Craigievar Castle in Aberdeenshire is one of the most popular tourist attractions managed by the National Trust for Scotland. Not only is this Forbes castle a beautiful example of the original Scottish Baronial style of architecture but it contains many priceless portraits of the Forbes of Craigievar.
The partially-completed castle was purchased in 1610 by William Forbes, son of William Forbes, 4th Lord of Corse and brother of Patrick Forbes, Bishop of Aberdeen. The castle originally had more defensive elements including a walled courtyard with four round towers; only one of the round towers remains today.
However, William Forbes of Menie and Craigievar transformed it into the fairy-tale castle seen today. William was the younger brother of Bishop Patrick Forbes of Corse. Thanks to loans from his brother, William made his fortune in international trading in the Baltic states, based in the city of Danzig later known as Gdańsk, Poland. This earned him the nickname of “Danzig Willy.” He first purchased the small estate of Menie and then the more ambitious one of Craigievar, which he acquired from Mortimer family of Norman French origin.
William Forbes of Menie and Craigievar died in 1627 and his eldest son, also called William, inherited the Craigievar estate and castle. William the younger used the family fortune to become a Baronet. King James VI created the inheritable Baronetages of Nova Scotia in 1624 as a means of settling the Nova Scotia plantation. He intended to create 100 baronets, each of whom was to support six colonists for two years (or pay 2000 marks) and to pay an additional 1000 marks to Sir William Alexander, to whom the province had been granted by charter in 1621.
William Forbes, 1st Baronet of Craigievar, held the office of Member of Parliament (M.P.) for Aberdeenshire from 1639 to 1641; in 1644; and from 1645 to 1646. In 1647, he raised and commanded of a troop of Horse in the English Civil War for the Parliamentary army, called Covenanters. However, the entire troop was taken prisoner by Royalist Patrick Leith of Harthill.
William Forbes died between June 19th and September 13th, 1648, and was succeeded by his eldest son, John.
Since John was under 12 years of age, his uncle Robert served as his “tutor” or guardian. In 1659, “Red” Sir John Forbes, 2nd Baronet of Craigievar, married Margaret, daughter of Peter Young of Seaton, afterwards of Auldbar. They had a total of thirteen children. As his father before him, he held the office of Member of Parliament (M.P.) for Aberdeenshire in 1689 and from 1689 and 1702.
Upon Sir John’s death in 1703, his eldest son became Sir William Forbes, 3rd Baronet of Craigievar. He married Margaret Rose, daughter of Hugh Rose, 14th of Kilravock and Margaret Innes, in 1684
Sir Arthur Forbes of Craigievar, 4th Baronet, was born in 1709. He married, firstly, Christian Ross of Arnage, in 1729 and, secondly, Margaret Strachan of Balgall, in 1750. As with his father and grandfather, he held the office of Member of Parliament (M.P.) for Aberdeenshire between 1732 and 1747. For several years, Sir Arthur also served as the Rector of Marischal College. When he died in 1730, his eldest son with Margaret Strachan inherited the Craigievar estate.
Sir William Forbes of Craigievar, 5th Baronet, was born in 1755. He married Hon. Sarah Sempill, daughter of John Sempill, 13th Lord Sempill and Janet Dunlop, on 4 June 1780 at Sempill House in Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire.
Their eldest daughter was Janet Sempill Forbes. Their two eldest sons, Arthur and John, became he successive 6th and 7th baronets of Craigievar.
Sir Arthur Forbes of Craigievar, 6th Baronet, gained the rank of Officer in the 7th Hussars and succeeded as the 6th Baronet Forbes, of Craigievar in 1816. He was unmarried and without children when he died in 1823 at Boulogne. Therefore, the lands and title were inherited by his brother John.
Sir John Forbes of Craigievar, 7th Baronet, was born in 1785. He succeeded as the 7th Baronet Forbes of Craigievar in 1823 upon the death of his brother Arthur. In 1825, he married Hon. Charlotte Elizabeth Forbes, daughter of General James Ochoncar Forbes, 17th Lord Forbes and Elizabeth Hunter of Polmood. He held the offices of Judge in the Honourable East India Company Service, Justice of the Peace (J.P.) for Aberdeenshire, and Deputy Lieutenant (D.L.) of Aberdeenshire. He died in 1846.
