William Forbes 1520-1596

From Book Owners Online

William FORBES, 7th Laird of Tolquhon, 1520-1596

Biographical Note

Born in Aberdeenshire to Alexander Forbes, 6th Laird, and Alison Anderson. Forbes succeeded his father, who died at the battle of Pinkie, in 1547. He married Elizabeth Gordon, daughter of George Gordon of Lesmoir. In October 1578 he was elected a burgess of the city of Aberdeen. In 1574, Forbes signed the “Band of the Baronis in the North” professing allegiance to the Regency of Morton. In 1585, he purchased the lands of Woodland, Knaperna, and half of Tulimand. Following this, Forbes renovated Tolquhon Castle from a tower house into a baronial mansion, which was completed 1589/1590. The mortification of his property, dated 3rd December 1589, provides evidence of how the improved castle was furnished, and includes “my hail siluer wark, buikis bedding, tapestrie, neprie, timmer wark, arttalyerie…”


A notice in Notes and Queries from 1859 describes Forbes and the fate of his library: “This gentleman was a great book collector; and the very rare and curious volumes which recently came from the north, and were disposed of in detached portions by Mr Nisbet of Edinburgh at various times, make it a great matter of regret that the library was not sold in its entire state with a proper descriptive catalogue.”

Before it was sold, the library was housed in Whitehaugh, a mansion in Aberdeenshire, where the Forbes family settled after various financial disasters. Books which have been identified as part of Forbes’ library include:

Le Jeu des eschez moralise… (Paris, 1504) (British Library, C.54.d.3.), previously owned by James Ogilvie, canon of Aberdeen.

Eramus’s Apothegmata (1533), with a gift inscription from Florence Wolson, the author of De Tranquillitate Animi, to John Ogilivie (d.1570) , minister of Cruden. (Untraced)

De lingua Latina elegantiae by Laurence Valla, printed in Paris in 1509. (NLS Hall.295.f.21)

Boethius In Omnibus Philosophiae Partibus (Basle, 1546) (NLS K.69.a)

Books sold at the auction of the library of the antiquary Gibson Craig (1799-1886):

Lot 2071 Ganguin’s Croniques de France (Paris, 1508), also owned by Thomas Meldram

Lot 2842 Zonaras Le Histoires et Croniques du Mond… (1583)

Lot 3503 Munster’s Cosmographie Universelle de Tout le Monde… (Paris, 1575)

Lot 19 Aliaco’s Imago Muni

Lot 1499 Etienne de La Roche's Larismetique et Geometrie (Lyon, 1538), with the armorial binding of the Earl of Bothwell, husband of Mary Queen of Scots

Aberdeen University library holds 5 volumes previously belonging to Forbes, one of which is the works of St John of Damascus, (Basel, 1535) formerly owned by Robert Reid, Bishop of Orkney and Abbot of Kinloss (pi f276 Joh).

Surviving books from Forbes library provide further evidence of patterns book transmission among clergy in the north east of Scotland, as argued for by Christine Gascoigne in her article on the books of William Guild.

Characteristic Markings

Books identified as Forbes are frequently inscribed ‘Villeame forbes of tolquhone, 1588’. In 1779, his descendant Forbes Leith of Whitehaugh incorrectly attributed the inscription to the eighth laird, who died in 1643.

Inscription of William Forbes of Tolquhon (NLS Hall.295.f.21)


  • Aberdeen University Library Provenance Database.
  • Durkan, J. & Ross, A. Early Scottish Libraries, Glasgow, John S. Burns, 1961.
  • Gascoigne, Christine. ‘Book Transmission in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century North East Scotland: The Evidence of William Guild’s books’ Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographic Society, 4 (2009), pp.32-48
  • Reid, Peter. ‘Patriots and Rogues: Some Scottish Lairds and Their Libraries’ Library & Information History, 35, 1; (2019), pp.1-20
  • Catalogue of the Valuable and very extensive Library of the late James T. Gibson Craig, Esq. (removed from Edinburgh), London, Dryden Press for Sotheby’s, 1887-1888
  • Simpson, W Douglas. 'Tolquhon Castle and its Builder' Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 72, (1938) pp.248-272