England,  Phoebe,  Scotland,  Western Europe

Simon Fraser

Simon Lovat
Simon Lovat

Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat was born around 1667, the second son of the 10th Lord Lovat. The Barony of Lovat had been titled to the Frasers since around 1460, and also carried their own clan chief status, the MacShimis (sons of Simon). Prior to the Barony, the Frasers were titled Lairds of Lovat, where they held a Tower and fort. The lands of Beauly Abbey in Inverness-shire were granted to the Frasers after the dissolution, where Beauly Castle stands.

Simon Fraser’s father, Thomas 10th Lord Lovat was a younger son of a previous Lord (7th), and therefore not originally in the line of succession, however the 9th Lord died with no male heir, and prior to his death Simon persuaded him to name his Great-Uncle Thomas (Simon’s father) as his heir, leaving Simon to follow in the line of accession due to the sudden disappearance of his older brother, Alexander. After the supposedly accidental fatal stabbing of a piper, who was playing a song that Alexander believed was insulting him. Alexander pleaded that he only meant to burst the pipe-bag, but hit the piper in the chest. Through fear of repercussion, he fled to Wales and disappeared.

However official acquisition of the lands and titles was harder to gain as the liferent had already been bestowed on the 9th Lord’s daughter and Thomas was shortly afterwards attainted allegedly following his part, in 1698, in a failed attack on Edinburgh Castle, and consequently lost the titles and land (For anyone not familiar with Scottish law, a liferent is the legal right to live in a property, or control land and receive its income for the period of your lifetime. You cannot however bestow it on anybody through inheritance or sale and upon your death or removal, legal rights of habitation and income pass back to the owner of the land/property).

Simon’s life gets a little cloudy here, but around 1698 he was charged with kidnapping the 9th Lord’s daughter, Lady Amelia Fraser and then forcibly marrying the 9th Lord’s widow, Lady Amelia Murray, one of whom he raped. Some sources have these crimes being against one and the same person, the Dowager Lady Lovat, she being the more likely candidate as the implied shame would be reason enough for her agreement to the marriage. Historically, Lord Bothwell acted similarly towards Mary, Queen of Scots, impregnating her with twins whom she later miscarried, and securing their marriage. It is also stated that Thomas was involved in the abduction and this was the crime for which he was attainted in 1698 for High Treason, he died around this time (1699) so in theory it may be that he was found guilty and executed. For Simon’s actions, he was also tried and sentenced to death, however he received a pardon, although not a complete one, when the Earl of Argyll stepped in on his behalf and appealed to King William III. Fraser was tried further in 1701 for the rape of Lady Amelia, but failed to attend and instead fled to France where he was subsequently received by the court of the exiled Stuarts. He was found guilty in his absence.

Classic woodcut depiction of Lovat towards the end of his life
Classic woodcut depiction of Lovat towards the end of his life

In 1703, Simon Fraser returned to Scotland to perform a task for the Stuarts as part of the Jacobite movement, but instead gave details of the plan to the Duke of Queensberry who then leaked the information. Fraser meanwhile returned to France where he was held captive for ten years before escaping and making his way back to Scotland. Following further good service to the government, Fraser was pardoned for the rape of Lady Amelia, and awarded the liferent of the estates of the Lordship. He continued fighting for his inheritance and eventually received his full estates and titles, including that of 11th Lord Lovat, in 1733.

It seems that in the following years, Simon Fraser worked favour for both sides of the revolution, most probably in an effort to appease each side and therefore preventing the need to make a public stance on which faction he truly supported, in echo of the infamous Stanley family of previous conflicts. In the 1745 uprising, Fraser made the claim that illness and old age prevented him from riding under the banner of the Jacobites, although he was desirous of doing so, but then grieved to Parliament and the Royalists that his only involvement was to attempt to dissuade his son and the clan Fraser from fighting alongside Bonny Prince Charlie. Knowing the net was closing in on his duplicity, Fraser fled to Scotland and watched as his Castle was burned. He was then arrested for Treason after trying to persuade the Scottish Lords that their only defence from the Royalists was to fortify their Highland retreats and hope that they were impregnable. After being taken back to London, and a trial lasting five days, with evidence being supplied by a fellow Jacobite prisoner, John Murray whose family had long been open supporters of the Stuarts (they had had to sell their family seat at Broughton to pay off the fine they received for supporting the Royalist cause against Cromwell. Murray successfully bought it back in 1738). Murray received a full pardon in exchange for his evidence, an action which labelled him henceforth a traitor.

Fraser once again was found guilty and this time there was no pardon. He was executed on Tower Hill on 9th April 1747. Unsubstantiated sources claim that his final words before he put his head to the block were quoted from Horace, ‘Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori’.

Simon’s son, also Simon, was pardoned three years later and went on to fight on behalf of the Government in both Portugal and America. He would, but for the attainder, have succeeded his father as 12th Lord Lovat, being the eldest son from his father’s first legal marriage. As he himself died without an heir, and his younger male siblings discounted for lack of male issue, the next male in the line would have, been his younger half-brother by his father’s second legal marriage, Archibald. Archibald too died without heir, and so the line passed back up to a descendant of a second son of the 4th Lord Lovat. This heir in turn, had a son who was created 1st Baron of Lovat. It is through his line that the title Lord Lovat was later re-introduced, with the de jure 12th Lord Lovat, however the clan continue to number their succession de facto, disregarding the attainder.

It has been stated that Simon Fraser was the last man to be publically beheaded, and this is certainly true in that he was the last man for whom the sentence was the noble beheading, and he was the last man beheaded on Tower Hill. However, over the next 50 years or so, four further executions were carried out, all under the sentence of hanging, drawing and quartering, although by this time, some aspects of this punishment were metaphorical. At least two of the four sentenced, were killed by the beheading aspect of the punishment, after being hung for some minutes but taken down alive, with the disembowelment and quartering aspects passed over with nothing more than symbolic gesture. Both sentences were carried out at Tyburn, one in 1753 on a Dr Archibald Cameron, another Jacobite rebel from the 1745 uprising.


Credit to Baronage.co.uk for providing the line of succession, and also to Encyclopaedia Britannica (online) for background information.