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James, 15th Lord Forbes, and the Jacobite Uprising of 1715

Updated: May 30, 2023

James Forbes was born in 1689 as the second son of William 12th Lord Forbes, and Anne, daughter of James Brodie, 16th Lord Brodie. On April 5, 1698, he and his brother William, Master of Forbes, were appointed Burgesses of Aberdeen.

His clansman Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo, had travelled to France and became an adherent of Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (commonly known as Madame Guyon). Madame Guyon was a French mystic who was accused of advocating “Quietism.” He was also a devoted member of the Episcopal Church of Scotland and a supporter of the exiled King James II and VII, and later his son James Francis Edward Stuart. No doubt under Lord Pitsligo’s influence, the teenagers James and brother William were sent to France where they also became devotes of Madame Guyon – and became ardent Jacobites, as supporters of King James were called. In 1715, James married Mary Forbes, the widowed sister of Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo. Mary Forbes was the daughter of Alexander Forbes, 3rd Lord Pitsligo (c. 1655 - 1690) and Sophia Erskine. She had been married John Forbes (c. 1694 - 1715), son of William Forbes, 4th Baronet of Monymusk,

Unlike his brother William, James returned from France after the start of the Jacobite Uprising of 1715. Without official royal endorsement, John Erskine, Earl of Mar, had raised the standard of "James the 8th and 3rd" (James Francis Edward Stuart, son of the deposed King James II and VII) on September 6, 1715. James sailed from London to Aberdeen on September 28th, 1715, and attempted to recruit troops for the Jacobite cause.

Under Mar’s orders, Brigadier William Mackintosh of Borlum (1658 – 1743) with 2,500 men crossed the Firth of Forth on October 11 and 12, 1715. They captured Leith but not Edinburgh, as was their aim. On October 22, Mar finally received a commission from James Francis Edward Stuart appointing him commander of the Jacobite army.

On October 18, Brigadier Mackintosh received orders from Mar to march into Lancashire, England, and join forces with William Gordon, 6th Viscount of Kenmure and Lord Lochinvar (c. 1672 – 1716) and the Thomas Forster of Adderstone Hall (1683 – 1738). With a combined force of about 4,000 men, the Jacobite army reached Preston on November 9, 1715. They barricaded the main streets to defend themselves from the British Army under General Sir Charles Wills (1666 –1741), which arrived two days later on November 11. Two days later on November 13, additional government forces arrived under the command of Lieutenant-General George Carpenter, 1st Baron Carpenter of Killaghy (1657 –1731). On November 14, Jacobite commander Forster offered an unconditional surrender. The government listed 1,468 Jacobite prisoners, 463 of whom were English.

On December 6, 1715, David Lumsden of Cushnie wrote to Colonel John Gordon of Glenbucket (c.1673 – 1750), “As soon as yours came I sent the inclosed to Putachie, but hearing to-day that Mr. James Forbes was at Aberdeen I have sent another express to know if he has a mind to march northward with what assistance he can make, and I expect his answer to-morrow night.” (Calendar of Stuart Papers Belonging to His Majesty the King, Preserved at Windsor Castle, Volume 1; 1902)

During this time, James appears to be attempting to encourge recruits and was in command of his own company of soldiers, From the taxes or "cess roll" he collected in the name of the Earl of Mar, John Forbes of Boyndlie reports that he paid £50 in cash on each of three dates on December 5, 1715; December 20, 1715; and January 27, 1716 to "Mr. James Forbes Commander of Independent Compy." (Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta, The Jacobite Cess Roll for the County of Aberdeen in 1715, Third Spalding Club, 1932.) On December 11, 1715, James Forbes himself wrote to Colonel Gordon of Glenbucket and reported on his efforts to rally support for James Francis Edward Stuart. He writes: “However I took upon me to write to most of the gentlemen in our neighbourhood to be in readiness and to arm their men, seeing the sajety of their country called for it. But it has had little effect, and some have flatly refused it, so it lies at your door what method to take since you have orders thereanent. The few men I have are just now scattered up and down through the shire upon parties.” (Calendar of Stuart Papers Belonging to His Majesty the King, Preserved at Windsor Castle, Volume 1; 1902)

James Francis Edward Stuart

In spite of James Forbes’s lack of success in recruiting soldiers in northern Scotland, James Francis Edward Stuart decided to take to the field himself. On December 2, 1715, he landed in Peterhead, on the north coast of Aberdeenshire. He and his army under the command of the Earl of Mar marched to Perth, where he arrived on January 9, 1716, with fewer than 5,000 troops. Facing far larger forces that included heavy artillery, the Jacobites let Perth on January 30. Mar and James Francis Edward Stuart sailed from Montrose back to France on February 5, 1716.

