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The Frasers of Philorth
By Alexander Fraser of Philorth, Seventeenth Lord Saltoun
in three volumes


SOME years ago I was induced to investigate the history of the family to which I belong, and at first I sought information from the various accounts of the Frasers, both manuscript and printed, that have appeared from time to time; but I found them so contradictory of one another, and in many respects so far at variance with indubitable facts, that I came to the conclusion that dependence upon any of them would only lead me into error, and that I must search for myself among old records in order to arrive at any approximation to the truth.

In pursuing these investigations, I determined to rely on the four kinds of evidence, which are placed below in the order of their respective degrees of value :—

First. Charter evidence, or the mention of individuals in various degrees of relationship to other persons in charters, royal mandates, or other important legal or official documents. Although these are not always conclusive as to the possession of the lands they assume to grant, or the performance of the acts they order to be done, they are, with scarcely an exception, trustworthy as regards the relationship of individuals when it is noticed in them.

Second. Evidence from succession to property by persons of the same surname, combined with due attention to dates, to the positions in which those persons are found, and to evidence of relationship with other persons, of whose existence and position there is certain record.

Third. Evidence from the mention of persons by trustworthy contemporary, or nearly contemporary historians, and other authors; consideration being given to the circumstances in which their names appear.

Fourth. Evidence from tradition, or writings of genealogists, when nothing adverse to the statements is gathered from other and more trustworthy sources.

When the above-mentioned four kinds of evidence have failed me, I mention that it is so, sometimes offering a suggestion.

Although naturally my researches have been directed more especially to that line of the family which I represent, yet they have led me to investigate the origin of the principal other branches, and if I had found evidence that any of them was senior to my own line, I would at once have acknowledged it, for there can be no dishonour in the accident of birth; but since, on the contrary, I have found from proof that the line I represent is the senior line of all now surviving, and is descended from Sir Alexander Fraser, Chamberlain of Scotland, who was head of the family in the time of King Robert Bruce, I have no hesitation in asserting my own position as the head of the family at the present day.

Some remarks upon the subject of the Highland Clan Fraser will explain their position; for their great influence in the Highlands of Scotland during comparatively modern times, and their possessions in those districts, have created the belief that all of the name must necessarily be members of that Clan, and some have supposed that the family had a Highland or Celtic origin, a supposition in some degree countenanced by one or two writers on the subject; especially by one who styles the town of Fraserburgh “ strange offspring of a Highland Clan.”

But the fact is, that the origin, or formation, of the Highland Clan Fraser cannot be dated further back than the fifteenth century, for although the surname appears in the Lowlands of Scotland as early as the middle of the twelfth century, none of its members acquired any permanent settlement in the Highlands until the fourteenth century, at which time a branch, which also held lands in Forfarshire, obtained large possessions in the districts around Inverness, and eventually becoming very numerous, originated or formed the Highland Clan of the name.

But the senior line, which continued to have their principal seat in the Lowlands, and those of the surname who remained in that section of Scotland, where Teutonic institutions prevailed, and whence the patriarchal system of Clans and Clanships had long been banished, had nothing to do with the origin or formation of the Highland Clan, and never belonged to it.

I have noticed, p. 130 vol. i. and p. 170 vol. ii., the extreme probability, indeed almost certainty, that the representatives of the respective lines of Philorth and Lovat were nearest of kin to each other in 1464, with the exception of the six sons of the Philorth of that date; and such has been the extinction of male descendants in the various branches of the line of Philorth, that at the present time, with the exception of my own two sons, my two brothers, and their four sons, numbering- eight persons in all, Lord Lovat is my nearest legitimate male connection of the Fraser name.

My self-imposed task would have been far shorter and less difficult if I had not found myself obliged to notice, and, as far as possible, to correct the errors into which former writers upon the Fraser genealogy have fallen; and although I cannot hope myself to have avoided mistakes, and facts with which I am unacquainted may hereafter be brought to light, I have spared no pains to establish the correctness of every statement in this history, which I must now leave to the judgment of the reader.

In the course of my researches I became aware of an accidental oversight upon the part of Mr. Hill Burton, in his well-known History of Scotland.

In his list of the Barons of Scotland, who in 1320 sent the famous letter to Pope John xxil, he has omitted the name of Sir Alexander Fraser.

I thought it right to bring this omission to his notice, and upon doing so received the subjoined courteous reply, in which, while acknowledging the mistake, he promises that it shall be rectified at the earliest opportunity.

“Craighouse, Lothianburn,
“Edinburgh, 21s£ October 1871.

“My Lord,—I have the honour of your Lordship’s of the 11th, which only reached me yesterday. I showed it immediately to my father-in-law, Cosmo Innes, who said he had no doubt it was a correction of a mistake. I then looked at the original in the Register House, and there I found the name Alexander Fraser. I also saw how, in a careless transcription, it might be passed over. It comes between Menteith and Hay the constable, both with long titles : ‘ Johannes de Meneteth custos comitatus de Meneteth,’ then comes, crushed in, ‘ Alexr Frasr.’

