Body of Jacobite chief Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, exhumed

An investigation has begun to determine whether a headless skeleton, located in the Scottish Highlands, is that of a notorious 18th century Jacobite chief, Lord Lovat – the last person to be beheaded in Britain.

The body is thought to belong to Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, who was executed in London in 1747, on suspicion of a being a Jacobite sympathiser who backed Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Simon ‘the Fox’ Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, is thought to be buried in Wardlaw Mausoleum near Inverness. This investigation will prove if the skeleton is his (wikimedia commons)

Bonnie Prince Charlie was the eldest son of James Francis Edward, Prince of Wales, who was the son of James II and VII. Jacobitism attempted to restore Roman Catholicism to England, and King James II to the throne. However, this ideology was seen as treason against protestant King George II, hence Simon ‘the Fox’ Fraser was executed. Many claim that his body remained in the Tower of London, but some argue it was returned to Scotland and laid to rest in a lead coffin inside a mausoleum at Kirkhill, near Inverness.

Dundee University’s Dame Sue Black has started to examine the exhumed skeleton at Wardlaw Mausoleum, in a bid to confirm that it’s male, of the right age, dimension, and shows signs of decapitation, to prove – or negate0 – Lovat’s identity. The professor aims to match cuts and grazes on the neck bone with the blade of the axe used by the executioner.

In addition to this, the professor will extract DNA samples, look for evidence of gout, and compare the skeleton with a famous portrait by William Hogarth.

Wardlaw Mausoleum, Kirkhill, Inverness, is where Simon Fraser is thought to be buried (wikimedia commons)

Professor Black’s investigation is being filmed by historian Dan Snow, who hopes to make a TV show out of the process; he even used periscope to broadcast the opening of the coffin.

Upon making a trip to Kirkhill, Professor Black said: “We do have a fair bit written about Lord Lovat, such as his height and how old he was when he died. Information about his ailments will also help. We also know he had his head chopped off so we will be able to look at the neck vertebrae and see if they were hit with something fairly heavy. There are so many possibilities.”

However, Dame Black noted that after opening the coffin, she observed that the condition of the bones was “not great”, and due to movement of the coffin, the ribs were in the place where the legs should be.

William Hogarth’s portrait of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat (wikimedia commons)

Lord Lovat was the last person to be beheaded in Britain and it was said that he was prepared to switch sides during the Jacobite revolution. The defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden in 1746, brought the uprisings to an end.


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