In the fall of 1716, James Forbes left the country for Rotterdam in the Netherlands. On October 5, 1716, he wrote to the Earl of Mar who then served as the Jacobite “Secretary of State” for James Francis Edward Stuart: “We designed to have come into France, but were advised by our friends here to stay till we had a return from you how far you would approve of it.” (Calendar of Stuart Papers Belonging to His Majesty the King, Preserved at Windsor Castle, Volume 2; 1902)

Writing from Avignon in France on November 17, 1716, Mar relays the orders of the “King,” James Francis Edward Stuart: “The King's illness has occasioned my being too long in answering your letter and congratulating you and Dr. Gardine on your escape. He orders me to let you both know his satisfaction in knowing you are well and out of harm's way. He thinks you had both better continue in Holland or Flanders for some time, till he be more certain of himself and of his abode. Though he has not much to spare, he desires, if any of you be in want, to let me know it.” (Ibid.)

In July 1717, both Houses of Parliament of Great Britain passed the Indemnity Act 1717, also known as the Act of Grace and Free Pardon. Many Jacobites has been convicted of treason and excuted. However, the remaining inprisoned Jacobites were freed – except for Rob Roy MacGregor and the entire Clan Gregor. In October 1717, James Forbes received a licence to return to Scotland. (Public Record Office.)

Despite his fervid support for the Jacobite cause, James Forbes is not mentioned in any records regarding the subsequent Jacobite Uprising of 1719 or the single armed conflict of the Battle of Glenshiel. (The Jacobite Attempt of 1719: Letters of James Butler, Second Duke of Ormonde, Relating to Cardinal Aberoni’s Project for the Invasion of Great Britain on Behalf of the Stuarts, and to the Landing of a Spanish Expedition in Scotland, Scottish History Society, 1895.)

Elizabeth Gordon of Cobairdy

Three domestic events occurrend in the ensung years that drastically changed his circumstances. First, his brother William, 13th Lord Forbes, died on June 26, 1730. This left his eight-year-old nephew Francis to succeed as the 14th Lord Forbes. Second, just four years later, his nephew died and James succeeded him as the 15th Lord Forbes in 1734. Then, in 1741, his wife Mary died. He wasted no time in marrying, as his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Gordon of Park, sister of Sir William Gordon, and half-sister of James Gordon of Cobairdy, who had married Lord Forbes’s daughter Mary. He thus became both father-in-law and brother-in-law to James Gordon of Cobairdy.

Since Lord Forbes was an active participant in the Jacobite Uprising of 1715, James Drummond, 6th Earl and 3rd Duke of Perth (1713 –1746), assumed that Forbes would recruit his clansmen again for another uprising planned in 1740. In “An Account of the Numbers the Highlanders can bring out,” the Duke of Perth mentions Lord Forbes in his list naming “noblemen who have some folowing and interes upon the north side of Forth.” He confidently reports that “All those noblemen will serve the king and many of them can raise several hondred of men, tho not Highlanders, yet reckned better then any of the Loulanders. Those are the men of the most consideration on the north side of Forth, whose interest can be dependid upon; most of the clans are advised or influenced by some ore other of those noblemen with whom they join interest.” He further notes that Lord Forbes could recruit 600 of his clansmen to the Jacobite cause. (Stuart Papers at Windsor, as referenced in House of Forbes by Alistair and Henrietta Tayler, 1937)

In fact, few the Aberdeenshire landowners who joined the Jacobite cause in 1715 “came out” again in 1745: “At that time the great lords of the counties had been Jacobite, whereas in 1745 most of the Aberdeenshire peers were supporters of the Government.” (Blaikie, Walter Biggar; Origins of the Forty-Five and Other Papers Relating to That Rising, Scottish History Society, 1916.) Specifically, “The Lord Forbes had by no means an Estate suited to his ability though he had inclined to appear.” (Ibid.)

Lord Forbes spent his remaining years quietly at Putachie House, now called Castle Forbes. His last difficult year was described in letters sent by his son James to William King, younger of Newmiln, Elgin. On December 31, 1760, his son writes: “my Lord weak and low as usuall.” On February 16, 1761, he writes: “I have this day wrote a long Epistle, but a Dull one, as it Chiefly consists of an account of my Lords Situation, who has been vastly distress'd these ten days past, Chiefly for want of Passage in his Belly, which all the Injections and things he has taken cant Relieve; and I have sent two Expresses for the Doctor, whom I expect every Minute, but I doubt if he can do any good; my Lord's weakness daily increases and his Bones and Skin are quite sore, so that were it the Will of God I believe he wishes to be at Rest, as there are little hopes of his Recovery.” (Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta, House of Forbes, 1937.)

Keig Old Kirk

Lord Forbes died a few days later, on February 20, 1761. He was buried in the old churchyard of Keig, on the grounds of the Forbes estates. He was survived by four children from his first wife, Mary: Sophia, who was born in 1716 and married Charles Cumine of Kininmonth, who raised and commanded a troop of horse in the Jacobite Uprising of 1745; Mary, who married James Gordon of Cobairdy, son of Sir James Gordon of Park and half-brother of Sir William Gordon, both known Jacobites; Anne, who was born in 1723 and married, as his second wife, Thomas Erskine of Pittodrie, eldest son of William Erskine, 6th Laird, an active Jacobite in the Uprising of 1715; and James, who was born in 1725 and succeeded as the 16th Lord Forbes in 1761.

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