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Patrick Forbes, 5th of Corse
(b. 1564, d. 1635)
Instructiones Historico Theologicae, by John  Forbes of Corse
(b. 1593, d. 1648)

Two Eminent Forbes Theologians from the Corse/Craigievar Branch

by Nancy Forbes

Two Eminent Forbes Theologians from the Corse/Craigievar Branch

All those who bear the Forbes name can claim their origins from Sir John de Forbes (said “of the Black Lip), 1332-1405. From this origin, the clan was then split into four branches, Lord Forbes, Pitsligo, Tolquhon, and Brux, with the Forbes branch further splitting into the branches Forbes, Corsindae, and Corse/Craigievar.

In the last year, when using, I verified that my family stems from the Corse/Craigievar branch of the clan, which originated with Sir Patrick Forbes of Corse and O’Neil (1446-1483), my 14 times great-grandfather. In the 17th century, the Corse branch produced some eminent theologians, two of whom gained considerable renown and are still studied by scholars and historians today.


One of the most prominent was Patrick Forbes 5th of Corse (1564-1635), who studied theology at the University of Glasgow and St. Andrews University under the well-known Scottish theologian Andrew Melville. Patrick was very devout but didn’t enter the ministry until age 48. He was soon promoted to Bishop of Aberdeen and is buried in the Aberdeen cathedral. He had a long and successful episcopate. He was very highly regarded by all his contemporaries of all religions, which in the age of the Reformation’s religious turmoil, plots, political intrigues-- which later escalated into war--was an extraordinary achievement. His son, John Forbes of Corse (1593-1648), achieved equally as much acclaim as a theologian and minister.


Religion has played a major role in shaping Scotland’s history, along with politics, and clan rivalry and alliances. Perhaps the era of most turbulence and upheaval in Scotland, in terms of religion, was the Protestant Reformation, first instigated by Martin Luther in Germany in the sixteenth century.This major religious conversion was the process by which Scotland broke with the Catholic Church and the papacy, and developed a predominantly Calvinist national Kirk, which replaced all the institutions of the Catholic Church, such as monasteries, priories, and abbeys. This national Kirk (church), was strongly Presbyterian in outlook. (The new film” Mary Queen of Scots”, about the Catholic Stuart Queen, takes up much of this history when Mary returns to Scotland in 1560 to claim the throne and return Scotland to the Catholic faith, thus opposing Elizabeth I and the Anglican Church of England.)

The 1560 Reformation established the Presbyterian form of church government in Scotland, by which there were no bishops, only ministers and elders. It was never accepted by King James VI. In 1606, he reintroduced the idea of bishops, giving him control of the church again. Bishops were never popular with the majority of Scots, and this resentment escalated into outright revolution, when James’ son, Charles I, then king of England, Scotland and Ireland, tried to impose the Church of England (Anglican/Episcopal) on Scotland in 1638. A large group of Scottish nobles and other Presbyterian leaders signed “The Covenant”, setting out their demands. The King rejected it, and war followed, which soon spread to England and Ireland, each with their own reasons for rebelling against Charles.  This Civil War lasted a decade and caused the execution of Charles, and many of the leading Covenanters and Royalists, and the ultimate conquest of Scotland by England in 1651. Stability and normality did not return until 1660, with the restoration of King Charles II – and the bishops.


Doctor of Divinity John Forbes was a man of honor and deep conviction (known as one of the “Aberdeen doctors”) and when he was pressured to join the Covenanters in 1638, he refused, and published an important tract, questioning the legitimacy of the Covenanters. The latter had him removed from his post as Doctor of Divinity at King’s College and banished him to his estate at Corse, which he had inherited from his father, Patrick.  Matters escalated, and the Covenanters required all Scottish males to swear allegiance to them, on pain of confiscation and being declared enemies to God, king and country. Forbes, who thought obedience to them was out of the question, given his firm beliefs, was forced to escape prosecution by sailing to the Netherlands in April 1644, with his surviving son George. From there, he continued to preach and write prolifically on theological matters. Professor Forbes returned to Scotland in 1646 and lived in seclusion at Corse, until his death in 1648. He asked to be buried beside his adored wife, a Dutch lady named “Sweet Roseblossom”, but this was refused by the Presbyterian church. Many of his tracts and books are still published today and read by adherents to the Puritan faith. One must appreciate and value the bravery and conviction it took for Forbes to refuse to abandon his faith and follow his conscience, under threat of persecution and even death for treason.  Many of his writings can be found today online at


I introduce this piece of my family history because I find it fascinating, helping me understand the often-confusing issue of religion in Scottish history, and because I take pride in my two ancestors, both learned, conscience-driven and honorable men. If you are interested in delving more into Scottish history, I recommend the very readable and enjoyable “The Lion of the North” by John Prebble.

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