Updated: Sep 6, 2020
Alexander Forbes (1380 - 1448) was born about 1380 to Sir John Forbes of the Black Lip and Elizabeth Kennedy, daughter of Sir Gilbert Kennedy of Dunure. Trained as a warrior by his father, Alexander achieved great fame in tournaments and on the battlefield. He gained the patronage of the Earl of Mar and Earl of Buchan, both of whom granted him large estates throughout northern Scotland. He became the first Lord Forbes, and this title remains the oldest in Scotland.
At that time, the “duchus” lands of Forbes lay within the Mar principality and the Laird, John of the Black Lip, paid dues to the Earl of Mar, James 2nd Earl of Douglas (circa 1358 –1388). When the Earl died at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388, he had no legitimate children and his sister Isabel inherited most of his property. In 1402, Isabel Douglas, Countess of Mar (1360 – 1408), granted Alexander in his own right the charter of the lands of Edinbanchory and Craiglogy. The charter was confirmed by the King Robert III in 1405. These lands had previously belonged to his grandfather John de Forbes as of 1364.
The Countess of Mar had married Sir Malcolm Drummond, the brother-in-law of King Robert III. In 1402, he was attacked and killed by Alexander Stewart, illegitimate son Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan (aso known as the “Wolf of Buchan.”) In 1404, Stewart captured the Countess of Mar’s Kildrummy Castle. He forced her to sign a document promising to marry him and give him all of her lands, including the earldom of Mar and lordship of the Garioch. At the time, Stewart’s uncle, Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany, was the Regent of Scotland and so his actions went unpunished. Isabel was forced to marry the man who murdered her husband and live the last four years of her life as a captive. Stewart became Earl of Mar from that time until his death in 1435 and ruled much of the northern part of Scotland. Alexander became Laird of Forbes upon his father’s death in 1404 and owed his allegiance to the Earl.
In 1408, Alexander accompanied the Earl of Mar and Sir Walter Lindsay to England for a jousting tournament organized by Henry Beaumont, fifth Baron Beaumont of Folkingham. In the "Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland" (1409), Andrew de Wyntoun praised “Alexander of Forbes, Mareschire” (Mar-shire), as one of the four Scottish knights who bested the English knights and wrote that "for gret pris and renoun, the Scots knights won gret commendatioun."
Alexander continued to acquire the rights to more land in 1411 when he received an infeftment (the official bestowal of heritable land) from William Fraser of Philorth for the lands of Mickle Fintray, part of Tulymald, Blacktoun, Smythill, Miltoun of Kin-Edwart, Belcorse, and an annual reddite (rent, from the Latin for “pay back”) from the "town of Edan," all within the barony of Kinedwart and shire of Aberdeen. In 1417, Alexander received a charter from John Stewart, Earl of Buchan, of the lands of Fodderbirse in the Lordship of Aboyne, of which Buchan was Constable. Many of these lands passed to other branches of the family.
In 1421, Alexander’s battle skills were once again tested at the Battle of Baugé in France. Since 1337, the English rulers of the House of Plantagenet contested the House of Valois over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. This “Hundred Years Wars” continued when Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and regained much of England's previously held lands in France. By 1419, the House of Valois had lost Normandy to the English and was besieged with a civil war with the supporters of the dukes of Burgundy. Since the Scots maintained an alliance with France since 1295, the Dauphin (Charles, son and heir of Charles VI) appealed to the Scots for assistance.
Scotland sent 7,000 troops commanded by Sir John Stewart of Darnley (cisca 1380 – 1429); Archibald Douglas, Earl of Wigtoun circa 1391 – 1439) and later 5th Earl of Douglas; and John Stewart, Earl of Buchan (circas 1381 - 1424.) Lord Forbes commanded a regiment under their leadership. With their French allies, the Scots army defeated the English army at Baugé and killed its commander, Henry V’s brother Thomas, Duke of Clarence.
At that time, the Scottish King James I, was in English hands. On a trip bound for France in 1406, he was seized by English pirates and delivered to Henry IV of England. When his father Robert III died later that year, the 11-year-old James became the uncrowned King of Scotland. James was educated at the English Court and learned the English methods of governance. James joined Henry V in his military campaigns in France during 1420 and 1421.
After the battle of Baugé, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, an uncle of the young King Henry VI, negotiated for the release of King James. He proposed that several Scottish knights should be selected to go to Durham as hostages. Among them was Sir Alexander, 1st Lord Forbes. According to the Chancery Miscellaneous Portfolios (No. II, 927) of February 3, 1423/24, those knights included “Alexander of Seton lord of Gordon, Walter of Ogilvy and Alexander Forbas, Knight – 20 attendants.”
In 1423, Sir Alexander married Elizabeth, the only daughter of George Douglas, Earl of Angus, and granddaughter of Robert III by his daughter Mary. In that same year, Alexander, Earl of Mar, granted to him the lands of Alford, later the foundation of the estates serving Putachie House which became the present Castle Forbes. Also in 1423, the Regent, Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany (grandson of King Robert II of Scotland), granted Sir Alexander a new charter of the lands and barony of Forbes to “dilecto consanguineo sui Alexandrae Forbes, milite, et carissimo consanguinee Elizabeth de Douglas.” The translation from Latin is “My cousin (‘agreeable blood’) Alexander Forbes, soldier, and my beloved cousin Elizabeth of Douglas.” Elizabeth’s first cousin once removed, John, Earl of Buchan, also granted to Sir Alexander the lands of Meikle Fintray. In 1425, Elizabeth's brother, the Earl of Angus, granted to her husband the lands of Easter Cluny in Perthshire on the River Tay.
