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Vanishing Laird Lord Pitsligo

Thanks to the permission of James Taylor, his 1992 book “The Vanishing Laird Lord Pitsligo” is now scanned and included in the Clan Forbes Reference Library in the Members section of the website. Below are excerpts of this 27-page book which includes photographs of modern-day locations and details of the remarkable “disappearance” of Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo, who was “Head of Horse” or cavalry commander for Charles Edward Stuart, the “Bonnie Prince Charlie” of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745.

Pitsligo Castle stood neglected for centuries as does other Jacobite Castles in the area… It serves to remind us of one of Scotland's most colourful and romantic figures, Alexander, Lord Forbes of Pitsligo. The life of this Laird was so remarkable that stories about him still abound in the area.

He was born on May 22, 1678 into a staunch Jacobite family. A deeply religious man, whose thought being strengthened by staunch mystical beliefs, Pitsligo was greatly loved, admired and respected.

<After the 1715 Jacobite uprising and a period of travel,> he returned to his castle at Rosehearty. There he turned to the life of a recluse, spending most of his time in mystical research and writing.

However, in 1745, at the age of 67, Pitsligo's peace was shattered forever. He answered the call of Charles Edward Stuart. The Jacobite Laird rode to Aberdeen, mustered his horse troops, rode to the front and raised his bonnet and said "O Lord thou knowest that our cause is just. Gentlemen March!"

When his cavalry, named 'Pitsligo's Horse' reached Edinburgh the poet Hamilton of Bangour recorded "nothing could have fallen out more fortunately for the Prince than his joining them did; for it seemed as if religion, virtue and justice were entering his camp under the appearance of the venerable old man."John Murray of Broughton wrote of him as "deservedly the most popular man in the country."

The slaughter of the Jacobite army <on April 16, 1746> on that dreary moor of Culloden signalled the collapse of the Stuart cause forever and there began for Pitsligo a remarkable series of adventures that have become part of the lore of the North-east.

His escape from the battlefield was more than fortunate as his age did not help his hasty flight. However, on reaching Elgin he shared concealment with his friend, the Duke of Perth, in a secret room behind a fireplace in Greyfriars townhouse. When he felt safe to leave he travelled only in darkness until he reached the safety of Pitsligo Castle. Once there Lady Pitsligo and her maid sewed together a beggar's disguise for him and he sat near them as they worked.

From 1746-49 Lord Pitsligo spent his time in hiding on his estate, mostly at Rosehearty. One of his favourite resting places was in James Rainnie's barn at Smithyhill croft - now called Holland Park. One night when the old Laird lay resting in the barn, in his disguise, a party of dragoons arrived from Fraserburgh and surrounded the entire complex. They hammered on the door arousing the entire household. The crofter was asked ifhe had any lodgers and he answered "There's only an auld beggar sleepin' in i barn". Snatching Rainnie's lantern from his grasp

they burst into the barn and apprehended the beggar, Every detail of his clothing was checked out and he was interrogated thoroughly. When convinced he could not possibly be the notorious Jacobite they were seeking the, dragoon captain demanded that he carry the lantern while the search continued. When they found no trace of the rebel the officer handed the beggar a shilling for his trouble. Little did he know this was the very man he sought.

When the search was stepped up and the net began to close in, the old man retired to the cave at 'Reidcoo's haven', near Ironhill farm and about one mile from Rosehearty. The cave entrance which was destroyed during World War II is vividly remembered by 89-year-old local historian Bob Wilson. "The entrance was low and narrow, but it was very spacious with a high dome roof inside. I remember water seeped through the roof into a hollow in the rock allegedly carved by the Laird's hand. I could see on my many visits to the cave why the Redcoats overlooked the area. The entrance was entirely hidden from view".

He frequently visited his wife secretly at Pitsligo Castle, in his usual beggar's outfit. He knocked for entry at the kitchen door, at the rear of the castle, and he would regale his family with many tales of narrow escapes from capture. Although his family and friends were worried about him he made them all feel that much better when he left, because of his peaceful nature.

Four years he spent wandering around his estates seeking shelter, begging for food and avoiding the Hanovarians. After such an ordeal the wearied old Laird went to Auchiries, his son's country mansion.

On December 19th, 1762, at the age of 84, this fine old nobleman died. John Forbes, Master of Pitsligo, the son of the Laird, pleaded with the authorities for permission to place his father's remains in the family vault at Pitsligo Parish Church. When he was taken from Auchiries crowds descended on the old graveyard and many who knew only of his deeds and his plight wept openly.

It is now over two centuries since Lord Forbes of Pitsligo died but he still lives on in the hearts and minds of many in the North-east because so much of him survives in records and legend.

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