Fraser Clan of Scotland
by Marie Fraser

The history of Clan Fraser has been so badly distorted in the past that it is worthwhile to clarify a few points. Although many fanciful stories have been attributed to the Fraser family history in Scotland, it is generally believed that the name Fraser traces its origins to the French provinces of Anjou and Normandy.

The first generation on record included Simon Fraser in Keith, Gilbert Fraser, and Bernard Fraser in East Lothian, although it is not known if they were brothers or otherwise related. The Frasers moved into Tweeddale (now Peebleshire) in the 12th and 13th centuries and from there into the counties of Stirling, Angus, Inverness and Aberdeen. The second generation on record, believed to have been the sons of Gilbert Fraser in East Lothian, were Oliver Fraser, Udard Fraser, and Thomas Fraser, whose posterity is unknown. Oliver Fraser built Oliver Castle (no longer in existence), but died without issue. Udard Fraser, alive in 1200 AD in East Lothian, from whom all Frasers are thought to be descended, was the father of Sir Bernard Fraser, 1st of Touch-Fraser, whose daughter became a nun; Sir Gilbert Fraser, 1st of Oliver Castle; and Adam Fraser, 1st of Drumelzier & Hales, progenitor of a large number of Frasers who later settled in Inverness-shire and followed Lovat, although they were not descended from Lovat, but from Drumelzier. These were the Frasers of Fruid, Tain, Munlochy, Phopachy [Minister of Wardlaw], Dunballoch, Newton, Kingillie and Fanellan.

Sir Gilbert's eldest son was John Fraser (d. ante 1263), who was the father of Sir Richard Fraser of Touch-Fraser, whose son Sir Andrew Fraser of Touch-Fraser (d. ante 1297) had four sons, namely, Sir Alexander Fraser (k. 1332, Dupplin), progenitor of the Frasers of Philorth, Lords Saltoun; Sir Simon Fraser (k. 1333, Halidon Hill, Berwick), progenitor of the Frasers of Lovat, Lords Lovat; Sir Andrew Fraser (k. 1333); and Sir James Fraser, 1st of Frendraught (k. 1333). Another son of John Fraser (d. ante 1263) and the younger brother of Sir Richard Fraser of Touch-Fraser, was Sir Alexander Fraser, 1st of Corntoun, progenitor of the Frasers of Corntoun, Kinmundie & Muchalls, Lords Fraser (now extinct). Sir Gilbert's second son, Sir Simon Fraser of Oliver Castle (d. ante 1283), was High Sheriff of Tweeddale 1263-66. His son Sir Simon Fraser (d. 1291) was the father of Sir Simon Fraser the patriot, executed in London in 1306, who had only two daughters; thus ending the male line of the Frasers of Oliver Castle.

Although a Lowland family, the Frasers of Philorth, Lords Saltoun, are Chiefs of the name of Fraser. Lord Lovat is the chief of the very numerous Highland clan Fraser of Lovat, based in Inverness-shire. "With the death of the 19th [now 20th] Lord Saltoun on August 31, 1979, the Chiefship of Clan Fraser passed to his daughter, first lady to head the clan."

Simon Fraser (1667?-1747), the "notorious Jacobite intriguer, was a descendant of Sir Simon Fraser, high sheriff of Tweeddale (now Peebleshire). Another [Sir] Simon Fraser, who fell at the battle of Halidon Hill in 1338 [1333], came into the possession of the tower and fort of Lovat, near the Beauly, Inverness-shire, anciently the seat of the Bissets; and in accordance with highland custom the clan Fraser were therefore called in Gaelic Macshimi, sons of Simon. In 1431 Hugh, grandson of Simon, was created a lord of parliament under the title Lord Lovat"

Unfortunately, no explanation is offered as to how Simon "the Fox" was supposed to have been descended from Sir Simon Fraser, High Sheriff of Tweeddale 1263-66, whose line ended when his grandson Sir Simon the patriot, executed in 1306, only left two daughters who married, respectively, Hay of Locherwort and Fleming of Wigton.

Edmund Chisholm Batten in The Charters of the Priory of Beauly, with notices of the Priories of Pluscardine and Ardchattan and the Family of the Founder John Byset [1877] refers to the various published histories of the Frasers of Lovat, noting how erroneously the Fraser-Byset connection had been represented in order to suit the claims of rival parties. He disputes the suggestion that the Frizelles or Frasers came into possession of the Byset lands when John Byset was exiled to Ireland. "Since the Frasers did not get possession of any portion of the Bysets' Highland estates till 125 years after 1242, and then only a third of those estates, two-thirds of which were acquired by the Fentons and the Chisholms, the former by the peaceful act of marrying a Byset lady, this is strongly expressed."

