History of Druminnor

Druminnor was the stronghold of the Chiefs of Clan Forbes for over 500 years, from ‘times past the memory of man’ until 1770 when it was sold by the 16th Lord Forbes. Castle Forbes, as it was normally called, was the stage for much of the Forbes family’s history, witnessing their rise to a leading position in the province of Mar and their long decline, ground down in the great feud with the Gordons.

Until 1800 the castle buildings formed a courtyard, dominated by a massive square tower called the Old Tower, the oldest and most important part of the mediaeval castle. The surviving building was added to the Old Tower around 1440 to provide a much larger Hall and residential suite, and occupied one side of the courtyard. The other three sides and the Old Tower were demolished in 1800, and in 1841 the remaining building, i.e. the 1440 Hall block with its stairtower, was doubled in size and transformed into a modern country house. In 1960, the 1841 additions were demolished and the 1440 Hall block and stairtower were restored, forming the present house.

Druminnor has a busy building history. The Old Tower was probably built before 1300; the Hall block, ‘ye house of Drumynnour’, was added by Alexander 1st Lord Forbes about 1430-40. Over the next 570 years the castle has been constantly changing: it was attacked by the Gordons in 1449, sacked by the Douglases in 1452, refortified in 1456, captured and partly demolished by the Gordons in 1571-3, substantially rebuilt in 1577, seized by the government in 1584, raided by Lord Forbes’s own sons in 1592, captured by Royalists and defended against Forbes attacks for two years in 1645-47, repaired and greatly remodelled in 1660-61, frequently attacked and damaged by Jacobites in 1689-90, besieged by Jacobites in 1746, partly burned by accident in the 1750s, three-quarters demolished in 1800, the remainder badly damaged by fire in 1804, doubled in size in 1841-3, altered in 1869, and finally halved in size again in 1960-66. Since 1966 it has been resting.

All but two of the 33 known owners of Druminnor were descendants of Duncan Lord of Forbeys & Kearn, the first Forbes on record. The origins of the Forbes family are obscure, but probably they were a branch of the Celtic royal dynasty which by 1150 had become Earls of Mar. When the last of the Celtic Earls of Mar died in 1373, the Lords of Forbes immediately took their place as hereditary leaders of the native people of Mar.

From the seven sons of Sir John ‘with the black lip’ (died 1406), all later Forbeses are descended. The eldest son, Alexander, was the most successful of all the Forbes chiefs. Over a long career as lord of Forbes (1406-49), he established himself as the dominant magnate of Mar, served as the principal Crown officer in the north-east, greatly increased his landholdings, married the King’s niece, added ‘ye house of Drumynnour’ to the ‘Old Tower’ of his forbears and was one of the earliest Lords of Parliament, probably from 1429. His successors were soon eclipsed by the explosive rise of the Gordons of Huntly, who by 1500 were unchallenged as the dominant magnates of the whole of northern Scotland. The Gordons strove unceasingly to force all the other powers of the north to accept their hegemony. The Forbeses refused to submit and for 200 years successive generations stubbornly resisted ferocious attacks by the Gordons.

The history of the Forbeses is dominated by the ups and downs of their famous feud with the Gordons. It was an unequal struggle: the Gordons, as the principal agents of the Crown in the government of the north, could call on the whole might of the state in pursuing their own objectives; while the Forbeses’ only asset was the tribal loyalty of the people of Mar. By 1600 the Gordons had succeeded in battering Lord Forbes into political insignificance, while Huntly had been made a Marquess. By 1700 Lord Forbes was bankrupt and dependant on a government pension and most of the Forbes territory had been sold: Huntly had become Duke of Gordon. At last in 1770 James 16th Lord Forbes paid off his inherited debts by selling half the Lordship of Forbes including Druminnor, the original Castle Forbes and headquarters of the clan. He migrated across the Braes of Forbes to the smaller (and unmortgaged) house of Putachie, which was rebuilt in 1815 and renamed ‘Castle Forbes’; the Lords Forbes have lived there ever since.

The new owner of Druminnor in 1770 was John Grant of Rothmaise. In 1800, his son Robert demolished the Old Tower and three sides of the courtyard. In 1841-3, Robert’s daughter & son-in-law added a large Jacobean-style wing, containing the main living rooms of ‘Druminnor House’ as it was now to be called. The Grants were lairds of Druminnor for six generations, until debt took them in their turn in 1954. The estates were split up, but Druminnor House was bought by a daughter of Craigievar, who thereby restored it to Forbes ownership after a gap of 184 years. In 1960-65 she demolished the Grant wing and restored what was left of the old Forbes castle.

In 1975, Druminnor was sold again. The new owner was yet another Forbes, this time of the Pitsligo & Monymusk branch. And so, despite a rich but punishing history, the Forbes family remains in possession of its oldest stronghold. Centuries before the first ‘gey’ Gordon came north to his new lordship of Strathbogie, the Lords of Forbes held the duchus of Forbes. Six hundred and thirty years later, the Gordons are no more than a memory in their proud lordship of Strathbogie: but a Forbes still holds the duchus of Forbes.



Sen our forbeares, lord and knight,
With manhood and wisdom keeped ther right,
I pray to God to give us grace,
Ilk man according to his place,
To keep the bruit our elders wane
And end with honour as they begane

Master Mathew Lumsden of Tilliecairn,
‘History of the noble Family of Forbes’ (1580)