Frasers of Oliver Castle.

The Frasers first arrived in Scotland in the 12th century,or possibly even earlier.   They had come from Anjou/Normandy in France. They settled first in East Lothian then expanded into Tweeddale.  The first Fraser in what is now Tweedsmuir was probably Oliver Fraser the "Olifurd" who witnessed documents in the reign of King Malcolm IV (1153-1165).(1)  He built the Fruid and Oliver Castles, the former being built first.(2)   For more about Fruid Castle and the Frasers of Fruid see page  Frasers of Fruid Castle.   The site of Oliver castle has traditionally been located on elevated ground overlooking the ford at the River Tweed.  However, there is no archaelogical evidence to support this - more about this site with images follow below.   This strategic site also gave line of sight for signal fires to be seen at Fruid Castle via the tower at Hawkshaw. See annotated map of 1947, prior to the construction of the Fruid Reservoir, below.

It is intimated that Olifurd gave his name to Oliver Castle, but I believe the name, a corruption of Holyford, had already existed in the area for some time and that he took this name Olifurd for himself that eventually became Oliver.   Holyford would be the name of the ford across the River Tweed adjacent to the site of the present Tweedsmuir Kirk.   An echo of the Holyford-Olifurd-Oliver concept is replicated for the origin of the name of Oliphant that has been put forward by Beryl Platts(3) - where she cites Holyford-Olifurd-Oliphant.   This Holyford was in Northamptoneshire on the River Nene.   Excerpt from her book on the Oliphant page of this web site.   The Northamptonshire Holyford is touched upon by Colonel Oliver.(10)  There is another reference to the connection between Olifurd and Holyford that is mentioned by James Denham(3a) that is also on the Oliphant page.   More about Oliver on page  Tweedsmuir Kirk Mound - Chapel Knowe.  

There would appear to be no connection between the name of Oliver in Tweedsmuir and the Scottish Borders Surname of Oliver that has its origins in the Jedforest area in Roxburgh.(10).   Oliver was considered as a Sept of Clan Fraser but this connection has has now  been deleted from the "Clan Sept List"(20).

Information for the compilation of the above chart from Fraser(12), McAndrew(4), from Buchan/Paton(2), There is another option for Utard and that he is the brother of Oliver.(12).  There is a notion that Bernard Fraser son of Utard was at Oliver prior to Gilbert(18).   The above chart shows three consecutive Simon Frasers of Oliver - this information from McAndrew(4).  However most writers give only two.    

In the middle of the 13th century Gilbert Fraser was Sheriff of Peebles and Traquair in Tweeddale.  It was during his tenure that he obtained the lands of Jedderfield to the west of Peebles.   Jedderfield subsequently was named Neidpath.(2)   Gilbert built a "Castle" on the site  of which very little is known and no vestiges remain.  The title of Sheriff was hereditary and the lands were inherited by his second son Simon of Oliver Castle.  The eldest son of Gilbert was John the first of the Touch Fraser line who decessit vita patris (dvp) died with his father still living.   (dvp is a term used to denote a son who has predeceased his father and not lived long enough to inherit his father's title and estate.)   John was however the progenitor of the Chiefly and also some Cadet lines of the two Fraser clans.(12)   The second son Simon Fraser I inherited Oliver Castle and Neidpath and probaby also the six cinquefoil/black field family blazon from Gilbert Fraser his father. (The descendants of John the first son would appear to have adopted the three cinquefoils/blue field blazon.)   However the disposition of the blasons is unclear as indicated by the seals on the Ragman Roll of 1296(5) - more about the Ragman Roll below.   Here, a Sir Simon Fraser who must be Sir Simon Fraser III, The Patriot, has the six cinquefoils but with a label indicating that he was an heir.   While there is Sir Richard Fraser who must be the son of John has the plain six cinquefoils.    Alexander Fraser k1332 was a signatory of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 - his seal displays the six cinquefoils .(4).  

The lands of Neidpath came to the Hays via the marriage of Mary Fraser, daughter of Simon III, to Gilbert Hay c1312.   The Hays built a new castle on the site in the middle of the Fourteenth century(7) on the site of the previous castle of which nothing remained.   This is the Neidpath Castle that we see today.

