Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo, became a key figure in the Jacobite attempts to overthrow the British government in 1745. He provides a fascinating view of the inner workings of the army commanded in the name of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” through his correspondence published as Jacobite Letters to Lord Pitsligo 1745-1746 (Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta. 1930. Aberdeen: Milne & Hutchison.)
Alexander Forbes was born in 1678 to Alexander Forbes, 3rd Lord Pitsligo (circa 1655 – 1690), and Sophia, third daughter of John Erskine, 4th Earl of Mar (in the seventh creation of the Earldom as decided by the House of Lords in 1875). He was educated in France but returned to Scotland when he reached his majority at the age of 21. Lord Forbes of Pitsligo took his seat in the Scottish Parliament in May 1700. He opposed the Union with Scotland Act 1706 that was passed by the Parliament of England. When the Union with England Act came up before the Scottish Parliament the next year, he left Parliament in protest. The Act passed and the two parliaments were "United into One Kingdom by the Name of Great Britain".
At that time, his first cousin John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar, was actively involved with the government. He was a Commissioner for the Union, became Scottish Secretary of State, Keeper of the Signet, a Privy Counsellor, and in 1713 was appointed the British Secretary of State. However, he was removed from this office in 1714 with the coronation of George I. Embittered, Mar then became a Jacobite. On September 6, 1715, he proclaimed that James Francis Edward Stuart (son of the deposed king) was the rightful King of Scotland, England, France and Ireland, thus launching the third attempted rebellion. Even though Mar claimed the support of Stuart, he did not receive official approval until October 3, 1715.
Pitsligo joined his cousin in Perth in October 1715, with a small troop. He fought under Mar in the Battle of Sheriffmuir on November 13, 1715, against the royalist forces under the command of General John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, 1st Duke of Greenwich. Even though Mar’s forced outnumbered Argyll’s, both sides experienced great losses and the battle as a draw. The rebellion was quelled by soon after, with the Battle of Preston which ended the next day, November 14, 1715.
After Sherriffmuir, Pitsligo travelled to London and then throughout Europe: Leyden, Holland; Vienna, Austria; Rome, Italy; and then Paris, France. He returned to Scotland in June 1720, first to Castle Forbes to visit his daughter Mary who had married James, 16th Lord Forbes, and second to his home at Pitsligo Castle. He contented himself with country affairs and cultivated the great goodwill of his tenants and neighbors.
During this time, the Catholic countries of France and Spain were building an alliance through three “Pacto de Familia.” Under the third agreement, the 1743 Treaty of Fontainebleau, King Louis XV of France and his uncle, Philip V of Spain, agreed to co-operate in attempting to restore the Catholic Stuarts to the throne of Great Britain. They planned to use Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart (popularly own as “Bonnie Prince Charlie”) to destabilize the government of Great Britain and install a client Catholic monarchy. Stuart was born in Rome, Italy, to James Francis Edward Stuart who had failed in his rebellion of 1715. He named his son the “Prince Regent” in December 1743, with authority to act in his name.
On July 23, 1745, Stuart landed at Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides but received a cool response from the clan leaders. He continued on to the bay of Loch nan Uamh in Lochaber where he had hoped to be joined by a French fleet. However, the fleet was almost destroyed by storms. He sent letters to many of Scottish leaders, including Pitsligo. He finally gained the support of Donald Cameron of Lochiel and, on August 19, he officially raised his father's standard at Glenfinnan.
John Murray of Broughton, the Secretary to Stuart, wrote to Pitsligo on September 2, 1745, “It is now some time since the Prince did you the honour to write you with an account of his arrival, which letter, tho’ there was not an occasion found to send it so soon as I inclined, is I hope never the less come to hand.” He notes that “a gentleman arrived from France with despatches from that Court assuring him of speedy and effectual assistance.” He then relays Stuart’s orders to Pitsligo: “But as there is a quantity of arms from Hamburgh expected dayly to land at Petterhead and a report already spread of a landing there, his royal Highness requires you will be upon your guard to receive them and after distributing to the gentlemen of that country what number will be necessary for them, lett the remainder be escorted to the Camp by them with all expedition.” Pitsligo notes in his ownhand, “The Letter mentioned in the above, came not to hand for some considerable time after.” (Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta, editors. Jacobite Letters to Lord Pitsligo 1745-1746. 1930. Aberdeen: Milne & Hutchison.)
After the Jacobite victory at the 30-minute Battle of Prestonpans, Murray again wrote to Pitsligo on behalf of Stuart on September 29, 1745: “His Royal Highness has sent orders to all his friends to join furthwith, being determined to march Into England as soon as possible and to beg you may use all the Diligence possible, especially as our horse are not numerous.” (Ibid.) Pitsligo left a few days later and arrived in Edinburgh on October 9, 1745, with a troop of horse and 100 men on foot.
Nine days later, Pitsligo received his Commission as Colonel of his own Troop of Horse.
