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The Percy Forbes-Leith of Fyvie Tiffany Window Memorial

Only two Tiffany stained glass windows exist in Scotland. One is installed St. Cuthbert’s Church in the bustling capital of Edinburgh. However, the larger and more impressive work is a fixture of a small village kirk, St. Peter's Church in Fyvie. The memorial window was the gift of the American business associates of a successful Scottish steel magnate who lost his only son in the Boer Wars.

Alexander Forbes-Leith, Baron Leith of Fyvie

Alexander John Leith (1847 –1925) was born at Aberdeen as the youngest son of Rear-Admiral John James Leith and his wife Margaret Forbes, daughter and heiress of Alexander Forbes, a descendant of Duncan Forbes, second son of the second Lord Forbes. He later honored his mother by taking the surname Forbes-Leith.

He joined the Royal Navy in 1860 and retired from military service in 1872. In 1871, he married Mary (known as “Marie”) Louise January (1848 – 1930), daughter of Derrick Algernon January (1814 – 1879), a prominent businessman in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Through his father-in-law’s connections, Forbes-Leith was employed by the Joliet Iron and Steel Company, for which he became president. The company later merged into Illinois Steel and eventually the United States Steel Corporation.

Percy Forbes-Leith of the Royal Dragoons

Forbes-Leiths had three children, two of which survived infancy. The youngest was Percy, born in 1881 in Chicago, Illinois, USA. By 1889, Alexander had acquired enough wealth to retire, to return to Scotland, and to purchase Fyvie Castle. He was then styled as Alexander Forbes-Leith, 1st Baron Leith of Fyvie.

His son Percy was educated at Eton College and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst but spent much of his early life at the Fyvie Estate. Percy joined the British Army and became a second lieutenant in the Royal Dragoons. His unit was sent to South Africa for the Boer Wars. While on active duty, he died of enteric fever on December 31, 1900, at Newcastle, Amajuba District Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

In 1901, Forbes-Leith commissioned a new granite memorial chancel for the local kirk, St. Peter's Church in Fyvie. A kirk had existed in Fyvie as early as 1178 and the walls include the shaft of a Celtic cross dating from 900 to 1400 and several Pictish stones. The Forbes-Leiths visited the factory of Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York to commission a stained glass window. White watching Irish glassmaker Frederick Wilson creating a depiction of Archangel Michael, Marie wept at the similarity of between the angel and her son, Percy. Learning of Marie’s reaction, many of the Forbes-Leith’s business colleagues purchase the window and donated it to the church.

The large window depicts St. Michael standing on a “wheel of life” in a medieval coat of armour. He holds a flaming sword in his right hand and the banner of the Crusades red cross in his left hand. The window was made of prism glass, allowing the colours to subtly change depending on the light.The plaque in the church notes that the window was in memory of Percy Forbes-Leith and that it was "Erected by his friends in the United States of America." The Forbes-Leith gallery on the south of the chancel includes Alexander Forbes-Leith’s personal coat of arms.

Percy's body was laid to rest just outside the door of Fyvie churchyard, marked by a granite angel.

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So sad and yet a beautiful story of generosity and kindness.

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