Fraser tartan history

As many customers do ask, here's a little "potted history" and some background information on the Fraser tartan, with apologies to all the better historians than me for the bits I've undoubtedly got wrong . . .

The name Fraser is probably French in origin - some scholars suggest 'Fresel' although the meaning is unclear - so it is likely these were Norman knights who moved into England after the 1066 invasion.  An 11th century French noble family called Frezel apears in Anjou and this suggests a link with the spelling variation 'Frazer'

The French connection is further enhanced by the fact that the French word 'fraise' means strawberry and, coincidentally, the strawberry plant appears on the coat of arms of the Fraser family

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 a series of strategic marriages, the Fraser clan grew in status - acquiring Castle Oliver on the Tweed and becoming the Sheriffs of Peebles

Sir Simon Fraser was a supporter of William Wallace in the Wars of Independence (1297-1314), and Froissart's Chronciles mention that he beat the English no less than three times in one day at Roslyn in 1302!  He later fought alongside King Robert I (Robert the Bruce) at Bannockburn but was captured by the English and, like Wallace, hanged, drawn and quartered for his part in the fight for freedom

 

This patriotism did not go unrewarded as Sir Alexander Fraser of Touch was made 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 probably the most powerful branch of Frasers in Aberdeenshire, leading to this prediction by Thomas the Rhymer . . .

 

"Quhen there's ne'er a Cock o' the North, you'll find a Firzell in Philorth"


Roughly translated from the dialect, it says that for so long as a rooster crows in the North, there will be a Fraser in Philorth.  'Cock o' the North' was also the regimental quick march of the Gordon Highlanders, with whom the Fasers were closely associated

 

Centuries of alliances and strategic marriages followed and the Clan Fraser of Lovat evolved and rose to a Dukedom.  Around 1570 Alexander Fraser, 8th Laird of Philorth, founded the fishing town of Fraserburgh.  It was here that the Frasers were granted the unusual privilege of establishing a university by King James VI, by the charters of July 1592 and April 1601. 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

The Frasers were loyal to the Scottish crown and to the Jacobite cause.  For his part in the Jacobite uprising in 1745, Simon Fraser  the 11th Lord Lovat (pictured left) known as 'The Old Fox' was executed, although it was his son who commanded the clan at the Battle of Culloden.  The Old Fox was the last man in Britain to be beheaded as a means of state execution


Having forfeited lands and titles in the aftermath of the 1745 uprising, the family was keen to show loyalty to the British crown and to re-establish their dominance.  The Old Fox's eldest son, General Simon Fraser of Lovat, raised a force of 1,800 Frasers in 1757 for service in the Americas.  He commanded the Fraser Highlanders at the capture of Quebec.  Frasers slowly moved to the New World in substantial numbers as the large number of their descendants proves . . . there now exists at least three active Fraser Clan Societies in Canada and the USA


Meanwhile the youngest son (Colonel Archibald) raised the Fraser Fencibles to counter the French invasion threat and later went on to urge Parliament to repeal the laws banning the wearing of tartan.  This was a massively important step as, after the '45 Uprising, the British government imposed severe sanctions on the highlands: speaking gaelic was banned, as was carrying arms, playing the bagpipes and even the wearing of the tartan.  Few highlanders could read or write - Gaelic culture was an oral tradition so by banning the language, music and tartan the British government were attempting to completely extinguish the highland way of life within a generation - what we would nowadays call ethnic cleansing.  Archibald Fraser's efforts resulted in highland culture surviving those dark days and we owe him a massive debt

Clan Fraser's military connections continued to modern times with Simon Fraser (15th Lord Lovat) forming the family's Territorial Army unit, the Lovat Scouts, into an elite commando unit.  As a temporary major, Lord Lovat commanded 100 men of No. 4 Commando and a 50-man detachment from the Canadian Carleton and York Regiment in a raid on the French coastal village of Hardelot in 1942.  For this action he was awarded the Military Cross and promoted to acting lieutenant-colonel as commanding officer of No. 4 Commando, leading them in the abortive Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee) in August the same year

 

The raid as a whole was a failure with over 4,000 casualties (predominantly Canadian) but it did make a difference... Hitler was shaken by the realisation that his Fortress Europe was vulnerable to such raids and he issued his infamous 'Commando Order.  This decreed that Commandos should be treated as spies and not as prisoners of war.  Every Commando (all volunteers) knew the fate that awaited them at the hands of the Gestapo should they be captured, but this just made even more men volunteer

 

With Britain suffering after the evacuation from Dunkirk and with America still to enter the war proper, seemingly small incidents like this played a crucial role in maintaining the spirits of the British people.  Lord Lovat became the commander of the newly formed 1st Special Service Brigade in 1944, which landed at Sword Beach on D-Day.  Lord Lovat reputedly waded ashore donning a white jumper under his battledress, with 'Lovat' inscribed into the collar, while armed with an old Winchester rifle.  Lord Lovat instructed his personal piper, Bill Millin, to pipe the Commandos ashore, in defiance of specific orders not to allow such an action in battle

Bill Millin is in the forefront of this photograph to the left - you can just make out the bagpipe drones above his head as he prepares to climb down the ramp of the landing craft.  Lord Lovat (circled in red) is already on his way ashore on to Sword Beach - the most Easterly of the 5 landing beaches

 

Lovat's forces swiftly pressed on to the strategically crucial town of Ouistreham, Lovat himself advancing with parts of his brigade from Sword to Pegasus Bridge, which had been defiantly defended by men of the 6th Airborne Division who had landed in the early hours in Horsa gliders

 

Lord Lovat's commandos arrived almost exactly on time, late by only about two minutes, for which Lord Lovat famously apologised to Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Pine-Coffin of the 7th Parachute Battalion.  The commandos marched across Pegasus Bridge to the sound of Bill Millin's bagpipes.  These unapologetically eccentric incidents have gone down in British military history and perfectly illustrate the spirit of the Commando and of the highlander

 

The tartan shown here is the Fraser Modern Dress - with the distinctive additional single white overcheck - also referred to as the 'Red Fraser' and the tartan of Clan Fraser of Lovat

 

The Ancient Hunting Fraser tartan is another variant we're often asked about but, unfortunately, it is not produced in ribbon - see picture of pipe band below.  We recommend the Flower of Scotland as a very close alternative to the Ancient Hunting Fraser

 

See our full range of Fraser tartan ribbon

See our full range of tartan / plaid ribbon

Top