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Major Branches of the House of Forbes

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

One of your challenges in researching your genealogy is to trace your lineage to one of the 100 different branches of the House of Forbes. During the last virtual Clan Forbes Gathering in March 2021, Clan Forbes Historian Alexander Forbes of Druminnor (pronounced "drum-MEE-nor") Castle (the original Castle Forbes) reviewed the major branches and answered some genealogy and historical questions posed by the Society members.

The Forbeses were most likely descended from the Picts of northern Scotland and this may be confirmed by DNA research. Picts were the very early immigrants to Scotland before the Gaelic invasion or settlement. The tribe of Forbes had settled in the same place for as long as records have survived. The sixth baron, or laird, of the Barony of Forbes was Sir John Forbes, known as “John with the Black Lip,” who died in about 1386. He was appointed as the Crown’s representative, or “crowner,” of Aberdeenshire which gave him tremendous judicial and military authority in the province of Mar.

Sir John had seven sons, four of whom were legitimate. One of the illegitimate sons was called “Evil Duncan” Forbes and he founded a fairly minor branch of Auchintoul (pronounced OCH-in-tool) that lasted for eight generations. In general, they were tenants of Lord Forbes. The four legitimate sons were Alexander, William, John, and Alistair. The eldest son was Alexander who became the first Lord Forbes sometime before 1445. The second one was William who inherited from his father the barony of Kynaldy (pronounced "kin-ALL-dee") and from his wife the estate of Pitsligo (pronounced "pit-SLY-go"). The third one was John who married the heiress of Tolquhon (pronounced "tuh-HUN."). The fourth was Alistair who married the heiress of Brux (pronounced "brucks".).

Lords Forbes

Alexander’s eldest son James, the second Lord Forbes, had three sons, the first of whom, William, called “Grey Willie,” was the third Lord Forbes; the second son was Duncan who founded the Forbes of Corsindae (pronounced "COURSE-in-day"); and the third son was Patrick who founded the line of Forbes of Corse. The line has continued to today with Malcolm, 23rd Lord Forbes.


The Forbeses of Corsindae were quite soon eclipsed by their cadet branch of Monymusks (pronounced MON-ee-musk" in terms of landholdings and wealth. The Forbeses of Corsindae where closest to Aberdeen. They produced a higher proportion of Aberdonian burgesses and merchants then the other branches. While most of the House of Forbes were staunch Protestants, the Corsindae branch reverted to Catholicism and lost their land result under a Protestant government. As a result, the family of Monymusk became the head of that that whole branch. Many Forbeses of Monymusk became scientists, a tradition that has continued through their descendants today.


The Forbeses of Corse produced very distinguished soldiers, particularly through the cadet line of the Irish Earls of Granard (pronounced "grun-ARD") in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They also produced well-known bishops and presbyterian ministers, on opposite ends of the of the religious spectrum in Scotland. The branch also produced some powerful merchants such as William Forbes, known as “Dantzig Willie” for his successful trade business in the Polish city now known as Gdańsk. William Forbes made an enormous fortune, bought huge estates, and built Craigievar (pronounced "CRAIG-ee-var") Castle.


The second son of Sir John “of the Black Lip” was Sir William Forbes of Kynaldie, born about 1385 and died 1445. Sir William married Agnes Fraser who brought him the Pitsligo estate. He built his great Pitsligo Castle that became his family seat. From his mother, Sir William also inherited half of the Strathglass estate southwest of Inverness in Clan Fraser territory. This remained in the family until about 1610 when John Forbes, the eighth laird of Pitsligo, sold the estate to Lord Lovatt. In 1633, John’s son Alexander, the ninth laird, was created Lord Forbes of Pitsligo. While they were clearly the number two family to Lord Forbes from the start, the Pitsligos in the seventeenth century rivalled the main line due to this peerage and to the fact that Lord Forbes had been deeply in debt from 1570 onwards. The Pitsligos accumulated land stretching 150 miles, from well beyond Inverness and down to Dundee. As a result, Forbes of Pitsligo has descendants spread across Scotland.

The most politically important cadet family of Pitsligo was the Forbes of Rires (pronounced "REAR-is") in Fife. They were the closest Forbeses to the royal court. In fact, Lady Margaret Beaton Forbes, wife of Arthur Forbes of Rires, was one of the four companions of Mary, Queen of Scots, and she became the wetnurse for James VI when he was born in 1567. The Forbes of Rires also produced four Ministers of Parliament (MPs) prior to 1600.

The Forbeses of Newe (pronounced "neow" as in a cat;s "meow") are another important cadet branch of the Forbes of Pitsligo. They inherited some Pitsligo land in Strathdon (pronounced "strath-DON"meaning the valley of the Don River) and gained the Newe estate by marriage to daughter of Brux, one of the other branches. A descendant emigrated to America in the eighteenth century and produced the Forbeses of Boston and New York City.


The Forbes of Tolquhon were primarily a lowland branch, except for the Culloden Estate held by one of their cadet families. They produced many lawyers who created wealthy families. In fact, five generations of Culloden were all MPs and prominent lawyers. They also became manufacturers of whiskey on an industrial scale. A junior branch of Culloden was the Pittencrieff family, which built a small castle near Dunfermline in Fife. They had a very famous youngest son called General John Forbes. This Forbes was responsible for the foundation of Pittsburgh in the United States; was involved in the Seven Years War; and, in fact, died in in the States. However, his father and all his brothers were all lawyers.


The family of Alistair Cam Forbes of Brux became quite complicated nearly a hundred years later when his older great grandson inherited the Towie (pronounced "TOE-ee") estate and took that as his place name. His younger son inherited Brux which was a smaller estate and leadership of that family went to Towie. However, Brux remained a sort of parallel branch and, in fact, lasted a lot longer than Towie. The male line of Towie died out at the end of the sixteenth century and was succeeded by Skellater. That family distinguished themselves in the military through the twentieth century and produced many soldiers.


If you want to contact Alex, please see his contact information in the Members Section of the website at

To learn more, please visit the Clan Forbes Channel on YouTube and watch the ClanForbes Gathering 2021March Part1 (Highlights) here:

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