Edmund Chisholm Batten notes that the charter of 1231 is a grant by William Byset, his brother John and the officials of the church of Moray being witnesses… "The seal has the arms of Byset, 'on a shield plain; a bend'. The transcriber adds, 'no crown'; the opinion then prevailing that the crowns quartered in the Fraser of Lovat coat were the arms of Byset: whereas they are the arms of Grant. This simple ordinary shows the antiquity of the Byset achievement." Chisholm Batten also points out that it does not appear from any record that John Byset was one of the barons of the kingdom. Before the Act of 1427 no general rule can be laid down for distinguishing between one holder of a property directly from the Crown and another, and the expressions 'noblis vir' and 'dominus', in the charter of subjects, at all events go for nothing in establishing any parliamentary dignity; the premier baron of Scotland claims no higher creation than 1436.

"A particular transaction respecting the Aid property has been so erroneously represented that it must be stated accurately. According to Shaw, Hugh married Margaret, daughter and heiress of William Fenton of Beaufort; and thereby got the lands; the truth being that in 1416, Hugh Fraser married Janet, sister of William de Fenton… Seven years afterwards, on 9th August 1422, Hugh Fraser enters into a contract for his son and heir, who must have been an infant, marrying a daughter of Thomas of Dunbar, Earl of Moray. On the 20th May 1455, Huchone Fraser of Lovate is mentioned as if married to Janet, daughter of Elizabeth, Countess of Moray. His fortune was so much increased by this marriage as to enable him to secure the peerage. There is a charter under the Great Seal, dated 28th February 1480, where Hugh is styled by the king, 'Hugo dominus Fraser de Lovat ac Baro Baroniae de Kinnell'.

Thomas, in 1501, succeeded his father Hugh as Lord Lovat, and married Janet Godon, the daughter of Sir Alexander Gordon of Midmar, brother to the Earl of Huntly. Thomas Lord Lovat is said, to have had, by his second marriage, a son Robert, who married Janet Gelly, the heritrix of Braky in Five, and to have purchased the estate of Braky Kinnell. It is said Lord Thomas died at Beaufort Castle on 21st October 1524; but this is doubtful. It was not until 1542 that his son Hugh Lord Lovat, got a feu-charter of the lands of Beaufort from the Earl of Argyle. The House of Lovat seems to have been the residence of the family.

Hugh Lord Lovat married a daughter of the chief of the Grants, the widow of Halyburton of Pitcur, and used the connection thus formed with the descendants of the Chisholm co-heirs of the founder of Beauly, to acquire much of the Chisholm portion of the Byset property. In 1528 he induced George Halyburton of Gask to convey to him the lands of Inglistown (Englishtown) and Kingslie (Kingillie), now in the united parish of Wardlaw and Fernua; and in 1529 he got James Halyburton of Gask to give up to him the whole barony of Erchles created in 1512.

In 1544 Beauly Priory saw a sad funeral procession enter the restored church, bearing the bodies of Hugh Lord Lovat and his eldest son (by his first wife) Hugh Master of Lovat, killed in a clan fight. Lord Lovat's son (by his second wife) Alexander, who succeeded on his father's and elder half-brother's death, before 1555 married Janet, the daughter of Sir John Campbell of Cawdor." We continue now with the story of the Frasers of Lovat, a major branch of Clan Fraser, who settled in Inverness-shire, and came into possession of the lands once owned by John Byset. Alexander Fraser 4th Lord Lovat (1527-1557), in addition to his eldest son and heir Hugh [later 5th Lord], had two other sons, namely, Thomas Fraser of Knockie (1548-1612), and James Fraser, 1st of Ardachie & Boblanie (c1550-1588).

Hugh Fraser 5th Lord Lovat had several places of residence [Bunchrew, Kinmylies, Lovat and Beaufort]. He died on New Year's Day 1576 in the 29th year of his age and was the last Fraser to be buried in Beauly Priory. By his wife, Lady Elizabeth Stewart (d. 1594), daughter of the Earl of Atholl, Lord Hugh left a young son, Simon, who was then only a few years old.

A dispute arose between Thomas Fraser of Knockie, the late Lord's brother, and William Fraser of Struy (d. 1607), the young Lord's grand-uncle, as to who should exercise the much coveted duties of Tutor or guardian; the latter arguing that he had discharged the same trust on behalf of the late Lord. Party spirit was aroused, and Mr. Donald Dow Fraser [subsequently, 1592, parson of Wardlaw, but living at Fingask] hastened secretly to Beaufort to get Lady Lovat to intervene by asking Fraser of Struy to abandon his claims. The minister of Wardlaw later claimed that so far as she was concerned the visit was a failure, and the opposing parties settled their differences without her interference.

