Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fraser, Simon (1667?-1747)

FRASER, SIMON, twelfth Lord Lovat (1667?–1747), notorious Jacobite intriguer, was a descendant of Sir Simon Fraser, high sheriff of Tweeddale (now Peeblesshire). Another Simon Fraser, who fell at the battle of Halidon Hill in 1338, came into the possession of the tower and fort of Lovat, near the Beauly, Inverness-shire, anciently the seat of the Bissets; and in accordance with highland custom the clan Fraser were therefore called in Gaelic Macshimi, sons of Simon. In 1431 Hugh, grandson of Simon, was created a lord of parliament under the title Lord Lovat. Simon, twelfth lord, was the son of Thomas Fraser, styled afterwards ‘of Beaufort’ (Castle Downie, the chief seat of the family), third son of the eighth Lord Lovat, his mother being Sybilla, daughter of the Macleod of Macleod. According to his age at his death printed on his coffin, and to several statements made by himself, he was born about 1667. His birthplace was probably a small house in Tanich, Ross-shire, then occupied by his father, who suffered imprisonment for joining the expedition of Dundee in 1689; the next year served under General Buchan, and in 1696 joined with Lord Drummond and other noblemen in an attempt to surprise Edinburgh Castle (Memoirs, 1797, p. 211; letter to the Duke of Perth 9 Feb. 1704 in Correspondence of Nathaniel Hooke, i. 86). Simon was educated at King's College, Aberdeen, where, as would appear from his love of classical quotation and allusion, he acquired some proficiency in his studies. Indeed, he curiously united the peculiarities of a wild highland chief with those of a cultivated gentleman. When he had just taken the degree of M.A. in 1683, and was about to ‘enter upon the science of civil law,’ his studies were interrupted by the proposal that he should accept a commission in the regiment of Lord Murray, afterwards duke of Atholl. The proposal was, he states, extremely distasteful to him, and only assented to on the assurance that the design of Lord Murray in accepting the regiment was treacherously to aid King James with it ‘in a descent he had promised to make during the ensuing summer.’ In 1696 he accompanied Lord Murray (who in July was created Earl of Tullibardine) and his cousin, Lord Lovat, to London. He there so ingratiated himself with his cousin, whom he describes as of ‘contracted understanding,’ that Lord Lovat made a universal bequest to him of all his estates in case he should die without male issue, an opportune arrangement, for Lovat died very shortly after his return from London. By a deed made on 20 March it was found that the estates had been settled for life on Simon Fraser's father, Thomas Fraser of Beaufort, Simon having consoled himself for his filial piety in effecting this arrangement by securing for himself meanwhile a grant of five thousand merks Scots. The father thereupon assumed the title of Lord Lovat, and Simon styled himself Master of Lovat. Emilia, eldest daughter of the tenth lord, assumed, however, the title of Baroness of Lovat, and as she had the support of her mother's brother, the Earl of Tullibardine, lord high commissioner of Scotland, Simon prudently resolved to end the dispute by marrying the heiress. He attempted to get her into his hands, but the clansman who had been entrusted with conveying her, for whatever reason, failed to complete his commission, and brought her back to her mother. A treaty was then entered into for her marriage with the Master of Saltoun, whereupon Fraser raised a number of his followers, and falling in with Lords Saltoun and Tullibardine after they had left Castle Downie, captured them near Inverness, and conveyed them prisoners to the island of Aigas. He then invested Castle Downie, of which he soon obtained possession, and, finding the daughter had been removed beyond his reach, resolved, possibly rather from a sudden impulse of vengeance than from interested motives, to compel the mother to marry him instead. In the middle of the night he introduced into her chamber a clergyman, Robert Monroe of Abertarf, and the marriage was performed by force, the bagpipes being blown up to stifle the lady's cries (State Trials, xiv. 356). For some time afterwards the lady, whom he also removed to the island of Aigas, remained in a state of utter physical and mental prostration; but Fraser is said to have ultimately won her affection. At first he gave out that it was the lady herself who sent for the minister, and it has also been stated that she sent for a second minister; but in subsequent years, when he found it impossible to reap any benefit from the marriage, Lovat deemed it more convenient to treat the whole matter as a practical joke of his own, without legal validity. The Earl of Tullibardine at