Updated: Dec 20, 2020
James Forbes, 2nd Lord Forbes, (circa 1424 - 1462) benefitted greatly from his father’s great fortune, land, and influence. As the son of Elizabeth, daughter of George Douglas, Earl of Angus, and granddaughter of Robert III by his daughter Mary, he was first cousin once removed to King James II. He added to that heritage in his own right.
In 1444, Alexander Seton (heir of Alexander Seton, Lord Gordon, who died in 1440/41), 1st Earl of Huntly, granted the Alexander, 1st Lord Forbes, the bulk of his Lordship of Cluny, Midmar and Tough, rent-free. In exchange, James, then the Master of Forbes, agreed to offer Lord Gordon his bond of “manrent,” to provide military aid when requested. The agreement stated; “Be it made kende till all men be this present lettre, me James of Forbes, sone and ayer apperande of my derrest fader, Schir Alexander of Forbes knycht, to becummyne mane and be this present writ, becummys mane til ane honorable and michtie lorde Alexander of Setoune of Gordon, my redoutit Lord for all the dayis of my lyfe in tyme of war and of peace, agayn all dedlyk myn allegiance til our Souerane Lord the Kyng alanerlie outtaine” (Gordon Castle Charters.) While such bonds to serve another were abolished by Act of Parliament in 1457, this form of “manrent” continued in practical use for another 100 years.
The life of James was greatly complicated by his friendship with his cousin, William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas, son of James Douglas, 7th Earl of Douglas, 1st Earl of Avondale (1371 – 1443). The two main branches of the family of Douglas were split into the “Red” Douglases (headed by the Earl of Angus) and the “Black” Douglases (headed by the Earl of Douglas) who fought among themselves (and with other families) for land and titles.
When King James I was assassinated in 1437, the king's first cousin Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Douglas, headed the government as lieutenant-general. After his death in 1439, political power was shared by William Crichton, 1st Lord Crichton, Lord Chancellor of Scotland; James Douglas, then just 1st Earl of Avondale; and Sir Alexander Livingston of Callendar. In 1440, in the King's name, Crichton and Livington invited 16-year-old William Douglas, 6th Earl of Douglas, and his brother, twelve-year-old David, to visit the king at Edinburgh Castle. There they were killed – apparently with the consent of their great-uncle James Douglas, who became the 7th Earl of Douglas and inherited all their lands. When he died in 1443, his titles and lands accrued to William Douglas, 8th Earl of Douglas and 2nd Earl of Avondale – good friend to his cousin James, 2nd Lord Forbes, who succeeded to the title upon his father’s death in 1448.
According the Forbes manuscript, the 8th Earl was banished for his father’s crimes and yet Lord Forbes “remained for long friendly with the banished Douglas.” The manuscript relates that “Douglas entirely loved him, not only as his near relation in blood, but also for those many excellent vertues and attractive qualities decerned in him." However, when the Earl of Douglas returned to Scotland in 1451, he began “to intrigue with other Lords against the king, and sent to Lord Forbes asking for his subscription to the bond he had already made with Earls Crawford, Ross and others.” Lord Forbes was surprised by this “dangerous overture” and “thanked him for the trust hereposed in him.” However, Lord Forbes informed the Earl that he would not “embark in the present enterpryse.”
When King James II learned of the plot in 1452, he summoned the Earl to Stirling Castle and demanded that he dissolve his treacherous alliance. When the Earl of Douglas refused, the King and his men killed him and threw his body out of the window. Since the Earl died without issue, his titles passed to his brother James, now the 9th Earl of Douglas and leader of the “Black” Douglases.
While he was known to be a good friend to the Earl of Douglas, Lord Forbes was not implicated in the plot – and he later demonstrated his loyalty to the King in battle. A few years before, his uncle Sir William Forbes, 1st Lord Pitsligo, and brother of Alexander, 1st Lord Forbes, was killed at the Battle of Arbroath in 1445/46 by Alexander Lindsay (1423–1453), Master of Crawford, (known as “Earl Beardie” for his bushy beard).
Under James Douglas, 9th Earl of Douglas, the “Black” Douglases continued to conspire against the King. “Earl Beardie,” now 4th Earl of Crawford and Chief of the Lindsays, was a leading ally of the Black Douglases. King James II appointed Alexander Seton, Earl of Huntly, to the office of lieutenant-general to oppose the Lindsays and Black Douglases.
In 1452 at the Battle of Brechin, James, 2nd Lord Forbes joined forces with the Earl of Huntley, who led a royalist army that included Clan Gordon and Clan Ogilvy. They defeated “Earl Beardie’s” army. According to the Forbes manuscript:
At that bloody encounter at Brechin with the Earl of Crawford, the principal Confidant of the Douglasses, tho' the Earle of Huntley carried the applallse and thanks for that eminent and well-tymed piece of good service, yet the honour of the Action caonot but be acknowledged to be due to the high courage and bravery of the fforbesses and their friends and associates the Ogilvies, Leslies, Grants and lrvines.
Under the command of George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus, the King’s forces decisively defeated the Black Douglases at the Battle of Arkinholm in 1455. Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray was killed in the battle; Hugh Douglas, Earl of Ormond was captured and executed; and John Douglas, Lord of Balvenie, escaped to England. As a reward, King James II granted to Earl of Angus the earldom of Douglas and many of the original possessions of his ancestors in Douglasdale.
The “high courage and bravery” displayed by James, 2nd Lord Forbes, obviously impressed Alexander, Earl of Huntly, who adopted the surname “Gordon” in 1457. In 1460, the Earl entered into an alliance between James Lord Forbes and agreed to the marriage of his daughter, Christian Gordon (1443 – 1500), to William, the Master of Forbes. The alliance included a grant of the lands of Tullyreoch in the Barony of Cluny.
Between 1452 and 1460, Lord Forbes also managed to expand his estates and income. In 1452, his cousin George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus (1429–1462) granted him a retour of Whitefield for £5 yearly. In 1453, Walter Stewart, Baillie of Kinedward for the Earl of Ross and the Isles, signed an Instrument of Sasine on the lands of Fintray in Buchan. In 1454, he received a precept of Sasine from the Bishop of Ross of the lands of Delny in Morays