The Duke of Albany served as Regent of Scotland until 1424, when King James I was finally ransomed and returned to Scotland. Soon after James's coronation 1425, the Duke was arrested. In spite of his being a first cousin, Sir Alexander was selected for the jury of 21 knights and peers for his trial. The jury found that Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany, and two of his sons were guilty of treason, leading to their execution and the virtual annihilation of the Stewarts of Albany.
In 1426, King James appointed Sir Alexander to the life-long positon of Baillie of the Diocese of Moray, a civic officer similar to that of provost or magistrate. The King also appointed him to his King’s Council and, in 1429, granted him a royal charter that consolidated most of the estates into the Lordship of Forbes. This was probably when Forbes was created a Lord of Parliament but no patent accompanied this elevation. However, this elevation of Forbes is the earliest of the kind where the title has remained hereditary in the family and not been merged in any subsequent and higher title. This makes the Lord Forbes the premier Baron of Scotland. Sir Alexander is first specifically mentioned as sitting in Parliament in 1445. In 1430, Sir Alexander was also appointed as life-long Sheriff of Aberdeen and Baillie of Strathnairn.
Sir Alexander gained more land in 1431 when Lady Elizabeth Keith of Dunotter, heiress of the barony of Aboyne, and her husband, Thomas Somerville, Lord Carnwath granted to “Alexander de Forbes, militem, the lands of Ballindurno and half of Balshangy, with the mill of Torquhonochy.” This grant was in consideration Sir Alexander’s assistance in establishing her right to a large part of her inheritance which had come to her from her mother, Margaret Fraser of Touch, and went eventually to her daughter (by her first husband, Sir Adam Gordon of Gordon), who was also named Elizabeth.
The rebellious Alexander of Islay, Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross, had been imprisoned by King James I. In 1431, Donald Balloch, Alexander’s cousin, led an army deep into the Highlands to demand his release. Sir Alexander joined the Royalist forces led by the Earls of Mar and Caithness at the Battle of Inverlochy, near present-day Fort William. Mar and Caithness were defeated – but James himself led an army into the Highlands and disbursed the rebel forces. Alexander of Islay was not released until six years leater when the King was murdered.
When the Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar, died in 1435, he had no legitimate male heir and so the Earldom of Mar reverted to the crown. However, Sir Robert Erskine of Erskine claimed the land and the title through his mother, Janet Keith Erskine (circa 1330 – 1413). He appealed his case to Sir Alexander, Sheriff of Aberdeen. Not until James I’s murder in 1437 did Sir Alexander judge that Erskine was rightfully 13th Earl of Mar and Garioch. Robert Erskine, 1st Lord Erskine and the new Earl of Mar, promptly granted Sir Alexander the lordship of Auchindoir & the Cabrach and part of Strathdee. In 1444, Alexander Seton (son and heir of Alexander Seton, Lord Gordon), 1st Earl of Huntly, granted the Forbeses the bulk of his Lordship of Cluny, Midmar and Tough, rent-free. In exchange, Sir Alexander’s son, James, the Master of Forbes, agreed to offer Lord Gordon his bond of “manrent,” to provide military aid when requested. Sir Alexander also gained the sasine or deed to Kynaldy in 1447.
As Baillie of Aberdeen, Sir Alexander was the enforcer of the law, on behalf of James II. This was put to the test sometime between 1438 and 1445. According to the Genealogy of the Family of Forbes (Lumsden, 1580), the King charged him to “put remedie” to his bastard half-brother John “Out with the Sword” Forbes due to his “extortion.” According to the Genealogy, Sir Alexander “took him at the kirk of Forbes and struck off his head and caused yerd him behind the kirk and sett his grave about with tippet stones, where it remains as yet to testifie the same.”
In 1440, Sir Alexander started building the first permanent castle around an old tower built in the previous century. This “Castle Forbes” replaced the earlier fortifications on nearby Castlehill known as “Druminnor,” Gaelic for “ridge of the confluence” and refers to the ridge between the Kearn Burn and Bogie Water. He received a receipt for part payment for “makyn ye house of Drumynnour” from the 15th century architects, John Kamloke and Wilyhame of Ennerkype. He made a downpayment of 151 merks and 5 shillings against a total payment due of 200 merks. Castle Forbes remained the seat of the Lords Forbes until it was sold in 1770. Putachie House was later renovated and expanded to become the new Castle Forbes.
By the time of his death in 1448, Alexander, 1st Lord Forbes, had greatly expanded the family fortune, land, and influence. With his wife, Elizabeth, granddaughter of Robert III by his daughter Mary, he fathered five children: James, who became the 2nd Lord Forbes; William, Provost of St. Giles, Edinburgh; Annabella, who married Patrick, Master of Gray; Margaret, who married Alexander Meldrum of Fyvie; and Elizabeth, who married Alexander Irvine of Drum. With unnamed Stewart woman, he fathered at least one illegitimate son named Richard Forbes, who achieved knighthood, became Archdeacon of Ross, and was appointed Chamberlain of the Kingdom in 1455. In 1462, Richard was granted the ward of the lands of his deceased nephew, James, 2nd Lord Forbes, until his nephew William came of age.