The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes by Zoë Playdon - review by John Maier

John Maier

A Question of Inheritance

The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes


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Sir Ewan Forbes, a Scottish aristocrat born in 1912, had a boyhood much like any other. His mother, Gwendolen, was an indefatigable woman who exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show and whose dahlias were admired by Queen Mary. His father, ‘the Auld Laird’, was a resolute eccentric, given to dark and combustible changes of mood.

Ewan, taking advantage of his parents’ studied neglect, drew up for himself a boisterous schedule of activity. He careened about Craigievar (the family estate), riding, frolicking, shooting at things, ‘hunting for rats’ and falling ‘desperately in love with his eighteen-year-old female cousin’. When he was ill, his mother fed him horse medicine. All the elements of a healthful boyish youth seemed secure.

Yet, as the obituary of Ewan published in the Daily Telegraph in 1991 noted, his early life was blighted by a single ‘ghastly mistake’. Ewan had in fact been registered ‘as female at birth, christened Elisabeth, and raised a girl’. Because his anatomy was ‘visually consistent with that

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