Clan Fraser (Scottish Gaelic: Clann Frisealach, French: Clan Frasier) is a Scottish clan of French origin. The Clan has been strongly associated with Inverness and the surrounding area since the Clan’s founder gained lands there in the 13th century. Since its founding, the Clan has dominated local politics and been active in every major military conflict involving Scotland. It has also played a considerable role in most major political turmoils.
The Clan’s current chief is Simon Fraser, the 16th Lord Lovat, and 25th Chief of the Clan. The arms of Clan Fraser are Quarterly: 1st and 4th Azure, three fraises Argent, 2nd and 3rd Gules, three antique crowns Or, or in layman’s terms, the traditional three cinquefoils, or fraises (strawberry flowers), as they have come to be known, in the first and fourth positions and three crowns in the second and third positions. Only the Lord Lovat is allowed use of these arms plain and undifferenced.
Origins of the surname
Main article: Fraser (surname)
The surname ‘Fraser’ is of an uncertain origin. The first record of the name occur in the mid-12th century as “de Fresel”, “de Friselle”, and “de Freseliere”, and appears to be a Norman name, though there is no known placename in France that corresponds with it. Also, it has been thought possible that a medieval scribe could have corrupted a Gaelic name beyond recognition.
A tradition, favoured by the leading family of Fraser, derived the clan’s descent from a Frenchman, Pierre Fraser, Seigneur de Troile, who came to Scotland in the reign of Charlemagne to form an alliance with the mythical King Achaius. Pierre’s son was then to have become thane of the Isle of Man in 814.
Another explanation for the surname is that it is derived from the French words fraise, meaning strawberry (the fruit), and fraisiers, strawberry plants. There is a fabled account of the Fraser coat of arms which asserts during the reign of Charles the Simple of France, a nobleman from Bourbon named Julius de Berry entertained the King with a dish of fine strawberries. De Berry was then later knighted, with the knight taking strawberry flowers as his Arms and changing his name from ‘de Berry’ to ‘Fraiseux’ or ‘Frezeliere’. His direct descendants were to become the lords of Neidpath Castle, then known as Oliver. This origin has been disputed, and seen as a classic example of canting heraldry, where heraldic symbols are derived from a pun on similar sounding surname: (strawberry flowers - fraises).
Around the reign of William the Lion (r.1165-1214), there was a mass of “Norman” immigration into Scotland. Thomas Grey, a 14th century English knight, listed several “Norman” families which took up land during William’s reign. Among those listed, the families of Moubray, Ramsay, Laundells, Valognes, Boys and Fraser are certainly or probably introduced under King William.
The earliest written record of Frasers in Scotland is in 1160, when a Simon Fraser held lands in East Lothian at Keith. In that year, he made the gift of a church to the Tironensian monks at Kelso Abbey. The Frasers moved into Tweeddale in the 12th and 13th centuries and from there into the counties of Stirling, Angus, Inverness and Aberdeen.
The remains of Beauly Priory.
Sir Simon Fraser of Oliver acquired the Bisset Lands around Beauly when he won the hand of its heiress, a young Bissett. King Alexander III granted the right of the “Lordship of Loveth, vulgo Morich,” in the Aird, in 1253, and the corresponding lands, to Simon Fraser of Lovat, either his son or cousin, from whom the Clan Fraser claims descent. Sir Simon held other lands in Aberdeen, which were given to his eldest son (or cousin), Sir Alexander Fraser of Touchfraser and Cowie. It is from Alexander that the Frasers of Philorth descend. In 1336, Thomas Fraser, of the Frasers of Muchalls, gained the estates of Stonywood and Muchalls in Kincardineshire, and soon erected a tower house stronghold overlooking the North Sea. This tower house was later expanded, and became known as Muchalls Castle.
Wars of Scottish Independence
During the Scottish Wars of Independence, Sir Simon Fraser, known as “the Patriot”, fought first with the Red Comyn, and later with Sir William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.