Charles Prince of Wales and Regent of Scotland, England, France and Ireland and other Dominions thereto belonging, to our Right Trusty and well beloved Lord Pitsligo, Greeting. We reposing especiall trust and confidence in your courage, Loyalty and good conduct do hereby constitute and appoint you to be a Collonell of his majesty’s forces and to take your rank in the army as such from the date hereof. You are therefore carefully and diligently to discharge the duty and trust of a Collonell aforesaid by doing and performing everything which belongs thereto and we hereby require all and every the officers of our soldiers and forces to observe and follow all such orders, directions and commands as you shall from time to time receive from us, our Commander in Chief for the time being or any other your Superior officer according to the Rules and Discipline of war. In pursuance of the Trust hereby reposed in you.
Given at our palace of Holyrood House the 18th Oct. 1745.
Stuart made the decision to invade England since he expected support from English Jacobites and he anticipated French reinforcements landing in Southern England. He and his army reached Derby on December 4 but, lacking the necessary support to take England, they returned to Scotland. Stuart used French artillery lay siege to Stirling Castle and, on January 17, he triumphed over a relief force at the Battle of Falkirk Muir. Many Highlanders left the army after Falkirk. With more royalist troops advancing toward him, Stuart lifted the siege on Stirling on February 1, 1746, and led his main force north towards Inverness.
In a letter dated February 5, 1746, Lord George Murray, commander in chief of Stuart’s forces, explains the situation to Pitsligo who was then in Brechin, Angus:
I hear nothing certain of the motion of the Enemy but that yesterday at Midday none were past Stirling except 500 Campbells to Dumblean and a few Dragouns that came to Doun by the Frews Foord. There was a report that some Dragouns came this morning to Perth about 5 aclock, but as I have no Intelegence sent me, I can’t be sure if it be so or not. In the mean time as I have but very few men in our devision till I be join by Ld. Cromerty, Coll: John Steuart and Ld. Ogilvie, I think it but proudent to make all the dispatch possible, besides, I have repeated orders from his R:H: to lose no time in joining him near Inverness.
In subsequent letters, Murray urges Pitsligo, then in Aberdeen, to acquire “some good horses and harnase, cartes, etc.” and “as much course tartan as can be got for me.” He also notes that “there are few men whos friendship & aprobation I would value so much as your Lop’s. (Lordship’s)”
On February 7, Murray writes:
In the mean time I wish the Quartering at Aberdeen be regular and every billet sign’d and a coppy kept that if disputes should arise, they may be rectified, for the sign’d billet must be the rule. How to transporte the Armes & Stores must be our nixt care whither by land or water, the first will be safest, but can it be done? You see, my Lord, I give you much trouble, but without your assistance I can do little.
Murray writes to Pitsligo at Banff on February 19, that “His Royal Highness’ Army took possession of the Town of Inverness yesterday, the troops that were in the Town haveing ferryed over to Rosshire.” Stuart then commandeered Culloden House, on the estate of Duncan Forbes, 5th Laird of Culloden and Lord President of the Court of Sessions. By the next day, Pitsligo had moved to Elgin, where he was appointed by Stuart as the “Governor of Elgin.”
On February 21, 1746, Murray relayed to Pitsligo his additional orders: “In the meantime, as your Lordship knows everything that is most usefull for the common cause, His Royal Highness desires you will take the joint command (of the army at Elgin) with (William Drummond) the Viscount of Strathallan so as everything may be ordered for the best…”
From Fochabers on February 26, Pitsligo writes to Murray: “It is the humble oppinion of all here that his Royall Highness call in all his troops from Fort Augustus, Fort William, or wherever they are since it’s probable Cumberland, now at Aberdeen, will advance and his Hessians will give him the more encouragement.” Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and youngest son of King George II, was given command of the large army that retook Aberdeen on February 27.
The affairs of the Jacobite slowly began unravelling over the net few weeks. Stuart was ill in Elgin and Drummond had taken Gordon Castle until 19th March, when he crossed the Spey and made the Manse of Speymouth their headquarters. Drummond writes to Pitsligo who was still in Elgin:
I was not before last night informed of Stonywood’s Regt. being diminuched of so many men, but if Abochie’s be not yet sett out, pray send them off immediately, the only danger we ar in being from a strong body of the Enemies which is at Strath-bogy and Keith. How ever just now the River is scherse fowerdable any wher. As to the Laird of Grant since he is gone up to his own country without any regular troupes, tho it was according to the inclination of his people, with whatever gathering he can make will not comme into a country wher we have 2,500 men which can fall into his country when ever they have a mind.
