Forbes and the Thirty Years War

With estimated deaths of between 4.5 to 8 million, the Thirty Years’ War from 1618 to 1648 was a catastrophe to the people of Europe, lethal to the Scots, and calamitous to the House of Forbes. Four of the sons (one illegitimate) of Arthur, 9th Lord Forbes, died during the conflict, Fortunately, his eldest son William survived to become the 10th Lord Forbes.

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia

The war was ostensibly the result of the 1555 Peace of Augsburg treaty that divided the Holy Roman Empire into Lutheran and Catholic states. Over the decades, conflicts flared up with the ongoing struggle for dominance between the family of the Habsburgs in Austria and Spain, and the House of Bourbon in France. In 1618, the largely Protestant nobility deposed the Catholic Ferdinand II (of the House of Habsburg) as King of Bohemia, in favor of Protestant Frederick V of the Palatinate (grandson of Charlotte de Bourbon-Monpensier.) Ferdinand regained rule of Bohemia but Frederick refused to renounce the crown. Ferdinand also became the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire upon the death of Emperor Matthias in 1619.


Over the course of the next 30 years, Emperor Ferdinand gained the military support of the Habsburg Monarchy, Spain Spanish Empire, Bavaria, Holy Roman Empire, the Catholic League, and the Dano-Norwegian Realm (also known as the Oldenburg Monarchy.)

Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, 1619-1620

The anti-imperial alliance included Bohemia, Sweden, the Palatinate, Duchy of Savoy, Transylvania, Dutch Republic, Denmark–Norway (which switched sides after 1635), Heilbronn League, Hesse-Kassel, Brandenburg-Prussia, and Saxony.


Involved with his own religious, political, and international struggles, Charles I of England, Scotland, and Ireland (son of Anne of Denmark and King James VI and I) avoided direct involvement with the War. However, deposed Bohemian King Frederick was his brother-in-law, having married his older sister, Elizabeth Stuart, in 1613. Elizabeth's grandson succeeded to the British throne as George I in 1714.


Due to this family connection, Charles allowed an initial 9,000 Scottish mercenaries to join the anti-imperial forces. Eventually, the Privy Council levied, and the King approved, about 50,000 Scottish troops for their allies. For the most part, these troops served in Scottish brigades in the Dutch Republic and Sweden. Scotland formally declared war on Spain in 1625 and France in 1627. However, Scots generally enlisted into foreign service under warrants from the Privy Council.

Scottish soldiers in service of Gustavus Adolphus, 1631

Scots were initially motivated by their loyalty to the House of Stuart. However, they were also lured by the opportunity for military advancement, wealth from spoils, and promises of lands and titles. Among the Scots who went abroad were six sons of Arthur, 9th Lord Forbes: Alexander, his eldest son and Master of Forbes; John, the third son; William, the fourth son; Arthur, fifth son; James, sixth son; and John, an illegitimate (“natural”) son. However, members of the other branches of the House of Forbes joined the war effort.


Forbes of Forbes


In 1626, Lord Forbes and his eldest son Alexander assisted Donald Mackay, 1st Lord Reay, in recruiting 2,000 Scotsmen to join Christian IV of Denmark, brother of Anne of Denmark, who was the wife of James I and VI. Among the recruits were 800 Forbes clansmen under the command of Colonel Arthur Forbes of Towie, senior, son of John Forbes, 4th of Towie. In 1630, Alexander himself took service as Colonel under General Gustavus Adolphus (also known as Gustav II Adolf), King of Sweden, and commanded two regiments of Scots numbering 2,600 men.

Death of Gustavus Adolphus at 1632 Battle of Lützen

In 1632, Alexander fought at the decisive Protestant victory of the Battle of Lützen where Gustavus Adolphus himself was killed. However, Alexander was taken prisoner by Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein, commander for the Holy Roman Empire, and remained imprisoned for 21 months. He was released after the battle of Hessisch-Oldendorf on July 8, 1633, when he was exchanged for the Imperial colonel Bernhard Hackfort, Baron of Westerholt zu Lembeck. In the summer of 1634, Alexander returned briefly to Britain with a Swedish envoy and again in 1635 where he entered Stuart diplomatic service. In 1636, he travelled to Denmark and Sweden to establish trading relationships. His brought his family with him and his wife Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter Lucia while in Bremen in 1636. Forbes returned to Scotland by 1638 and was decommissioned in 1645.


