Sir William Forbes, 7th baronet

William was a Regency representative of a family which set the tone of Scottish Episcopalianism for generations, from Jacobite fervour to Tractarian mission. He appears as the worldly one, but in his vital support of ventures such as the Lancastrian Schools and St John's Chapel he put into action the enlightenment Christianity of Daniel Sandford, which believed a better world was possible.

Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire
Sir William Forbes, 6th baronet of Pitsligo, 1739-1806. The elder Sir William rose from dignified Episcopalian penury in Aberdeen to one of the richest men in Edinburgh after his widowed mother introduced him to the banker Coutts at 15. A survey of Edinburgh newspapers confirms the words of William Chambers: said he 'for the last thirty years of his life... was either at the head, or actively engaged in the management of all the charitable establishments of Edinburgh'. He built the Cowgate Episcopal Chapel (later St Paul's, York Place), and the village of New Pitsligo. (3)
Elizabeth Hay (d.1802) eldest daughter of Sir James Hay Baronet of Haystoun
39 George Street
Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire
Political views
According to Michael Fry, the Tory leader of Scotland Henry Dundas failed to woo William's father with offers including a place on the town council: he was 'totally averse to all concerns with politics', but was later seen attending Whig dinners (5). His son William appears to have been largely Tory: he is a regular Steward at the annual Edinburgh Pitt Club dinners, whereas Whigs celebrated the memory of Fox (6). He was, however, one of the Directors of the Lancastrian schools, which Henry Cockburn described as 'the achievement of the Whigs and of the pious; and though not openly opposed, was cordially hated by all true tories, who for many years never ceased to sneer at and obstruct it' (7) As a wealthy banker and a baronet he was in a position to be politically independent, so it is likely that, while not supporting the Whig ideology of political reform, he was willing to support their projects when he approved of them: in Cockburns terms, a tory, but not quite a 'true' one.
Religious views
Forbes' family contained several prominent Episcopalians. His ancestor Lord Pitsligo has been described as 'an episcopalian mystic of such sanctity that his fellow Jacobites felt that Religion and Virtue had joined their cause when he rode into their camp' (8). His father played a vital part in the union of the Episcopal church in 1804 (4), and built Edinburgh's first 'fashionable' Episcopal Church in the Cowgate, as well as being a towering philanthropic figure in Edinburgh. His nephew Alexander Penrose Forbes became Bishop of Brechin, introducing Tractarian spirituality to urban mission in industrialising Dundee (9). Compared with these deeply spiritual and idealistic figures, William Forbes appears rather worldly. He was, however, the leading figure in the construction of the splendid St John's chapel, securing his place amongst the Forbeses in Episcopalian hagiography.
Owner of William Forbes Bank; baronet of Pitsligo
Assessed taxes 1811
His house had 41 windows and a rental value of £150. He had 5 male servats, 2 four-wheeled carriages, 2 horses, 2 doga, and in addition paid duty for armorial bearings and hair powder.
Chapel connection
1798 (baptism)
Williamina Belsches, successfully competing for her hand against Walter Scott
Jane (1798); son (1806); three others; James David (1809)
Related to
Elizabeth Forbes (sister)

Memorial window
in St John's


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. John Booker, 'Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, 1739-1806' in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  4. Rowan Strong, Alexander Penrose Forbes of Brechin: the first Tractarian bishop (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1995) p.14
  5. Michael Fry, The Dundas Despotism (Edinburgh University Press, 1992) p.135
  6. Caledonian Mercury
  7. Henry Cockburn, Memorials of his time (T.N.Foulis, Edinburgh and London 1909) p.262
  8. Bruce P Lenman, 'The Scottish Episcopal Clergy and the ideology of Jacobitism' in E. Cruickshanks (ed), Ideology and conspiracy: aspects of Jacobitism, 1679-1759 (Edinburgh: John Donald 1982) p.36-48, p.47
  9. Rowan Strong, Alexander Penrose Forbes of Brechin: the first Tractarian bishop (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1995)

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