Now in ruins, Tolquhon Castle (pronounced: "toh-hon") was a grand showplace in the 16th and 17th centuries that went into decline due to financial ruin from a speculative venture in Panama.
In 1420, Sir John Forbes (c. 1390 – c. 1454), third son of Sir John Forbes “of the black lip,” married Mariota (Marjory), daughter of Sir Henry Preston (c. 1368 – c. 1433), Thane of Fermartyn. In that year, Forbes and his wife took possession of the castle and "Preston's Tower" was built.
Upon Sir Henry’s death in 1433, Sir John, now 1st Lord of Tolquhon, inherited the lands of Tolquhon, which were half of the thanage of Fermartyn (now Formartin) which extends north from the River Don to the River Ythan. When Sir Henry died, he left nearby Fyvie Castle to his other son-in-law, Alexander Meldrum of rival Clan Gordon.
The castle was vastly extended by William Forbes, 7th Lord of Tolquhon, between 1584 and 1589. He kept the tower house but demolished all the associated buildings replacing it with buildings round a central courtyard. Lord William hired mason-architect Thomas Leper or Leiper who also designed and built nearby Arnage Castle and Dean Castle in Ayrshire.
The castle includes a gateway set with two semi-circular towers with gun loops, more for decoration than as a serious attempt at defense. Above the door is the Forbes coat of arms with the Royal Coat of Arms of James VI, commemorating a visit by the monarch in 1589 during his campaign against the Gordon Earls of Huntly. An inscribed panel beside gatehouse informs you that ‘‘AL THIS WARKE EXCEP THE AULD TOUR WAS BEGVN BE WILLIAM FORBES 15 APRILE 1584 AND ENDIT BE HIM 20 OCTOBER 1589.”
At the same time, Sir William built his and his wife’s tomb as part of an aisle added to the medieval Tarves Kirk. The church and much of the aisle are now long gone, but the tomb still stands largely complete.
The castle’s main house had vaulted cellars that served as a wine cellar, bakehouse, and kitchen and pit prison. Above were the great hall and private chambers for the family. Along another side of the courtyard were storerooms and brewhouses, with a long gallery that ran the entire length.
The castle remained in the Forbes family until Alexander Forbes, 10th Lord of Tolquhon, Alexander was a Royalist during the Civil War with Oliver Cromwell and fought in the Scottish Army for King Charles II at the final Battle of Worcester in 1651. Alexander was largely instrumental in saving the King’s life and was knighted on the field. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Sir Alexander became a burgess of Banff in 1663, of Glasgow in 1685, and of St. Andrews in 1690.
However, he was a bit of a scoundrel as well. He was condemned by the Kirk Sessions for “immorality” but King Charles paid his fine of 10,000 merks in "nolle prosequi," to dismiss the case. In 1680, Christian Fraser, widow of Archibald Burnet of Criagmyle accused Sir Alexander and his brother of the unlawful seizure of 2,000 merks worth of property of her deceased husband. He and his brother also invested heavily in the ill-fated Darien Scheme, a speculative attempt to establish a Scottish colony in Panama in the late 1690’s. As a result of this disastrous financial misadventures, Alexander heavily mortgaged Tolquhon Castle. He had no legitimate issue and was succeeded at his death on 1701, by his brother Thomas, Burgess of Selkirk.
Thomas, 11th Lord of Tolquhon, held the title for a few weeks since he died later in that same year. Thomas’s son, William, was the 12th Lord of Tolquhon when the castle was seized by the Court of Sessions in November of 1716 for the mounting debts of the family. The castle was sold by the government to Lieutenant-Colonel Farquhar. William refused to leave the castle and so the creditors used military force to take the Castle. After being wounded and taken prisoner for a period, the former lord of Tolquhon retired abroad and died in London in 1728.
The castle was inherited by William Gordon, 2nd Earl of Aberdeen (1679 – 1746), who also owned Haddo House. He used the once grand stronghold as a farmhouse. The castle was eventually abandoned in the middle of the 19th century. In 1929, the site was finally transferred to state care and preservation.
Plan Your Visit
Tolquhon Castle. The castle is open April through September, daily from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM. Entry fee required. For more information, please visit Historic Environment Scotland: Tolquhon Castle.
Tarves Tomb. Admission to the tomb in Tarves Kirk is free to visit and open year-round. For more information, please visit Historic Environment Scotland: Tarves Tomb.