Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat

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Picture of Lord Lovat in "Memoirs of the Jacobites".

Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat (c. 1667  – 9 April 1747, London), was a Scottish Jacobite and Chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat, who was famous for his violent feuding and his changes of allegiance. In 1715, he had been a supporter of the House of Hanover, but in 1745 he changed sides and supported the Stuart claim on the crown of the United Kingdom. Lovat was among the Highlanders defeated at the Battle of Culloden and convicted of treason against the Crown. He was the last man in Britain to be publicly beheaded,[1] on Tower Hill, London.

Early life

He was the second son of Thomas Fraser, known as “Thomas of Beaufort’, third son of Lord Lovat. Simon was tutored privately at his home near Beauly, followed by a period at grammar school in Inverness. He was a capable student, becoming fluent in English, French and Gaelic, as well as gaining a solid grounding in Latin.[citation needed]

Political events affected the course of his life even when in his teens. James II, the joint monarch of England and Scotland, had recently married Mary of Modena, an Italian Roman Catholic. James converted to Catholicism, and chose to raise their newly born child James in the same faith. He fled to France in 1688 to escape the political controversy arising from this, expecting parliament at Westminster to relent on the succession issue. Instead, they invited Mary Stuart, the Protestant daughter of his first marriage, and her Dutch husband, William of Orange, to take the throne.[citation needed]

Scotland found itself divided over the issue of the rightful monarch. The Scottish parliament in Edinburgh voted to support William and Mary. However, many highlanders remained loyal to James, and in 1689 an army led by the Viscount of Dundee was raised to restore him to the throne. They and their supporters became known as Jacobites, after the Renaissance Latin name for James, Jacobus. Both Simon and his elder brother Alexander, then a student at Aberdeen University, were at heart Jacobites and both left to join this army. Simon was soon captured and sent home. Alexander went on to fight against the government forces at the battle of Killiecrankie, where he was wounded and later died of his wounds.[1]

Whilst the Frasers fought as Jacobites, their clan chief, Hugh, the 9th Lord Lovat, was supporting the other side.  Hugh had been brought up at the home of his maternal uncle, Sir George McKenzie of Tarbat. This made him amenable to the ambitions of the McKenzie clan. A marriage was subsequently arranged between him and Amelia Murray, daughter of the Marquis of Atholl and the sister of Lord John Murray. Lord John was a rising force in Scottish politics. Together, the McKenzies and Murrays would seek to dominate the Fraser clan, as well as securing the profits from their lands. When the Jacobites raised their standard, Lovat’s McKenzie uncle and Murray brother-in-law told him to stay home and keep his men there as well. He lacked the personal authority to achieve this, and the Fraser clansmen flocked to Alexander's side instead.[1]

Around the age of 20 Simon, now the Master of Lovat following his brother’s death, left home to study at King's College, Aberdeen. Upon graduation in 1695 he went to Edinburgh and undertook to recruit three hundred men from his clan to form part of a regiment in the service of William and Mary, in which he himself was to hold a command. This was done more to ensure a body of well-trained soldiers under his influence than loyalty to the government. However, he was given a lieutenancy, not a captainship, to his disgust.[1]

Issues of Inheritance

By 1695 Hugh, the 9th Lord Lovat, had begotten a number of children but only one boy to inherit his title. If that infant failed to live, then the choice of marriage partner by the eldest girl, Amelia Fraser, mattered a great deal, since he would then inherit the estate. It was traditional in clan society for the heiress in this situation to marry the closest male heir bearing the same surname, which in this case would be Simon Fraser. However, McKenzie and Murray had inserted an unusual condition in the marriage contract ten years previously. All the heiress needed to do was marry someone of the name of Fraser, and then 'both inherit the Lovat title and estates'. In effect, a man from any clan could then become Lord Lovat by legally assuming the name of Fraser.[1]

