Scottish clan profile: Fraser

The modern Fraser tartan. Picture: Contributed
The modern Fraser tartan. Picture: Contributed
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HAILING from the Scottish Lowlands - specifically East Lothian - the Fraser clan can be traced to the French town of Anjou.

The name itself may be derived from Fredarius, Fresel or Freseau, or the suggestion that the Frasers were a tribe in Roman Gaul, with a strawberry plant (fraise is French for strawberry) as their badge.

The first recorded Fraser in Scotland was Simon Fraser in 1160, who held land at Keith in East Lothian.

Records tell of a Simon Fraser who captured fighting on Robert the Bruce’s side in the early 1300s, and was later executed in 1306 by Edward I of England. Simon’s cousin Alexander Fraser of Cowie was Bruce’s chamberlain, and married Bruce’s sister Mary.

The chiefs of Clan Fraser of Lovat are believed to be descended from Alexander’s younger brother, also Simon, whose grandson Sir Alexander Fraser of Cowie and Durris acquired a castle - originally named Philorth Castle, and now named Cairnbulg Castle - and the lands of Philorth by marriage in 1375 to Joanna, daughter of the Earl of Ross.

Frasers of Philorth

In the 1590s, Sir Alexander Fraser of Philorth was granted charters from James VI of Scotland, for the fishing village of Faithlie (later Fraserburgh) and was authorised to establish a university in the area, but attempts failed due to the ongoing religious troubles.

The eighth Lord Philorth constructed Fraserburgh Castle, which later became the lighthouse at Kinnaird Head. The building effort bankrupted him, and Philorth Castle was lost from the Fraser family for over 300 years until 1934, when the 19th Lord Saltoun bought it back.

The ninth Laird of Philorth married the heiress of the Abernethy Lords Saltoun in the 1600s, with their son, the tenth Lord Saltoun, sustaining serious injuries at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. His servant James Cardno rescued him from the battlefield, effectively saving his life.

In 1666, he built Philorth House, a mile from Fraserburgh, which acted as the family seat until it burnt down in 1915.


The Aberdeen-educated Sir Alexander Fraser of Durris became Charles II’s personal physician, accompanying the king on his campaign throughout 1650. Post-Restoration, he sat in the Scottish Parliament, and later featured in Samuel Pepys’ diaries.

Clan Fraser took no part in the Jacobite risings, although Clan Fraser of Lovat - the family’s distant Highland relations - were Jacobites.

Modern era

At the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the sixteenth Lord Saltoun commanded the Light Companies of the First Guards, while the nineteenth Lord Saltoun was captured as a prisoner of war in Germany, during World War I. In 1936, he became a member of the House of Lords, and promoted the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Clan motto: ‘All my hope is in God.’

Castles: Philorth Castle (Cairnbulg Castle), Oliver Castle and Pitsligo Castle

Current clan chief

The current clan chief is Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, chief of the whole name and Arms of Fraser. Born Flora Fraser in February 1930, she is an elected member of the House of Lords - the only female holder of a lordship of Parliament who has a seat as an elected hereditary peer. She married a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, and is this a member of the extended Royal Family.