Exhumation in Highlands to solve clan chief burial mystery

The contents of a coffin will be exhumed next month in a bid to solve the 270-year-old mystery surrounding the final resting place of clan chief Simon 'The Fox' Fraser.

The exhumation could solve the mystery surrounding the final burial place of Simon "The Fox" Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat. PIC:Contributed.

Professor Dame Sue Black, of Dundee University, will lead the exhumation at Wardlaw Mausoleum at Kirkhill near Beauly - the burial place of Clan Fraser of Lovat - on October 5.

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Officially, the 11th Lord Lovat was buried at the Tower of London’s parish church following his public execution on April 9, 1747, with a brass plaque marking his interment at St Peter ad Vincula.

The Wardlaw Mausoleum at Kirkhill near Beauly, the burial place of the Frasers of Lovat. PIC: Contributed.

However, there is a long-held theory that his body was quickly moved by supporters and brought home to the Highlands.

Solving the mystery will lay to rest a long held question mark over the fate of the powerful Jacobite sympathiser known for his double dealings with the British government.

Erik Lundberg, of the Wardlaw Mausoleum Trust, said there was a “calm nervousness” surrounding the exhumation.

The coffin to be exhumed (centre) PIC: Contributed.

He said: “I am also excited that this is actually coming to fruition - the final resting place of Lord Lovat has been a conundrum for a great number of years.

“There is always the slight risk that there is someone completely different in the casket.

“But we know we have a coffin with the coffin plate for Lord Lovat as it appeared in a London newspaper following the execution.

“I am fairly relaxed it is him.”

Inside Warlaw Mausoleum. PIC: Contributed.

Professor Black, who first visited the mausoleum last year, will remove what is believed to be bones from the lead casket with a full analysis to be carried out on site.

She said: “ The bones will be transferred on trays from the crypt up to the ground floor of the mausoleum where we will lay the remains out in anatomical order. Will there be a skull? Will there be cut marks that confirm beheading? We don’t know.”

The forensic anthropologist said the case has grabbed her attention as her mother’s family were Frasers and she grew up close to the battlefield at Culloden.

“It is tremendously rewarding to think that you might be able to add another piece to a long running puzzle. Whether we will solve it or not is of course a very different thing and indeed we might just even deepen the mystery if it isn’t him,” she added.

The Wardlaw Mausoleum at Kirkhill near Beauly, the burial place of the Frasers of Lovat. PIC: Contributed.

The findings will be presented later in the year at a public event in Inverness which is being organised by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

It is hoped that a documentary will also be made around the exhumation.

Mr Lundberg said confirmation that the remains of Lord Lovat are indeed held at Wardlaw will further boost the profile of the mausoleum.

Fans of television series Outlander have already increased visitor numbers at the tiny Highland attraction given its links to Clan Fraser, which features heavily in the show.

Lord Lovat is portrayed as the grandfather of central character Jamie Fraser, played by Sam Heughan.

Mr Lundberg said further exposure generated by exhumation will support his campaign to raise the £100,000 required to keep the mausoleum maintained and open to the public.

The coffin to be exhumed (centre) PIC: Contributed.

The forensic analysis will confirm age, gender and the physical characteristics of the deceased.

Several details are known about Lord Lovat such as his height and ailments. Any damage to the vertebrae that could be caused by beheading will also be looked for.

It is hoped that some DNA may also be secured to give a definitive result on its identity.

“Getting DNA would be the nail in the coffin,” Mr Lundberg said.

If the bones do not belong to Lord Lovat, then the investigation will look at why the coffin ended up at the mausoleum, he added.

Lord Lovat’s Jacobite sympathies were forged in the late 1600s in France but he was later to betray the cause after revealing the plan for the first uprising to Queen Anne’s government.

He later sent messages of support to both sides ahead of Culloden in 1746 but eventually mustered his followers to support Bonnie Prince Charlie after a promise of a Stuart dukedom in the event of a Jacobite victory.

Thousands turned out to watch the execution of Lord Lovat with a “roaring crowd” gathered for the spectacle at Tower Hill.

He was the last person to be beheaded in Britain and such was the crush to watch the execution that nine people died after a stand of spectators collapsed due to overcrowding.

Inside Warlaw Mausoleum. PIC: Contributed.