Forbes, Robert (DNB00)

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FORBES, ROBERT (1708–1775), bishop of Ross and Caithness, was born in 1708 at Rayne in Aberdeenshire, where his father was schoolmaster. He was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen (A.M. 1726). In 1735 he went to Edinburgh, was ordained priest by Bishop Freebairn, and ere long appointed minister of the episcopal congregation at Leith, a town which was his home for the rest of his life. In his room there, in 1740, John Skinner (author of ‘Tullochgorum’) ‘received baptism’ at his hands ‘after that he had declared that he was not satisfied with the sprinkling of a layman, a presbyterian teacher.’ On 7 Sept. 1745, when Prince Charles was on his descent from the highlands, Forbes was one of three episcopal clergymen who were arrested at St. Ninians, near Stirling, ‘on suspicion of their intending to join the rebels,’ and confined in Stirling Castle till 4 Feb. 1746, and in Edinburgh Castle till 29 May following. His arrest by no means damped his ardour in the cause of the Stuarts, and it even gave him opportunities for acquiring information respecting the events of the campaign from his companions in confinement. In 1769 the episcopal clergy of Ross and Caithness elected him their bishop, and he was consecrated at Forfar on 24 June by the primus (Falconer) and Bishops Alexander and Gerard. He continued to reside at Leith, but made two visitations of his northern flock in 1762 and 1770. In 1764 he had a new church built for him, where he ‘had a pretty throng audience;’ but he would not ‘qualify’ according to law, and he was soon reported to government. Soldiers were sent to his meeting to see whether he prayed for King George, and he was summoned before the colonel-commanding (Dalrymple). A minute account of the interview that ensued is preserved in his third ‘Journal.’ He made no submission, but thought it better to have his services conducted henceforth without singing; and, receiving significant advice from a friend ‘to make a visit for some months to the country, lest some things might happen, should he stay at home, which would be very disagreeable to him,’ he betook himself for some weeks to London. There he worshipped with the remnant of the nonjurors, and received from their bishop (Robert Gordon) a staff that had once belonged to Bishop Hickes. On the death of Bishop Gerard in 1765 he was elected bishop of Aberdeen, but difficulties arose and he declined the appointment. So late as 1769 he was at a meeting of Jacobites at Moffat, when proposals were discussed for the continuance of the Stuart line and the Stuart pretensions by marrying Charles Edward to a protestant. Forbes died at Leith 18 Nov. 1775, and was buried in the Maltman's aisle of South Leith parish church. He was twice married. His second wife, Rachel, daughter of Ludovick Houston of Johnston, was as enthusiastic a Jacobite as her husband. The bishop permitted favoured guests to drink out of Prince Charlie's brogues; she sent to the ‘royal exile’ the seed-cake which Oliphant of Gask presented to him. ‘Ay,’ said Charles, ‘a piece of cake from Scotland, and from Edinburgh too.’ Then, rising from his seat, and opening a drawer, ‘Here,’ he said, ‘you see me deposit it, and no tooth shall go upon it but my own.’ Forbes began about 1760 to write in the ‘Edinburgh Magazine,’ his articles being chiefly topographical and antiquarian. He took part in bringing the communion office of the Scottish episcopal church to its present state, the editions of 1763, 1764, and 1765 being printed under his supervision. The ‘Journals’ of his episcopal visitations were edited in 1886 by the Rev. J. B. Craven. In the bishop's own lifetime appeared ‘An Essay on Christian Burial, and the Respect due to Burying-Grounds,’ by a ‘Ruling Elder of the Church of Scotland’ (1765), and an ‘Account of the Chapel of Roslin’ (1774); but his most important work is the ‘Lyon in Mourning,’ ten octavo volumes in manuscript, bound in black, and filled with collections relative to ‘the '45,’ with which are bound up a number of relics of the same expedition. The volumes date from 1747 to 1775; important extracts from them were published (1834) under the title of ‘Jacobite Memoirs,’ by Robert Chambers; the originals are in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh.

[Preface to Chambers's Jacobite Memoirs; Life in Bishop R. Forbes's Journals, edited by the Rev. J. B. Craven; Grub's Eccl. Hist.; Dowden's Scottish Communion Offices; Scots Mag. No. xxxvii.]

J. C.