Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fraser, William (d.1297)

FRASER, WILLIAM (d. 1297), bishop of St. Andrews, chancellor of Scotland, was the son of Sir Gilbert Fraser, the ancestor of the Frasers of Touchfraser and Philorth, and also of the Frasers of Oliver Castle of Tweeddale. He took holy orders, and was rector of Cadzow (Hamilton) and dean of Glasgow. On the promotion of William Wishart in or before 1276 to the see of St. Andrews, Fraser was appointed chancellor of Scotland, and held the seals of office for several years. When Wishart died in 1279 Fraser was elected his successor, and proceeding to Rome, was there, on 18 June 1280, consecrated as bishop of St. Andrews by Pope Nicholas III.

At a meeting of the Scottish estates held shortly after the death of Alexander III, Fraser was chosen as one of six regents, three of whom were to govern north of the Firth of Forth and three south, pending the arrival of Margaret, the Maid of Norway, who was next heir to the throne. He supported the proposal for the marriage of the princess of Scotland to Edward, prince of Wales, and in connection with the negotiations therewith made a journey to the court of Edward I in Gascony. The Scots ratified the proposals in their parliament at Birgham on 17 March 1290, but these were frustrated by the death of the Maid of Norway at Orkney on her way to Scotland. In a Latin letter (the original of which is preserved in the Public Record Office, London) Fraser informed Edward I of the occurrence, and as there were a number of rival claimants for the vacant throne and a civil war seemed imminent, he requested the intervention of the English king for the preservation of the peace. After stating, among other things, that a number of the nobles had already taken arms, he concludes his letter thus: ‘If Sir John de Baliol come to your presence, we advise that you be careful to treat with him so that whatever be the issue your honour and interest may be preserved. And if it prove true that our lady foresaid is dead (which God forbid), then, if it please your excellency, draw near the borders for the comfort of the Scottish people and preventing of bloodshed.’ The consequence of the intervention of Edward I in this juncture was the enforcement of his claim as lord paramount of Scotland, and the Scots being divided among themselves were for the time obliged to yield. They tendered homage to the English king, and accepted his award as arbiter in the rival claims for the crown of Scotland in favour of John Baliol. On Baliol's accession to the throne Fraser resigned his office of regent and stood loyally by his sovereign during his short and unhappy reign. He was, however, a participator in some of the events which brought about the final rupture between Edward and Baliol. Appeals in certain judicial causes in which he was concerned were made from the court of Baliol to that of Edward. The Scottish king was summoned to appear before Edward in England to answer these appeals, but the Scots refused to allow him to do so, and Edward took steps to enforce his authority. To secure the friendship of France in the struggle, Fraser and several others were sent to negotiate a treaty with Philip IV. They were successful, but their aid was unavailing. Edward inflicted summary chastisement upon the Scots, and Baliol, forced by his countrymen to do so, abdicated the crown he had accepted at the English king's hands. Fraser retired to France, and during his absence, William Wallace having driven the English armies across the borders, the bishop's surrogates, William of Kinghorn and Patrick of Campania, deprived of their benefices every Englishman in the see of St. Andrews.

Fraser died in exile at Arteville in France, 19 Sept. 1297, having been bishop, as Wyntoun says, for seventeen winters. His body was buried in the church of the predicant friars at Paris, but his heart was enshrined in a rich casket and brought to Scotland and interred with much ceremony in the wall of the cathedral of St. Andrews.

Lord Hailes and other historians have described Fraser as a creature of Edward and a traitor to his country. With these accusations the late Lord Saltoun deals at length in his family history, ‘The Frasers of Philorth’ (ii. 96–115).

[Registrum Glasguense; Registrum Prioratus Sancti Andree; Fordun's Annalia, cap. lxviii., xci.; Wyntoun's Chronicle, bk. viii. chap. xiv.; Palgrave's Hist. Documents; Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, vol. i.]

H. P.