Highlands & Islands

Forensic scientist hopes to end Old Fox mystery

Lord Lovat bones
Image caption Dame Sue Black studies what are said to be Lord Lovat's remains

A forensic examination which will seek to end a long-running mystery about the final resting place of a Highlands clan chief has begun.

Nicknamed the Old Fox, Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, was a Jacobite sympathiser who did deals with the cause's enemies.

Following his execution in London, it is said his headless body was taken to his family's cemetery near Inverness.

Forensic scientist Dame Sue Black is to study what are said to be his remains.

After being beheaded in 1747, Lord Lovat's body was buried under the floor of a chapel at the Tower of London, according to the official account.

However, according to the Clan Fraser, his body was intercepted by his supporters and taken back to Scotland where it was laid to rest in his family's mausoleum.

Neck bones

Image copyright Peter Moore/Geograph
Image caption Lord Lovat was laid to rest in his family's mausoleum and not London, according to Clan Fraser

A body, minus the head, is in a damaged lead casket inside Wardlaw Mausoleum at Kirkhill, near Inverness.

With help from a colleague, University of Dundee-based Prof Black will lay out the bones at the mausoleum and check if they are those of a man, reveal their size and show evidence of injuries and illnesses.

The forensic scientist hopes to match cuts on the neck bones with the blade of the axe used in Lord Lovat's execution. The weapon is stored at the Tower of London.

Some DNA testing is also to be done at Prof Black's university laboratory.

The results of the forensic examination are to be released later this year.

Image caption Dame Sue Black is to lead an examination of the remains

The Old Fox is known today by readers and TV audiences as the grandfather of Jamie Fraser, a lead character in the Outlander books and television drama.

The books and the TV show have brought hundreds of visitors to the Wardlaw Mausoleum.

The clan chief, the last person to be beheaded in Britain, is recorded in history as a charmer who was prepared to switch sides during and around the times of the Jacobite uprisings.

But the last of those risings, in which he supported Bonnie Prince Charlie, ended in defeat for the Jacobites at Culloden in April 1746. The following year, Old Fox was executed at Tower Hill in London.

It is said that several people who had gathered to watch the beheading died after the scaffold they were on collapsed.

Lord Lovat found this incident funny and is said to have been so visibly amused when he was executed that his death led to the phrase "laughing your head off".

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