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House of Forbes Heritage Sites: Edinburgh

Updated: May 6

Most of the House of Forbes Heritage Sites are spread throughout Aberdeenshire, with some locations as far west as Culloden in Inverness and as far south as Callendar in Falkirk. However, the city of Edinburgh is also home to many sites of interest, as well.

Looming over the entire city is Edinburgh Castle which is notorious in Forbes history. In 1536, George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly, accused both John, 6th Lord Forbes, and his son John, Master of Forbes, of treason against the James V, King of Scots. They 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 Master of Forbes was pardoned posthumously while the Earl of Huntly was disgraced and lost the lands which he had gained from Forbes.

Both the Scottish National Gallery (SNG) on the Mound and Scottish National Portrait Gallery (SNPG) on Queen Street offer artwork of and by Forbeses. Three artists of note include pencil artist Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, 6th Baronet (1739 – 1806); oil painter Ann Forbes (1745 – 1834); and photographer John Forbes White (1831 – 1904.) Over 300 works of art feature members of the House of Forbes. The most notable of these are oil paintings by accomplished portraiture artist Sir Henry Raeburn. These include the two sons of Sir William of Pitsligo, 6th Baronet, (John and William) and William Forbes of Callendar (1743 – 1815.) Also included are oil portraits of Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, 6th Baronet, (1739 – 1806) by Sir Joshua Reynolds and of painter Ann Forbes (1745 – 1834) by David Allen. Not all artwork is on display at any one time. You can search the collections at the National Galleries of Scotland at This will also tell you if and where each piece is either stored or on display.

On display as of August 2022: William Forbes, the Younger, of Pitsligo & Fettercairn at aged 6 by Sir Henry Raeburn, (1808), SNG; William Forbes of Callendar by Sir Henry Raeburn, (1798), SNG; Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, 6th Baronet, (1786) by Sir Joshua Reynolds SNG; and Ann Forbes by David Allen, (1781), SNPG.

The main museum of the National Museums Scotland on Chambers Street holds some important artifacts related to the House of Forbes. The Monymusk Reliquary was once used for housing relics of saints and may have been fashioned in the early 8th century. It was preserved at Monymusk House. The Fettercairn Jewel of Lord Pitsligo is one of a very small number of Renaissance jewels to have survived in the British Isles. The 16th century jewel is from the private collection of the Forbes of Fettercairn, descended from Sir William Forbes, brother of Alexander Forbes, first Lord Forbes. William Forbes of Tolquhon’s cast bronze cannons were once mounted on the ramparts of Tolquhon Castle. The two cannons bear the arms and initials of William Forbes 7th laird of Tolquhon and the date 1588. The silver and maplewood Craigievar Mazer was made by James Craufurd of Edinburgh in 1591 and is engraved with the arms of Forbes of Craigievar. Sir William Forbes, 1st Baronet of Craigievar, may have passed it on to his daughter Anna who married Robert Petrie of Portlethen.

Top: Monymusk Reliquary, Fettercairn Jewel, and Craigievar Mazer. Bottom: One of the Tolquhon cannons.

Bonnie Prince Charlie Entering the Ballroom at Holyroodhouse, by John Pettie (1834-93)

In the lobby of the Palace of Holyroodhouse hangs a large (158.8 by 114.3 cm or 5’2” by 3’9”) oil painting by John Pettie (1834 - 1893) that depicts Cameron of Lochiel (c. 1700-1748); Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie," 1720-1788); and Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo (1678-1762). Lord Pitsligo served as Stuart's Head of Horse (cavalry) at the 1746 Battle of Culloden.

The Church of St John the Evangelist on Princes Street was built under the leadership and with funding provided in part by the sons of Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, 6th Baronet. Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet, assumed the leadership of the bank his father created. Four of the 10 windows were sponsored by members of this family: Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet; younger son Charles Hay Forbes; younger brother George Forbes; and sister & brother-in-law, Colin & Jane Mackenzie of Portmore.

Windows, left to right: Charles Hay Forbes; Colin and Jane Forbes Mackenzie of Portmore; Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet; and George Forbes.

Just inside the nave, small brass plaque in Memory of John Stuart Stuart-Forbes who died at the Battle of Little Bighorn with General George Armstrong Custer. He was the third son of Charles Hay Forbes. In 1866, his family’s name was legally changed to Stuart-Forbes when his uncle John, 8th baronet, died and his brother Sir William (now Stuart-Forbes) became 9th Baronet of Pitsligo and Monymusk.