John Forbes of Putachie was born in 1608 as the second surviving son of Arthur, 9th Lord Forbes, and his wife Jean, daughter of Lord Alexander Elphinstone. John joined the Swedish army in 1626 as a Captain in the Scots Brigade under the command of Colonel William Gunn. Forbes was badly wounded in the Battle of Nordlingen in 1634, when the Protestant troops under Field Marshal Count Gustav Horn af Björneborg were defeated by the Roman Catholic Imperial army, led by Crown Prince Ferdinand, later Holy Roman Emperor and King of Germany. In December 1635, Charles I recommended now Colonel Forbes for service with the Emperor of Persia, noting that he had seen service in the late European wars. In 1636, he served in the Army of Westphalia under Major General Alexander Leslie, later Earl of Leven, who was victorious at the Battle of Wittstock.


William Forbes of Fiddes was born in 1614 as the third surviving son of Arthur, 9th Lord Forbes, and his wife Jean, daughter of Lord Alexander Elphinstone. In 1934, his brother Alexander, Master of Forbes, requested that he join his efforts in Germany. William arrived in Stade and joined his brother Alexander in Osnabruck, where Colonel Mattias (Matthew) Forbes was the Military Governor of the garrison. Both Mattias and his brother General Arvid Forbes were distant cousins. Their father, Ernald Forbes, was the great-grandson of Duncan Forbes of Corsindae, second son of James, 2nd Lord Forbes. William wrote a detailed "Memoriale" of his extensive military career on behalf of the Protestant forces while in the Holy Roman Empire. This document is now stored at the Library of the University of Lund. He participated in several military actions, including the conquest of Nienburg, the 1636 Battle of Wittstock under the joint command of Johan Banér and Alexander Leslie, the 1641 Battle at Wolfenbüttel against the Imperial troops of Arch-duke Leopold Wilhelm and Ottavio Piccolomini, and the 1642 battle near Schweidnitz under Major-General Caspar Cornelius Mortaigne. In 1645, William was taken prisoner at the Battle of Jankau but was freed by his troops that same day. He went on to lay siege to Iglau in Bohemia and Krembsin Lower Austria, where he became commander. He was promoted in 1643 to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and fought in the kingdom of Bohemia and then against the Danes. In late 1644 and early 1645, he saw action in Saxonia and Bohemia. After the 1647 Truce of Ulm between Maximilian I and Sweden, he joined the army of Hessen-Kassel and was made colonel of Mortaigne's regiment. Forbes died in 1654 when forces of the City of Bremen attacked his fortification.


Arthur Forbes was born at Dunbeath in 1615 as the fourth surviving son of Arthur, 9th Lord Forbes, and his wife Jean, daughter of Lord Alexander Elphinstone. In 1635, Arthur enlisted as a Captain in Johan Skytte's regiment with his brother James. He died the next year on campaign in Germany.


James Forbes was born in 1617 as the youngest son of Arthur, 9th Lord Forbes, and his wife Jean, daughter of Lord Alexander Elphinstone. In 1635, Arthur enlisted as a Captain in Johan Skytte's regiment with his brother Arthur. No record of his military service exists except that he died in 1654 as a Lieutenant-Colonel. He inherited several estates in Sweden from his brother William, which in 1690 were valued at 12,000 rixdaler and generated 750 rixdaler per annum.


John Forbes was the illegitimate (“natural”) son of Arthur, 9th Lord Forbes. He enlisted as an ensign in Colonel James Spens' regiment in 1624. In 1629, he served as Captain in John Meldrom's Scottish Regiment and, in 1631, he served under Major General Alexander Leslie in the regiment commanded by James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton. He fought at the 1632 Battle of Lützen, which was a Protestant victory despite the death of Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus. John then served as a Major in Colonel Christopher Potley's infantry-regiment under Swedish Field Marshal Johan Banér. He was killed in action in 1635 and was most likely buried in Minden.


Forbes of Thainstone


James Forbes (1580-1656) was the eldest son of Henry Forbes of Thainstone and Margareta Forbes eldest daughter of William Forbes of Corse and Susanna Stauchan.Henry Forbes of Thainstone was the great-great-great grandson of Sir John Forbes, 2nd Lord of Tolquhon. James (also known as Jacob) arrived in Sweden in about 1600 with his father and brother Patrick (also known as Peter.) His father Henry served in the Swedish army under king Karl IX and was killed in September 1605 at the battle of Kirkholm in Livonia. James remained in Sweden after his father's death and become a merchant for both the dowager queen Kristina and her son King Gustav II Adolf. By 1624 James had became a Swedish citizen and a burgess of Stockholm. In 1626 at the age of 46, James enlisted as a private in the Narkes and Varmlands regiment. He was promoted to Lieutenant the next year. In 1628, he was promoted at Captain for a company of Varmlanders before transferring to the Södermanlands regiment. He was promoted to Colonel and applied for Swedish ennoblement for himself and his brother Patrick in 1929. This effort resulted in his ennoblement under the title of Forbes of Lund. In 1647, he served as a Colonel for a Scottish regiment in Swedish service. He died in 1656 and was buried in the Funbo church in Lund in a tomb decorated with his Swedish coat of arms.


