First name

Text source

Mr John Forbes (c.1565-1634) was a son of William Forbes of Corse - his brother Patrick became Bishop of Aberdeen. After graduating from St Andrews University in 1583, John Forbes was appointed minister at Alford, Aberdeenshire, in 1593. John Forbes initially enjoyed royal favour; however when John Forbes was elected moderator of the Aberdeen assembly in 1605 in defiance of royal orders he was at first imprisoned at Blackness, tried for treason and then eventually exiled by King James in 1606.

John Forbes was married and had a son in the Swedish army, Major John Forbes [SSNE 41], a letter from whom is reproduced below.

In November 1606, John Forbes left for France and travelled extensively visiting the Reformed churches and universities of France, the Netherlands, and Germany.

In 1608 John travelled to Sweden with his brother - some sources claim he was in Stockholm on 6 September, and seemingly returned preaching in Middelburg (where he was in October). Within Sweden John Forbes' greatest opponent was Olaus Martini, while a more sympathetic position was taken by the leading Stockholm clergyman, Johan Raumannus. Karl IX decided to meet him at Uppsala, and organised a theological debate between John and the Uppsala theologians. On 16 November the debate was held and Forbes faced a group united opposition to discuss "double pre-destination". Both sides claimed victory in the debate. John thereafter returned to the Netherlands. 

It was during this time that John met the Englishman Henry Francklin [SSNE 7821], court chamberlain and former ambassador in King Sigismund III of Poland's service. John Forbes signed Francklin's autograph album, writing "Scotsman of Corse".

Once established in Zeeland in 1608, he ministered to the English community at Middelburg, preaching occasionally at the Scottish church at Veere and to the military congregation at Flushing.

According to one source (Messenius) King Karl XI recalled John Forbes to Sweden in 1610, in the king's hopes that Forbes could build a bridge over the split between Lutherans and Calvinists, but following a lack of success John Forbes left, never to return.

From 1612, John Forbes became the pastor for the Merchant Adventurers in Middelburg until his forced resignation in 1633.

It is probable that John was the brother of Arthur Forbes [SSNE 132], who served as a captain in the Swedish army and wrote to Karl IX in 1608 from the Netherlands, presumably about John. 



"A LETTER SENT FROM SARIENT MAIOR FORBES FROM THE KING of Swethens army to his reverend father Mr. Iohn Forbes, minister to the worshipful Company of Marchant Adventurers residing in Delft, touching the great Battle fought by Lypsick betweene the King of Swethen, the Duke of Saxons Army, and the Emperours Army, and that commanded by Generall Tilly, of the Catholique League the 7. of September, 1631.

"Honoured, and Loving father upon the fourth of this month of September, it pleased God that the Kings Army, & the Duke of Saxons joyned together, neere unto a Towne called Dichen and marched forward towards Lypsick, which Generall Tilly, had taken in, and laye with his Army about halfe a mile from it, where he mett us, with his army, and tooke up the best advantage of ground for his men, and planted his ordinance upon the places, which he thought best. The Knigs Armie marched on the right hand of the Battle, and the Dukes on the left, and advanced in Battleray against out Ennemy; who begann to playe dispitfully with his Ordinance upon us which we cared not much for, but advanced forward with our ordinance likewise playing before us. They seing us marching towards them, they advanced likewise towards us, and came so close one to an other that joyning battalions together, wee came to pushe of pike and disputed the buysinesse so longe, till it pleased God, that wee routed them, and gaue us the victorie, by putting the Ennemy to a retreate with the Kings owne Army, but the Dukes Army was vily beaten back, and begann to make a shameful flight, so that wee were forced to send our horse men after these that were beaten, and to relieve the Dukes men with our foote, which doing, we putt all the Ennemy at last to flight, and followed the execution very hotely till it was darke night, & till wee could not see to persue them any further, for which victorie immortal thankes be given to God. The Ennemy was at least 4,0000. allfighting men, and our Army, and the Dukes cold make not aboue 3,6000 men horse and foote. The next day there was found dead on both sides slayne upon the place of battle 10000 bodies, whereof the most of them were the Ennemies, besides these that were slayne upon their flight & execution which were connted to be as great a number. There were taken in all about 8,000. prisoners, the most of them having taken enteraynment of the King, and marches with our Army. There were diverse Collonells of note slayne, on both sides. Generall Tilly was shott and hurt three times, the Lord Marshall Schoonburck slayne, and fiue other Collonells. The Duke of Holsteyne taken prisonner, who afterward dyed of his wounds, besides divers other Lieutenants, Colonels, Captaynes, and Officers, which would be too long to relate, of our side there were slayne Collonell Divel, Collonele Hall, Colonele Cullenburck, and Lieutenant Colonele Adercus. Colonele Turnill hurt, and my Colonele hurt, besides diverse Captaynes, Lieutenants, & Ensignes: Wee haue taken two and twentie peeces of Canon, whereof there are seven which were the King of Bohemias, lost at the Battle of Prage. Besides great store of powder, Bullets, match, and munition of warre, 52 Coullours of foote, and 37 Cornetts of horse this is the truth of the great victorie wch God hath given us wch you maye report for a certaine, for I write noe more unto you but that wch I saw with my owne eyes. I wold haue written to diverse others, but I praye yow lett this letter suffice for all, and when any other occasion shall offer yt selfe, yow shall heare further from mee. Noe more at this time, but my dutie remembred to your selfe my mother, and my loue to my bretheren and sisters, and all other my freinds. I commit you to the protection of him that has given us this glorious victorie and rest.