Several members of the House of Forbes are memorialized in this graveyard, including:

  • Charles Hay Forbes (1806 –1859) and Jemima Rebecca Stuart Macdonell Forbes (1814 – 1905) (with mission front stone);

  • George Forbes (1790 – 1857)

  • George Edward Forbes, son of George Forbes (1828 – 1881)

  • Spencer Dundas Forbes, Commander, Royal Navy, son of George Edward Forbes (1874 – 1914); and

  • Edward Archibald Forbes, son of George Edward Forbes, (1869 – 1929).

The Parliament House in Old Town is just off the High Street section of the Royal Mile and behind St Giles' Cathedral. Not to be confused with the modern Scottish Parliament Building, the old Parliament House is a complex of several buildings housing the Supreme Courts of Scotland. The original building was home to the Parliament of Scotland from 1639 to 1707.

In Parliament Hall stands a statue and a portrait of one of the most famous Forbeses of all time: the Honorable Duncan Forbes of Culloden, Lord President of the Court of Sessions. In the stained-glass window dominating the hall, you will see the Forbes of Culloden coat of arms in the lower panel that honors all Lord Presidents. On the top of the first panel on the left are the arms with three muzzled bears against a blue background with three black unicorn heads on a white chevron. The statue was created by Louis-François Roubiliac and was erected by the Faculty of Advocates in 1752. The portrait was painted by Jeremiah Davison (1737.)

St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile boasts a statue of "Bishop Forbes" on the right hand side of the west entrance. Inside the cathedral is a memorial to "Wm. Forbes First Bishop of Edinburgh 1633." William Forbes of Corse (1585 – 1634) was ordained by Bishop Peter Blackburn of Aberdeen and he served the parishes of Alford and then Monymusk in Aberdeenshire. He was admitted as one of the ministers of St. Giles Cathedral in March 1622. In 1633, Forbes preached at Holyrood before Charles I, who was in Scotland for his coronation. The King was so pleased that he created the Scottish Episcopal Diocese of Edinburgh specifically for him. Forbes was consecrated in St. Giles' Cathedral as its first bishop on January 23, 1634. However, he died later that year.

The Greyfriars Kirkyard on Candlemaker Row, is most known as the site of the loyal dog “Greyfriar’s Bobby.” The kirkyard is also the final resting place for many members of the House of Forbes:

  • Duncan Forbes, Lord Culloden (1685–1747), Lord President of the Court of Sessions

  • Sir William Forbes of Monymusk and Pitsligo, 6th Baronet, FRSE (1739–1806)

  • Sir William Forbes of Monymusk and Pitsligo, 7th Baronet (1773–1828)

  • Daniel Christian “Danielle” Forbes, 6 May 1773 – 24 Jan 1775, daughter of Sir William Forbes and of Elizabeth Hay (noted on small stone in the tomb)

  • Sir John Hepburn Stuart Forbes of Pitsligo and Fettercairn, 8th Baronet, FRSE (1804 –1866)

Off the Royal mile sits Canongate Churchyard with memorials of such celebrated Scots as economist Adam Smith and the poet Robert Fergusson. On a single stone are memorialized George Stuart Forbes of Brux; Margaret Stewart Forbes, wife of George Stuart Forbes; and Capt. Duncan Forbes, son of George Stuart Forbes and Margaret Stewart Forbes, “a brave Officer, an accomplished Gentleman and above all a devout ad humble Christian.”

The Dean Cemetery lies on the Dean Path between Queensferry Road and the Water of Leith, west of Edinburgh city center. The members of the House of Forbes that are buried here include:

  • James David Forbes (1809 – 1868), Professor of Natural Philosophy University of Edinburgh, afterwards Principal of the United College of St Salvator and St Leonards of the University of St Andrews;

  • Edward Forbes (1815 – 1854), pioneer in the field of Natural History;

  • Lt. Col. John Forbes (died 1866), Bombay Army;

  • Anne Pearce Forbes, (1821 – 1861), daughter of Captain Joseph Pearce; and Duncan Forbes, 1793 – 1876) her husband; and

  • Elizabeth Gibson Page Forbes, Lady Kilpatrick of Kincraig (1927 – 2019), wife of Robert Lord Kirkpatrick in Kincraig, CBE.

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