Coulloddin Castle', a tower house belonging to the MacIntosh family, existed by the late 16th century (Pont, 1595). 'Grey' Duncan Forbes (1572-1654), Commissioner to Parliament and provost of Inverness, acquired it in 1626.
Duncan Forbes (1644-1704), Nairnshire Commissioner to Parliament, was politically active and involved in the expulsion of James VII. Following this, his estates at Culloden and Ferintosh were 'ravaged' by Jacobites resulting in damage to a cost of some £54,000 Scots. The Parliament met his claim for compensation.
By 1746 the house had been remodelled to form a 'plain four-storied edifice, with battlemented front and central bell-turret' (Groome, 1882), probably for Duncan Forbes (1685-1747), who succeeded his brother in 1734. Forbes studied law, became Sheriff of Midlothian and, in 1737, Lord President of the Court of Session, one of his supporters being John, 2nd Duke of Argyll. He was in residence at Culloden House until 1746, when the advance of the Jacobite army and the withdrawal of the Hanoverian garrison from Inverness forced him to withdraw to Skye. In February 1746 Prince Charles gave orders for the protection of the House, but the Battle of Culloden took place within the policies (16 April 1746) and within a short distance of the house. Tradition tells of eighteen Jacobite officers concealed within one of the vaults for three days, in the care of Forbes' steward, before they were discovered and led out to be shot in woods nearby by order of the Duke of Cumberland.
Forbes opposed the government's repressive measures after Culloden. He protested at the 'cruel reprisals' (Dictionary of National Biography, 1917) instigated by the Duke of Cumberland and against the imprisonment and trial of Scots prisoners in England, as, he argued, this demonstrated the government's lack of faith in the Scots Judiciary, Scots Justice and was in breach of the Treaty of Union. He collected money to support the Scottish prisoners and wrote an anonymous letter to Robert Walpole, protesting against the severity of their punishment. This, in the eyes of the state, made him a Jacobite. The Duke of Cumberland is said to have described him as 'that old woman who talked to me of humanity.' Even his own expenses, in raising troops for the defence of the Hanoverian government, went unrewarded.
Mid 18th century engravings show the mansion set within a square, walled court with a corner belvedere. A straight, formal approach drive led through a gateway into the court, on an axis with the central entrance into the house. Woodland extended behind the house. This corresponds with the layout depicted on Roy's Survey (1747-55) which, in addition, shows enclosed fields set out regularly around the house, and to either side of the approach drive (oriented south-west/north-east), which is set on an axis with house. The tree-lined enclosure fields were variously grassed parks, arable and plantations. Pennant referred to 'the great plantations of Culloden House' (Pennant, 1772), said to have been planted in the 1720s (Old Statistical Account, 1793).
Forbes' mansion house was demolished between 1772-83, when a new house was built for Arthur Forbes. It incorporated the vaults of the earlier house. The walled garden, doocot and stables are contemporary with this existing house. Statues decorating the quadrant walls on the north-east garden front of the house represent 'Zenonia', 'Odenetus', 'Cato', and 'Scipio'. This may allude to the Stoic ideas of reason and virtue, the Forbes' political role (equated with that of Odenetus who was entrusted with the protection of Rome's Eastern empire) and his criticisms of the government, the ideal of the balanced constitution and the ideal statesman. The naming of the 'Lord President's Seat', a rock outcrop in Culloden Wood may date to this time. Sometime in the late 18th/early 19th centuries a series of estate buildings were constructed and an orangery built within a formal garden, south of the Walled Garden.
An 1837 survey, (Brown, 1837) depicts the designed landscape by then essentially informalised, including a few surviving formal elements; viz., the south avenue and the oval entrance lawn, south of the house. This layout remained substantially without alteration throughout the 19th century (1870, OS 6").
Duncan Forbes (1851-97) succeeded in 1879, by which time the estate comprised 2,288ha (5,655 acres) (Groome, 1882). Culloden Battlefield lies immediately south-east of the Culloden House designed landscape. Forbes was responsible for documenting the landscape of the battle, initially by marking some of the graves and battlefield locations. These came to form the nucleus of 'The Culloden Memorials', later maintained by the Gaelic Society of Inverness and in 1944 part of a series of bequests to The National Trust for Scotland, which today comprise the Culloden Battle site.
The 'Great Cairn' (6.5m/20ft in height and 5.8m/18ft diameter at the base) was erected in 1881. A stone incorporated in the face of the cairn has an inscription 'Culloden, 1746 – EP fecit 1858', carved by Edward Power, who planned to incorporate it into a cairn in the 1850s. Originally the crevices in the rock were filled with soil, planted with ferns, and ivy was planted around the cairn's base. A slab at the base is inscribed 'The Battle of Culloden was fought on this moor, 16th April 1746. The graves of the gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland and Prince Charlie are marked by the names of their clans.' Other memorials erected by Duncan Forbes in the 1880s include one at a little spring called 'The Well of the Dead' since 1746, which marks the spot where Alexander MacGillivray of Dunmaglass, Commander of Clan Chattan was found; and headstones distinguishing the various clan graves: Mackintoshes, Camerons, Frasers, Stewarts lying to either side of the road. The Prince's Stone, a large boulder capping a rock outcrop, said to be where Prince Charles took his stand during the battle, was removed to Culloden House, where it was displayed until 1897.
On Duncan Forbes' death in 1897, the house and 31.5ha (78 acres) of parkland were sold, although the Home Farm was excluded. It was probably then that the garden statuary was sold. Many historic and interesting Jacobite relics were dispersed at the sale. The 'Brangas tree', an English elm to which was fixed an iron 'branks' (Gaelic form brangas) traditionally used to padlock a malefactor's neck, was enclosed within railings at the head of the avenue (1903, OS 25"). The tree has since been felled.
During the mid 20th century, the estate was further fragmented by construction of roads and housing within its former boundaries. The Home Farm has been restored and the house is now a hotel.