Rev Michael Fraser - the Great Survivor

Priest of Daviot and Dunlichity in Strathnairn 1673-1726

Strathnairn is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland – wonderful in summer and magnificent in winter – its tranquillity cloaking a long history.

The cairns and hut circles speak of a people long ago, the church sites of Celtic saints thousands of years later, the strath itself of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s ride away from the battlefield of Culloden .....all are here.

And hidden stories can be found in the lives of those who lived in the glen - that of Michael Fraser, priest of Daviot and Dunlichity for 53 years, reveals a great survivor in troubled times.

He was the child of Thomas Fraser and his wife Katherine Gordon, daughter of Sir Robert and Lady Gordon of Embo.  He studied at Marischal College, Aberdeen, and in 1670 was appointed schoolmaster, often in those days a forerunner to ordination, at Thurso in Caithness.  He was ordained on February 19th, 1672, and the Bishop of Moray, Murdo Mackenzie, nominated him as priest at Daviot and Dunlichity on October 20th that year. 

His appointment came twelve years after the restoration of both King Charles II, and the Episcopal Church as the Church of Scotland.  The change, however, had produced little alteration in the worship within parish churches – no Liturgy was introduced, the priests wore black gowns and the only distinguishing features from the Presbyterian worship which preceded it were the inclusion of the doxology, the Lord’s Prayer and, at a baptism, the Apostles’ Creed.

However, pressure on Presbyterians had increased during these years and ministers who would not conform to the Episcopal ways were forbidden to exercise their ministry and, indeed, from living within 20 miles of their former parishes.  In Strathnairn Alexander Fraser, minister of Daviot and Dunlichity, was deposed for his Presbyterian views, thus creating the vacancy which the bishop wished Michael Fraser to fill.

There was, though, an immediate problem.  Sir Hugh Campbell of Cawdor claimed that the bishop had no authority to appoint anyone to Daviot and Dunlichity as that right belonged to him as patron of the parish. Sir Hugh wanted to appoint the Reverend Donald Macpherson of Cawdor Church instead.

Bishop and Presbytery united in favour of Michael Fraser, but Sir Hugh persisted in his claim until the bishop eventually withdrew his nominee. However, having gained his victory, Sir Hugh himself nominated Michael Fraser as the new priest - and the long ministry in Strathnairn began on March 4th 1673.

It was not without incident!  Bishop Mackenzie’s opinion of the new priest soon changed and just after Christmas 1674 he rebuked him for being absent from the parish for too long, visiting his brother in Edinburgh.  A few months later the Synod, annoyed by his artistic endeavours, demanded that he abstain from all limning and painting which hitherto has diverted him from his ministerial duties.  

Patience had run out by 1678, the year Bishop Mackenzie died (he had resigned in 1677) and Michael Fraser was suspended from office. He was eventually restored but an enormous change was coming to the church. In 1688 James II and VII was replaced on the throne by his sister Mary and her husband William, the Prince of Orange. The Scottish bishops declined to recognise the new king and queen and in consequence, in 1690, the Episcopal Church was replaced as the established Church of Scotland by a Presbyterian regime.

In Strathnairn, Michael Fraser continued blithely on. Even when, in 1694, the Presbytery declared the parish vacant he took no notice and,
indeed, the Presbytery took no further action against him for the next 21 years!   

Only after he played a prominent role in the failed 1715 Jacobite Rising did the Presbytery attempt another intervention. It declared the Reverend Michael Fraser to be an “intruder at Daviot and Dunlichity”. The priest then offered to resign, on condition that a competent person was appointed in his place.

Nothing came of the offer and so he stayed. Five years later a Presbytery visit to the parish received a hostile reception from parishioners eager to defend their priest – stones were thrown and the pulpit of Dunlichity Church broken. The following year the leading gentlemen of the parish asked the Presbytery’s forbearance for the priest, saying that they would concur with the Presbytery’s wishes in the event of his death “which now, in the course of nature, cannot be long”.  But it was another four years before Michael Fraser, the great survivor, died – still, of course, in office.
Michael Fraser first married Helen Leslie and they had four children. After her death he married Elizabeth McBean and had a further eight children.
Gerald Stranraer-Mull