In 1696, the infant son of Lord Lovat died, followed soon after by Lord Lovat himself. This was the end of the direct male line, extending back to 1458. The 10th Lord Lovat was now the closest male heir, Thomas of Beaufort, father of Simon. However, Murray believed that the property and estates belonged to his niece and ward, Amelia. This began a war of words and protracted legal battle to secure the inheritance. Amelia was removed to Blair Castle, stronghold of the Murrays to prevent her marrying Simon.  To secure the estates, Simon then undertook a dreadful act. After forcing a marriage with her mother, Amelia McKenzie (the dowager Lady Lovat), Simon then forced himself on her. A prosecution being instituted against him by Lady Lovat's family, Simon was obliged to flee into the highlands.[citation needed]

In 1698, whilst on Skye, he learnt that his father had died, which made him the 11th Lord Lovat. A year later, with support from powerful friends such as the Duke of Argyll who was a political rival of Murray, he secured a pardon from King William for the charge of raising men in arms and resisting the King’s forces and was able to return to the ancestral home of the Lovat family, Castle Dounie. However, the charge of forced marriage and rape remained outstanding and when he failed to appear in court to answer the charge, he was again outlawed.[citation needed]

At this time, Amelia Fraser was betrothed to marry Alexander McKenzie, who took the name ‘Alexander McKenzie of Fraserdale’ to make himself a Fraser and secure the title to the Fraser estates. Complicating matters for Simon even further was the death of King William in 1702, leading to his fateful decision to go to France to raise money to advance the cause of Scottish independence.[citation needed]

Exile in France

Arriving at the court of St Germains-en-Laye, then serving as the court of the exiled Stuart family, he made a first step towards gaining influence in France by announcing his conversion to Catholicism. He then proceeded to put the project of restoring the exiled family into a practical shape. Hitherto nothing seems to have been known among the Jacobite exiles of the efficiency of the Highlanders as a military force. But Lovat saw that, as they were the only part of the British population accustomed to the independent use of arms, they could be at once put in action against the reigning power. This plan was to land five thousand French troops at Dundee, where they might reach the north-eastern passes of the Highlands in a days march, and be in a position to divert the British troops till the Highlands should have time to rise. Immediately afterwards five hundred men were to land on the west coast, seize Fort William or Inverlochy, and thus prevent the access of any military force from the south to the central Highlands. The whole scheme indicates Lovat's sagacity as a military strategist, and his plan was continuously kept in mind for all future attempts of the Jacobites, and finally acted on in the rebellion of 1745. The Old Pretender advisers were too slow to trust their coadjutor or to comprehend his project.

At last in 1703 he was dispatched on a secret mission to the Highlands to sound out those clan chiefs who were likely to rise, and to ascertain what forces they could bring into the field. Lovat found there was little disposition to join the rebellion, and he then apparently made up his mind to secure his own safety by revealing all that he knew to the government of Queen Anne. He persuaded the duke of Queensberry that his rival, the duke of Atholl, was in the Jacobite plot, and that if Queensberry supported him he could obtain evidence of this at St Germain. Queensberry foolishly entered into the intrigue with him against Atholl, but when Lovat had gone to France with a pass from Queensberry the affair was betrayed to Atholl by Robert Ferguson, and resulted in Queensberry's discomfiture. The story is obscure, and is complicated by partisanship on both sides; but Lovat was certainly playing a double game.[citation needed] On returning to Paris suspicions fell on Lovat's proceedings, and he was imprisoned in the castle of Angoulême. He remained nearly ten years under supervision, till in November 1714 he made his escape to England. In the rising that followed the Frasers were forced to make peace with the English king, and in return for clemency, he rallied the Fraser fighting men and secured the surrender of Inverness Castle by the Jacobites.