The son of Sir John Forbes of Craigievar, 7th Bt., was born in 1836 as William Forbes (1836–1905). He succeeded as the 8th Baronet Forbes of Craigievar at the age of 10 in 1846. He served as an Ensign in the Coldstream Guards between 1854 and 1857.
He served as Captain in the 9th Aberdeenshire Rifle Volunteers between 1859 and 1861. He married, firstly, Caroline Louisa Forbes, daughter of Sir Charles Forbes of Newe, 3rd Bt. and Caroline Battye, in 1858. They divorced in 1861 and he then married Frances Emily Abercromby, daughter of Sir Robert Abercromby of Birkenbog, 5th Bt. and Elizabeth Stephenson Douglas, in 1862. In 1884, Sir William Forbes, 8th Baronet, succeeded his cousin, Maria Janet Sempill, 16th Lady Sempill, as 17th Lord Sempill, and the family was renamed Forbes-Sempill. He was then styled as Sir William Forbes-Sempill, 17th Lord Sempill and 8th Baronet of Craigievar. His second wife Frances died in 1887 and he married, thirdly, Mary Beresford Lowe, daughter of Henry Sherbrooke, in 1890. He was awarded the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Officers' Decoration. He held the office of Deputy Lieutenant (D.L.) of Aberdeenshire and the office of Justice of the Peace (J.P.) for Aberdeenshire.
William's son from his second wife Frances was John Forbes-Sempill, who was born in 1863. In 1883, he became a commissioned officer in the 3rd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. He gained the rank of Lieutenant in 1885 in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and fought in the Sudan Campaign between 1885 and 1886. He gained the rank of Lieutenant in 1886 in the Cameron Highlanders and fought in the Hazara Expedition in 1889. In 1891, he gained the rank of Captain in the Royal Army Service Corps. In 1892, he married Gwendolen Emily Mary Prodgers, daughter of Herbert Prodgers and Emily Sibella Phillpotts, in 1892. In 1894, he returned to service as Captain in the Black Watch and fought in the Boer War between 1901 and 1902. Upon the death of his father in 1905, he succeeded as Sir John Forbes-Sempill, 18th Lord Sempill and the 9th Baronet of Craigievar.
He held the office of Justice of the Peace (J.P.) for Aberdeenshire and of Vice-Lord-Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire. He was appointed Representative Peer of Scotland between 1910 and 1934 and was Aide-de-Camp to HM King George V. With his wife Gwendolen, he had four children: William Francis Forbes-Sempill who was born in 1893 and died in 1965; Gwendolen Janet Forbes-Sempill who was born in 1897 and died in 1910; Margaret Forbes-Sempill who was born in 1905 and died in 1966; and Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill who was born in 1912 and died as Sir Ewan Forbes of Craigievar in 1991. In 1955, Margaret Forbes-Sempill bought Druminnor Castle, restoring it to Forbes ownership after a gap of 185 years. Sir John died in 1934.
Upon his father’s death, William became the 10th Baronet of Craigievar and 19th Lord Sempill. Sir William was the last private owner of Craigievar Castle. By 1963, the Craigievar and Fintray estate was entailed and was laden with debt. William agreed that the National Trust of Scotland would take ownership of the castle and the policies (land around the castle), and that the government (Inland Revenue) would waive death duties. William died in 1965 and his two titles were split. His Baronetcy of Craigievar was passed on to his sibling Sir Ewan Forbes of Craigievar, 11th Baronet. The Sempill Peerage passed to his daughter Ann Moira Forbes-Sempill, 20th Lady Sempill. Upon her death in 1995, her son James (Jamie) William Stuart Whitemore Sempill, became 21st Lord Sempill.
Jamie, 21st Lord Sempill, and his great-nephew Angus Michael Craigievar Forbes-Cable (great grandson of William Forbes, 10th Baronet of Craigievar and 19th Lord Sempill) served as guides for the 2023 Clan Forbes Tour.