Another tradition puts the matter differently. Much as she respected him, she said that propriety and a sense of her own dignity forbade her intervention or presence at their meeting, seeing they had not considered her worthy of being consulted. She also said that if the worst should befall them and the sword should decide it, not a drop of Stewart blood would be shed. The minister was determined not to fail in his mission, but his anger was aroused by her answer. He unsheathed his dirk, the weapons of persuasion having failed, and declared that her own blood would be the first to flow if she did not send a message to the meeting. Awed by the attitude of the militant cleric, Lady Lovat wrote at once to William Fraser of Struy, who withdrew his claim, and Thomas Fraser of Knockie was appointed Tutor.

The young Lord's mother did not long continue in her condition of widowhood, and the minister of Wardlaw relates an unsavoury story about her marriage in 1578 and unfaithfulness to her second husband, Robert Stuart, Earl of Lennox, then Earl of March (d. 1593), whom she divorced for impotency; and her marriage in 1581, while three months pregnant, to her third husband, James Stewart, afterwards Earl of Arran and Chancellor of Scotland.

The boyhood of young Simon was mostly spent at Strichen with Thomas Fraser of Knockie (1548-1612), who had by 1580 married Isobel Forbes (d. 1611), widow of Thomas Fraser of Strichen of the Philorth family in the Buchan district of Aberdeenshire. Simon, however, proved a somewhat undisciplined youth and became a source of considerable concern to his guardian and friends. A private tutor was employed to supervise his education until 1586, when he was sent to Aberdeen, and placed under the care of the Sub-Principal of King's College. However, he proved to be stubborn and unruly, and ran away to Ireland. His uncle, Thomas Fraser of Knockie, prevailed upon young Simon to execute an inhibition in 1587 to the effect that he would do nothing to hurt the interests of his family or prejudice his heirs, without the consent and advice of his three curators, one of whom was Sir Alexander Fraser, 8th of Philorth (d. 1623).

Sir Alexander Fraser's uncle, Thomas Fraser of Strichen had been attacked and slain by Gordon of Gight on Christmas Eve 1576 over a dispute of Isobel Forbes' rights to the Strichen estates as widow of her first husband, William Chalmers, held jointly by her and her second husband, Thomas Fraser of Strichen by charter obtained in 1573. Isobel, a widow for the second time, to avenge her cause and the death of her second husband, turned to the Tutor of Lovat, Thomas Fraser of Knockie, then in Stratherrick, who took up her cause and married her.

To prevent future disputes, Knockie purchased the claims of the Chalmers family on his wife's estate, and then bought the interests of his two step-daughters. He entered into a contract with Katherine and Violet Fraser, the heirs of his wife's second marriage, with the consent of their guardian, Sir Alexander Fraser of Philorth, whereby they were served heirs to their deceased father in the estate and barony of Strichen and immediately divested themselves of the same in favour of Thomas Fraser of Knockie and his male heirs, begotten by him and his wife Isobel. Thomas Fraser of Knockie assumed the designation of "Fraser of Knockie and Baron of Strichen" or Fraser of Knockie and Strichen, for which he received a charter under the Great Seal of James VI in 1591.

After two years' sojourn in Ireland, where the Earl of Antrim entertained him, Simon Fraser of Lovat (1570-1633) returned home via Edinburgh, where in the Palace of Holyrood he paid his respects to King James. By 1589 it was the opinion of his mother and his other curators that young Lovat should take himself a wife, and he eventually settled upon the daughter of Colin Mackenzie of Kintail. In April 1590, he was served heir to his father and grandfather. At the same time, his Tutor, Thomas Fraser of Knockie, rendered an account of his stewardship during the minority, showing the extensive land interests of Lovat to be in a highly satisfactory financial condition. Great worldly prosperity could not, however, ward off the shadow of death, and the young Lady Lovat passed away at Beauly in 1593.

On a visit by Simon Fraser 6th Lord Lovat to Court in 1595, the King announced that he was proposing to arrange a match for him, and suggested that he should frankly "pick and chuse without ceremony or delay which of the ladies at Court he fancied." His lordship, after thanking His Majesty, fixed upon Jean Stewart, daughter of James 1st Lord Doune, a maid of honour to the Queen. The lady, when approached by the King, admitted that to wed a Lord of Lovat was an honour, but that he was not "bonny." Her scruples may have been overcome when it was represented to her that if his lordship was not gifted with beauty, the Lovat acres were fair as well as broad. Lovat married his second wife in April 1596, when he was 26 years of age.

