Clan Forsyth

Clan Forsyth
Clan Forsyth
Crest badge
Clan member crest badge - Clan Forsyth.svg
Crest: A griffin sergeant Azure, armed and membered Sable, crowned Or
Motto: Instaurator ruinae
Region Lowlands
Gaelic name Fearsithe

Forsyth of that Ilk arms.svg
Alistair Forsyth of that Ilk
Chief of the Name and Arms of Forsyth
Historic seat Inchnoch Castle, Ethie Castle

Clan Forsyth (Scottish Gaelic: Clann Fearsithe) is one of Scotland's wealthiest clans.[1][2]

The name Forsyth (sometimes spelled Forsythe, with an "e") derives from the Gaelic 'man of peace'. Members of the clan can now be found all over the United Kingdom, in Canada, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, U.S.A, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, in fact there are now more Forsyths living in the Scottish Diaspora than those remaining in Scotland.

In early history the Forsyths of Scotland were a royal Scandinavian family that bore the Griffin as their symbol. Thus the ancient history of the Forsyths can not only be traced through the Clan's name, but also its symbol - the Griffin Sergeant.[3][4][5]

An alternative history is that the Forsyths were much later arrivals in the British Isles, arriving only in 1236. This tradition places the Forsyths as the descendants of Forsach, one of the Norsemen who settled on lands on the River Dordogne in Aquitaine. From here the Viscomte de Fronsoc accompanied Eleanor of Provence to London to marry Henry III and lived at the English court from 1236 to 1246. It is believed that his family obtained lands in Northumberland, and thence to the Borders of Scotland.[6]

The current clan's chief is Alistair Forsyth of that Ilk, Baron of Ethie, who resides in Condom-en-Armagnac, France. He is a supporter of the Scottish National Party and was previously a councillor in Angus.[7]



Origins of the clan

Much of the records of Clan Forsyth were destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in the Civil War, therefore little is known that can be factually validated.

There is, however, a popular myth, that after originally coming to Scotland from Scandinavia, the Forsyths found themselves embroiled in the War of Bouvines. With all other male Forsyths having perished in the Wars, Osbert de Firsith I who lost much of his inheritance during the conflict, left France for Scotland, the land of his forefathers, bearing the shield with the emblems of Fronsac and Angoulene beneath the demi-griffin crest of the Forsyths. He traveled in the same convoy of ships as Eleanor of Provence who had gone to England to marry Henry III. They first landed at Dover but after only a short stay in England, Osbert crossed over to Armondale in Scotland.[8]

The first factually-recorded person of the name was supposedly the son of the legendary Osbert. William de Firsith appears on the Ragman Roll in Berwick on the 28th August 1296 with his son Robert de Forsyth I.

Wars of Scottish Independence

Stirling Castle, from the "King's Knot" gardens below the Castle Hill

During the Wars of Scottish Independence Robert de Forsyth I and his son Osbert Forsyth II fought alongside the future King Robert I of Scotland against the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. For their service the Forsyths were granted feudal lands in Stirling.

In 1364 the accounts of Stirling were rendered by Fersith the Clerk who was probably the brother of Robert de Forsyth I and who was granted considerable monies from the lands by his great-nephew, the son of Osbet II; Robert de Forsyth II. Robert was one of Scotland's most successful military leaders, defeating the English at Dykes Castle, near Lanark with only 400 men. In 1360 he was rewarded as such by being appointed the governor of Stirling Castle and the motto Instaurator Ruinae (Restorer of Ruins).

For successive generations Stirling Castle was governed by the Forsyths.[9]

15th century

John Forsyth I, the son of Robert II, not only held the crown office at Stirling in 1379, but was also Baron of Dykes, and William II, his son, held the same office in 1399. In 1432 his son Robert Forsyth III became Burgess of Stirling and a Baille in 1470.

Glasgow University

The five sons of Robert Forsyth III are especially remembered for their helping to establish Glasgow University.[10]

The elder, John II, was Baron of Dykes and bore the shield of Fronsac. His sons David I and Alexander were chosen to elect regents for the University in 1508.

