Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Castle Fraser

In open parkland Castle Fraser lies in a shallow valley in central Aberdeenshire and rises out of the Arcadian setting like an illustration from a Medieval Book of Hours. Pointed turret-tops and round towers on walls that rise straight out of the grass (or gravel) without interruption from a garden to detract from the impact of the vertiginous walls.

The house was built in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries by the Fraser family who had held the estate from 1454. In 1633 the head of the family was made the first Lord Fraser. His house is a good example of how especially in the north east of Scotland after the Union of the Crowns in 1603, wealthy landowners wanted their new houses to hark back to their' ancestral style rather than look for new ideas from south of the border. They wanted high towers and vertical living. They wanted stone spiral staircases and gun loops.

So Castle Fraser was not designed to withstand attack even if many of the building elements associated with thirteenth century keeps were incorporated into the house's design.The canon appear as waterspouts, the corbels are in imitation of machiolations and small windows or occuli look like gun loops. At Castle Fraser there is even an eaves dropping chamber  accessed only from the laird's bedroom by a trap door that enabled him to overhear what was said in the window seat in the hall below. Before being rebuilt the tower was known as Muchalls, but the name was changed to reflect its new status as the principal seat of a nobleman.

In 1715 the fourth Lord Fraser died a fugitive falling over a cliff while on the run after the failure of the Jacobite Rising. He left no heir and so Castle Fraser passed to the children of his mother's first marriage, fortuitously to a man called Fraser. The family were also loyal Jacobites so when Prince Charles Edward Stuart landed in Scotland they joined his army. Charles Fraser commanded the Fraser Regiment at Culloden and was left badly injured on the battlefield. The next day he was found by General Hawley who is said to have ordered the young James Woolfe to shoot him. When he refused General Hawley had to order an ordinary soldier to do it. His heir died within five years also without heirs. So Castle Fraser passed to his sister Elyza Fraser. She left it to her sister's youngest son and his son left the house to the last heir,who never lived in Scotland. Thomas Croft Fraser whose career culminated in his appointment as Privy Chamberlain to the Pope and Master of Ceremonies at St Peter's in Rome.

In 1921 the estate was bought at auction by the first Viscount Cowdray for his second son, the Hon. Clive Pearson. In 1946 he gave Castle Fraser to his second daughter Lavinia who together with her husband Major Michael Smiley gave it to the National Trust for Scotland.