie, married Helen, daughter of Sir William Scott of Ardross, and had six daughters, but no surviving son. The 4th Laird of Leslie was David, younger brother of the 3rd. He married Margaret Farquharson of Invercauld, and had five sons: William, John, James, Alexander and Kenneth; and four daughters: Janet, Jean, Margaret and Anne. Due to his mounting debts, David sold the Barony of Leslie in 1771 to the Leiths of Leith Hall.

By 1820, Leslie Castle was roofless and in ruin. In 1979, Aberdeen architect David Leslie bought the baronial title and restored the family castle using stones from cottages on neigboring estates. In 1989, he and his wife opened the castle as a luxury bed and breakfast. The castle has changed hands several times and now operates as a guesthouse by the current owners who also bought the title of the barony.

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