Clan Forbes vs. Clan Gordon: The 200-year Feud
Clan Forbes and Clan Gordon were neighboring clans, and both were nested around the area of Aberdeenshire. The Forbeses were a family of ancient standing within Scotland while the Gordons were transplants from France but had significant influence within Scottish politics of the time.
The two clans created a story of religious differences, bloody battles, marriages, secrets, betrayals, divorce and ultimately murders. All these factors combined along with the Scottish attitude that “My Claymore Sword is bigger than yours” contributed to this historical story.
The timeline for these events is critical to understanding why these neighboring clans literally hated each other for over 200 years. Starting in the 12th and 13th centuries both clans had competing loyalties and just like all major families did in the 14th and 15th centuries, they made power moves for influence with Kings in order to increase their lands and titles.
The feud reached a climactic boiling point in the 1500’s. The Gordons claimed that John, Master of Forbes murdered Alexander Seton of Meldrum in Aberdeen in 1528. Alexander Seton was a dear friend and relative of the Gordon Clan Chief, 14-year-old George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly. The Gordon Clan Chief was enraged Forbes and arranged an arrest warrant for Forbes. Forbes was put on trial for the murder but was acquitted of all charges and released. This further angered the Earl of Huntly and he worked every angle to rid the neighboring Forbes from the area.
Finally, on July 17, 1536, the Earl of Huntly accused the Master of Forbes of conspiring to assassinate King James V of Scotland while visiting Aberdeen by shooting at him with a cannon. The Master of Forbes was tried and executed by beheading. Within days his sentence was revoked and the Clan Forbes family was restored to favor. A week later, his mother-in-law Janet Douglas,Lady Glamis and burned to death. The damage to relationship between Clan Forbes and Clan Gordon was irreparable. Attacks by each family and their supporters were carried out continuously throughout the remainder of the century, reducing Aberdeenshire to an unparalleled state of lawlessness.
Early in 1571, Clan Forbes hosted a banquet in Castle Forbes (now called Druminnor Castle) in which members of Clan Gordon were present. A disagreement broke out between the two clans and Clan Forbes put to the sword twenty Clan Gordon members.
The Forbes and Gordon feud played more critical political part of the development of Scotland. The 1571 Battle of Tillieangus was a single action in a greater part called the Marian Civil War, named after Mary, Queen of Scots, who was forced to Abdicate her throne. The Gordons were Catholic and supported the then disposed Queen Mary of Scots, while the Forbeses supported her half-brother James Stewart, Earl of Moray, the Regent for her infant son James. The two armies met near the White Hill near Tillieangus. The Forbes army was commanded by “Black Arthur” Forbes, the son of John, 6th Lord Forbes. Opposed to him was Sir Adam Gordon of Auchindoun, younger brother of George Gordon, 5th Earl of Huntly. The battle was fierce hand-to-hand combat with the Gordons gaining the upper hand. Thirty-six Forbes Clansmen were Killed, including Black Arthur Forbes. Legend states that Arthur was killed as he stooped down to quench his thirst and one of the Gordons gave him his death blow through an open joint in his armor.
The two clans were engaged in yet another conflict known as the Battle of Craibstone on November 20, 1571. Clan Forbes appears to have been running low on food and stores and moved its armyto Aberdeen to replenish. After crossing a bridge over the Don River, they met a force under the command the of Adam Gordon of Auchindoun. Again, the Gordons gained the upper hand even though both armies were comparable in strength and size. While the actual numbers are unknown, mostly likely about 250 to 300 were killed on each side. The Forbes archers were foolish with their ammunition and eventually fled the field once Gordon’s cavalry charged. Gordon pursued the Forbeses and eventually captured John, Master of Forbes(later the 8th Lord Forbes.) The Gordons imprisoned him in Huntly Castle, the seat of the Gordon’s stronghold. To further complicate matters, John, Master of Forbes, was married to Lady Margaret Gordon, daughter of George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly and sister of George Gordon, 5th Earl of Huntly. While he is imprisoned, his wife was accused of committing “Filthie cryms” with Patrick Hepburn at Castle Forbes (now Druminnor Castle.) He was finally release from imprisonment and divorced his wife around 1573.
