The family of Forbes of Pitsligo is one of the three major “cadet” branches of the House of Forbes that descended from Sir John de Forbes, of the Black Lip (died 1404), the fifth known laird of Forbes. Under the principle of primogeniture, the eldest son inherited all the father’s lands and titles. The younger sons often acquired their own lands through family grants, charters earned from service to powerful landowners or the monarch, through marriage, or through purchase.
Sir John’s eldest son Alexander (ca. 1380 – 1448), later the first Lord Forbes, inherited the lands claimed by his father and was granted many other lands during his lifetime. Sir John’s second son Sir William (ca. 1385 – 1445) was given Kinaldy by his brother Alexander after his father’s death. As a result, he was known as Sir William Forbes, first laird of Kinaldy. Sir William acquired many other estates through his wife Agnes, daughter and sole heir of her father William Fraser of Philorth. The charter for these lands was granted by James Douglas, Lord of Balveny, dated June 24, 1423. In 1424, Sir William secured a charter for the lands of Achmacludy and Petslegach (Pitsligo.) King James I confirmed this charter on July 18, 1426. William began work on his stronghold in Pitsligo in 1424 by building the castle tower and courtyard wall. This became Pitsligo Castle.
Over the next six centuries, many other cadet families of younger sons acquired and lost major estates. In fact, the main line was the only other Forbes branch besides the chiefly line to gain – and lose – a barony. Some cadet branches became very powerful, some lasted only a few generations, and some have lasted into the 21st century. For example, the Forbes of Rires found favor with the Scottish court; Forbes of Boyndlie generally sided with the Jacobite uprisings against the British crown; Forbes of Newe gained and lost a fortune, and Forbes of Callendar gained its wealth in copper smithing.
The main line of the Forbes of Pitsligo thrived for eight generations. Alexander, 9th laird of Pitsligo, received a charter for the lands of Braco in 1618. He inherited his father’s estates upon the death of John, 8th laird of Pitsligo, in 1628. In 1632, he married Joanna (also called Jean), daughter of William Keith, 6th Earl Marischal (ca. 1585 – 1635), whose family owned Dunnottar Castle and whose father built Marischal College. In 1633, the year after his wedding, he was made a Peer of Parliament and was styled Alexander, 1st Lord Pitsligo. The Forbes of Pitsligo struggled financially in subsequent generations and was finally extinguished due to the support of the Jacobite cause by Alexander, 4th Lord Pitsligo. Lord Pitsligo was commander of the cavalry for Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) in the attempted coup of 1745. Upon Stuart’s defeat, Pitsligo’s lands were seized and his title attainted.
One of the major cadet branches of the Forbes of Pitsligo was Forbes of Rires, founded by Arthur, a younger son of Alexander, 2nd laird of Pitsligo. Forbes of Rires family members were fiercely loyal to Catholic Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Margaret Beaton Forbes of Rires, later known as Lady Rires or Reres, was a lady-in-waiting Queen Mary. She was also the aunt of Mary Beaton, another lady-in-waiting who was known as one of the Queen’s four “Marys.” In the 16th century, the Forbes of Rires became avid supporters of the Protestant Covenanter movement that opposed Stuart monarch Charles I in the 17th century. Arthur, 7th laird of Rires, died before 1686 and was succeeded by his third son, Robert, who sold the estate in 1691.
The estate of Newe was inherited by Alexander Forbes, 1st Laird of Newe (died 1561) from his mother Elizabeth, daughter of John Forbes of Brux. Alexander’s grandson, John Forbes, the 3rd Laird (died 1616), built the first house of Newe in 1604 with an old stone bearing his arms and those of his wife, Isobel Burnett of Leys. Unfortunately, the 9th Laird of Newe, Major John Forbes of the British 29th Regiment, became bankrupt. He sold the estate to another member of another branch of the House of Forbes, James Forbes of Seaton. Seaton, in turn, sold the estate to John “Bombay Jock” Forbes (1743-1821), second son of John Forbes, 2nd Laird of Bellabeg, another Pitsligo cadet family. Upon Jock’s death, the estate was inherited by his nephew, Sir Charles Forbes of Newe and Edinglassie, baronet.
Parts of the Boyndlie estate were owned by members of two major branches of the House of Forbes: Pitsligo and Monymusk of Corsindae. Alexander Forbes, 5th Laird of Pitsligo, the “Red Laird,” (died in 1562) granted Boyndlie to his third son John Forbes (about 1519 – 1571), 1st laird of Boyndlie. John joined John, Master of Forbes and son of William, 7th Lord Forbes, in fighting the Gordons at the Battle of Craibstane on November 20, 1571. William was captured and but John Forbes, 1st of Boyndlie, lost his life. When Henry Forbes, 4th laird of Boyndlie died in 1700, the estate of Middle Boyndlie passed to his brother John, previously known as Captain John Forbes of Largie and of Forbestown. Upper and Lower Boyndlie reverted to Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo, who sold the estates to John Forbes, son of Sir John Forbes of Monymusk, 3rd Baronet, in 1711.
George Forbes was the third son of William Forbes, 5th Laird of Newe. He was born in 1668 and married Isobel Forbes of Asloun in 1701. Isabel inherited the Bellabeg estate through her mother who was a Farquharson. Their son John became the 2nd laird of Bellabeg when his father George died in 1745. Their son John became a merchant in India and became known as “Bombay Jock.” He acquired many Forbes ancestral lands in Strathdon and Newe.
William Forbes, 1st of Callendar (1756–1823) was a prosperous copper smith and landowner who purchased Callendar House in Falkirk, Scotland. He was descended from Sir Alexander Forbes, 2nd Laird of Pitsligo, and Alexander Forbes of Newe (died 1561.) Sir William was a third-generation copper smith, following the footsteps of his grandfather George Forbes (died circa 1720) and his father William Forbes (born 1709.) As of 1873, the Forbeses of Callendar were the richest branch of the Forbes family, owning 57,000 acres and a rental income of £25,000 - some four times larger than Lord Forbes. Lt.-Col. William Dudley Henry Charles Forbes, 5th Laird of Callendar (1902 – 1977) sold the house and its park to the town of Falkirk in 1963. The family still owns most of the estate.
Some of the other Forbes of Pitsligo Cadet Branches, with the first lairds, include:
Forbes of Daach, William, grandson of Alexander, 2nd Laird o Pitsligo
Forbes of Culquhonny, William Forbes, son of John, 3rd of Newe
Forbes of Lethenty (later of Craigtoun and Gask), George, son of Sir Alexander, 2nd laird of Pitsligo
Forbes of Meikle Wardes, Arthur, fourth son of Alexander, 5th Laird of Pitsligo.
Forbes of Bankhead, James, second son of Arthur, 1st Laird of Meikle Wardes
Forbes of Pittentaggart, John, second son of William, 1st laird of Daach
Forbes of Blackhall (Inverurie), Patrick, third son of Arthur, 1st of Meikle Wardes
Forbes of Deskrie, John, fourth son of William Forbes, 5th Laird of Newe
Forbes of Torhendry, George, third son of Robert, 2nd Laird of Meikle Wardes
Forbes of Auchlin, William, fifth son of Robert, 2nd Laird of Meikle Wardes
Forbes of Castleton and Rothiemay, Robert, youngest son of William, 1st Laird of Callendar
Forbes of Pittallachie, Patrick, second son of Alexander, 1st Laird of Newe
Forbes of Invernochty, Alexander, second son of William, 2nd Laird of Newe
Forbes of Sunhoney, John, second son of William, 1st laird of Daach
See the complete family tree of the Cadets of Forbes of Pitsligo.