The beheading of Clan Fraser chief watched by thousands
Such was the sensation created by the execution of Lord Lovat, the chief of Clan Fraser, nine people were killed when that a stand of spectators collapsed due to overcrowding.
A “roaring crowd” had gathered in Tower Hill in London to witness the beheading of the noble, the last person to be beheaded in Britain, on April 9 1747 - almost 270 years to the day.
Found guilty of high treason for his role in the 1745 Jacobite uprising, Lord Lovat, known as The Fox due to his double dealings with Stuarts and the British state, faced a merciless death.
Convicted after seven days in court, Lovat - portrayed as the grandfather of Jamie Fraser in the hugely successful Outlander series - had been told how he would meet his death.
He was to be hanged with his “bowels taken out and burnt before your face” with his head to be “severed from your body and your body divided into four quarters.”
With sentenced reduced to beheading by the King, Lovat passed almost a week in the Tower of London between his last day in court and the day of his death.
On the morning of April 9, Lovat woke at 3am and saw in the day with prayers and a glass of wine. His helpers thought he ‘seemed as cheerful as ever’ according to The Last Highlander, by author Sarah Fraser, whose husband is a direct descendant of the noble.
Fraser added: “By 7am they helped him to his chair by the fire. He examined his wig, and sent it back with the barber that he might ‘have time to comb it out in a genteel manner’,” Fraser wrote.
Not a shadow of fear or unease was detected in Lord Lovat, who was 80 on his day of execution.
“This was in the Tower,” Fraser added. “It would all change when they went out into the cart and faced the thousands of people scrapping now to get a good place.”
Lovat, who had great difficulty moving given the pain in his joints, was transported by coach from the Tower at 11am. He was moved through the “roaring crowd” to a little house near the scaffold.
Inside, it was lined with black lined and lit by sconces, Fraser wrote.
She added: “ His friends and kindred were denied entry. Lovat immediately turned to call to the Sheriffs to allow him his relations in this extreme moment of his life. One Sheriff, Mr Alsop, went and called them back. He did not mean to torment the old man as well as kill him.”
Lovat was helped to kneel so he could pray, with one of the Frasers asked to say a prayer.
Fraser added: “He then murmured a private prayer, inaudible to anyone, and looked up and asked to be seated. Then, ‘I am ready,” he said, affirming the Clan Fraser motto, Je Suis Prest.”
Mystery has ever since surrounded the final resting place of The Fox.
While he requested to be returned to the family crypt at Wardlaw Mausoleum near Inverness, this was ultimately refused given fears it would become a natural rallying point for his supporters.
While a plaque at the crypt at the Tower of London marks his burial spot, a theory exists that Lovat’s supporters did indeed return him to Wardlaw.
Top forensics expert Professor Dame Sue Black, of Dundee University, is to exhume remains in an unmarked coffin at the mausoleum, with the work to be completed by the end of the year.
Lord Lovat, who was played by Clive Russell in the Outlander series, 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.
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.