The Jacobite who went on the run for 16 years

Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, spent 16 years on the run after fighting with the Jacobites at Culloden despite his old age and poor health. PIC: National Library of Scotland/Creative Commons.
Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, spent 16 years on the run after fighting with the Jacobites at Culloden despite his old age and poor health. PIC: National Library of Scotland/Creative Commons.
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He was 67 when he fought at the Battle of Culloden - and spent the rest of his long life on the run.

Lord Pitsligo, Alexander Forbes, posed as a beggar and lived in a cave after the defeat on April 16 1746.

Pitsligo Castle near Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire, which was forfeited from Lord Pitsligo after Culloden and has long stood a ruin. PIC: Creative Commons.

Pitsligo Castle near Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire, which was forfeited from Lord Pitsligo after Culloden and has long stood a ruin. PIC: Creative Commons.

Despite poor health - he was severely asthmatic - Lord Pitsligo signed up to fight for the ‘45, much to the protest of those closest to him.

READ MORE: The secret symbols of an underground Jacobite

Lord Pitsligo, a member of the Scottish Parliament and a staunch opponent of the union who retired from his seat after 1707, was a lifelong Jacobite supporter and fought in the 1715 at Sheriffmuir.

When questioned about his wish to take part in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rising 30 years later, he reportedly said: “Did you ever know me absent at the second day of a wedding?”

READ MORE: The emerald ring worn by the Jacobite secret service

A man of deep intellect and religious faith, Lord Pitsligo is said to have been a great asset to Prince Charlies Edwards Stuart in the field. He led one of the Jacobite’s seven cavalry regiments and raised vast support, particularly in the North East, for the rising.

After the defeat at the Battle of Culloden, Lord Forbes escaped first to Elgin and then return home to Pitsligo Castle near Rosehearty with the intention to take a ship to France. That ship was never boarded.

Author and historian Maggie Craig includes an engaging account of what happened next to Lord Pitsligo in her book Bare Arsed Banditti, Men of the ‘45.

“Disguised as a beggar and going by the name of Sanny Brown, the noble lord stravaiged the Buchan Coast and countryside for several years, occasionally managing a flying visit to see his second wife, Elizabeth Allan, whom he had married after Rebecca’s death in 1731.

“Often he hid in a cave a mile or two west of Rosehearty and on other occasions concealed himself under the old bridge of Craigmaud, several miles inland. The latter he found extremely uncomfortable, the space between them very cramped.”

His narrow escapes from British Government forces while on the run are the “stuff of legend,” Craig said.

On one occasion, Lord Pitsligo suffered a bad asthma attack as a number of government troops approached him on the road.

“Unable to move, he played his beggar’s role so well the men gave him some coins and sympathised with him about his illness,” Craig wrote.

The Jacobite spent and “exhausting” four years on the road before taking shelter at Auchiries, several miles inland from Cruden Bay.

As the house was raided in the search for the nobleman, he was bundled into a small recess behind the wood panelling of one of bedchambers, Craig said.

A asthma attack soon followed, with a lady of the house faking a coughing fit to cover up the wheezes of Lord Pitsligo.

Afterewards, he made sure that the ‘poor fellows’ sent to get him on that freezing March morning were served some breakfast and warm ale.

Lord Pitsligo was universally liked with Craig arguing it was the regard that he was held in his by his tenants that allowed him to be sheltered for so long.

Craig wrote of his deep Christianity and his 1730 publication of a book of essays on moral and philosophical questions.

In his last years, he wrote a further collection.

Craig said: “His message of a positive one. He wrote of the joys of friendship and the beauty of the world.”

The hunt for Lord Pitsligo cooled and there appeared to be little appetite for snaring the popular figure.

He died in 1762 aged 85 and is buried close to his home. Of his time as a fugitive, Lord Pitsligo, said: “I had ate, and drunk and laughed enough.”

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