Castle Fraser drawn by Robert William Billings (1814-1874) and engraved by J. Jeffrey. Source: Edinburgh (1852). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by the Artist

THIS building, the merits of which have heretofore been little known, stands in the parish of Cluny, in the heart of Aberdeenshire. Its details are so fully exhibited in the accompanying plates, that any description of them would be superfluous. It may be considered as standing in competition with Fyvie Castle for supremacy among the many French turreted mansions of the north. While its rival rests supreme in symmetrical compactness, Castle Fraser is conspicuous for the rich variety of its main features, and its long rambling irregular masses. Descending to minute details, while Fyvie is remarkable for its grotesque statuary, Castle Fraser has a more abundant richness of moulding and carved decoration. The quantity of tympanum’d dormer windows, and the variety of decorations with which they are enriched, give much character and effect to the building. There is one small feature, taken from France, seldom exemplified in the turreted mansions of the north, yet of which there are a few specimens in edifices otherwise meagre — this is the light lofty turret, with an ogee or pavilion-shaped instead of a conical roof, and airy-looking tiers of small windows, perched in the recess where the round tower joins the central square mass. Of that mass the upper will be seen to be of very different character from the lower architectural department, which probably was the unadorned square tower of the fifteenth century. The dates which appear on the more modern and ornamental portions point to the time when the turreted style had reached its highest development in Scotland, 1617 and 1618.

Left: drawn by Robert William Billings and engraved by G. B. Smith. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The old name of the domain was Muchals, Muchil, and sometimes Muckwells. The earliest known allusion to it is in the year 1268, when it is mentioned as contributing the feudal casualty of kane to the priory of Monymnsk (View of the Diocese of Aberdeen, 179.). The name of Fraser became connected with the domain in 1532, when a charter of the barony of Stonywood and Muckwellis was obtained by Andrew Fraser of Kynmundy (Wood’s Peerage I, 607). The family was raised to the peerage in 1630. Andrew, second Lord Fraser, who succeeded to the title in 1637, was a man of mark in the conflicts of the Covenant. Не was one of the parliamentary commissioners appointed for suppressing the insurrection in the north, and proceeding against rebels and malignants. He had gained this advancement by exertions for the Covenanters, which make him and his stately new mansion frequently conspicuous in the histories of the northern conflicts. The species of provisional government, called “The Tables,” had, in 1639, appointed a committee to proceed to Turriff. The city of Aberdeen being “malignant” and hostile, it was necessary to avoid its neighbourhood.

To this effect there convened the Earl of Montrose, the Earl of Kinghorn, the Lord Coupar, with sundry other barons and gentlemen, about nyne score Weill horsed and weill armed gallants, haveing buff coats, carabina, swords, pistols, and the like armes. They came not be Aberdein, but upon Wednesday the 13th of February they lodged with the Lord Fraser at his place of Muchallis and in the countrie about. And upon the morne, being the 14th of Februar, they rode from Muchallis to Turreff, having the Lord Fraser, one of the committee, with them, and his friends. . . . Thus they took in the town of Turretf, and busked very advantageously their muskets round about the kirk yeard, and sat doun within the kirk thereof, such as was of the committee, viz. Montrose, Kinghome, Coupar, Fraser, and Forbes. [Spalding’s History of the Troubles, I, 93]

Drawn by Robert William Billings and engraved by G. B. Smith. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Some months subsequently Castle Fraser was threatened with a siege, which it seems to have been slenderly prepared to meet. Lord Aboyne was passing through the country at the head of two thousand men, who

plundered meat and drink, and made good fyres; and when they wanted peats, broke doun beds and boards in honest men’s houses to be fyres. . . . Upon the 12th of June they rode to the Lord Fraser’s house of Muchells: but he was tied frae home. The souldiers medled with and plundered his horse, oxen, and kyne, and all other goods that they could gett. They threw doun haill stacks of corn among their horse feit to eat and destroy. Those who were within the place shot out some muskets, but did no skaith. VVhereupon they resolved to lay ane siege about the house; but, hearing there was forces ryseing in the south, they left that purpose, and retumes back againe to Aberdein. [Spalding’s History of the Troubles, I, 1510

Charles, the fourth lord, who succeeded to the title in 1683, led a somewhat adventurous life. In 1693 he was tried before the High Court of Justiciary for high treason, in having proclaimed King James at the Cross of Fraserburgh, where he drank the exiled monarch’s health, and cursed King William and the adherents of the Revolution. Such actions were generally more of a convivial than of a warlike or political character. There had been a vast quantity of liquor discussed on the occasion, and many oaths uttered, which were more profane than dynastie. Only enough of treason was proved against him to subject him to a tine of £200.' Two years afterwards he took the oath of allegiance and his seat in parliament. He participated, though in no very conspicuous manner, in the insurrection of 1715. Instead of flying abroad, he seems to have remained in wandering concealment at home, for five years. In 1720, while scrambling among the great rocks which guard the coast of Banffshire, he fell from a precipice and was killed. The title has since that time been dormant (Arnot’s Criminal Trials. Не was succeeded by William Fraser of Inveraloehy, the head of a collateral branch. His son Charles had the peculiar distinction of being deep in the confidence of the notorious Lord Lovat, to whose estates and honours indeed he might not unreasonably hope to succeed. Lovat`s letters to him are of the most peculiar and endearing kind. “I was truly more concerned,” says the venerable ruffian, “than I can express, in parting with you. It was the effect of natural affection, and I cannot help it” (See the letters formong part II pf the Miscellany of the Spalding Club). The son of Lovat’s correspondent held a command at the battle of Culloden, where he was killed, and buried on the field (Нау’s Castellated Architecture, 96). The estates passed by female descent to the present proprietor, Colonel Fraser, whose father, Mr Mackenzie, adopted the family name by royal license (97).

R. W. B.

[These images may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose without prior permission as long as you credit the Hathitrust Digital Archive and the University of California library and link to the the Victorian Web in a web document or cite it in a print one — George P. Landow ]


The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland illustrated by Robert William Billings, architect, in four volumes.. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Son, 1852. Hathitrust Digital Archive version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 10 October 2018.

Last modified 11 October 2018