Dame Jean Stewart, Lady Lovat, died in 1622 at her favourite residence of Bunchrew, and asked to be buried beside her favourite son, Sir Simon Fraser of Inverallochy (1597-1620); her second son being Sir James Fraser of Brae (1612-1649). Her son had died at Dalcross Castle in July 1620 and was buried in the Chapel of the Cummings in Inverness because the River Ness was flooded and the bridge broken, making transport to Wardlaw unsafe.

In 1624 Simon Lord Lovat married, as his third wife, Dame Katherine Rose (1581-1658) of the Kilravock family, a match disapproved of by his friends, involving as it did a large burden upon the estate for a period of 30 years. During the years subsequent to his third marriage, Lord Simon lived principally at Bunchrew. He had left the administration of the estate to his eldest son by his first wife, Hugh, Master of Lovat [later 7th Lord], who had in 1614 married Isobel Wemyss (1598-1636), daughter of Sir John Wemyss, by whom he had a large family, living in the ancient residence of Lovat. Lord Simon also spent time in Inverness, where he had a mansion. He had built the Castle of Dalcross as well as a residence at Bunchrew. To liquidate the great expense incurred for these and other purposes, he placed heavy mortgages on his lands. Lord Simon died at Bunchrew in April 1633 and was buried at Wardlaw.

Hugh Fraser 7th Lord Lovat (1591-1645), had the misfortune of inheriting a patrimony, great in area, but so encumbered with mortgages and other debts as to considerably reduce its value. Lord Lovat, finding himself in financial straits, solicited the assistance of his kinsmen. We find him in 1633 leaving his affairs in the Aird district in the hands of Thomas Fraser of Struy, his heritable baillie, and taking up residence with his household at Meickle Garth, in Stratherrick. In the summer of 1634 he and his family and retainers are in residence at Dalcross. Judging by his establishment, his lordship did not suffer from stringency in money matters.

Mr James Fraser of Phopachy (d. 1639), was Master of the Household-Fear an Tighe, as he was called- "Mr Patrick Fraser, his cheefe gentleman; James Tarras, chaplain; David Carr, musitian; Jo. Reed Stuart; groomes, pantry boyes, cooks, all countrymen; and the principal families each a sone in his Court, to educate, polish and accomplish them.

The minister of Wardlaw [Rev. James Fraser, grandson of Mr James Fraser of Phopachy] comments on the domestic expenditure of Lord Lovat's household: "The expenditure of this family extravagent - seven bolls malt, seven bolls meale, one boll floure, every week; 70 black cowes in the year, besides venison, fish, pullet, kid, lamb, duck, and mallart, etc., with all the presents and lists unaccountable; the wines in great quantities yearly from France, with sugar and all manner of spices, that it is incredible how any house could spend this store and provision yearly. For my own part, I have been amused, yea amased, in reading my grandfather's books of accounts, where he sets down the exact particulars of the vast spending of this noble family; and many would consider it very rant.

On 11th May, 1634, Hugh Lord Lovat has a business transaction with James Glendinning, who had been Master of the Household with Lord Simon, his father, and not improbably managed to feather his own nest comfortably under the lax rule of that amiable employer. Glendinning was Lovat's creditor, or had advanced a sum of 1000 merks, and for this the latter pledged the Town and Lands of Kinmylies, in the regality of Spiny, the annual amount payable by Glendinning being 16 bolls victual, in name of ferme or rent. On June 13th, 1634, there is a contract between Lord Lovat and John Fraser of Clunyvackie (d. 1675) and Isobel Chisholm, his spouse. They had advanced to his lordship 6000 merks, and received in security the two parts of the town and lands of Browling, whereof the one half was occupied by Allan McRanald of Teachnok, and the other half by Thomas Fraser of Struy (d. 1656); also the two parts of Ochtero, and half of Muilzie.

On November 26th, 1636, Lord Lovat grants to Hugh Fraser of Belladrum (d. c1656) a feu farm charter of the town and lands of Belladrum and Little Culmill, of which a tack was given in 1598, but there were added thereto the two crofts of Easter Downy, the Town and Lands of Browlin, the Town and Lands of Muilzie and of Ochtero, and the Town and Lands of Bencharran. In the same year, at an earlier date, there is a tack from Lovat to Fraser of Belladrum of the following lands with the Teind sheaves and mill multures, viz., of Belladrum, Kirkton, Convinth, Cuidrish and Easter Convinth, for the life-time of the latter, and with power to hold baron baillie Courts, the same to endure for the tacksman's life and his heirs for 13 years. The same year the lands of Crive are let to Belladrum, with power to hold special baillie Courts.

