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Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

    The life of the last of those misguided men whose heads were set up on Temple Bar as s rebels, nearly a century and a half ago, can hardly fail to be of interest to my readers, even though it should turn out that that life is not one of the heroic type of martyrs, but that of a clever, cunning man of the world, and, indeed, approaching to that of knave.
     At one time, to use the words of the late historio-grapher of Scotland, 'he was a mountain brigand, hunted from cave to cave, at another a laced courtier, welcomed by the first circles in Europe; in summer a powerful baron, with nearly half a kingdom at his back, in winter a prisoner, and dragged ignominiously to the block on Tower Hill: by turns a soldier; a statesman, a Highland chief, a judge administering the law of the land; uniting the loyal Presbyterian Whig with the Catholic Jacobite, and supporting both characters with equal success.'
Lord Lovat was a strange and eccentric character, and one whom it is worth while to study. His high talents-I had almost written genius-his versatility, his great influence over others, make him out as one who towered above his fellow-men, though his personal history is a record of fraud and force, which would have been impossible to read in any but a most unsettled time-indeed, a period of civil strife. His biography has been written at length by several hands, from which the following notice is largely abridged. To the contents of these biographies, which are rare in the extreme, I am able to add one little bit of romance, namely, that there is reason to believe that, though he lived and died as Lord Lovat, he had no real right or claim to the title of Lord Lovatat all, but only to that of the Hon. Simon Fraser.*
     He was born about the year 1676, and is described as 'the second son of Thomas Fraser, fourth son of Hugh, Lord of Lovat: and it is worthy of note that no attempt is made by any of his biographers to show what became of his elder brother. All that we learn about Simon's childhood and youth is, that he was educated at King's College, Aberdeen, that he distinguished himself in the acquirement of Latin and French, and that lies tone of writing and speaking was that of a scholar. He was taken from college to hold a company in the regiment raised in the service of William and Mary, by Lord Murray, son of the Marquis of Athole.
     His cousin, Lord Lovat, it appears, had married a daughter of the Lord of Athole, and her brother naturally desired that the young lord should assist in the recruiting. Simon, who had no toleration for any treachery that was not o his own devising, speaks of this proceeding against the exiled sovereign as 'an infamon commission,' furthered by one who, 'not daring to attack the Frasers in an open and decisive manner, endeavored to tarnish their reputationn by ruining that of their chief.'  The object of sending for Simon was to inform him that a captain's commission in the regiment was at his service if he would give his influence to persuade the clan to become recruits. 'But Simon's virtue,' we are told, 'was incorruptible-he rejected the bait with scorn.' He informed the head of his house how that 'he had for ever lost his honor and his loyalty, and that possibly ho would one day lose his estates in consequence of the infamous steps he had taken; that, for himself, he was so far from consenting to accept a commission in the regiment of that traitor, Lord Murray, that he would immediately go home to his clan, and prevent any one man from enlisting in it.' Simon, however, at last accepted the commission; and thus, although his honor revolted against taking arms in support of King William, it was clear that 'he had no objection to entering his service, with the intention of betraying his trust and doing the work of the enemy.' In connection with thus period of his life there is extant a curious legal document, in the form of a bond, by which a fencing-master engages, during all the days of his life, to teach Simon his art; and the price for this slavery is eight pounds.
     At the age of twenty the young lord went to London with his brother-in-law, Murray, to presented at king William's court at Kensington. Shortly after his return from town occurred the death of the eleventh Lord Lovat, and Thomas Fraser of Beaufort immediately assumed the title of Lord Lovat. Simon-his elder brother Alexander being, as it was asserted, no longer in the land of the living took, according to the Scottish custom of a baron's eldest son, the title of 'The Master of Lovat' The above succession to the peerage, however, did not pass unchallenged, and it stood a chance of becoming one of the causes clbres of the time-one of those cases where legal principles and practices are torn up by the roots, that every fiber may be anatomized. In the meantime a series of stirring incidents prevented this matter from coming under the calm arbitration of the law. The chief of these was his attempted abduction of the young sister of the late lord, who had a better claim than himself to the Fraser estates.
     In the 'M
emoirs' of the Fraser family, it is stated that the heiress was destined for a member of the Athole family, by a 'project of that greyheaded tyrant, the Marquis of Athole, and of the Earl of Tullibardine, his eldest son, the true heir to his avarice and his other amiable qualities, to possess themselves of the estate of Lovat, and to enrich their family, which was hitherto rich only in hungry lords.'It was thought a dangerous project to force one who was not a Fraser on the clan; and Lord Saltoun-the head of a branch of the Fraser family in Aberdeenshire, with whom a sort of treaty had been concluded-was supposed to be a fitting instrument for counteracting the using influence of Simon.
