The Frasers first arrived in Scotland from France in the 12th century, or possibly even earlier, and settled in East Lothian then expanded into Tweeddale. The first Fraser in Tweedsmuir was probably Oliver Fraser, the “Olifurd” who witnessed documents in the reign of Malcolm IV (circa 1153-1165). He built Oliver Castle in Tweedsmuir. It is intimated that Olifurd gave his name to Oliver Castle but I believe the name, a corruption of Holyford, already existed in Tweedsmuir for some time and that he took this name Olifurd, which eventually beacame Oliver, from there for himself. Holyford would be the name of the ford across the river Tweed adjacent to the site of the present day Tweedsmuir Kirk.
In the 13th century a Gilbert Fraser was Sheriff of Peebles and Traquair in Tweeddale. His eldest son John was the progenitor of the Chiefly, the Lovat and other important lines of the Fraser family. Another son was Simon Fraser of Oliver Castle in Tweedsmuir his son Simon II Fraser of Oliver Castle, married to Maria Siward, died in 1291. His son, again another Simon, was Simon III Fraser of Oliver Castle, married to Marion, was the Patriot.
The arms of the Frasers of Oliver Castle were - Sable, 6 cinquefoils Argent. 3, 2 and 1. This indicates that the shield was black with 6 five-leafed silver devices arranged with three in the top row, two in the second and one at the bottom. The concept of the cinquefoils representing strawberry plants did not come until later. The arms of all lines of the Fraser family have the cinquefoils in some form. As most of the arms are now quartered there is little space and most now have just the three cinquefoils and also blue has become the colour of the field.
Arms of Fraser of Oliver Castle
In the last decade of the 13th century the death of Margaret, The Maid of Norway, the last survivor of the direct line of the Scottish Monarchs led King Edward 1 of England to “Takeover” Scotland. Part of this takeover was the requirement of all Scots of note to sign a document swearing fealty to Edward 1. This remarkable document known as “The Ragman Roll” lists names redolent in Scottish history including fourteen Frasers, including Simon Fraser of Oliver. Many of the seals of the signatories are extant, although some have been lost. Some of the Fraser seals with the distinctive cinquefoils survive.
Simon III Fraser of Oliver is known as the Patriot for good reason. Initially he was with Edward 1 and was in his army at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 and the seige of Caerlaverock Castle in 1300. However with the strengthening resistance of the Scots and the rise of the nationalist cause he changed sides and joined William Wallace, a distant kinsman,who he fought against at Falkirk. This cause is now known as the First Scottish War of Independence.
Simon Fraser became a thorn in the side of Edward and accompanied Wallace in some of his escapades. In one notable event the pair of them engaged some English Knights at Happrew in Tweeddale a few miles west of Neidpath near Peebles. The location of the skirmish I think this is important as it would appear that Neidpath was part of the Barony of Oliver Castle. What was on the site at this time is not known as the current Neidpath Castle was not constructed until the second half of the 14th century. But ones presumes that there was probably some sort of fortification on the site available for refuge by Fraser etc. What we do know is that there was on the site a particular type of yew tree – taxus baccata neidpathensis - this had a stiff growth and had excellent wood for bows. In the middle ages there was a huge demand for yew wood for longbows, shortbows and also crossbows that outstripped the supply not only across Scotland but also England/Wales/Ireland and Europe. The yew trees at Neidpath undoubtedly disappeared at this time. The current yew trees which line the avenue at Neidpath and are taxus baccata neidpathensis were, according to the Vistor's brochure at the Castle, planted in 1654 and probably came from nurseries on the continent. For more about the yews see the article on the Yew Trees of Neidph Castle.