Sir Simon is celebrated for having defeated the English in three separate engagements at the Battle of Roslin in 1303, with just 8,000 men under his command. Along with the Clan Fraser, the Red Comyn’s Clan Comyn, and the Clan Sinclair are known to have fought at the battle, which took place on 24 February 1303. At the Battle of Methven in 1306, Sir Simon led troops along with Bruce, and saved the King’s life in three separate instances. Simon was allegedly awarded the 3 Crowns which now appear in the Lovat Arms for these three acts of bravery. At the end of the day, he was captured by the English and executed with great cruelty by King Edward in 1306, in the same barbaric fashion as Wallace. At the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Sir Simon’s cousin, Sir Alexander Fraser of Cowie, was much more fortunate. He fought at Bannockburn, married Bruce’s sister, and became Chamberlain of Scotland. The Frasers of Philorth trace their lineage from Alexander. At the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, Alexander Fraser’s three younger brothers, Simon Fraser of Lovat, Andrew, and James, were killed while fighting the English.
Fraser lands are shown in blue. This map is accurate to the acts of parliament 1587 & 1594. Click to enlarge.
As most all Highlanders, the Frasers have been involved in countless instances of Clan warfare, particularly against the Macdonalds. Two Gaelic war cries of the Frasers have been generally recognized. The first, “Caisteal Dhuni” (Castle Dounie/Downie) refers to the ancestral Castle and Clan seat, which once existed near the present Beaufort Castle. The second is “A Mhòr-fhaiche” (The Great Field).
In 1544, the Frasers fought a great clan battle, the Battle of the Shirts (Blar-ne-Léine in Gaelic) against the Clan Macdonald of Clanranald, over the disputed chiefship of Clan Ranald. The Frasers, as part of a large coalition, backed a son of the 5th Chief, Ranald Gallda (the Stranger), which the MacDonalds found unacceptable. The Earl of Argyll intervened, refusing to let the two forces engage. But on their march home, the 300 Frasers were ambushed by 500 MacDonalds. Only five Frasers and eight MacDonalds are said to have survived the battle. Both the Lovat Chief, Hugh Fraser, and his son were amongst the dead and were buried at Beauly Priory.
Robert Mor Munro, 15th chief of Clan Munro, was a staunch supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots, and he consequently was treated favourably by her son, James VI. Robert was also a faithful friend of Mary. Scottish historian George Buchanan, a contemporary, wrote that when the unfortunate princess went to Inverness in 1562: “as soon as they heard of their sovereign’s danger, a great number of the most eminent Scots poured in around her, especially the Frasers and Munros, who were esteemed the most ‘valiant of the clans inhabiting those countries in the north.’ ” These two clans took Inverness Castle for the Queen. The Queen later hanged the governor, a Gordon who had refused her admission.
In 1571 the Clan Fraser joined forces with the Clan Forbes in their centuries-long feud against the Clan Gordon. The Frasers and Forbes were joined by Clan Keith and Clan Crichton. The Gordons were joined by Clan Leslie, Clan Irvine and Clan Seton. The feud culminated in two full scale battles: the Battle of Tillieangus and the Battle of Craibstone. At the first, the 6th Lord Forbes’s youngest son, known as Black Aurther Forbes, was killed. Legend has it that “he stooped down to quench his thirst and one of the Gordons gave him his death blow through an open joint in his armour“. A separate battle took place between the Clan Fraser (with help from the Clan MacRae) and the Clan Logan at Kessock, where Gilligorm, the Chief of the Clan Logan, was killed.
Call to arms & civil war
Traditionally, Frasers wear small branches of Iubhar (Gaelic), or Yew, in their caps.
During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms of 1644–1650, the Clan was as active as ever, supporting the cause of the Covenanters.
In 1645, at the Battle of Auldearn, in Nairnshire, the Clan opposed the Royalist leader James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, and fought under a Fraser of Struy (from a small village at the mouth of Glen Strathfarrar). The battle left eighty-seven Fraser widows. A poem about the battle reads:
“Here Fraser Fraser kills, a Browndoth kills a Browndoth.