During 1636 Hugh Fraser 7th Lord Lovat (1591-1645) sustained a domestic affliction, which so depressed his spirits that he took little or no practical interest in the affairs of his extensive property during the remainder of his years. Isabel Wemyss, Lady Lovat, passed away after a short illness, in the 48th year of her age, and after 22 years of wedded bliss. Four years later, his oldest son, Simon, Master of Lovat, died in his 20th year. Hugh, Lord Lovat's second son, succeeded to the heirship; the administration of the estate having for some time been controlled by his lordship's half-brother, Sir James Fraser of Brae (1612-1649).

In April 1642, Hugh Master of Lovat (1624-1643), married Anna, daughter of General Leslie, later Earl of Leven, at Holyrood House. Although Lord Lovat was not in favour of his son accepting a lieutenant-colonelcy in the army of Scotland, arranged by General Leslie, the Master accepted the post and, while spending the winter in Edinburgh with his wife, suffered an illness from which he died in April 1643.

Hugh Fraser 7th Lord Lovat survived the Master by two years, and was succeeded by his grandson, Hugh, a child of about two years of age. Sir James Fraser of Brae continued, as Tutor, to be the ruling spirit of the administration of all the Lovat interests. He was a staunch Presbyterian who took a prominent part in the business of Inverness Presbytery and the General Assembly of the Kirk, and was a leading Covenanter. Although the success of the Royalists was short-lived, the loss of Inverness Citadel during the struggle, broke his heart and, after returning from the south, he died at Lovat in 1649.

Lovat Castle, passed down from the days of John Byset, was ruthlessly dismantled in 1671. Its oaken beams, hewn stones and its furnishings were carried over to Beauly by boat, and built into the house, which had been the family residence since 1668. Hugh Fraser 8th Lord Lovat died in 1672, aged 29; his wife, Anne Mackenzie (1631-1670), having predeceased him while he was abroad, having left his wife and family behind, to escape his financial problems and melancholy.

His son, Hugh Fraser 9th Lord Lovat (1666-1696), who had four daughters, willed his estates to his grand-uncle, Thomas Fraser of Beaufort [fourth and only surviving son of Hugh Fraser 7th Lord Lovat] instead of his eldest daughter Amelia (1686-1763). The will was contested, but the estates remained with the 9th Lord Lovat's eldest daughter, Amelia Fraser, Baroness Lovat, who in 1702 married Alexander Mackenzie of Prestonhall, who adopted the name, Fraser of Fraserdale. Nevertheless, Simon Fraser of Beaufort (c1668-1747) became Lord Lovat in 1716, and after purchasing the rights of Amelia's son Hugh, and obtaining a release from Charles 5th Lord Kinnaird, heir of his mother Anne, daughter of Hugh 8th Lord Lovat, he [Simon], on 16th July 1838, expede a charter of the whole lands, lordships and barony, under the Great Seal in favour of himself, and failing him, to Simon his eldest son, Master of Lovat; Alexander, his second son and Archibald his third son, and the heirs-male of their bodies successively, all of whom failing, the succession to fall to his own heirs-male, whomsoever… In 1746 Castle Dounie was burnt to the ground; Lovat was tried for treason and executed in London on 9th April 1747, and his estates and titles were forfeited to the Crown.

After Culloden, 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 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).

Thomas Fraser of Strichen was created Baron Lovat in the Peerage of the United Kingdom in 1837, and the Scottish title having been released, in 1857 he became 14th Lord Lovat, but for the attainder. In the late 1870s his son, Simon Fraser 15th Lord Lovat (1828-1887) commenced construction of the baronial style Beaufort Castle by the site of Castle Dounie, on a high bank overlooking the Beauly River, dominating the countryside to the north and to the east. In the 1881 Cenus, Lord Lovat and his family were living at 8 Beaufort Mansion House, Kiltarlity. He was succeeded by his son Simon Fraser 16th Lord Lovat (1871-1933) who raised the Lovat Scouts. The current Beaufort Castle, which had been transferred by Simon Fraser 17th Lord Lovat (1911-1995) to his eldest son and heir, Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat (1939-1994) some thirty years earlier, was sold in 1995. The Master's son and Lord Lovat's grandson, the 18th Lord Lovat and 24th chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat, is a banker in London.