The Falkirk Roll of 1298.

However in 1298 just two years after the Ragman Roll Sir Simon Fraser III appears on the Falkirk Roll which lists the Knights in King Edward's army at that battle.   Sir Simon appears there with the undifferenced blazon of sable, six cinquefoils argent, 3,2 and 1.   See part of the Falkirk Roll above where Sir Simon - Simon Frisel - extreme left on third row from bottom can be found.  The same arms appear  for Sir Simon on the Caerlaverock Roll and also the Galloway Roll - this latter roll covers the Skirmish at Cree River. Both the Caerlaverock and Galloway rolls are dated 1300.  Apart from Sir Simon being on the Galloway Roll there is also recorded that he was accompanied by his putative son, Gilbert, who differenced his arms with a riband gules(4) (thin red band from top left to bottom right of shield).  However, it is much more likely that these differenced arms were those of Thomas a brother of Sir Simon Fraser(2) (12). Thomas only appears in the records once in 1306 where he is described as the brother of Symon Fraser.  The "fake news" that Sir Simon having a son must have been recorded elsewhere as it was repeated by George Burns the Minister of Tweedsmuir writing in the New Statistical Account of 1834(14) states that "Simon Fraser had a son, sent in exile to France, left his two sisters in possession of the estate".   However it was firmly discounted by Professor Veitch(15) writing in 1893 who stated "The statement, made by some writers, that the last Sir simon Fraser left a son who founded the northern houses of Lovat and Saltoun, is wholly without historical foundation."



William the youngest son of Sir Gilbert Fraser was Bishop of St. Andrews from 1279 and a respected Guardian of the Realm for six years.(4)  He also inherited the six cinquefoil armorial but the colour of the field is not recorded - however it could have been red as there is an unidentified example(4).   An example of one of his seals is on the left showing the cinquefoils.





 Right  Arms of Fraser of Oliver Castle (4)

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 is known as “The Ragman Roll(11) - more about this on the Ragman Roll page to be found in the Hope surname pages of this site.   The roll lists names redolent in Scottish history including fourteen Frasers, including Simon Fraser of Oliver.  Some of the seals of the signatories are extant, although many have been lost.  A few Fraser seals with the distinctive six cinquefoils survive.(5)  

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 was at the seige of Caerlaverock Castle and also at a skirmish at Cree River, both in 1300.  However with the strengthening resistance of the Scots and the rise of the nationalist cause he changed sides and joined William Wallace, who he had fought against at Falkirk.  This cause is now known as the First Scottish War of Independence.

After the battle of Falkirk William Wallace was hunted by English troops and spies, and more than once traced to the company of "Sir Simon Fraser and other Scots, enemies of the King", from other incidental allusions it may be gathered that the strongholds and territories of the Frasers were always open to him and used for his protection (See Bain,s Calendar, iv., pp474-7) (19).

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 is important as Neidpath was part of the Barony of Oliver Castle. There was a castle on the site built by Gilbert Fraser that could have been used by Wallace as a refuge. 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.  This would have been an attraction as Wallace was a skilled archer and the short bow was an essential weapon in his succesful guerilla tactics.  For more about the yews see page 5.1. Yew Trees of Neidpath Castle and Frasers of Neidpath.

There is a notion that Simon Fraser and Wallace were distant kinsman.  However the editor has not yet found any verifiable evidence that would bear this out.

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 1306 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 was "hung, drawn and quartered for his country's freedom on 8th September 1306 a year after his leader, Wallace."(13)  “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 divided between the Flemings and Hays – the precise territorial boundaries are not recorded but the Neidpath site went to the Hays.  It would appear that the lands of Fruid Castle were not included in the division. However, the Fraser of Oliver heritage lives on as the heraldic arms of both the Flemings and the Hays of Yester include five cinquefoils for Fraser.(4)   The quartering of the arms gives a reduced space for the cinquefoils, particularly for the lower quadrants - hence only 5 and not 6 cinquefoils as one would have expected. The number of cinquefoils eventually being reduced to only three but larger cinquefoils - see Fleming and Hay armorials below.


