Skip to main content

Simon Frazer, 11th Lord Lovat: The Last Person Beheaded in Britain

History's great. Robert Liston was a British surgeon. Deft, brusque, feared, admired, he recorded a 300% mortality rate from one operation.

Simon Frazer, 11th Lord Lovat, Chief of Clan Frazer of Lovat. Also known as "The Fox."

Simon Frazer, 11th Lord Lovat, Chief of Clan Frazer of Lovat. Also known as "The Fox."

Simon Frazer of Clan Frazer of Lovat

Simon Frazer, 11th Lord Lovat, was a thoroughly dislikeable chap known as "The Fox". From 1699 he was the chief of Clan Frazer of Lovat in the Scottish Highlands. Remembered in history as disloyal and violent, he was also the last person executed by beheading in Britain.

Born circa 1667 to Thomas of Beaufort (Thomas Lovat) and his wife Sibilla nee McLeod, he was the 2nd son. His elder brother Alexander was killed at the Battle of Killiekrankie on the 27th July 1689 during the Scottish Jacobite rebellion that aimed to oust rulers William III and Mary II and reinstate the exiled Stuart King James II/VII.

A good student, he graduated from King's College in Aberdeen with a Master of Arts degree in 1695. His life hereafter was full of controversy.

Scottish clans map including the Frazer land. Simon Frazer's mother was from Clan McLeod.

Scottish clans map including the Frazer land. Simon Frazer's mother was from Clan McLeod.

Hugh Frazer, 9th Lord Lovat

In 1695 Hugh Frazer, 9th Lord Lovat, chief of Clan Frazer, was under threat. He was not a glorious leader, and the rival Clan MacKenzie was growing more powerful. The Frazers' allies, the Murrays of Atholl, were also increasing their lands and stature in Scotland. Hugh Frazer was married to Amelia Murray. Simon became determined to displace Hugh Frazer and ensure that his father was the next clan chief.

Hugh Frazer's brother-in-law Lord John Murray, one of Scotland's most powerful men, was in the army that Simon Frazer raised in the name of William III and Mary II. Still, Murray remained unaware of Simon's intentions for Clan Frazer. Hugh Frazer made life easier for Simon by dying in London after naming Thomas of Beaufort as his successor.

Lord John Murray: Frenemy to Enemy

Lord John Murray disputed the appointment of Thomas as clan chief, and he raised an army to persuade Simon Frazer to renounce his claim to the clan leadership.

After a vicious verbal exchange with Murray that altered nothing Simon Frazer visited Hugh Frazer's widow with the plan to marry her daughter Amelia. Murray swiftly moved Amelia from her home Castle Dounie so she couldn't be located. Murray wanted Amelia to marry Alexander Frazer, so Simon kidnapped him. Alexander promised Simon that he would never marry Amelia.

Lord John Murray was not ready to concede. He proclaimed that Simon had risen against the crown, an act of treason, and he approached the government's army to hunt him down.

Lord John Murray later created 1st Duke of Atholl was incensed by Simon Frazer, 11th Lord Lovat's actions.

Lord John Murray later created 1st Duke of Atholl was incensed by Simon Frazer, 11th Lord Lovat's actions.

Amelia Murray Marriage and Feud

Simon Frazer married Amelia Murray, not the daughter but her mother, in October 1697. The bride, Lord John Murray's sister and Hugh Frazer's widow, was forced into the union, and the incensed Murray family brought charges of rape and forced marriage against him. Within weeks Simon was calling the marriage a joke, and he sent Amelia back to her family.

Under the charge of rebellion, Simon and his father, Thomas, clan chief, were sought dead or alive. Still at large, the men were convicted with 20 of their clan members. Thomas and Simon were in hiding on the Isle of Skye when Thomas died in 1699.

"The Fox": 11th Lord Lovat, Clan Frazer Chief

Simon "The Fox" Frazer, 11th Lord Lovat, had the loyalty of his clan members, but he was still a wanted man. This did not deter him from returning to the clan's territories on the mainland. A battle followed in which Simon was victorious, and two of Lord John Murray's brothers were forced to kiss the tip of Simon's sword, humiliating them.

The future 1st Duke of Argyll supported Simon and petitioned William III to give the 11th Lord Lovat a royal pardon for rebellion. He was successful.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

The Murrays' did not relent. They demanded justice, and In Lord Lovat's absence, a February 1701 Scottish court hearing ruled that he was an outlaw for committing "rapt and hamesucken." Within months William III died, and fortunes shifted as his successor Queen Anne was sympathetic to the Murrays.

The Clan Frazer of Lovat tartan. Tartan was outlawed for being a Jacobite or Stuart sympathiser's custom.

The Clan Frazer of Lovat tartan. Tartan was outlawed for being a Jacobite or Stuart sympathiser's custom.

Jacobite Plot and Prison

Another charge of rebellion was brought against Simon, who travelled to London to meet Queen Anne. While he was away, Amelia Murray, his stepdaughter and one-time potential bride, married Alexander MacKenzie, who took the name Alexander MacKenzie of Frazerdale. Technically, this made him a Frazer and under the terms of Hugh Frazer's will Alexander MacKenzie "of Frazerdale" possessed the Frazer lands regardless of all that had passed before. The clan never fully accepted a MacKenzie as their chief.

Simon made the journey to Paris to lobby the Stuart exiles about the matter. He also had an audience with King Louis XIV of France. To help win favour with the royals, he converted to Catholicism and plotted a Jacobite rising. Suspicions about Simon's dedication to the Stuart cause and double dealings led Louis XIV to imprison him for three years.

The Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745

Simon Frazer finally returned to Britain in 1714 as George I claimed the throne. The 1715 Jacobite Rebellion saw Simon travel north to the MacKenzie-held Frazer lands in the name of George I. Clan MacKenzie had declared their allegiance to the Stuarts.

The Jacobite rebellion was suppressed, and in May 1716, Simon Frazer's lands were restored to him as a loyal subject of the king. A time leap to the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion betrayed to George II that Simon was loyal to himself and no one else.

The 11th Lord Lovat made his son fight on the Stuart side as he at first claimed allegiance to George II. After the Stuart victory at the Battle of Prestonpans, he spoke out in favour of the Stuart claim. After George II's troops, led by his son William, Duke of Cumberland, won the 1746 Battle of Culloden, Simon was transported to London and imprisoned in the Tower of London on a charge of high treason.

William Hogarth's depiction of Lord Lovat on his journey to the Tower of London and his eventual beheading.

William Hogarth's depiction of Lord Lovat on his journey to the Tower of London and his eventual beheading.

Beheaded at the Tower of London

Simon's trial lasted five days at Westminster Hall, London, and the verdict was never in doubt. He was sentenced to the traditional traitor's death of hanging, drawing and quartering.

On the day of his execution, 9th April 1747, this was commuted to beheading. Seeing himself as a Scottish patriot rather than a traitor, he remained calm and good humoured as he awaited his death.

As spectators gathered in the overcrowded stands to see his head removed from his body, a stand collapsed. Nine people died; Simon was amused. He was said to be still laughing as he was beheaded. From his final moments, the saying "laugh your head off" was born.

During his colourful life, Simon had found time to marry two more women, although he never officially divorced Amelia Murray, and there were issues in both unions.

The clan succession passed to another branch of the family in 1815. Today Simon Frazer (b. 1977) is the 16th Lord Lovat, 26th Clan Frazer chief.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle

Related Articles