The University of Glasgow in 1650.

Thomas, the second son, Canon of Glasgow, was an incorporator and founder of the University, and received from it a Master of Arts degree in 1474, his Degree of License in 1476 and his Master of Arts in the same year.[11] In 1496 he became Dean of Faculties as a recognition of his work and service. His son in turn became an instructor in the University.

David, the third, signed the charter of the College in 1483, and was one of its instructors. David was Lord of Dykes and in 1492 his coat-of-arms appears in Sir James Balfour's Heraldic Manuscript as Forsyth, Baron of Nydie. Nydie was a castle in Fife that was held by the Forsyths. It is not known who built it or what became of it. The last of this family to hold the castle was Sir Alexander Forsyth II in 1604. In the history of Stirling he is mentioned. By his title he was doubtless a baronet. The descendants of those who obtained the barony of Nydie were called the Forsyths of Nydie.[12]

Matthew, the fourth, was an elector to choose regents for the College in 1497 whilst Robert, the youngest, was an Officer of the University.

16th century Anglo-Scottish Wars

In the 16th century the Clan Forsyth led by Alexander Forsyth I fought against the English at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513 where Alexander I was slain.

Alexander's grandson James Forsyth, Lord of the Monastery of Dunblane, married Elizabeth Leslie in around 1520. Elizabeth was the granddaughter of George Leslie, 4th Earl of Rothes who was the Chief of Clan Leslie. Elizabeth was also the great granddaughter of King James III of Scotland.

In 1540, John Forsyth III, the brother of James, moved to Inchnoch Castle in Monkland which was also in Lanarkshire. He then transferred his entire estate to Lord Gordon of Pittwig, to enter one of the military companies of France in 1560. John's son, David III, born in France, succeeded to Dykes in 1571. By act of Scottish Parliament he was appointed a commissioner of revenue for Glasgow. The arms of Nydie were confirmed to his posterity through the families of Dykes and Failzerton by the Heralds College of Scotland.[13]

17th century in the Americas

In 1621 William Forsyth III, the son of John III had become a member of Forres in the Scottish Parliament, his son, John IV, who was Lord Commissioner of Scotland in 1652 was a member of the commission to meet the English Parliament to hear the plan of uniting the crown of Scotland and England. To this step the Forsyths of Dykes were strongly opposed. John IV was in favor of adopting the French language as the national speech, as a barrier against English settlement in the lowlands of Scotland. He regarded that as a growing menace to the integrity of the Scottish nation as well as to the independence of the Scottish kingdom.[14]

His son James became a captain in land and naval enterprises. In May, 1654, he was a prisoner of war among the English and escaped from the vault below the Parliament House where he had been confined. He married his cousin, Marguerite, daughter of Nicolas Denys, Vicomte de Fronsac, and royal governor of Acadia, Gaspesie and New Foundland. The family of Denys acquired great fame in France in connection with early American explorations. They had opened the country to colonists, built ships, encouraged trade with New England and established a capital at Isle Royale.

Their grandchildren inherited from the family the shipping and private armed vessels which were their part in the Forsyth and Denys enterprises on the seas, the same extending even to the French and British Americas and Indies. The Forsyths were in alliance with the Normans of France, favoring the Stuart cause in Scotland, and opposed to English control.

18th century migration

In 1719 James McGregor, who was a friend of the Forsyths, led a colony of Scots already in Ulster to America. They settled at what is now Londonderry, New Hampshire. These colonists, most of whom had sailed from Belfast and Carrickfergus, were refused land in the New England Colonies because they were not English, it being the rule then that no Scot be permitted to settle in an English colony. However, they were allowed to settle on land to the north between the French and Indians on one side, and the English colonists on the other, presumably with the thought that they might be exterminated by the Indians. But McGregor, through the Forsyth and Denys families, made a secret agreement with the French that if the colony of Scots remained neutral in the French and Indian War the Scots would not be disturbed. This agreement was carried out, and the French raids to the time of the fall of Quebec in 1759 passed safely through the Scotch settlement.

