Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Forbes, Alexander (1678-1762)

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FORBES, ALEXANDER, fourth and last Lord Forbes of Pitsligo (1678–1762), Jacobite, only son of the third lord, by Lady Sophia Erskine, third daughter of John, ninth earl of Mar, was born 22 May 1678. He succeeded to the estates and title on the death of his father in 1691. In early manhood he travelled in France, and having made the acquaintance of Fénelon, was introduced by him to Madame Guyon and other ‘quietists.’ Their influence left a deep impression on his mind, and led him to devote much of his attention to the study of the mystical writers. He was an adherent of the protestant episcopal church of Scotland, and a warm supporter of the exiled Stuart family. He was strongly opposed to the Act of Union, and on the oath of abjuration being extended to Scotland, ceased to attend parliament. Having taken part in the rebellion of 1715 he was compelled, after the retreat of Mar, to take refuge on the continent, but was never attainted, as has sometimes been erroneously stated, and in 1720 returned to Scotland, taking up his residence chiefly at Pitsligo, where he continued a correspondence with the quietists, and engaged in a kind of transcendental devotion. In 1734 he published ‘Essays Moral and Philosophical.’ On the outbreak of the rebellion of 1745, though sixty-seven years of age and asthmatic, he again took up arms in behalf of the Stuarts. His decision, from his sober and staid character, had great influence in the surrounding district, but it was taken after much hesitation. ‘I thought,’ he says, ‘I weighed, and I weighed again. If there was any enthusiasm in it, it was of the coldest kind; and there was as little remorse when the affair miscarried as there was eagerness at the beginning.’ He raised a regiment of well-appointed cavalry, numbering about a hundred, and composed chiefly of Aberdeenshire gentlemen and their tenants. When they were drawn up ready to set out, he moved to the front, lifted his hat, and said, ‘O Lord, Thou knowest that our cause is just;’ then added the signal, ‘March, gentlemen.’ He arrived at Edinburgh 8 Oct. 1745, a few days after the victory at Prestonpans. After the disaster at Culloden he remained in hiding near Pitsligo, protected by the general regard in which he was held in the district. His principal place of concealment was a cave constructed in the arch of a bridge at a remote spot in the moors of Pitsligo. He adopted the disguise of a mendicant, and on one occasion actually received a small coin from one of the soldiers sent in search of him. Occasionally he took refuge in the neighbouring bogs. His estates were seized in 1748, but in the act of attainder he was named Lord Pitsligo, a misnomer for Lord Forbes of Pitsligo. On this account he endeavoured to obtain a reversal of the attainder, but though the court of session gave judgment in his favour 10 Nov. 1749, this decision was reversed on appeal to the House of Lords 1 Feb. 1750. After this the search for him relaxed, and he resided for the most part with his son at Auchiries, under the name of Mr. Brown. In March 1756 a party was sent to search for him, but he was hid in a small recess behind a wainscot, which was concealed by a bed in which a lady slept. He died 21 Dec. 1762. He was twice married: first, to Rebecca, daughter of John Norton, merchant, London, by whom he had one son, John, master of Pitsligo; and secondly, to Elizabeth Allen, who had been companion to his first wife, but by this marriage there was no issue. He wrote ‘Thoughts concerning Man's Condition’ in 1732, and it was published in 1763, and again in 1835, with memoir by his kinsman Lord Medwyn.

[Memoir prefixed to Thoughts concerning Man's Condition; Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors (Park), ii. 158; Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen, ii. 36–8.]

T. F. H.