Lord Pitsligo of the 1745 Jacobite Rising

Lord Pitsligo 001

I have to confess that I’m a wee bit in love with Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord Pitsligo. He was a scholar, a gentleman and man of honour. He fought in the ’15 and went out again in 1745, despite being 67 years old and a chronic asthmatic. He was a great asset to Bonnie Prince Charlie and did everything he could to mitigate the suffering of those on the other side. When Charles and the Jacobites occupied a hostile Glasgow over Christmas 1745, it was Cameron of Lochiel who stayed the Prince’s hand when he threatened to sack the city. I suspect Pitsligo backed him up.

He was certainly a tactful guest in the house of the Glasgow University professor on whom he was billeted. A few weeks later, the professor asked Pitsligo to intervene to secure the release of two young ministers and two divinity students who had set out to fight against the Jacobites at the Battle of Falkirk in January 1746. This ended in victory for Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites.

One of those young ministers was John Witherspoon. The Jacobites had imprisoned him in Doune Castle, near Stirling. Whether Pitsligo intervened is not recorded. In any case, the young reverend, just 23 years old at the time, managed to escape from Doune, which was quite a feat. He went on to become a founder of Princeton University and one of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence.

Doune Castle near Stirling

After Culloden, Lord Pitsligo became a fugitive with a price on his head. For years he had to hide in and around his home of Pitsligo Castle, near Fraserburgh, in Scotland’s north-east corner. Pursued by the Redcoats, he had many close shaves but his family, friends and tenants protected him. He died a free man in bed at his son’s house at the age of 84.

If you’d like to read more about Lord Pitsligo and other unsung Jacobite heroes of the ’45, you’ll find them here:

Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the ’45

Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the ’45

See some great photos of Pitsligo Castle here.








A Passion for Jacobites



A Passion for Jacobites

I was 10 or 11 when my father first took me to Culloden. Just east of Inverness, this is the site of the last battle fought on British soil, where Redcoats under the command of the Duke of Cumberland defeated the Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charlie. On Wednesday 16th April 1746, the Stuart dream of wresting the British crown and throne back from the House of Hanover died here.

I was around the same age when my Uncle Alex put DK Broster’s The Flight of the Heron into my eager hands – and that was it. My fate was sealed. The Jacobites of 1745 became my lifelong passion. I’ve read this story of the unlikely friendship between a Redcoat officer and a Highland chieftain more times than I can remember. It’s my Fahrenheit 451 book, the one I would save from the flames.

Back in the 1960s, the road to Inverness still ran through the battlefield. It’s since been covered over. Later, I was to discover from my researches that battles were often fought near roads. It made it easier to run the canons into position. We stopped in a layby near the cairn which commemorates the battle, got out and read the inscription.

The Battle of Culloden was fought on this moor 16th April 1746. The graves of the gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland and Prince Charlie are marked by the names of their clans.


My father pointed out the grave markers, modest little stones carved with those names: Mackintosh, MacGillivray, Cameron, Stewart, Fraser and the rest. He told me about the merciless massacre of defeated and wounded Highlanders by the Redcoats and how this earned the Hanoverian king’s son the nickname of Butcher Cumberland. He told me of the terrible harrying of the glens in the aftermath of Culloden, how men, women and children suffered at the hands of the Redcoats thoughout the bloody summer of 1746.

I’ve learnt a lot more since of the complexities that swirl around the Jacobite Rising of 1745. History is never simple. Take the cairn at Culloden. It was raised by a descendant of Duncan Forbes of Culloden, a man who was an implacable opponent of Bonnie Prince Charlie but who pleaded for humane treatment of the Jacobites after the battle. I’ve written more about him here:

Duncan Forbes of Culloden