Your Loving Sonne. I. F.

From the Kings Army at Hall the tenth of September 1631.

The rest of the Kings proceeding in the Countries and Townes which he hath taken in since that battle as they followe in time. I take it this generation doe live in that age this prophecy shal be fulfilled Revelation 18:20. O heavens rejoyce of hir, and ye holy Apostles and Prophets, for God hath given your judgement on hir for your sakes. Here the Holy-ghost doth describe the joy and rejoycing of all the faithfull for the destruction of the Romish superstition, and humane inventions. By heaven here is meant, the faithfull Professours of the truth, because they belong to heaven, and have their meditations in heaven. By Apostelss and Prophets, are not meant those famous preachers which lived in former ages, but are to be taken for those faithfull teachers which witnes Gods truth on earth in his millitant Church. As for our matters on earth, they belong not to those blessed soules which are and have been resting so long blessedly in heaven, for dead men (saith the Scripture) know nothing anie more here Eccles. 9:5. and therfore saith the Prophet, that Abraham is ignorant of us, and that Israel knows us not I say. 63:16. Therefore this is the rejoycing of all Gods people at the abolishing of all humane inventions in Gods Worship, and they rejoyce at the advancing of all institutions of Christ, that he may raigne as King in his church by his own laws and ordinaunces as the Apostle testifyeth 1. Timo. 3:14.15. and this he is commanded to observe till the appearing of Iesus Christ to judgement the 6:14 thererefore not in the liberty of earthly potentates to alter, for Christ shall raign, Amen"

Sources: John Forbes, The Saints Hope, and infalliblenes thereof. or Two sermons preached before the English companie at Middelb. about the moneth of October, 1608(Middleburg, Richard Schilders, 1610); H. Holmquist, Svenska Kyrkans Historia, vol. 3, part, 2, (Uppsala, 1933), pp.292-293, 297; Th. Westrin, ed., Nordisk familijebok: Konversationslexicon och realencyklopedi (Stockholm, 1908), VIII, pp. 829-830; A. C. Dow, Ministers to the Soldiers of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1962), p.64; Rikskansleren Axel Oxenstiernas skrifter och brefvexling, VIII, p.72; Svenskt Biografiskt Lexikon, vol16; J. Messenius, Scondia illustrata, 8 (1702), p. 104, 107; Svenskt Biografiskt Handlexicon, p.346; Erik Wikland, Elizabethan Players in Sweden 1591-2 (Stockholm: Almqvist&Wiksell, 1971), p.217; Chris de Jong, ‘John Forbes (c. 1568-1634), Scottish Minister and Exile in the Netherlands’, Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis/Dutch Review of Church History, 69 (1989): 17-53; Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek, Y 52, Henrik Frankelins Stammbuch, fo. 28r, consulted online at, which categorically locates Forbes in Stockholm in early September 1608.   Thanks to Dr. Thomas Brochard for providing these last two references.

From Holmquist, Ardis Dreisbach Grosjean expands "John Forbes was expelled by James VI & I, went to Holland, pastored the English and Scottish church there. In 1608 he went to Sweden, probably to visit his brother Arthur, who was a much respected officer in the Swedish army. In Nov. of 1608 Karl IX arranged a dispute in Uppsala between Forbes and the Archbishop and professors there. Holmquist says Karl's intention was, by confronting the theologians with an orthodox Calvinist, to soften the theologians' views on his own brand of Calvinism. He probably also enjoyed the prospect of bringing the Lutheran theologians face to face with a capable, theologically schooled Calvinist. p. 293: the debate took place, though 3 of the best debaters among the professors were absent. On 2 points Forbes made no answer, which resulted in a well-known saying in Sweden, "Ad haec Forbesius nihil". Both sides claimed a victory. At the end the Archbishop said that since they had been plagued by heresies uttered by this foreigner against the God we honour, let us call upon God with fervent prayers that for His glory He will bring this seduced and lost sheep back to the true way. Forbes replied immediately, with dignity, "May God convert us all." Forbes left Sweden immediately thereafter, but Karl called him back in 1610 for a short visit to advise him on international matters and to work for evangelical ecumenism."

Service record

Arrived 1606-01-01
Departed 1633-12-31
Arrived 1608-09-06
Departed 1610-12-31