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The Forbes: Peerage and Protocol

Updated: Jan 7

“Respect is earned, not given.” (Pakistani King Hussein Nishah, 1538–1599)

As members of Clan Forbes, we show respect for our Clan Chief Malcolm, Lord Forbes. This respect has been earned in many ways over the centuries by his ancestors and by his role as the Chief of the Name and Arms of Forbes and in his rank as hereditary Lord of Parliament.

The Forbes

Most people have been addressed by only their last name. In fact, the Associated Press Style Guide states that writers should use both first and last names in the first reference and use only the last names on the subsequent second references.

However, British protocol dictates that only Malcolm, Lord Forbes, be addressed as “Forbes” or “The Forbes” since he is Chief of the Name and Arms of Forbes, as recognized by the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

The Lord Lyon writes that Scottish clans were “led by chiefs, their power sustained by their own personal authority and the support of great magnates and landed gentry all coming to be recognised by the ordinary people. As chiefs came to be granted land by charters from the Crown their power and prestige increased and their position came to be universally recognised.” (Morrow, Dr. Joseph J., Lord Lyon, King of Arms. Court of the Lord Lyon. “Guidance Note: Chiefs of Clans and Families; Succession of Chiefs; Family Conventions; Nomination of Heir.” 2021.)

Long before the Court of the Lord Lyon was established in 1592, the chief of Clan Forbes was simply the head of the family in the region of Forbes in the Pictish area of Cé. The land was named after an ancestor known in Gaelic as “Forbhasach” or “the bold one” and the word was condensed to its present form of “Forbes.” The first documented clan chief was Duncan de Forbes (or Forbeys) whose ancient claim to the land was acknowledged by Alexander III, King of Scots, in the year 1271 (or 1272 in the later Gregorian calendar.)

The proper protocol is to address a clan chief by the full designation, such as Malcolm, Lord Forbes of Forbes, or Forbes of That Ilk. If you are a clan member, the proper address would be “Dear Chief.” Only if the chief has given you express permission should you ever refer to your chief by his or her first name.

Lord Forbes

In the case of Lord Forbes, the more proper designation would include his title as a hereditary peer in the United Kingdom. The peerage is a system of noble ranks with five levels under the monarch, in descending order: Duke or Duchess; Marquess or Marchioness; Earl or Countess; Viscount or Viscountess; and Baron or Baroness. However, in Scotland, the term "baron" refers to a feudal minor lord who is not a peer. Therefore, the Scottish equivalent is “Lord of Parliament.”

James, King of Scots (1406 – 1437), granted Sir Alexander of Forbes (1380 - 1448) a royal charter in 1429 that consolidated many estates into the Lordship of Forbes. This was probably when Forbes was created a Lord of Parliament but he was first specifically mentioned as sitting in Parliament in 1445. This elevation of Forbes is the earliest of its kind when the title has remained hereditary in the family and not been merged in any subsequent and higher title. This makes the current Lord Forbes the premier Lord of Parliament in Scotland.

Ironically, Lord Forbes does not currently sit in the House of Lords. In the general election of 1997, the Labour party led by Tony Blair won a landslide victory over the Conservatives. This resulted in reformation of Parliament with the House of Lords Act 1999. Under its provisions, membership in the House decreased from 1,330 to 669 Lords. A majority of the Lords were converted to “life peers” rather than “hereditary peers.” Today, the only peers receiving “writs of summons” to Parliament are life peers and 92 representatives of the hereditary peerages of England, Scotland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Seventy-five are elected by and among the hereditary peers themselves, and fifteen are elected by the whole House. The remaining two, the Duke of Norfolk and the Marquess of Cholmondeley, have automatic seats by virtue of their offices of state as Earl Marshal and Lord Great Chamberlain respectively. Lord Forbes has chosen not to run for office in the House of Lords.

The formal address for all holders of the rank of Lord of Parliament includes the abbreviation for “Right Honourable” such as The Rt. Hon. The Lord Forbes. The salutation, such as in a letter, would be “My Lord” or “My Dear Lord.” When greeting Lord Forbes in person, the proper address would be “My Lord.” Baronets are a rank below Lords of Parliaments and are not peers. They are addressed as “Sir” before their first names. Therefore, Andrew Iain Forbes of Corse, 13th Baronet, is “Sir Andrew” and James Thomas Stewart Forbes of Newe, 8th Baronet, is Sir James.

Buying a Lordship

The heritage, honor, and prestige of the title of Lord of Parliament has been tarnished in recent years by the practice of selling “lordships” as a fundraising scheme. One organization encourages visitors to “purchase a personal Lordship or Ladyship Title Pack with dedicated land in Scotland.” It claims that “Our Title Packs are based on a historic Scottish land ownership custom, where landowners have been long referred to as ‘Lairds’, the Scottish term for ‘Lord’, with the female equivalent being ‘Lady’.” The disclaimer notes “This is a purchase for a personal dedication for a souvenir plot of land. You may choose to title yourself with the title of Lord, Laird or Lady.”

Another nature preserve advertises gift packs that include “A plot of land you can visit anytime” (not actual ownership), and that you can become a “Laird, Lord or Lady of Glencoe.” This disclaimer states “You obtain a personal right to a souvenir plot of land and our permission to use our registered trademarks, Laird, Lord and Lady of Glencoe.”

These offers are objectionable in terms of history, ownership, heraldry, legality, and protocol.

In Scottish history, the terms “laird” and “lord” are not interchangeable. A laird owned a large long-established estate and a “lord” is a title designating one of the five ranks of peerage, as noted. While some organizations clearly state that you can “visit” this plot, you certainly cannot apply for ownership in the Land Register of Scotland. In addition, you cannot use “ownership” of this land to petition for your own Coat of Arms from the Lord Lyon King of Arms. As is stated on the “Coats of Arms” page of the Court of the Lord Lyon: “The ownership of ‘souvenir’ plots of land of a few square feet or thereby such as are marketed from time to time, is insufficient to bring anyone within the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon King of Arms.”

In a recent court case, Wildcat Haven Enterprises sued Andrew Dearg Wightman (Member of Scottish Parliament, or MSP) for defaming the organization in comments he made online in 2015 and 2016. The Community Interest Company (CIC) offered donors the chance to buy a one square foot plot of land and allowed buyers to use the title Lord or Lady, which it said was "a bit of fun" and did not give buyers an "actual title." However, the court found in Wightman’s favor. (BBC News, “Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman wins defamation case.” March 11, 2020.)

In his ruling, the judge Alistair Clark, Lord Clark, stated that “The opinion was based on the view that it is false advertising to assert that one is offering for sale a plot of land when title to the land will not pass on that sale and the seller is not the owner of the plot.” He further stated that “It was neither moral nor legal to offer for sale something that one does not own, or to offer land for sale without explaining the limitations of the effect of that sale, or to represent falsely that the purchase will entitle the buyer to style himself or herself as a Lord or Lady.” (Court of Session, “Opinion of Lord Clark in the Cause Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC.” March 11, 2020.)

Most compellingly, calling yourself a “Lord” or "Lady” is a complete breach of protocol and is insulting to all members of the peerage, including our chief Malcolm, Lord Forbes.


Members of Clan Forbes acknowledge Malcolm, Lord Forbes, as our clan chief. As such, he deserves our respect through both his position as Chief of the Name and Arms of Forbes and in his rank as hereditary Lord of Parliament.

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