A Bold a Bold, and Lieth’s by Lieth overthrown.
A Forbes against a Forbes and her doeth stand,
And Drummonds fight with Drummonds hand to hand.
There dith Magill cause a Magill to die,
And Gordon doth the strenth of Gordon try.
Oh! Scotland, were though Mad? Off thine own native gore.
So Much till now thou never shedst before.”
In 1649, the Clan Fraser and Clan Munro joined for a second time to assault Inverness Castle. This time, they were also joined by the Clan Urquhart and the Clan Mackenzie, with whom they had recently made peace. The four clans, all opposed to the authority of the current parliament, assaulted the town and took the castle. They then expelled the garrison and raised the fortifications. However, on the approach of the parliamentary forces led by General Leslie, the clans retreated back into Ross-shire. Over the next year, several skirmishes took place between these parties. In 1650, at the Battle of Dunbar, the Clan Fraser fought against the forces of Oliver Cromwell. However, the Covenanters were defeated. In 1651, the Clan Fraser joined the army of Charles II at Stirling. They fought at the Battle of Worcester where the King’s army was defeated by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army.
Simon “the Fox” Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, 1668. The Fox was Chief during the second and third Jacobite Risings.
In 1689, the Glorious Revolution deposed the Roman Catholic King James VII as monarch of England, replacing the King with his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband and cousin William of Orange. Swiftly following in March, a Convention of the Estates was convened in Edinburgh, which supported William & Mary as joint monarchs of Scotland. However, to much of Scotland, particularly in the Highlands, James was still considered the rightful, legitimate King.
On 16 April 1689 John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount of Dundee (Bonnie Dundee), raised the royal standard of the recently deposed King James VII on the hilltop of Dundee Law. Many of the Highland clans rallied swiftly to his side. The chief of the Clan Fraser, Thomas Fraser, tried to keep the members of his clan from joining the uprising, to no avail: The Clan marched without him, and fought at the Battle of Killiecrankie. In 1690, Thomas gave in and joined them.
The Clan Fraser was split during the first Jacobite rising in 1715. While some supported the Jacobite cause, Simon “the Fox” Fraser, Chief at the time, supported the British Government. In 1715, a force led by Simon, who had been outlawed by the Stewarts and was in exile, surrounded the Jacobite garrison in Inverness. The Clan MacDonald of Keppoch attempted to relieve the garrison, but when their path was blocked by the Frasers, Keppoch retreated. The Inverness garrison surrendered to Fraser on the same day that the Battle of Sheriffmuir was fought, and another Jacobite force was defeated at the Battle of Preston. Soon after this 31 year old Chief Colonel Robert Munro of Foulis marched into the town of Inverness with 400 Munros and took over control as governor from Fraser. In 1719 the Clan Fraser fought for the British government at the Battle of Glen Shiel where they helped defeat the Jacobites and MacKenzies alike.
On 2 August 1745, a frigate successfully landed Bonnie Prince Charlie, grandson of James VII with his seven men of Moidart on the island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides. He would go on to raise the royal standard at Glenfinnan, and led the second Jacobite rising in Scotland. The by-now-infamous Simon “the Fox” Fraser supported the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie during The ‘45. One very strong reason was that Simon had been created Duke of Fraser, Marquess of Beaufort, Earl of Stratherrick and Abertarf, Viscount of the Aird and Strathglass and Lord Lovat and Beauly in the Jacobite Peerage of Scotland by James Francis Edward Stuart in 1740. Frasers were on the front lines of the Jacobite army at the Battle of Falkirk, and the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
The Battle of Culloden in 1746 was a decisive defeat for the Jacobites and the House of Stuart. At the battle, Frasers made up the largest centre regiment of the front line, with 400 men under Charles Fraser of Inverallochy, and Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat. The Fox was not present at the battle, reportedly trying to gather dispersed Clansmen to fight.
Being on the front line, the Frasers were one of the few units to actually close with Government forces, breaking through Barrell’s regiment with 800-900 other Highlanders (Atholl men, Camerons, Stewarts of Appin). The ferocious Frasers were massacred by the Government second line.
