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The Last Lord Pitsligo


In our notice of Sir William Forbes, we stated that he was maternally descended from the Lords of Pitsligo. His grandson, the present Sir John Stuart Forbes, is the heir of the family—the Master of Pitsligo having died without issue. Alexander, the last Lord Pitsligo, was attainted in 1745. He had been out with Mar in 1715, and for several years afterwards took refuge in France. Although an old man (being sixty-seven years of age) when Prince Charles raised his standard in 1745, Lord Pitsligo again took the field, at the head of a party of Aberdeenshire gentlemen, forming a body of well-equipped cavalry, about 100 strong, and with whom he joined the Pretender in Edinburgh, after the battle of Preston. He shared in all the subsequent movements of the Jacobite army; and, after the final overthrow at Culloden, instead of flying abroad, he found shelter in his native country, and among his own peasantry. His preservation was very extraordinary, and can only be attributed to the excellence of his character, and the esteem in which he was held by all who knew him. The place of his concealment was for some time a cave, constructed under the arch of a bridge, at a remote part of the moors of Pitsligo, and the disguise which he assumed was that of a mendicant. This disguise, though it did not deceive his friends and tenants, saved them from the danger of receiving him in his own person, and served as a protection against soldiers and officers of justice, who were desirous to apprehend him for the sake of the price set upon his head. On one occasion he was seized with asthma just as a patrol of soldiers were coming up behind him. Having no other expedient, he sat down by the road-side, and, anxiously waiting their approach, begged alms of the party, and actually received them from a good-natured fellow, who condoled with him at the same time on the severity of his asthma.

In this way the romantic adventures aud narrow escapes of the old Lord Pitsligo were numerous and interesting. At length, in 1748, the estate having been confiscated and seized upon by Government, the search became less rigorous. His only son, the Master of Pitsligo, had married the daughter of James Ogilvy, of Auchiries, and the house of Auchiries received the proscribed nobleman occasionally under the name of Mr. Brown. The search, however, was frequently renewed; and on the last occasion his escape was so very singular, that it made a deep impression at the time, and was long narrated by some of the actors in it with those feelings of awe which the notion of an approach even to the supernatural never fails to produce.

"In March, 1756, and, of course, long after all apprehension of a search had ceased, information having been given to the then commanding officer at Fraserburgh, that Lord Pitsligo was at that moment in the house of Auchiries, it was acted upon with so much promptness and secresy, that the search must have proved successful, but for a very singular occurrence. Mrs. Sophia Donaldson, a lady who lived much with the family, repeatedly dreamed on that particular night that the house was surrounded by soldiers. Her mind became so haunted with the idea, that she got out of bed, and was walking through the room in hopes of giving a different current to her thoughts before she lay down again. When day beginning to dawn, she accidentally looked out at the window as she passed it in traversing the room, and was astonished at actually observing the figures of soldiers among some trees near the house. So completely had all idea of a search been by that time laid asleep, that she supposed they had come to steal poultry, Jacobite poultry-yards affording a safe object of pillage for the English soldiers in those days. Under this impression, Mrs. Sophia was proceeding to rouse the servants, when her sister, having awaked, and inquiring what was the matter; and being told of soldiers near the house, exclaimed in great alarm, that she feared they wanted something more than hens! She begged Mrs. Sophia to look out at a window on the other side of the house, when not only soldiers were seen in that direction, but also an officer giving instructions by signals, and frequently putting his fingers on his lips, as if in enjoining silence. There was now no time to be lost in rousing the family; and all the haste that could be made was scarcely sufficient to hurry the venerable man from his bed into a small recess behind the wainscot of an adjoining room, which was concealed by a bed, in which a lady, Miss Gordon of Towie, who was there on a visit, lay, before the soldiers obtained admission. A most minute search took place. The room in which Lord Pitsligo was concealed did not escape. Miss Gordon's bed was carefully examined ; and she was obliged to suffer the scrutiny of one of the party, by feeling her chin, to ascertain that it was not a man in a lady's night-dress. Before the soldiers had finished their examination in this room, the confinement and anxiety increased Lord Pitsligo's asthma so much, and his breathing became so loud, that it cost Miss Gordon, lying in bed, much and violent coughing, which she counterfeited, in order to prevent the high breathings behind the wainscot being heard. It may easily be conceived what agony she would suffer, lest by overdoing her part, she should increase suspicion, and in fact lead to a discovery. The ruse was fortunately successful. On the search through the house being given over, Lord Pitsligo was hastily taken from his confined situation, and again replaced in bed; and, as soon as he was able to speak, his accustomed kindness of heart made him say to his servant, ' James, go and see that these poor fellows get some breakfast, and a drink of warm ale, for this is a cold morning; they are only doing their duty, and cannot bear me any ill-will.' When the family were felicitating each other on his escape, he pleasantly observed, 'A poor prize had they obtained it—an old dying man !'"

By degrees the heat of civil rancour ceased, and Lord Pitshgo, like others in his situation, was permitted to steal back into the circle of his friends unpersecuted and unnoticed. The venerable old nobleman was thus suffered to remain at his son's residence of Auchiries unmolested during the last years of an existence protracted to the extreme verge of human life. He died on the 21st December, 1762, in the 85th year of his age.

The character of Lord Pitsligo was of the most amiable description, and he embarked in the cause of the exiled Stuarts from national feelings alone. He was a Protestant, of the Episcopal Church, and sincerely attached to his religion. He was of a literary turn of mind; and left behind him several manuscript essays, which were published shortly after his death. To one of these—entitled "Thoughts Concerning Man's Condition and Duties in this Life, and his Hopes in the World to Come"—an interesting memoir of his life is prefixed.


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