The origin of the name Forbes was in the time of William the Lion (r. 1165-1214).  Fergus Forbes appears in a charter of Alexander, Earl of Buchan, dated 1236.  The name is from the lands in Aberdeenshire.  In 1303, during the War of Independence, Alexander Forbes was killed defending Urquhart Castle against Edward I, whilst his son fell at the Battle of Duplin (1332).  In 1442 his grandson was named Baron Forbes.

The present seat of Lord Forbes is Castle Forbes, Aberdeenshire.  One of the outstanding branches of this family was Forbes of Culloden.  Duncan Forbes, Laird of Culloden, was Lord President of the Court of Session at the time of ‘45’ and used his powerful influence to block the Jacobite cause. Another old branch of the family is the Forbes of Craigievar in Aberdeenshire. 

The tartan is said to have been designed by a Miss Forbes in 1822 for the Forbes family of Pitsligo but earlier records would appear to discount this story as it appears in the 1819 Key Pattern Books of Wilson of Bannockburn.  A different sett has been approved by the Clan Chief and recorded with Lord Lyon in 1949. It is known as Forbes Ancient.