HE was a clan chief whose backing for Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite cause earned him the dubious honour of being the last man to be beheaded in the British Isles.
But now a myth that the remains of Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, were smuggled back to Scotland by his supporters have been laid to rest by modern forensic science.
Bones thought to have belonged to the 18th century nobleman, known as the ‘Old Fox’, said to have been interred at Wardlaw Mausoleum near Inverness, have been revealed to be those of a young woman.
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Yet, like Lord Lovat, the remains are missing a skull – and mystery surrounds how the woman came to be buried in the Fraser family vault.
The quest to uncover the identity of the remains was led by leading Scottish forensic anthropologist Professor Dame Sue Black, who used modern techniques and DNA testing to try and determine if the body was Lord Lovat’s.
Official accounts maintain the remains of the Clan Fraser chief were buried under a chapel floor in the Tower of London immediately following his execution, but the Fraser family has always maintained that his body was intercepted by his own supporters and returned to Scotland in the casket found at Wardlaw Mausoleum, which is made of expensive double lead.
The Old Fox was sentenced to death for treason against the Crown after backing the Jacobites, but was known a charmer who previously indicated he was prepared to switch sides.
At first, permission was granted for his remains to be brought back north, but was later refused in case his burial site became a rallying point for future uprisings.
However, nine days had passed between his execution and his burial, leading to the rise of the legend his remains were smuggled out of London and taken to his native land.
The Old Fox is today known to readers and TV audiences as the grandfather of Jamie Fraser, the lead character in the popular “Outlander” series.
“The remains were in poor condition, very wet, in common with remains that have been a long time in a wooden or lead coffin, so in line with what we expected.
“The area of the body most indicative of whether remains are male or female is the shape of the pelvis, and two areas of the pelvis in particular. In both areas, these remains were very feminine. There is no way that these were the remains of an 80-year-old six-foot man who suffered from gout and arthritis.”
Now the probe will focus on the identity of the woman, to find out if she was connected to the Fraser family.
Prof Black added: “We estimate these are the remains of a young woman, probably aged 25-35. We understand that there are some possibilities that she might be a member of the Fraser family, and further DNA testing is being carried out.
“We simply don’t know what happened to the head, but it may be that it has been taken as a trophy many years ago. The DNA testing should confirm whether the remains are those of a member of the Fraser family, in which case the casket may well have simply been put to use.
“But if the remains are not a member of the family, then we are faced with more of a poser as to how she came to be buried in the casket.”
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