Forbes, Alexander (1564-1617) (DNB00)

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FORBES, ALEXANDER (1564–1617), bishop of Aberdeen, belonged to the Brux branch of the Forbes family. He was the son of John Forbes of Ardmurdo in Aberdeenshire, by his second wife, a daughter of Graham of Morphie. Educated at St. Andrews, where he took his degree of A.M. in 1585, he was appointed in 1588 minister of Fettercairn in Kincardineshire, and soon began to take a position of some prominence in the church. So early as 1594 we find him associated by the general assembly in a committee of the most eminent ministers appointed ‘to treate upon the offence conceaved by the king against John Ross,’ a too freespoken preacher. Between 1593 and 1602 he was a member of eight out of ten general assemblies, and seems consistently to have supported the king's efforts to restore episcopacy in the church of Scotland. On 12 Nov. 1604 he was advanced to the bishopric of Caithness, retaining, however, his benefice of Fettercairn, a circumstance which explains the charge specially brought against him in the libellous verses in which (1609) the Scottish bishops were assailed—

    Rarus adis parochos, O Catanæe, tuos.

He was one of the bishops who, ‘clothed in silk and velvet,’ rode in procession between the earls and the lords at the opening of the parliament at Perth in 1606. The general assembly at Linlithgow in December of the same year appointed him, as bishop, perpetual moderator of the presbytery of Caithness, which was charged by the privy council (17 Jan. 1607) to receive him as such within twenty-four hours on pain of rebellion. He was a member of the assembly of 1608, of the conference at Falkland in the following year, and of the important assembly at Glasgow in 1610, which completed the restoration of episcopal government in the church of Scotland. In the same year the episcopal succession was reintroduced from England, and Forbes was consecrated in 1611 in the cathedral of Brechin by the Archbishop of St. Andrews and the Bishops of Dunkeld and Brechin. In 1610, and again in 1615, the king appointed him a member of the court of high commission (Scotland). In the latter year he was in London, and incurred much blame by assenting, on the part of the Scottish prelates but without their authority, to an act which all parties in Scotland looked on as an encroachment on the rights of the Scottish church—the absolution by the Archbishop of Canterbury of the Marquis of Huntly, who lay under excommunication in Scotland. His compliance was not desired by the king, but it pleased Huntly, and may have paved Forbes's way for translation (1616) to the see of Aberdeen, where Huntly's influence was paramount. The general assembly which met at Aberdeen the same year called his conduct in question, and expressed a wish that Patrick Forbes [q. v.] should be appointed to the vacant see. But the promotion of the Bishop of Caithness seems to have been already decided on at court, and he was formally elected by the chapter of the diocese. He was instituted at St. Andrews 23 Feb. 1617, and died at Leith 14 Dec. in the same year. Calderwood tells an ill-natured story, that on his deathbed ‘fain would he have spoken with the Bishop of St. Andrews [Spotiswood], but he being loathe to leave his play at cards, howbeit it was the Lord's day, the other departed before he came to him.’ He adds that Bishop Forbes ‘was impudent and shameless. He was not ashamed, when the lords of session and advocates came out of the Tolbooth at twelve hours, to follow them into their houses uncalled, and sit down at their tables; therefore he was nicknamed Collie.’ On the other hand, he is described by Spotiswood as ‘a man well-born and of good inclination.’ Forbes is said to have written against Gordon the jesuit. He married Christian, daughter of Straton of Crigie, and had seven sons and three daughters. One of his sons, John Forbes, minister of Auchterless, Aberdeenshire, suffered for his loyalty in the civil war, and was recommended for compensation by the parliament of the Restoration; another, Colonel William Forbes, is probably the same as an officer of that name and rank in the army of Montrose.

[Calderwood's History of the Kirk of Scotland; Grub's Eccl. History of Scotland; Scott's Fasti; Lumsden's Family of Forbes; Row's Historie of the Kirk of Scotland; Bishop Patrick Forbes's Funerals; Keith's Catalogue of Scottish Bishops, &c.]

J. C.