History Index : Forbes

The Forbeses bought Monymusk in the 1560s and built the present House of Monymusk, possibly on the site of an earlier smaller wooden building that the de Monimusk family may have lived in. Not much is known about this family, but they travelled with the Scottish Court and their names appear on various charters as early as 1285, so they must have been an educated family. It is not known exactly where the Priory was situated, but it is likely to have been close to St Mary's Church.

The Forbeses say they built the present House of Monymusk from the blackened stones of the old Priory, but the Grants, who have lived there since 1713, say that they built Monymusk village from the blackened stones of the old Priory.

Blackened Beams in Hall
Blackened Beams in Hall

In the 1990s two academics visited to see the painted beams in the old hall of the House and remarked the beams were quite unusual. They were much wider and darker than the beams in other castles and painted in much lighter colours. They agreed it was quite possible that they may have come from the old Priory, as it would have been very expensive to buy beams of such a length and there is no evidence of smoke on the walls or windows in the rest of the hall. Perhaps the Forbeses used blackened beams from the old Priory, not blackened stones.

The head of the Forbes Clan lived at Druminnor Castle which was built in the 1440s. The first Lord Forbes's uncles married heiresses to Pitsligo, Tolquhon and Brux. Duncan, 2nd son of James, 2nd Lord Forbes built Corsindae and James's third son (Patrick) built Corse and was ancestor to Forbes of Craigievar. Duncan of Corsindae's second son, also Duncan, bought Monymusk from the Priory in the 1560s.

Pitfichie Castle 1800s
Pitfichie Castle 1800s

His grandson was made a baronet in 1626 and his great-grandson, Sir William (4th baronet), sold Monymusk to Sir Francis Grant (1st baronet) in 1713.

The Forbeses stayed on at Pitfichie for a few years after selling Monymusk, but then moved to Edinburgh and became an Edinburgh family from then on.

Sir William (4th)'s son John married Mary, sister of the 4th Lord Forbes of Pitsligo and had Sir William (5th bt). When John died in 1715 she remarried the 16th Lord Forbes and had more children to the head of the clan.

 Sir William Forbes
Sir William Forbes

The fifth baronets son, Sir William (6th bt) was apprenticed to Coutts Brothers, the bankers, in Edinburgh when he was 15. When he was 21 Coutts moved to London to start banking there and left Sir William in charge of their Edinburgh bank. When he was 26 he started his own banking company with Sir James Hunter Blair and made a fortune. He put Scotland back on the gold standard, founded institutions and built the town of New Pitsligo in the north east of Aberdeenshire. When Walter Scott was in debt, Sir William paid the debt anonymously to keep Scott from going to prison. Scott wrote the Waverley novels to pay the money he owed his anonymous benefactor. Sir Walter and Sir William's son courted the same girl but she married Forbes, perhaps this was why Sir William bailed Sir Walter out.

The local clan with the most power during the 12th and 13th centuries on Donside were the Earls of Marr at Kildrummy Castle, which controlled one of the important passes from Speyside into Aberdeenshire. Edward the First, the Hammer of the Scots, beseiged Kildrummy for over a year but it had proved impregnable. Edward only succeeded when a joiner was persuaded to turn traitor. This man knew a way into Kildrummy through the sewers and led the English in that way, so Kildrummy was sacked and left roofless. He was paid with 'as much gold as he could carry', however everyone felt he had been such a traitor, they paid him by melting the gold and pouring it down his throat!

After this the power of the Earls of Marr waned and the Forbes clan, who were local to Donside, became the most powerful clan in the area. Their period of influence only lasted about 150 years as the Gordon clan's wealth and power increased. The Forbeses and Gordons feuded fiercely for a long time and the argument arose originally over a piece of land at Monymusk called Abersnythack. The two families frequently tried marrying each others daughters to make peace, but this didn't always work. One Lord Forbes, with a Gordon wife was imprisoned by his brother-in-law in Spynie Castle, Morayshire (of the Wolf of Badenoch fame) for four years in the sixteenth century, while his wife carried on an affair with her lover at Druminnor Castle. When eventually Lord Forbes got out he divorced his Gordon wife and she spent the rest of her life in a nunnery in Northern France. Another time Lord Forbes asked fifteen Gordons to dinner but secretly arranged with his own men beforehand that if the Earl of Huntly didn't agree with his proposals he would stroke his beard and each Forbes was to put his dirk into the Gordon on his left. The dinner went well but Lord Forbes forgot the arrangement he had made and, in a happy good humour, leant back in his chair and stroked his beard. Lord Forbes was left trying to explain to the Earl of Huntly on his left that it was a mistake! In retaliation to this a band of Gordons is supposed to have burned Lady Forbes, her children and all her servants alive in Corgarff Castle at the top of Strathdon.

The Gordons became a far more influential clan and their influence stretched much further north and south. They were really the last clan to hold this kind of power, as after the uprisings of 1745 when the Scots were defeated by the English at Culloden, they ensured that none of the clans ever had this kind of strength again.

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