The Forsyths would continue to grow in the new colonies, different branches of the family took upon themselves new opportunities to settle and by the 19th century they had reached Boston, New York and Savannah.

William Forsyth, who refused to take an oath to the English Crown over the Jacobite Rising was forced to leave Canada. He later settled in Deering, New Hampshire, and was one of the founders of the Deering public library.[15]

Forsyth with an "e"

There are a relatively small number in the clan who, to this day, spell the name "Forsythe", but who share the same ancestors. This slight variation can be traced back to Scottish settlers who, on moving to Ireland, added the "e" in accordance with the local dialect. In later generations, some of them moved back to Scotland, deciding to keep the "e", which is the reason for the variation seen today.

Clan profile

Clan Forsyth is a relatively small clan in terms of numbers. Its members have, however, reached notoriety in many fields including, botany, science, finance, real estate, high-tech and entertainment. Once a famously Protestant clan with Calvinist traditions, some members of the clan have now adopted Catholicism. The current chief, Alistair Charles William Forsyth Baron of Ethie and Justice of the Peace sent his children to the prestigious Ampleforth College the favoured choice amongst Britain's Catholic aristocracy.[16]

Clan chief

When, in 1672, Charles II instituted a public register of the clans the then chief of Clan Forsyth refused to attend. The clan was subsequently stripped of its recognition and the chief lost his legal title. This situation continued for the next 300 years until St. Andrews Day 1978 when Lord Lyon, King of Arms, accepted the claim of Alistair Forsyth, the Baron of Ethie, to become Chief of the Forsyth clan.

The Alistair Forsyth resides in a French chateau having set up a Highland cattle ranch in Western Australia.[17]

Clan scandal

Charles Forsyth, the eldest son and heir of the title of chief, was jailed and disgraced when his company, Personal Computer Science (PCS), was found to be built from the sale of faulty computer goods. Clients to the company included Argos, Asda, Tesco and Makro.[18] Charles Forsyth had set up a number of computing companies, each failing to succeed, until in 2001 the Serious Fraud Office began an investigation. Charles fled first to Bulgaria, then to Russia using a fake French passport and driver's license under the name of Charles Peytchev before settling in Western Australia.[19] He was arrested in November 2002 in Boyup Brook as he left a church service and served almost a year in a high-security prison before he was extradited to the UK.[20] After serving three and a half years in prison was released to a new life in North London. Soon after he died suddenly of a heart attack, his personal estate being largely eaten up by credit card debt.[21]

Notable Forsyths

Bruce Forsyth (1928−), English showman, comedian and entertainer.

Andrew Forsyth (1858-1942), mathematician and author of treatise.

Charles G. Eric Forsyth (1885-1951), gold medal British water polo player.

David Forsyth (1854–1909), chess writer and inventor of Forsyth notation.

Frederick Forsyth (1938−), British author and journalist

Peter Taylor Forsyth (1848-1921), theologians of the early twentieth century

Michael Forsyth, Baron Forsyth of Drumlean PC, Kt (1954), a British politician and formerSecretary of State for Scotland.

William Forsyth (Bill Forsyth) (1946−), screenwriter and film director, key figure in the birth of indigenous Scottish film making.

Robert James Forsyth (1988-), cast member of Wipeout Canada Season 1


Forsyth Bluff, a viewpoint in West Cape Howe National Park, Australia.

Forsyth Island, a granite island off the coast of Tasmania

Forsyth, Georgia, US city, site of an 1829 meteorite fall

Forsyth County, North Carolina, USA

Forsyth County, Georgia, USA

Forsyth, Illinois, US village

Forsyth, Missouri, US city

Forsyth, Montana, US city

Forsyth Township, Michigan, USA

Lake Forsyth, New Zealand

See also

  • Scottish clan
  • Notable Forsyths
  • Ethie Castle, the Clan's seat.
  • Forsyth–Edwards Notation, a standard notation for describing a particular board position of a chess game.
  • USS Forsyth (PF-102), a United States Navy patrol frigate in commission from 1945 to 1946.
  • The Forsyth Institute, an oral health research institute based in Boston, Massachusetts.


External links

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