Septs: Abernethy, Bissett, Bisset, Brewster, Cowie, Frazer, Frisale, Frisell,
Frizelle, Gilruth, Gelruth, Grewar, MacGuar, MacGruer, MacKim, MacKimmie, MacTavish,
Oliver, Olifer, Sim, Syme, Sims, Siomon, Symon, Simonds, Symons, Simson, Simpson, Symson,
Twaddle, Tweeddale, Tweedale, Tweedie, Twaddell and Tweedie.
Clan Fraser provides a striking example of the great variety of experience which can be
found within the history of a single clan. They have lived in the southern Borders, the
northern Lowlands and the Highlands surrounding Loch Ness. They have been Covenanters and
Jacobites, fishermen and farmers, and most notably soldiers. Even by the standards of the
Highland clans, they have preserved a strong sense of blood-ties. Their most famous chief,
Simon, 11th Lord Lovat expressed:
"There is nothing I place in balance with my kindred."
Numerous legends trace the origin of Fraser, many stemming from the superficial
resemblance to "fraise", the French word for strawberry. That Clan Fraser is of
Norman origin remains unchallenged, but the more plausible statement regarding the meaning
of the name itself, is that it came to Britain by a knight named Frezel, from the lordship
of La Frezeliere in Anjou.
The earliest Fraser found on record was Gilbert de Fraser, who, in 1109, witnessed a
charter to the monastery at Coldstream, along the southern border. In 1160, Sir Simon
Fraser, who possessed half of the territory of Keith in East Lothian, made a gift of the
church to the monks of Kelso Abbey. Through marriage the Frasers acquired Castle Oliver on
the Tweed and became the Sheriffs of Peebles.
Castle Oliver's Sir Simon Fraser was a supporter of William Wallace in the Wars of
Independence (1297-1314), and like Wallace, he was captured, hanged, drawn and quartered
for his part in the fight for freedom. But family patriotism did not go unrewarded as Sir
Alexander Fraser of Touch became Chamberlain of Scotland and married Lady Mary, sister of
King Robert the Bruce. In 1375 his grandson, of the same name, acquired through marriage
the estates of Philorth in Buchan, whose descendants grew into a powerful branch of
Frasers in Aberdeenshire.
"Quhen there's ne'er a Cock O'the North, you'll find a Firzell
-Prediction of Thomas the Rhymer
(translation of dialect: As long as a rooster crows in the North, There will be a Fraser
However, it was a junior branch of the family that was destined to found the Highland
branch of the clan and attain major political importance. Sir Alexander, the Chamberlain,
had a younger brother, Simon, who fought at Bannockburn and was later killed at the Battle
of Halidon Hill (1333). His descendants, whose chief was always styled MacShimidh (Son of
Simon), also made profitable marriages and acquired vast lands in Inverness-shire, around
the districts of Aird and Stratherick.
The Frasers, taking their share in the feuding of rival clans, espoused the cause of
Ranald in 1544, for the chiefship of Clan Ranald against John of Moidart's claim. Ranald
had been fostered by Lovat and a fierce battle was fought on the shores of Loch Locky
between Frasers and MacDonalds. The battles became known as the Blar-na-Leine, or The
Battle of the Shirts, after combatants removed their shirts to fight on until there were
only five Frasers and eight MacDonalds left alive.
About 1570, Alexander Fraser, 8th Laird of Philorth, founded the town of Fraserburgh.
It was here that the Frasers were granted by King James VI, by the charters of July 1592
and April 1601, the unusual privilege of establishing a university. The university,
however, was short-lived, the only relics remaining are a street in Fraserburgh named
College Bound and a stone slab carved with the Ten Commandments, once a part of the
college wall and now built into South Church.
In 1670 the 10th Laird of Philorth inherited the Saltoun peerage from his mother and
the chiefs of Clan Fraser have since been Lords Saltoun. For his part in the Second
Jacobite Uprising in 1745, Lord Lovat, the wily, unprincipled Simon Fraser (The Old Fox),
was executed, although it was his son who commanded the clan at Culloden. It is said that
his head, legally struck from his body, is still wont to roll along the corridors at dead
of night! This seems unlikely that The Old Fox's head should return posthumously since the
house, built by another Fraser, wasn't built until the next century. His son, putting a
new twist on the old adage, "The sins of the fathers be visited upon his
children", was pardoned for his actions in the 1745 uprising and in 1757 raised 1,800
Frasers for service in the Americas where they fought with distinction.
In a less commanding role of clan history, Dr. Samuel Johnson and his friend James
Boswell set out from Inverness on Monday, 30th of August 1773, on the road to Fort
Augustus. Along the way, Johnson began to take an interest in the people he saw more than
the lush scenery surrounding him. Invoking the "old laws of hospitality", he
boldly burst upon a hut that stood on the edge of Loch Ness. Inside the hut was a Mrs.
Fraser cooking goat's meat. She spoke little English, perhaps none at all, but a nearby
Highlander stepped in as translator.
According to Boswell's account, the woman was at first in mortal fear for she thought
Johnson had come to ravage her rather than ask the harmless questions of curious
travelers. At the expense of Mrs. Fraser's startled surprise to see two English gentlemen
enter her home uninvited, the incident became the source of mild bawdy humor between
Boswell and Johnson for years to come. Johnson was plainly shocked by the poor conditions
he had witnessed "in one of the nations of this most opulent and powerful
island." Through the interpreter, they learned that Mrs. Fraser had five children,
the eldest of which was 13. Her husband, a man of 80 (apparently still hale & hardy),
was employed by the landlord as a forester and in return for this service was permitted to
keep 60 goats on the land.
Mrs. Fraser went on to explain that her sons were in Inverness, buying oatmeal, which
although very dear in cost, could not be done without. Their 60 goats supplied them with
milk and meat and when combined with some hens, potatoes and barley, was how they
maintained their existence. When asked if she was happy with her lot in life, she answered
that she was as happy as any woman in Scotland, any nuance in her statement being lost in
the translation. The inquisition by Johnson and Boswell being over, this poor but gracious
clans-woman offered the two travelers a whiskey, in true Highland style.
In contrast to Mrs. Fraser, a worthy such as Donald Fraser of Abriachan merits
mention. Donald Fraser had a thriving business in the secret, illegal trade and smuggling
associated with the distilling of grains.In hidden clachan (hamlets), just West of
Abriachan, this illustrious clansmen attained a high level of proficiency in the art of
making Scotch whiskey. It is still possible today to locate the ruins of Donald Fraser's
19th century bothy. Proudly hailed as the "King of the Smugglers" for good
reason; From his stills, prized for the unusual purity of the water, flowed gallons of
fine, duty-free whiskey! In the area of which he lived, his name is still spoken with
Which brings us back to 10th Laird of Philorth, Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, a man
lacking in principal yet remembered as a good chief, who so touchingly placed in balance
with his kindred - the Clan Fraser. His direct line failed but was revived in 1837.
There are three, separate Fraser clan societies in North America (two in America and
one in Canada), with no coherent grouping of descendants joining either of the two
Of the Highland Frasers, the founder was Sir Andrew Fraser, who acquired his lands in
Inverness-shire through his wife, heiress of Lovat. His far descendant, Simon, Lord Lovat,
although executed, his title was attained through the new peerage created in 1887 when
Thomas Fraser of Strichen became Baron Lovat. The main arms and chiefship are borne by the
Frasers of Saltoun, whose seat is Cairnbulg Castle, Aberdeenshire. Lord Lovat, at Beauford
Castle, remains Chief of the Frasers of Lovat.