Phebe Forbes’s Country Life, Part 2: When Cows Attack

Tales from the Session Papers

Continued from Part 1

Phebe Forbes’s former brother-in-law had little sympathy for her plight. David Scot’s ‘Answers’ via advocate Andrew Pringle of 19 December 1755, did not hide his obvious dislike for his sister-in-law. He accused her of gold-digging, not just as his brother’s wife but, since she had remarried, but also with her new husband. He also questioned whether her relationship with the cattle of Hedderwick was a problematic as she claimed.

The ‘Answers’ told the story of Phebe’s first marriage from Scot’s point-of-view:

The deceas’d John Scot of Hetherwick [sic], Brother to the Respondent, when old and diseased, took it into his Head to marry the Petitioner, a handsome Young Lady, who was, to be sure, a very proper Match for a much younger Man. By the Marriage contract the Petitioner was provided to a Jointure of 1000 Merks per annum, by way of Annuity.

Six months after the marriage, Scot added another 200 Merks to Phebe’s allowance and gave her the liferent of the manor house of Hedderwick. These acts clearly annoyed his brother who, since no children had arrived, had stood to inherit his older brother’s property.

Pringle and Scot honed in on the question of the apparently uncontrolled cattle as a point of contention. Pringle’s ‘Answers’ cry out to be read aloud in the manner of a courtroom drama:

The Petitioner does not pretend, that this Area and Space is of any great Value, but the Reason why she should have your Lordships to restrain the Respondent in the Use of his Property is no doubt very weighty, That she may not dirty her Shoes, when she is pleased to take a walk, or to be exposed to what she called the Injuries of the Cattle. Though these Things may be extremely offensive to the Petitioner’s Delicacy, she cannot blame the Respondent upon that Account, as it was her Husband, and not he that laid out the Grounds and Farmhouses in this Manner; but, in fact, her Situation is worse than that of most Ladies in this Country. She may walk in her fine large Garden safe and unmolested, and if she should be so hardy as to venture out to the Lanes and Passages where cattle go, she must unavoidably, though it is a Pity, be exposed to the Dung and the Injuries of the Cattle; At the same time the Respondent does not fully comprehend what is meant by the Injuries of the Cattle; surely it is not to be intended to be insinuated, that the Repondent’s Tenants keep vitious [sic] Cattle, on Purpose to terrify or molest her.

Phebe had re-married on 2 March 1755, an event that had not gone unnoticed by Scot. Her husband Thomas Brodie was a Writer to His Majesty’s Signet (solicitor) and had no doubt met his bride while working on her various legal cases against Scot. The dates beg the question of if Phebe was in fact still residing at Hedderwick or if she had moved to Edinburgh to be with her new husband – and away from the vicious attack-trained cattle – by December.

Phebe’s marriage provided yet more ammunition for her erstwhile kinsman. Her long-time enemy used her marriage for an attack on her character, status, and motives:

… the Petitioner’s Temper, Conduct and Behaviour must now appear in their Genuine Colours, as she can no longer avail herself of the Widow’s Tear, and she has taken to herself a Husband of a Man of Law, which puts her at least on an equal Footing with the Repondent.

Phebe’s second marriage was longer-lasting than her first. She and Thomas had at least three children. She again outlived her husband.

Her difficult relationship with one of her sisters-in-law, again revealed in the Session Papers, will be the subject of a future post.

Did Phebe have a point about the dangers presented by the cattle of Hedderwick? This recent news story from Northern Ireland would have been useful for her legal team.

Cattle concerns close Fermanagh castle


And. Pringle, ‘Answers for David Scot of Benholm, To the Petition of Mrs. Phebe Forbes, Spouse to Thomas Brodie Writer to the Signet, and of her said Husband, for his Interest’ (19 December 1755)

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