Return to Britain and "The '45"

William Hogarth's engraving of Fraser prior to his execution

For some twenty-five years after this he was chiefly occupied in lawsuits for the recovery of his estates and the re-establishment of his fortune, in both of which objects he was successful. The intervals of his leisure were filled with Jacobite and anti-Jacobite intrigues, in which he seems to have alternately, as suited his interests, acted the traitor to both parties.[1] But he so far obtained the confidence of the government as to secure the appointments of sheriff of Inverness and of colonel of an independent company. His disloyal practices, however, soon led to his being suspected; and he was deprived of both his appointments.

When the rebellion broke out, Lovat acted with characteristic duplicity. He represented to the Jacobites that though eager for their success, his weak health and advanced years prevented him from joining the standard of the prince in person, while to the Lord President Forbes he professed his cordial attachment to the existing state of things, but lamented that his son, in spite of all his remonstrances, had joined Bonnie Prince Charlie, and succeeded in taking with him a strong force from the clan of the Frasers.[2]

At Culloden, sons of local notables gathered playing truant from school to watch the coming battle. One was 9 year old, Archibald Fraser, son of Simon, Lord Lovat. The Frasers stood in the front line, to the left of the Stewarts of Appin, with perhaps 300 men.[3] and to the right of the confederated Clan Chattan with 500 men. Simon, the Master of Lovat was not on the field, and command was taken by a kinsman Charles Fraser of Inverallochie, who was killed in the battle.[citation needed]

After the Hanoverian victory at the Battle of Culloden Lord Lovat was obliged to retreat to the Highlands, after seeing from a distant height his castle of Dounie burnt by the royal army. They were ordered to take anything of value, and burn the houses, and tear them down stone by stone, so they could not be re-inhabited.[4] Lord Lovat's extensive wine cellar was looted, and large quantities of oatmeal, malt and salmon taken. Even then, broken down by disease and old age, carried on a litter and unable to move without assistance, his mental resources did not fail; and in a conference with several of the Jacobite leaders he proposed that they should raise a body of three thousand men, which would be enough to make their mountains impregnable, and at length force the government to give them advantageous terms, but the project was not carried out.[citation needed]

Arrest and execution

A funeral ticket for Lord Lovat, 1747
Illustration of the execution of Simon Fraser from the Newgate Calendar.

Lovat was discovered and arrested on an island in Loch Morar. He was conveyed in a litter to London, and after a trial of five days (with evidence given against him by fellow Jacobite John Murray of Broughton) sentence of death was pronounced on 19 March 1747. He was executed by John Thrift on 9 April 1747, the last man to be beheaded in England.[5] Shortly before the execution, a scaffold for spectators viewing the beheading had collapsed and left 20 dead, much to his amusement. Just before submitting his head to the block he repeated the line from Horace: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. The famous etching by William Hogarth shows Lovat awaiting execution in The Tower, possibly counting with his fingers the various Clans that he had brought to his cause and battle to support the Stuart claim to the throne.[citation needed]


Lord Lovat married Margaret Grant, daughter of Lodovic Grant of Freuchie in December 1703. On her death he married Lady Campbell, daughter of Hon John Campbell in 1733.

  • Janet
  • Simon, Master of Lovat
  • Archibald

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Rab Houston. "The Last Highlander: Scotland's Most Notorious Clan-Chief, Rebel and Double-Agent". BBC History Magazine. pp. 23–33. Retrieved 25 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. John Prebble, Culloden (Penguin 1961; 1996), pp. 61-62
  3. Prebble, p. 67
  4. Prebble, pp. 166-67
  5. Lloyd Bradley; Thomas Eaton (2005). Book of Secrets. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 138. ISBN 0-7407-5561-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Fraser, Sarah (2012) The Last Highlander. Scotland's Most Notorious Clan Chief, Rebel and Double Agent. London, Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-722949-9
  • Mackenzie, W.C. (1908). "Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat: His Life and Times". London, Chapman & Hall.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. Missing or empty |title= (help)CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Prebble, John (1996) [1961]. Culloden. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-025350-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
Thomas Fraser
Lord Lovat
Succeeded by
Thomas Alexander Fraser
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Thomas Fraser
Succeeded by
Simon Fraser of Lovat