Simon is also recorded in 1303 at Roslin, of Da Vinci Code fame, of engaging and defeating three different parts of the English army on the same day. After the capture of Sir William Wallace and his barbaric death at the hands of Edward 1 in 1305 Simon Fraser joined King Robert the Bruce. At the battle of Methven against the English it is recorded that Fraser saved The Bruce’s life by his courageous actions. Unfortunately the gallant Sir Simon Fraser fell into the hands of Edward 1 and met his death just as Wallace had done. He was hung, drawn and quartered and “his head smyten off and placed upon London brig on a sper”
Sir Simon left two daughter heiresses. Joan who married Patrick Fleming whose descendants are Lord Fleming and the Earls of Wigton. Mary who married Gilbert Hay whose descendants are the Hays of Yester, the Marquis of Tweeddale. The Fraser lands were split between the Flemings and Hays into Over and Nether Oliver – the precise territorial boundaries are not recorded. However, the Fraser heritage lives on as the heraldic arms of both the Flemings and the Hays of Yester include the five cinquefoils of the Frasers.
The Arms of the Fleming of Biggar and Hays of Yester
The Frasers came from France and the name, like most others, had various spellings including Fresel, Fressell etc. It is said that the name Fraser is in fact a corruption of the French fraise the word for strawberries. It is this that has led to the notion that the cinquefoils represent the strawberry, in particular the wild strawberry flower. On the other hand it said that Neidpath as well as having yew trees on the site had a host of wild strawberries. What is definite is that the plant badge of Clan Fraser is the Yew and that the plant badge of Lovat Fraser is the Strawberry.
Neidpath Castle from bank of the River Tweed. Traces of the original terraces of the hanging gardens can be seen at the top of slope.
Neidpath Castle flying the Scottish Saltire
Avenue of Yew trees at Neidpath
The actual site of Oliver Castle in Tweedsmuir is a bit of a conundrum. Early maps of the sixteenth century show two Oliver Castle sites one on either side of the Bield burn shown as N.(ether). and O.(ver) Olifer Castel respectively. The Nether site on the north side of the Bield burn is the one shown on current Ordnance Survey maps as the site of Oliver Castle. It is on a flat topped knowle with a stand of trees planted on it. The Over Oliver site must be somewhere near the location of the present/previous Oliver House. Surveys in 1959 by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland failed to find any mediaeval evidence on the tree covered site although it had been an iron age fort. We do know that Nether Oliver was still a Tweedie residence at the end of the eighteenth century as it is recorded that an Alexander Tweedie married to Marion Hunter had at least three children born there, namely James b 20-03-1670, Marion b 08-04-1672 and Alexander b 04-12-1673. However by the first census of 1841 there is just one Oliver.
Site of Oliver Castle in clump of trees centre right with present Oliver House in centre of picture
Site of Oliver Castle in clump of trees
There was another family of Fraser recorded in Tweedsmuir and that family had a castle at the head of the Fruid valley. The first known was Thomas Fraser of Fruid in 1426. There were several generations culminating in an heiress Katherine Fraser who married into the Tweedie family in about 1530. There are several current lines of Fraser families descended from the Frasers of Fruid. The exact location of the Fruid Castle has not yet been established – the usual lack of mediaeval evidence. However it was on or adjacent to a hill conveniently known as Strawberry Hill.
View over Fruid reservoir to Strawberry Hill behind the white dot of Fruid Farm
Simon was a popular christian name in all Fraser families. The Chief of the Lovat Frasers has the title of "Macshimi" - Son of Simon. There was one Simon Fraser, an explorer, who gave his name to the great salmon river the Fraser river in British Columbia and also gave his name to the Simon Fraser university in Burnaby in British Columbia. The university has a famous pipe band that always does well in the world pipeband competion and has won it on several occasions. The badge of the university, shown below, proudly displays the cinquefoils of Fraser.
The Fraser arms can also be found on the Lovat Fraser Memorial in the town of Beauly in Easter Ross. The memorial is to the fallen Lovat Scouts during the Boer Wars.
Another famous Simon Fraser was with the 78th Fraser Highlanders at The Heights of Abraham. The 78th is remembered today with another pipe band based in Toronto that also excels in International competitions.
The Fraser heritage lives on in the Tweeddale area in as much that the arms of Peeblesshire include the cinquefoils and also on one of the ancient portions of the Market Cross in the High Street in Peebles can be seen the incised engraving of strawberry plants.
Some interesting Fraser sites on the links page in the Family History section.