     Baffled in his schemes with the heiress, Simon, for some reason or other not altogether explainable, seized on the widow of the late Lord Lovat, a lady of the Athole family, and compelled her to marry him. To accomplish this act, Simon and his clan rose in arms, ostensibly for the purpose of attacking Lord Saltoun's party; the real motive, however, was apparently the seizure of Doune Castle, where the dowager lady resided, as a close prisoner, and of forcing her into a marriage with him.  In the indictment brought against Thomas Fraser, the father, and Simon, the son, for this outrage, the particulars of the transaction are thus narrated.
Not only the said Thomas and Simon Eraser and their said accomplices refused to lay down arms and desist from their violence when commanded and charged by the sheriff of Inverness, but, going on in their villainous barbarities, they kept the said lady dowager in the most miserable captivity, and, when nothing that she could propose or promise world satisfy them, the said Captain Simon Fraser takes up the most mad and villainous resolution that ever was heard of; for all in a sudden he and his said accomplices make the lady close prisoner in her chamber under his armed guards, and then come upon her with the said Mr. Robert Munro, minister at Abertraff,* and three or four ruffians, in the night-time, about two or three of the morning, of the month of October last, or one or other days of the said month of October last, and, having dragged out her maids, Agues McBryar and - Fraser, he proposes to the lady that she should marry him, and when she fell in lamenting and crying, the great pipe was blown up to drown her cries, and the wicked villains ordered the minister to proceed.'
     As this deed was not only a crime, but an offence against a powerful family, Simon could protect himself from punishment only by open force, and thus he kept up a petty rebellion in the Highlands for some years. On the accession of Queen Anne, his opponents becoming all-powerful, he fled to France, where the nature of his offence, and the immorality and violence of his whole life and character, were no obstaclee to his being received into the favor and confidence of the 'devout' court of St. Germains. He undertook to excite a fresh insurrection in the mountains of Scotland, and to asassemble twelve thousand Highlanders for the Prince of Wales if the courts of France would only contribute a few regular troops, some officers arms ammunition, and money. Louis XIV entered into this project, although be had no great confidence in Fraser's sincerity, and finally resolved that the outlaw should first return to Scotland, with two persons upon whom His Majesty might rely, and who were instructed to examine the Highlands, and sound the clans themselves.
     But Fraser no sooner reached Scotland with these two individuals than he privately revealed the whole plot to the Duke of Queensberry, undertaking to snake him acquainted with the whole correspondence between the Scottish Jacobites and the courts of St. Germain and Versailles. On it being discovered that he had hoaxed the Duke of Queensberry and other statesmen, and was playing a deep game of treachery of his own, he once more made good his safety by escaping to the Continent.
     He had already been outlawed for his outrages, and another Fraser enjoyed his estates by the letter of the law; but still he was not quite forgotten nor forsaken by his clan. And when, some years later, the holder of the estates had joined the insurrection, Simon found it to his interest to side with the Government. His clan at once left the insurgents, and he was by law once more duly installed in the full possession of his large estates.
     Of the innumerable intrigues in which he was engaged dining the remainder of his trickylife; how, in 1745, he tried to play a double game by sending his clan, under the command of his son, to fight for the Pretender, while he himself, deeply plotting for that cause, sided with the Royalists; of these things I need say nothing, as they are matters of history.
     Finding at last that a price was set upon his head, ho attempted to save his life by concealment in the wildest part of tire Western Highlands; but he was run to earth, and arrested at Moray, and taken to Fort William, whence he was conveyed to London by easy stages.* He was naturally the special object of vengeance of the Government, and, after a trial by his peers in Westminster Hall, was found guilty of treason, and executed on Tower Hill in April, 1747
     Whether the Dowager Lady Lovat, after the forced marriage above referred to, became reconciled or not to her fate, was afterwards to Simon Fraser a matter of indifference. 'He treated the forced ceremony as a youthful frolic,' writes Mr. J. Hill Burton in his history of Lord Leval, 'and the victim of it lived to see him twice married, and rising to the pinnacle of fortune as one who could over-ride the laws of both God and man. Her days, however, seem not to have been shortened by her hardships, for she lived till the year 1743, but died, unluckily, just too soon to see the signal downfall of her oppressor:

*This was written shortly before the question of the Lovat title was brought before the House of Lords in 1884 by a kinsman whose claim, though it wore an appearance of truth, was dismissed somewhat summarily on being sifted by a Committee of the House of Lords.

* one of the parties indicated.

* In the last of these stages he slept at the White Hart Inn at St. Albans, inhere he accidentally met Hogarth; and his portrait by that artist, ill-favored as it represents him, preserves at once his features, and the memory of that event.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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