Later in 1571, Adam Gordon of Auchindoun tried to capture Corgarff Castle. With all the menfolk gone, Gordon told Margaret Campbell Forbes, wife of John Forbes of Towie, to surrender the castle. Legend claims she refused and fired a pistol at the mob wounding a Gordon in the leg. Gordon set the castle ablaze with all inhabitants perishing. A Scottish ballad called “Edom o'
Gordon” was first printed in 1755 by Robert and Andrew Foulis And provides a description of the event.
“Edom o' Gordon”
It fell aboot the Martinmas time
When the wind blew shrill and cauld
Cried Edom o' Gordon tae his men
"We maun draw tae some hauld"
"Whit hauld, whit hauld," cried his merry men
"Whit hauld sal we gang tae?"
"It's tae Towie's Hoose that we maun ride
And see yon fair lady"
She thocht it was her ain dear lord
That she saw ridin' hame
But was the traitor Edom o' Gordon
That rik nae sin nor shame
"Come doon, come doon, Lady Campbell," he cried
"And gie yer hoose tae me
Or else this nicht I swear I'll burn
Ye an' yer bairnies three"
"I winna come doon," the lady cried
"For laird nor yet for loon
Nor yet for any rank robber
That comes frae Auchendoon"
The lady frae the battlements
Twa bullets she let flee
But it missed its mark wi' Gordon
For it scarcely grazed his knee
"Lady Campbell (Forbes)," the Gordon cried
"That shot will cost you dear"
An' he has ca'ed tae his ain Jock
Tae bring the faggots near
"I winna come doon, ye fause Gordon
I winna gie up tae ye
I winna forsake ma ain dear lord
That is sae far frae me"
Then up and spak her youngest son
Sat on the nooris's knee
"Oh open the door and let me oot
For this reek is choking me"
"I wid gie up ma gowd," she cried
"Ma siller and ma fee
For a blast o' the whistling wind
Tae blaw this reek frae me"
Then oot an' spak her dochter dear
She wis baith jimp and sma'
"Oh row me in a pair o' sheets
And throw me ower the wa'"
They rowed her in a pair o' sheets
And threw her ower the wa'
But on the point o' the Gordon's sword
She got a deidly fa
Then Gordon turned her ower and ower
And oh her face was white
Ah micht had spared that bonny face
Tae be some man's delight
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 1574, Arthur of Logie, fifth son of William, 7th Lord Forbes, was killed in Paris trying to assassinate Adam Gordon of Auchindoun, the man responsible for the Massacre of Corgarff.
In 1579, Auchindoun and Huntly convinced the Scottish Parliament to pass the ‘Act of compromit betwix the Gordonis and fforbessis.’ This Act would have required the Forbeses to quit their lands of Putachie and Monymusk but but William, Lord Forbes, ignored the Act. In a skirmish in Dundee, Sir George Gordon of Gight killed Alexander Forbes of Towie. In retaliaton, John, Master of Forbes, killed Gight. John was ordered to pay Gight’s family 4,000 merks compensation but he refused.
Henry Gordon, laird of Knock, captured rival laird Alexander Forbes of Strathgirnoc at the battle of Craibstane. Henry Gordon was later killed in a Forbes and clan Chattan raid. On Henry’s death, the lands of Knock passed to Henry’s brother Alexander. His third son courted the only daughter of Alexander Forbes of Strathgirnoc. Strathgirnoc murdered the young Gordon in a fit of fury when he came to ask for Annie’s hand in marriage.
While marching to Knock Castle, Forbes of Strathgirnoc saw the remaining 7 sons of Alexander Gordon in a peat bog. Forbes instructed the raiding party to kill them all in order to prevent any reprocussions. The raiding party murdered all the 7 Gordons and spiked their heads on their own spade shovels. A servent found his master at the top of a steep staircase and informed Alexander Gordon that all 8 of his sons had been murdered. Upon hearing this tragedy, Gordon collapsed and fell to his death inside his own castle. Some say his ghost still haunts the castle.
In 1580, the Privy Council that advised James VI of Scotland (and James I of England) and Ireand) resolved to take steps to put an end to the “deadlie feuds” between the Gordons and the Forbeses, and in the following year was still making investigations into the matter. After breaches of the truce proclaimed by the Council, the Scottish Parliament passed The “Act of compromit betwix the gordonis and fforbess” in 1581.
Finally in 1597, James VI himself attempted to reconcile the George Gordon, 6th Earl of Huntly, and John, 8th Lord Forbes.