“In revising my book I shall not only see to the correction, but examine the several copies of the list, so that any who are interested may be warned against errors, o

“Permit me to express my thanks to your Lordship for favouring me with this correction. I have occasionally received letters asking me to notice matters of family history which do not come within my scope. But certainly no house in Scotland that has the distinction of belonging to that group of patriots should wittingly let it be dropped out of remembrance.

“I have the honour to be, your Lordship’s very obedient servant,

“Lord Saltoun.”

“ J. H. Burton.

At pages 89, 90, 91, of vol. i., I have referred to the error of certain heralds of the seventeenth century, hi blazoning the arms of “Lord Fraser of old,” and of Fraser Lord Lovat, as five “frays” placed saltircways. It was not until after those remarks were printed that I met with a copy of Sir David Lindsay’s work on Heraldry, of date 1542, which showed me that those heralds could claim his high authority for their statements.

But it also showed me that, whether originated by himself or before his time, Sir David Lindsay participated in the error; and it confirmed my view of the cause of the error having been the quarterings in the Yester arms; for the field of those quarterings on the shield of Hay Lord Yester, at page 56 of Sir David Lindsay’s work, and that of the shield of “Fraseir Lord Frasere,” at page 59 (the “Lord Fraser of old” of the heralds), are both sable ; and as the field of the arms of Sir Simon Fraser, filius, whose daughter and co-heiress brought those quarterings into the Yester shield, was also sable (pp. 84, 95, vol. ii.), this affords additional evidence that the mistake originated through ignorance of the true ancient bearings of the Fraser family, as borne by that Sir Simon and his contemporaries of the name, viz., six rosettes or cinquefoils placed 3. 2. 1, and of their reduction from six to three placed 2.1, on the failure of the eldest male line during the fourteenth century (pp. 85, 86, vol. i.), and in the erroneous belief that the quarterings in the Yester shield represented those ancient bearings, as borne by the father of the heiress who brought them into the family of Hay.

It was my intention to have restricted this work within the limits of two volumes, but having in my possession a considerable number of letters, written by the late Lieut.-General Lord Saltoun during his military services in various parts of the world, it was suggested that selections from these might prove of interest, and hence a third volume has been added.

These letters range from the first entrance of Lord Saltoun upon active military service to within a few days of his decease ; and they evince throughout the manly straightforwardness, the strong, good-sense, the firm self-reliance, the obedience to the dictates of duty, the cheerful and contented temper, the sympathy with his fellow-man, and the warm affection to those more nearly connected with him that formed his character, while the last letter, written by a friend who was present at the closing scene of his life, shows how calmly and fearlessly this brave and good man rendered his spirit to God who gave it.

For the letters written to Lieut.-Colonel and Mrs. Charles Ellis, I am indebted to the kindness of the late Lady Parker, widow of Vice-Admiral Sir Charles C. Parker, Bart., and sisterin-law of Mrs. Charles Ellis; and to Mr. Francis Bayley, through whom I received them, I am also indebted for many valuable hints during my researches.

It may be of interest to point out the striking similarity between the early career of the late Lieut.-General Lord Saltoun and that of his distinguished ancestor, Sir Alexander Fraser the Chamberlain, though separated by an interval of five hundred years.

Either was born towards the close of a century; Sir Alexander about 1285, Lord Saltoun in 1785. Either lost his father at an early age. Either commenced an active military career at a similar time; Sir Alexander in 1306 when he joined Bruce, Lord Saltoun in 1806 in the expedition to Sicily. Either passed the next eight or nine years of his life in almost constant warfare. Either took part in the decisive victory that insured success to the cause for which he fought; Sir Alexander at Bannockburn in June 1314, Lord Saltoun at Waterloo in June 1815. Either married at a similar period; Sir Alexander about 1315-16, Lord Saltoun in 1815. Either, after a few years, was left a widower.

But there the parallel ends, for the former, while leaving issue, fell in battle at a comparatively early age; and the latter, while be had no child, nearly attained to the allotted threescore and ten years of man’s existence.

Although I cannot flatter myself that the subject of which I have treated will be of much interest to the general public, I hope there are some to whom these volumes will afford pleasure, and serve as a record of the family to which they belong, or with which they are connected by ties of kindred or friendship.

I have to offer my best thanks to those friends who have afforded me assistance during my labours, among whom are Sir Alexander Anderson, Mr. W. F. Skene, Mr. Thomas Dickson, and Mr. Hugh Fraser. From the Authorities at the Record Office and the British Museum in London, and the General Register House and Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh, I have also experienced much kindness, and I must mention with gratitude the help and encouragement I received from the late Mr. Cosmo Innes, and the late Mr. Grant Leslie; and last not least, my thanks are due to Mr. William Fraser, himself the author of many valuable Family Histories, who has given me not only the benefit of his great experience and vast research, but has also led my unaccustomed footsteps through the thorny paths of the press.

Philorth, June 1879.

Volume 1  |  Volume 2  |  Volume 3



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