Additional mismanagement of provisions and support is detailed in a letter from Sir Thomas Sheridan to Pitsligo on April 4, 1746:
I have just received the honour of yr. Ldp’s (Lordship’s) without wch. (which) I should have been obliged by orders from H.R.H. to give you this trouble. As ye Laird of Maclachlane is sent to provide every thing requisite for the service of the Army so it is necessary he should be supported by such parties as he wants to execute these orders, and this is particularly recommended to yr. Ldp’s (Lordship’s) care. Now it happens that horses, i.e., the best and strongest kind of them that the country affords, as well as proper carts, are what is most wanted for the carrying the Artillery and Princes Baggage. These Mr. Murray had directions to provide when he went from hence and wou’d have done it had he not fallen sick. Upon which Peter Smith was sent to do it. But he, having given some orders about it, came away, and now the same commission is entrusted to Col. Maclachlane who must see it done at any case. This makes it impossible to return the horses already sent hither on that score (of wich many were carried back by their drivers).
Pitsligo responded to Sheridan two days later: “I do assure you of one thing—there never came any orders to me but what I instantly intimated to the proper persons for putting them in execution and partys were allways ordered out as occasion required.” Sheridan placated Pitsligo the next day by writing “H.R.H. dos not in ye least doubt but yr. Ldp. has allways complied punctually with the orders signified to you, and if he has not hitherto reaped the benefit he expected from them, he is persuaded the fault will not be laid at yr. door.”
Sheridan learned that horses requested from Pitsligo had been stolen and that the local residents had protested against the commandeering of more horses and supplies. He writes to Pitsligo on April 9:
Yr. Ldp. (Lordship) nor no body else need doubt but H.R.H. is concern’d at any dammage done in a country which he came not to oppress but set free. Yet still it must be remembered that War always carrys such accidents along with it and tho’ H.R.H. wou’d never be persuaded to allow of such things, yet his ennemies cou’d have no just reason to complain if he did, considering with what barbarity the Elector’s forces and Partizans have treated our friends, by burning the houses and stripping the women and children wherever they could come. As for the horses it will never be doubted but yr. Ldp. has done and will do yr. utmost considering the need in wch. we stand of them.
Cumberland inexorably moved his troops toward the Jacobite army as indicated by a flurry of letters over the next few days. Major Hale write to Pitsligo on April 11: “The Enemy instead of coming to Focubirs are gone to Cullene to make, as we supose, a junction with those who came to Bamf, so that his Grace the Duke of Perth desires that the soldiers at Elgin may return to their former quarters, but they must be ready at a moment’s warning.”
James Drummond, 3rd Duke of Perth, writes that same day: “As we are informed that the enemy are already past Keith on their way thither and that the water is so low that there is no keeping this place, it is thought proper to retire and therefore as it will be dangerous for us to stay even so near as Elgin after we have abandoned the water to them, it will be necessary to march the foot that is at Elgin beyond Forest (Forres) because Forest and the neighbourhood of it must be the place where the troops that are upon the north of Spey must quarter.”
As a result of this intelligence, Drummond, Perth, and Pitsligo brought their troops through Elgin to Forres and Nairn. On April 12, Cumberland’s army reached Fochabers and crossed the River Spey without opposition. The forces pushed on to Elgin, Alves, and Nairn by April 14. By that time, the Jacobite forces had removed themselves to Culloden. The royalist army was celebrating Cumberland’s 25th birthday on April 15 and the Jacobites thought to surprise them with a night raid. This failed and further demoralized the troops. The next day, Cumberland defeated Stuart and his followers on the Culloden Moor in 25 minutes of battle.
Pitsligo commanded the cavalry and escaped after the battle. His lands were seized, his title was attainted, and he was hunted for sixteen years until he died on December 21, 1762. He was able to save a bundle of letters that have survived to today. These have been passed down to his heirs and finally to Charles Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis, 21st Baron Clinton, the great-great-great grandson of Pitsligo’s daughter Mary. He allowed he publication of the letters in 1930 as Jacobite Letters to Lord Pitsligo 1745-1746 (Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta. 1930. Aberdeen: Milne & Hutchison.)
Learn more here:
By Alison Campsie, The Scotsman. Reprinted by permission.
He was 67 when he fought at the Battle of Culloden - and spent the rest of his long life on the run. Lord Pitsligo, Alexander Forbes, posed as a beggar and lived in a cave after the defeat on April 16 1746.
Excerpts of this 27-page book includes photographs of modern-day locations and details of the remarkable “disappearance” of Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo, who was “Head of Horse” or cavalry commander for Charles Edward Stuart, the “Bonnie Prince Charlie” of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745.
Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo, supported both the 1715 Jacobite rebellion led by James Edward Stuart (the "Old Pretender") and the 1745 rebellions led by Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie.”) After the 1746 Stuart defeat at Culloden, the crown seized the Pitsligo Estate, ransacked Pitsligo Castle, declared Forbes an outlaw, and placed a price on his head.
The Battle of Culloden occurred on April 16, 1746. The supporters of deposed Catholic King James II and VII (known as “Jacobites” based on the Latin name “Jacobus”) were decisively defeated by a British government force under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, on the captured estate of highlander Duncan Forbes, Lord Culloden (1685 - 1747). This battle ended the Jacobite Uprising of 1745.