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Clan Forbes & Mary Queen of Scots


Clan Forbes had a complicated relationship with Mary, Queen of Scots. William, 7th Lord Forbes, was Protestant and initially supported Catholic Queen Mary. Also supporters were Arthur Forbes, 4th laird of Rires, and his wife Lady Margaret Beaton Forbes of Rires, also known as Lady Reres, who was a companion to the Queen. Throughout her life, Mary made a number of decisions that forced Lord Forbes to change his support. This was the same for Catholic George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly, and His son George, later 5th Earl. This political and religious conflict eventually sparked a decade-long feud between the Forbeses and he Gordons. However, the Forbes of Rires remained loyal -- even to the point of committing murder. This loyalty may well have been rewarded by the gifting of a large embroidery that now hangs in Castle Forbes.


Castle Forbes Embroidery attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots, and her Ladies-in-Waiting

The protestant reformist Martin Luther had been preaching a rejection of teachings of the Catholic Church since about 1520. However, the reformation was provided momentum when English King Henry VIII pushed through the English Parliament the Ecclesiastical Appeals Act in 1532 that eventually led to the establishment of the protestant Church of England.

He urged his nephew James V, King of the Scots, to break with the Catholic Church and recognize his authority. King James declined and refused to meet with Henry. In retaliation, Henry launched a series of raids into southern Scotland, called the Borders.


James V

Mary was born to King James V and Queen Marie of Guise-Lorraine (also known as Mary of Guise) on December 8, 1542. The King died soon after on December 14, 1542. Since Queen Mary was underage, James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran became Regent. Mary was crowned in the chapel of Stirling Castle on September 9, 1543. King Henry VIII of England attempted to block Scotland from an alliance with enemy France by uniting the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland through the marriage of his son, later Edward VI of England, and Mary, the new Queen of Scots. Under pressure from the families of the prisoners taken during the Battle of Solway Moss (most of whom sent “pledges” as hostages), the regent, the Earl of Arran, agreed to this union by signing this Treaty of Greenwich on July 1, 1543.


Cardinal David Beaton

However, Cardinal David Beaton (also spelled Bethune), Archbishop of St Andrews, wrote a denunciation of any alliance with England by marriage between the newborn Mary and the English prince. William, then the Master of Forbes and later 7th Lord Forbes, joined with other Scottish lords in signing this denunciation, called the “Secret Bond,” on July 24, 1543. Other signers included George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly. The Parliament of Scotland rejected this treaty on December 11, 1543. Furious at the rejection, King Henry declared war on Scotland and commenced a series of battles over the next eight years. These skirmishes were later called the “Rough Wooing.”


In retaliation for his role in coordinating the rejection of Henry VIII’s offer of marriage alliance, Archbishop Beaton was assassinated by Norman Leslie, master of Rothes, and William Kirkcaldy of Grange on May 29, 1546. Archbishop Beaton was not only Lord Chancellor of Scotland but he was also the uncle of Margaret Beaton Forbes of Rires.


The Archbishops’s brother was John Beaton (also spelled "Bethune" or "Betoun") of Creich. While Beaton’s home was Creich Castle, he was also the keeper of James V’s Falkland Palace in Fife. This and Stirling Castle were official residences of Mary of Guise after the death of the King. Beaton’s daughter Margaret was appointed as a companion and then lady-in-waiting to Mary, Queen of Scots. She married Arthur Forbes, 4th laird of Rires and became known as Lady Rires (also spelled Reres.) She was the aunt of Mary Beaton, another lady-in-waiting who was known as one of the Queen’s four “Marys.”


KingHenry II and Queen Mary of France

Rather than aligning with England through marriage, the Scottish Regent, James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, agreed to the marriage between the young Queen Mary and three-year-old Francis, son and heir of King Henry II of France. In 1548, the Scottish Parliament agreed to the marriage treaty. For her safety, five-year-old Mary stayed at the French court. Mary and Francis were married in 1558 and became the rulers of France when Henry II died in 1559. However, King Francis II died the next year in 1560 and the throne went to his brother King Charles IX. As Queen of the Scots, Mary returned to Scotland in 1561. However, her Protestant subjects were uncomfortable with a devoutly Catholic Queen.


While Mary was in France, her illegitimate half-brother, the James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, ruled as Regent. When she returned, Moray became her chief adviser. He was a staunch Protestant and ensured that of the sixteen members of Mary’s new Privy Council, only four were Catholic, including George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly, who also served as the Lord Chancellor. However, the Earl of Huntly was dismayed by Queen Mary’s acceptance of Protestants in her privy council and led a rebellion against her.


At that time, William, 7th Lord Forbes, held much of his estate from the Earl of Huntly and had entered into agreements of mutual defense against a common foe. However, the Scottish Government formally released him from these oaths. This allowed Lord Forbes to join Clan Fraser, Clan Munro, Clan Mackenzie, Clan Mackintosh, Clan Mackay, Clan Murray, and Clan Cameron to rally to the Royalist cause while Huntly rallied Clan Gordon and Clan Brodie.