The Fraser gravestone at Culloden Moor. Frasers who fell at the Battle of Culloden were buried in a mass grave underneath this stone. Hundreds may lie underneath it. Each clan had its own grave.
After the battle, the same year, Castle Dounie was burnt to the ground, while the Fox was on the run. He was captured, tried for treason, and executed in London on 9 April 1747, and his estates and titles were forfeited to the Crown.
The Fox’s son, Simon Fraser escaped punishment, and was pardoned - later raising a Fraser regiment for the British army which fought in Canada in the 1750s, including Quebec. Charles Fraser was mortally wounded and found by General Hawley on the field, who ordered one of his aides, a young James Wolfe to finish him off with a pistol. Wolfe refused, so Hawley got a common soldier to do it. We also know the fate of some of the clansmen. David Fraser of Glen Urquhart, who was a deaf-mute had, it was said, charged and killed seven redcoats, but was captured and died in prison. John Fraser, also called ‘MacIver’ was shot in the knee, taken prisoner and put before a firing squad, but was then rescued by a British officer, Lord Boyd, who was sick of the slaughter. Another John Fraser, who was Provost of Inverness tried to get fair treatment for the prisoners.
Castle Dounie was replaced by a small square building costing £300 in which the Royal Commissioner resided until 1774, when some of the forfeited Lovat estates were granted by an Act of Parliament to his son, Simon Fraser (1726-1782), by then a major general, in recognition of his military service to the Crown and the payment of some £20,000. Later, two modest wings were added. On the death of General Fraser’s younger half-brother, Colonel Archibald Campbell Fraser of Lovat (1736-1815), without legitimate surviving male issue, the Lovat estates were transferred, by entail, to Thomas Alexander Fraser of Strichen (1802-1875), a distant cousin who was descended from Thomas Fraser of Knockie & Strichen (1548-1612), second son of Alexander Fraser, 4th Lord Lovat (1527-1557). Knockie was sold about 1727 to Hugh Fraser of Balnain (1702-1735).
Frasers in the New World
Seven Years’ War
Under the chief, Simon (who had led the Frasers in the ‘45 as the Master of Lovat) a regiment of Frasers, the 78th Fraser Highlanders, numbering fourteen hundred were raised and fought the French and Indians in the colonies and in Canada, from 1757-1759. Interestingly, the 78th fought under General Wolfe, who had previously fought at the Battle of Culloden, against Simon and perhaps some of the 78th. It was one of the 78th, possibly Simon, possibly one of his men, whose familiarity with the French language saved the first wave of British troops at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, which led to the capture of Quebec.
In the fight against American independence Simon, who was by this time a General, raised 2,300 men; the 71st Fraser Highlanders. He recruited two battalions at Inverness, Stirling and Glasgow. Most of the men were not Frasers for the number of Frasers had been substantially reduced after the battle of Culloden and the end of the clan system.
Many Frasers settled in the United States and Canada after the war against the French in Quebec. Many others later emigrated to those countries and to Australia and New Zealand (which have both had a Fraser prime minister). Frasers in the US have continued their proud military tradition, fighting on both sides of the American Civil War. Frasers from both sides of the Atlantic fought in the Great War, and the Second World War.
The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band, sponsored by the regiment of the same name.
Frasers have always been known for their fighting spirit and their skill in the art of war. Frasers have fought in many wars, from defending Scottish lands against invading Danes and Norse, to the Scottish Wars of Independence, to the Jacobite risings, both World Wars, and they continue to serve today. Among the organized regiments were an Independent Highland Company in 1745 that fought at the Battle of Culloden, and The 2nd Highland Battalion, formed in January 1757.. The 62nd Regiment of Foot, formed 1757, was soon redesignated as the 78th Fraser Highlanders in 1758, and retired as a fighting unit in 1763, but the unit is still active as a fund raising organization under the authority of the Lord Lovat. The 71st Fraser Highlanders formed in October 1775, and consisted of two battalions raised at Inverness, Stirling and Glasgow for service in North America. They were disbanded in 1786. The Fraser Fencible Regiment was raised by Col. the Hon. Archibald Campbell Fraser of Lovat, as a home guard in the event of an invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte. The Fraser Fencibles served in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The Lovat Scouts, formed in January 1900 by Simon Joseph Fraser, for service in the Second Boer War, saw extensive action during the Great War and the Second World War, and now consist of a platoon, Company C, of the 51st Highland Volunteers.