The Arms of the Fleming of Biggar and Hays of Yester.(4)


Apart from the Fraser cinquefoils both the Fleming and Hay families had a goat's head as a crest see images on left and below(2).   Where this crest came from is unknown but as both Fleming and Hay have it a Fraser origin is probable.   It is known that the Fraser lands were held by the Templers until that organisation was suppressed in 1312.    At that time the Templar lands were taken over by The Knights of St. John whose chief was Lord Torphicen. (2).  Hence, the Templers still held the superiority of the Fraser lands when they were inherited by the Flemings and Hays.   Was the goat's head crest a reference to the Templers?  The goat's head is incorporated into the armorial of the town of Biggar in Lanarkshire.  It was also on the bookplate of the author Ian Fleming(16).  The goat's head is the crest of Clan Fleming and its armorial still includes the Fraser cinquefoils(17).   The goat's head is also the crest of the cadet line of the Hays - the Hays of Yester. The Hay goat's head crest can be found above the gateway at Neidpath castle - see image below.   The emblem of the goat's head does seem to be very important to the Flemings and the Hays.  A further probable reference to the Knights can be found on the heraldry of the Tweedie family of Essex - see page on the Frasers of Fruid.

The Frasers came from France and the name, like most others, had various spellings including Fresel, Fressell, Frisel, Frizel, 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.  The strawberry plant is associated with and appears on the crest of Clan Fraser.   However the plant badge of Lovat Fraser is the Yew - probably Taxus Baccata Neidpathensis, see page Yew Trees of 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 probable site of Oliver Castle. It is on a flat topped knowle with a stand of trees planted on it. 

The Rev. Thomas Muchet writing in the first Statistical Account of 1791-1799(6)  states that "vestiges of ancient castles still remain at Oliver and at Fruid".  What the Rev. Thomas Muchet must have been viewing  was probablly the vestiges of the iron age fort at Oliver as most of the material from the castle had already been recycled by the Tweedies into their new Oliver House c1649.   However, the Rev. was not alone in thinking  that the remains of the castle were still evident as William Chambers (21) writing in 1864 stated that "Oliver  must have been originally a very strong place both from its position and from the size which is still apparent, although only an indistinct outline and a few stones are to be seen , while the site is covered in trees."   One would have thought  that these trees could not be the same trees that are on the site in the present day.   However, there is no evidence of stumps of trees or any evidence of a previous planting.   More about this on the Tweedies of Oliver page.  The vestiges at Fruid were more significant - more about this on the Frasers of Fruid page.

Surveys in 1959 by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland(7) failed to find any mediaeval evidence on the tree covered site - see previous paragraph - although it had been an iron age hill fort.  More information about the site on section 2h on the page Early Peoples and also on the online archive Canmore - ID 48510.  A more recent study has been done by the Scottish Place Names Society (22).  

oliver castle from hog hill 01.jpg


Site of Oliver Castle in clump of trees centre right with present Oliver House in centre of picture 

oliver castle with trees.jpg

Site of Oliver Castle in clump of trees these can't be the same tree that Chambers commented on in 1864!.

There was a family of Fraser descended from the Frasers of Oliver - see family tree above - who had their seat at Fruid Castle at the head of the Fruid valley.(2)  The first known was Thomas Fraser of Fruid in 1426.  More about the Frasers of Fruid on page 5.2. Frasers of Fruid.

Fruid  Reservoir looking east.  Strawberry Hill above the white dot of the farmhouse.  This is the location of the now disappeared castle of the Frasers..jpg


View over Fruid reservoir to Site of Fruid Castle that was adjacent to Strawberry Hill which is behind the white dot of Fruid Farm.

Other Pictures of Reservoir in Picture  gallery

The Fraser cinquefoils can be found in many locations.   For instance, the three cinquefoils on the memorial to the Lovat Scouts that died during the Boer War located in the town of Beauly in Easter Ross - below left and  also on the badge of the Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, Canada below right.   Also on brasses in the church of Stock Harvard-Cum-Ramsden Bellhouse, Essex - lower left.  For more about the Essex armorial see page 5.3. Frasers of Fruid Castle.



