Forensic experts to solve 270-year-old mystery of clan chief 'The Fox'

A top forensics expert has been called in to solve a 270-year-old mystery over the final resting place of a clan chief beheaded after the Battle of Culloden.

Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat PIC Wikimedia Commons.
Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat PIC Wikimedia Commons.

Dame Professor Sue Black is to exhume remains at the Wardlaw Mausoleum at Kirkhill near Inverness to determine whether they belong to 11th Lord Lovat, chief of Clan Fraser, who was beheaded at the Tower of London in 1747.

While official records show the remains of the clan chief - known as Simon “The Fox” Fraser - stayed at the tower, it has long been suggested his body was secretly brought home to the Highlands by his supporters.

The coffin, believed to be that of Lord Lovat, in the crypt at Wardlaw Mausoleum near Inverness. PIC Contributed.

Solving the mystery will lay to rest a long held question mark over the fate of Lord Lovat, a powerful Jacobite sympathiser known for his double dealing with the government, who has recently been portrayed in the hugely popular Outlander series as the grandfather of Jamie Fraser, played by Sam Heughan.

Dame Black, of Dundee University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, is to return to the Mausoleum as soon as possible to examine the contents of a coffin held in the crypt believed to belong to Lord Lovat.

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The remains will be lifted from the lead casket with a full analysis of the bones to be carried out on site.

Professor Sue Black, of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identificatoin at Dundee University. PIC Jacky Ghossein TSPL

Dame Black, who made a preliminary trip to Kirkhill in October, said: “We certainly believe we have the coffin that was at least meant to be for Lord Lovat.

“Of course, there might be something, or someone, else in it but it does look as if there is bone is there.”

A DNA analysis of the bones is unlikely given the conditions they have been kept in and the absence of a living ancestor, Dame Black said.

However, she added: “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.

Inside the mausoleum. PIC Contributed

“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.”

Lord Lovat was executed at the Tower of London on April 9 1747 for high treason - the last man to be beheaded in Britain.

His death brought to an end decades of horse trading with the British government. His 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.

The coffin, believed to be that of Lord Lovat, in the crypt at Wardlaw Mausoleum near Inverness. PIC Contributed.

His son, Master Simon, lead clansmen to Culloden but it is broadly believed the battle was over by the time he approached the moor.

Clan Fraser, led by Charles of Inverallochy, suffered heavy losses during battle with 300 clansmen on the front of Jacobite lines.

Lord Lovat, after meting the Young Pretender following his defeat at Culloden, tried to escape to France but was arrested by government troops near Loch Morar and sent to London.

Official records state that he was buried in the floor of the chapel at the Tower, St Peter ad Vistula with his name on a brass plaque in the chapel.

A major step forward in the investigation was the discovery of several coffin name plates which had been removed during the Restoration for safe keeping.

Covered in candle wax from people trying to read the inscriptions, it is now known that one of the plates was for the coffin of The Fox.

Professor Sue Black, of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identificatoin at Dundee University. PIC Jacky Ghossein TSPL

Erik Lundberg, voluntary custodian of Wardlaw Mausoleum, said the crypt at the mausoleum had now been closed to visitors until Dame Black’s investigations are complete.

Her work will form part of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s outreach programme, which in 2013 successfully staged a mock trial of the 1752 Appin Murder in Fort William using up to date investigative and forensic techniques.

Mr Lundberg said: “This is a very exciting time at Wardlaw. This is a great piece of Scottish history and we may soon know if these are the actual remains of Simon the Fox.

“We have not been in a position before to learn if this is the case, but with developments in forensic techniques and the work of Dame Sue Black, we may be close to finding out.

Mr Lundberg added: “Press reports from the day indicate the which indicate that our coffin Is the one in which he was placed straight after the execution.

“It must have been switched by friends or family and someone else has gone into the floor of the chapel at the Tower.”

Mr Lundberg said he hoped Dame Black’s work at Wardlaw would further up the profile of the mausoleum, which needs around £75,000 to carry out necessary repairs

Given its connections to Clan Fraser, around two thirds of its visitors are fans of Outlander, many whom arrive on organised tours, with author Diana Gabaldon twice visiting the attraction.

“Outlander and its fans have really been our saviours,” Mr Lundberg said,

Inside the mausoleum. PIC Contributed