Patrick Forbes was the son of Henry Forbes of Thainstone and the brother of James Forbes. His father was the great-great-great grandson of Sir John Forbes, 2nd Lord of Tolquhon. Patrick (also known as Peter) arrived in Sweden in about 1600 with his father and brother James (also known as Jacob.) His father Henry served in the Swedish army under king Karl IX and was killed in September 1605 at the battle of Kirkholm in Livonia. In Prussia, he married Sofia von Langivin and had a son, Colonel Johan Forbes (also spelled Forbus.) By 1631, he oversaw provisions to the Swedish army in occupied Prussia. In 1633, Peter Forbes became a factor at the armoury (Klädkammaren) and in 1634 he became accountant for the Swedish forces in Germany. Patrick became a naturalized citizen of Sweden in 1651 and entered into the House of Nobility in 1652. He died in 1658.


Forbes of Towie


Arthur Forbes of Towie, senior, was the son of John Forbes, 4th of Towie and his third wife Elizabeth Forbes of Rires. Arthur was the younger step-brother of Alexander and John Forbes, both of whose mother was John’s second wife, Margaret, daughter of John Campbell of Cawdor. This was the same Margaret Campbell Forbes that was murdered by Adam Gordon in Corgarff Castle in 1571. In 1626, Alexander, Master of Forbes, assigned Arthur as Lieutenant Colonel to command his 800 Forbes recruits within Colonel Donald Mackay's Regiment. He was killed in action that same year, along with his son Arthur Forbes, the younger, who was also in the regiment.


Arthur Forbes of Towie, the younger, was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Forbes and grandson of John Forbes, 4th of Towie. As Captain, he joined the Danish-Norwegian service in Colonel Donald Mackay's Regiment with his father in 1626. He died of wounds received in action at Oldenburg in September 1627.

Forbes of Tulloch (Tolquhon)

1634 Battle of Nordlingen

John Forbes of Tulloch was likely the grandson of John Forbes of Tulloch, an illegitimate (“natural” or “base”) son of Duncan Forbes of Argeighton, second son of Sir John Forbes, 1st Lord of Tolquhon. John first served in served in Colonel Donald Mackay's Regiment in Denmark in 1627. He was wounded in action at Oldenburg that same year. In 1629, he transferred to Sweden with Mackay’s Regiment. In 1632, he served as Captain of cavalry with his company in Schmalkalden. John transferred to the Scots Brigade as a Lieutenant Colonel. He was killed in action at the 1634 Battle of Nordlingen, in which the Roman Catholic Imperial army defeated the combined Protestant armies of Sweden and their German-Protestant allies of the Heilbronn Alliance.


According to William, 12th Lord Forbes, (circa 1687 – 1730), “fourteen field officers besides others, in the Swedish army of the name of Forbes, who were almost all killed or settled in Sweden and Germany.” In a letter dated February 4, 1730, he wrote to Comte de Forbin in France:


“Those in Sweden have kept their name and I believe their arms, but those in Germany have changed both, tho' they own themselves Forbesses as Mr. Forbes who is with the Duke of Newcastle and of Poland tells; the armes they bear is the boars head and they by the people are called Swineheads in High Dutch from their arms. The occasion I fancy has been that by a corrupt way of speaking in the North of Scotland when they call the Swine a bare and the ursa a Bear, to confirm which you may remember that a friend of yours and mine drove about in his chariot here one winter with boar's heads instead of Bears, and would not be convinced till he saw the Herald's books.”


A complete listing of Scots who served in Danish and Swedish service in included in the Scotland, Scandinavia and Northern European Biographical Database (SSNE) which is now hosted by the University of St. Andrews. This database was originally compiled by University of Aberdeen's Scotland and Scandinavia Project researchers Prof. Steve Murdoch and Dr Alexia Grosjean.


Click here for the House of Forbes in the Thirty Years War: Complete Military Roster.

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