The Fraser heritage lives on in the Tweeddale area in as much that the quartered arms of Peeblesshire/Tweeddale include five cinquefoils.  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.


1)  Veitch, John , L.L.D; The History and Poetry of the Scottish Border, William Blackwood, Edinburgh, 1893. Chapter XII pp299-335.

2) Buchan, J.W, Paton, Rev H; History of Peeblesshire, Jackson, Wylie & C0, Glasgow 1927.  Vol II for Neidpath pp291-292., p292,  for Hay armorial p293. Vol III, for Oliver p354. for two sons of SFII p378, for Fruid pp401-405, for Templers/Knights of St. John pp382-383, for Fleming armorial p380, for date of Oliver House p384.

3)  Platt, Beryll, Scottish Hazard the Flemish Nobility and their Impact on Scotland, Proctor Press, Greenwich, 1985. Vol 1 pp170-171.

3a)  Denham, James, Scotland's River Tweed and the Berwickshire Coast, James Denham, Galashiels, 2010. pp 12-13.

4)  McAndrew, Bruce A; Scotland's Historic Heraldry, Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2006. pp 484-486.

5)  McAndrew, Bruce A; The Sigillography of the Ragman Roll, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquarians Scotland, Edinburgh, 1999. p702 & p733

6)  Muchett, Thomas, Rev; The 1791-1799 Statistical Account of Scotland, EB Publishing, Edinburgh, 1979. Parish of Tweedsmuir, pp 991-914. 

7)  Royal Commission on the Ancient Monuments of Scotland, Inventory for Peeblesshire Numbers 310 and 521, Edinburgh, 1967. Vol 1  for Nether Oliver and Oliver Forts pp135-137 and for Oliver Castle site p262. Vol 2 for Neidpath pp243-261.  Canmore ID 48510 for Oliver Castle site.

8)  National Archives of Scotland; Old Parochial Records, Tweedsmuir 772, Marriages 1644-1683.

9)  Scottish History Society; Miscellany, Claverhouse Letters, Edinburgh, 1990, Vol XI p183.

10)  Oliver, Winston, Col; The Oliver Surname on the Scottish Border, Private Publication, Galashiels, 1982. p3.

11)  Baines, Joseph; Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland - Ragman Roll,  HM General Register House, Edinburgh, 1884.  Vol 2 No 238.

12)  Fraser, Flora, Marjory; Clan Fraser: A History, Celebrating Over 800 Years of the Family in Scotland, Scottish Cultural Press, Dalkeith, 2009. p36.

13)  Fraser, Sarah; The Last Highlander, Harper Press, London, 2013. p11.

14)  Burns, George, Rev, DD; New Statistical Account for Scotland, Edinburgh, 1834.  Vol 3, Parish of Tweedsmuir, p64.

15) Veitch, John, Professor; The History and Poetry of the Scottish Borders, William Blackwood, Edinburgh, 1893. Second Edition, Vol 1 p335.

16)  Gardiner, Philip; The Bond Code, The Dark World of Ian Fleming and James Bond, Bounty Books, London, 2009. p95.

17)  Plean, George Way of and Squire Romilly; Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia, St Kilda, Glasgow, 2017.  Third Edition p189.

18)  Watson, James; Peeblesshire and its Outland Borders, Alan Smyth, Peebles, 1908. p95.

19)  Renwick, Robert; Historical Notes on Peeblesshire Localities, Watson & Smyth, Peebles, 1897. pp321-322.

20)  Adam, Frank, revised by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney;  The Clan Septs & Regiments of the Scottish Highlands, Johnston & Bacon, Ellon, 2004. p 555.

21)  Chambers, William;  A History of Peeblesshire, Edinburgh, 1864. p318.

22)  Patterson, William; Journal of Scottish Place name Studies, clann tuirin, Perthshire, 2017. Vol 11, pp93-102


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