This clash resulted in the Battle of Corrichie on October 28, 1562. The Queen's forces achieved a resounding victory, with about 120 Gordons killed and another 100 captured. Both the Earl of Huntly and his eldest son Sir John Gordon of Findlater were among those captured. Huntly was already on a horse to be taken to Aberdeen when he suddenly died. Sir John Gordon was taken to Aberdeen and executed three days later. The Earl of Huntly’s body was preserved and taken to Edinburgh for trial. The Earl's younger son, 17-year-old Adam Gordon of Auchindoun, was also captured at Corrichie but was spared. This act of clemency led to more bloodshed between the Gordons and the Forbeses.


As reward for his loyalty, Lord Forbes received a charter in 1563 from Queen Mary promising him Huntly’s lands, since they would be held directly by the Crown.


Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and Queen Mary

Queen Mary added fuel to the religious fire when she married a well-known Catholic in 1565, her cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. This prompted her chief advisor and half-brother, the Earl of Moray, to an open rebellion with other powerful Protestant lords.


The Queen gave birth to her son James in June 19, 1566. On February 19, 1567, Darnley died from an explosion from a cache of gunpowder. Mary’s close adviser James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was suspected of planning the murder. On April 12, 1567, Lord Darnley’s father, Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, formally accused Bothwell of murdering his son. However, he could provide no proof and the jury of Scottish Peers acquitted Bothwell. John, Master of Forbes and son of William, 7th Lord Forbes, was among those fifteen Peers.


James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell

Three weeks later on May 7, 1567, Bothwell received a formal annulment of his marriage to his wife of one year, Lady Jean Gordon who was daughter of the Scottish Chancellor, George Gordon, 5th Earl of Huntly. One week later, Bothwell wed Mary, Queen of Scots. Twenty-six nobles were so outraged that Mary married the accused murderer of Darnley that they joined with the Earl of Moray in rebelling against her in August 1565. These “confederate lords” included William, 7th Lord Forbes. These lords accused Mary of being an adulteress and imprisoned her in Loch Leven Castle. On July 24, she was forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son James. The Earl of Moray was appointed as Regent. Mary was first imprisoned in Scotland but escaped to England in 1568, anticipating that her cousin Queen Elizabeth would assist in regaining her throne. Instead, the English queen again imprisoned Mary.


William, 7th Lord Forbes, supported the Earl of Moray and young James VI. However, on July 28th, 1568, Lord Forbes joined with 21 other Scottish peers to sign a letter to Queen Elizabeth of England requesting that Mary be released from prison. He again signed a letter to Queen Elizabeth on April 16, 1570, requesting the release of Mary: “We have recourse to your Majestie as the Princess of Christendom who has the best means, and as we think should have the best will to quench this heat begun amongst us before it burst out to a flame which may set both countries on fire.”


On January 23, 1570, James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh assassinated Moray. Three months later in April 1570, John Wood, Moray’s secretary was assassinated -- by Arthur Forbes, 4th of Rires and his two sons John and Arthur. John was killed in the conflict but his father and brother survived.


Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox

The next Regent for the young King was Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox. However, on September 4, 1571, George Gordon, 5th Earl of Huntly, commanded a raid on Stirling Castle that resulted in the death of Lennox. John Erskine, 6th Lord Erskine, 18th Earl of Mar, was appointed as the new Regent.


Even though William, Lord Forbes, had encouraged the release of Queen Mary, he was still a supporter of the government of young King James VI. He was shocked by Huntly’s raid on Stirling Castle and murder of the Regent, the Earl of Lennox. On October 10, 1571, Forbeses gathered “to enterprise something against the Gordons and the rest of the the Queen’s favourers in these parts.”


This was the start of the bloody feud between the Gordons and Forbeses for the next decade. The Earl of Huntly learned from his informers about this gathering. He sent word to his younger brother Adam Gordon of Auchindoun, who assembled a force of his kindred and followers to lay ambush to the Forbeses at Tillieangus. Contemporary accounts reported that the Gordons killed 36 gentlemen of the name of Forbes, including Lord Forbes's stepbrother, and another 100 prisoners taken, including a younger son of Lord Forbes.


This lead to the Battle of Craibstane in November 1571, the burning of Corgarff Castle, and the murder of Margaret Campbell Forbes, wife of John Forbes of Towie. The 1573 Pacification of Perth was intended to end the war between the Roman Catholic supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Protestant Lords who had forced her 1567 abdication. Eventually, Lord Forbes received some compensation from the government for the losses he suffered at the hands of the Gordons, some of whom were banished to France.


Even while imprisoned in England, Mary continued to communicate with her supporters. She was accused of many plots against Queen Elizabeth and was executed for treason on February 8, 1587.


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