The modern Clan
Today the Clan Fraser is composed of many thousands all over the world. Large Fraser populations exist in the United States and Canada, and smaller populations are in Australia, New Zealand (both of which have had Fraser prime ministers), and South Africa, not to mention those who never left Scotland. In 1951, the Lord Lovat Simon Christopher Joseph Fraser was able to muster some 7,000 Frasers to the family seat at Beaufort Castle, and in 1997, some 30-40,000 Frasers from 21 different countries came to Castle Fraser over a period of four days for a world-wide Clan gathering.
Main article: Chiefs of Clan Fraser
On May 1, 1984, by decree of the Court of the Lord Lyon, the 21st Lady Saltoun was made “Chief of the name and arms of the whole Clan Fraser”. Lord Lovat, Simon Christopher Joseph Fraser, was reported to have not given any heed to the decision, dismissing the matter as being beneath him. Since this decree, there has been much confusion as to who is the Chief of the Clan Fraser.
Many believe that this decree made the Lady Saltoun the chief of the Clan. However, the Lord Lyon did not grant the chiefship of the Clan Fraser, just a description of “Chief of the name and arms.” The Lord Lyon does not have power over the Chief of a Highland Clan. What the decree did was reinforce the Lady Saltoun’s claim to being the head of the senior branch of the wider Fraser family, and granted her the use of the plain and undifferenced Fraser arms (three strawberry flowers on a field of blue). The current Lord Lovat, Simon Fraser retains the chiefship.
The Arms of Lady Saltoun as Head of the Name & Arms of Fraser. - Azure three fraises Argent.
The Arms of Fraser of Lovat - Quarterly 1st & 4th Azure three fraises Argent 2nd & 3rd Argent three antique crowns Gules.
Simon Fraser the explorer.
Main article: Fraser (surname)
Many Frasers have earned wide renown over the years. In military service, General Simon Fraser of Balnian, of Saratoga fame, General Simon Fraser of Lovat (who also fought in the Seven Years’ War against the French, and commanded Frasers at Culloden), Admiral of the Fleet the Lord Fraser of Northcape, Simon Christopher, the 17th Lord Lovat, served in the Scots Guards and was an outstanding British Commando leader in the Second World War, noted for his service during the D-Day landings of the Battle of Normandy. In the political realm, the Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser, Prime Minister of New Zealand 1940-1949, and the Rt. Hon. Malcolm Fraser, Liberal Prime Minister of Australia 1975-1983. William Fraser, 1st Baron Strathalmond, Chairman B.P., Hugh Fraser III, grandson of the founder of the House of Fraser, and at one time owner of Harrods have made names for themselves in the business world. Dedication to the Kirk has been shown by the Very Reverend John Annand Fraser, MBE, TD, DD, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Sir Charles Fraser, Pursebearer to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and Lady Marion Anne Fraser, Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. John Fraser (1750–1811) was a noted botanist. Simon Fraser, US-born Canadian explorer, mapped the Fraser River and Simon Fraser University is named in his honour. Ian Frazer, Australian immunologist, worked on the development of a cervical cancer vaccine.
Je Suis Prest (French I Am Ready)
Gaul, Anjou, East Lothian, Beauly.
Frasers of Inverallochy
Clan Fraser of Lovat
Frasers of Muchalls
Frasers of Philorth
Frasers of Strichen
Fraser Dress Fraser Hunting
Fraser of Lovat Green Hunting
Simon Fraser, 18th Lord Lovat