once took measures for punishing the outrage committed on his sister. Letters of ‘intercommuning’ and of fire and sword were issued against Fraser and his followers; proceedings were taken against him and his father and others in the court of justiciary, which ended on 6 Sept. 1698 in their being found guilty of high treason, and condemned to be executed as traitors (ib. xiv. 350–78). Simon removed his father to Skye, where he died in the castle of Dunvegan in 1699, when the son assumed the title of Lord Lovat. For some time he wandered with a band of trusty followers among the wilds of the northern highlands, eluding every effort to capture him, and occasionally inflicting severe losses on his pursuers. By cleverly working on the jealousy of the Duke of Argyll towards the rival house of Atholl he induced Argyll in the autumn of 1700 to intervene to procure him a pardon from King William. On Argyll's recommendation he took a journey to London, but King William was then on the continent, and Lovat utilised the opportunity to run over to France, where he paid two visits to the exiled court at St. Germain. His reason for doing so, he unblushingly states, was to dissipate the calumnies against the sincerity of his Jacobitism disseminated by the Marquis of Atholl, and he asserts that he was so successful that James promised when he came into power ‘to exterminate that perfidious and traitorous family’ (Memoirs, 103). He then met William at the Loo, having, according to his own account, agreed, at the special request of King James, to ‘make his peace with the reigning government in order to save his clan.’ He played before William the part of a devoted subject with such seeming sincerity that, if he is to be believed, William gave instructions that there should be drawn up for him ‘an ample and complete pardon for every imaginable crime’ (ib. 105). The limitation of the pardon, after it passed through the various forms, to offences against the state was, Lovat asserts, due to the ‘unnatural treachery’ of his cousin who had charge of the matter; but the records of the privy council, on the contrary, prove that William declined to interfere in regard to offences against private persons. For his outrage against the Dowager Lady Lovat he was consequently summoned before the high court of justiciary, and failing to appear was outlawed 17 Feb. 1701. On 19 Feb. of the following year the lady also presented a petition for letters of ‘intercommuning’ against him, which were a second time granted. After the death of King William, acting, he asserted, on the advice of Argyll, Lovat for greater security went to France, which he reached in July 1702. He can scarcely, however, have been following Argyll's advice when he pretended to have authority from some of the Scottish nobility and chiefs of the highlands to offer their services to the court of St. Germain (MACPHERSON, Original Papers, 629). King James was then dead, but Lovat succeeded in obtaining an audience, not only of Mary of Modena, but of Louis XIV. It was probably to secure this that he found it expedient to become a convert to the catholic faith, and as a matter of fact it was through Gualterio, the papal legate, that he opened communications with the French king. Louis bestowed on him a valuable sword and other tokens of regard. Lovat's proposal was that the Scottish Jacobites should raise as many as twelve thousand men, on condition that the French king should land five thousand men at Dundee and five hundred at Fort William. The unsatisfactory condition of Lovat's private affairs was his chief reason for coquetting with Jacobitism, and he doubtless did not intend to do more than coquet until he was more certain of success and rewards. Though his proposals were regarded with favour by Louis, the Scotch Jacobites at St. Germain were far from satisfied with his credentials. It was therefore resolved to send him to Scotland to make further inquiries, John Murray, a naturalised Frenchman, brother of the laird of Abercairny, accompanying him to act as a check on his procedure, and to afford some assurance of the genuineness of his information (instructions to Simon Fraser, lord Lovat, in Macpherson's Original Papers, i. 630–1). Murray confined his attention chiefly to the lowland nobles and gentry, while Lovat made a tour through the clans. Not improbably Lovat intended at first to do his utmost to promote a rising in the highlands, but the clans were distrustful. Lockhart of Carnwath asserts (as did also the tories at the time) that Lovat had all along been acting as the spy of Argyll and Queensberry, and that he went to the highlands with their knowledge; but it would rather appear that Fraser introduced himself to Queensberry because he had met with insufficient encouragement in the highlands. Lovat states that he was particularly on his guard with Queensberry in order to ‘amuse him and throw him on the wrong scent;’ and this he certainly did, in so far as he made Queensberry the instrument of gratifying his own personal revenge against the Duke of Atholl. He showed Queensberry a letter from Mary of Modena addressed to Atholl, in which she wrote: ‘You may be sure that when my concerns require the help of my friends you are one of the first I have in my view.’ The letter was probably intended for any nobleman whom Lovat might select, but Queensberry having also a special grudge against Atholl did not fail at once to accept the bait. He gave Lovat a pass to proceed to the continent to obtain further evidence against Atholl and others. Lovat was of course seriously desirous to ruin Atholl, and would have fabricated sufficient evidence for this purpose but for the interposition in the matter of Robert Ferguson, the plotter [q. v.] Lovat actually justifies his accusations by pleading that they were groundless; that Atholl was ‘notoriously the incorrigible enemy of King James,’ and that he was bound not to spare this ‘incorrigible villain’ (Memoirs, 175). He asserted that he never made any revelations to Queensberry except regarding those who were not Jacobites; but there can be little doubt that, besides revenging himself on Atholl, Lovat's aim was, as his enemies asserted, by ‘treachery and villainy’ to regain through Queensberry the ‘complete possession of his province and estates.’ His machinations were, however, completely upset by the revelations of Ferguson, for while Queensberry was by means of them driven from power and rendered unable to assist him, the double part Lovat had been acting became known to the Jacobites at St. Germain. With a pass from Queensberry, Lovat succeeded in reaching Holland, and after many hair-breadth escapes arrived in Paris, where he states he was on account of fatigue attacked by a serious illness, which lasted three weeks (ib. 243). Lovat had sent to the queen an account of his mission in Scotland (‘Memorial to the Queen of all that my Lord Lovat did in his Voyage to England and Scotland by her Majesty's orders’ in Macpherson's Original Papers, i. 641–50), but on account of information regarding his procedure brought by Murray he was arrested. His own account is that ‘after spending thirty-two days in a dark and unwholesome dungeon’ he was confined for three years in the castle of Angoulême, and for other seven years had his liberty restricted to the city of Saumur (Memoirs, written by himself, p. 270); but in the short ‘Memoirs of the Life of Lord Lovat,’ published in 1746, and the ‘Life’ erroneously attributed to a Rev. Archibald Arbuthnot, he is stated to have been a prisoner in the Bastille, to have become a curé at St. Omer, acquiring considerable fame as a preacher, and to have been admitted into the order of jesuits.

Meantime Emilia Fraser, the heiress of Lovat, whom Fraser had endeavoured to carry off, was married to Alexander Mackenzie, son of Roderick Mackenzie of Prestonhall, a judge in the court of session, and with the aid of the judge's legal knowledge Mackenzie, in the absence of Lovat, obtained on 2 Dec. 1702 a decree from the court of session for the estate, and his wife for the title, an execution of entail being further made in favour of the issue of the marriage. Mackenzie also got a deed executed 23 Feb. 1706, permitting the heirs, ‘if they should think fit, in place of the surname of Fraser to bear the name of Mackenzie.’ This procedure deeply offended the clan, and after several meetings of the gentlemen had been held they in 1713 despatched Major Fraser of Castle Leathers to France to discover the whereabouts of their chief and bring him home. After a vain attempt to induce the chevalier to sanction Lovat's release, Lovat and the major, with the aid of the jesuits and on the pretence that they were entrusted by the chevalier with a search commission, concerted an escape. Arriving in London, they were arrested in their lodgings in Soho Square, and kept for some time in a sponging-house, but obtained their liberty on Lord Sutherland, Forbes of Culloden, and others, becoming bail for them for 5,000l. Lovat did not, however, proceed northwards till the outbreak of the rebellion in 1715, when, perhaps less from revenge for his treatment by the Jacobites in France than from regard to his personal interests, he resolved to take the side of the government. His defection from the cause of the Pretender was a serious calamity, and if it did not turn the balance against it rendered its defeat much easier than it would otherwise have been. Mar, writing in February 1716, says: ‘Lovat is the life and soul of the party here; the whole country and his name dote on him; all the Frasers have left us since his appearing in the country.’ He completely broke the back of the rebellion in the northern regions of Scotland by the capture of Inverness. His services were so valuable as to obliterate the memory of his former offences, but the rewards he obtained were by no means commensurate with his ambition. On account of a memorial signed by the Earl of Sutherland and others he received on 10 March 1716 a full pardon, and on 23 June was honoured by an audience of the king; but although Mackenzie had been outlawed and attainted for his connection with the rebellion, his lands could not be forfeited without a special act of parliament, and all that Lovat therefore received was a life-rent of the estates. In 1721, when his proxy was produced at an election of a representative Scottish peer, it was protested against on the ground that the peerage was vested in the person of Emilia, baroness of Lovat, by a decree of the court of session. For the same reason his vote was objected to in 1722 and 1727. In 1730 he commenced an action for ‘reducing’ the previous judgment of the court against him, as he had not been a party to the action in which it was decided, and on 30 July the dignity and honours of Lord Fraser of Lovat were declared to belong to him as eldest son of Thomas, lord Fraser of Lovat. The litigation was, however, continued, and it was not till 1733 that a compromise was agreed upon, whereby Hugh Mackenzie, son of the baroness, consented for a money consideration to renounce his claims to the honours and estates of Lovat.

Lovat's romantic adventures appealed to the clan sentiment. Burt also states that he made use of all arts to impress upon his followers ‘how sacred a character that of chief or chieftain was;’ and possibly in this instance he was himself thoroughly convinced of the truth of what he inculcated. At Castle Downie he kept a sort of rude court, and several public tables. ‘His table,’ says Sir Walter Scott, ‘was filled with Frasers, all of whom he called his cousins, but took care that the fare with which they were regaled was adapted, not to the supposed quality, but to the actual importance of his guests’ (Tales of a Grandfather). The manners and customs prevailing at Castle Downie were a reflection of the strange idiosyncrasy of the chief. A wild savagery in modes of punishment flourished along with an ardent sentiment of brotherhood; and ceremonious formality was associated with unsavoury pleasantries and indecorous orgies. The territory of Lovat had in 1704 been erected into a regality, and as in addition to this he was appointed sheriff of Inverness, he found considerable scope for the exercise of his remarkable talents in augmenting his influence in the north of Scotland. In 1724 he addressed to the king a ‘Memorial concerning the State of the Highlands’ (printed in App. to Burt's Letters, 5th ed. ii. 254) recommending the establishment of independent highland companies commanded by the chiefs, and when his recommendation was adopted he was appointed to the command of one of the companies. Lovat always professed a special friendship for the Argyll family, whose interests he pretended to represent in the northern regions; but even as early as 1719 this friendship did not prevent him from writing to Seaforth, promising to join him on behalf of the Pretender (State Trials, xviii. 586). The government having obtained information of his intentions, he went to London to make explanations, meantime giving instructions to his clan to take up arms on the side of the government. His mission to London so successfully dissipated the doubts regarding his fidelity, that King George agreed to be godfather to his child, Colonel William Grant of Ballindalloch being appointed to act as his proxy. This barren honour was perhaps less than Lovat had expected, for his communications with the Jacobite party were soon resumed. He was the first to join the association formed about 1737 to invite the chevalier to land in Scotland, a patent for a dukedom being the price by which his services were won. The government became suspicious, and deprived him both of his command of the highland regiment and of his office as sheriff. The humiliation stung him to the quick. He himself said that if Kouli Khan had landed in Britain he thought ‘that would have justified him to have joined him with his clan, and he would have done it.’ At the same time Lovat modified his desire for vengeance by a keen regard to other advantages, and when the Pretender actually arrived in Lochaber manifested no special enthusiasm for his cause. The friendly correspondence he continued to keep up with Duncan Forbes of Culloden (see Culloden Papers) was no doubt chiefly meant to delude the government, but it is evident that he also wished to avoid committing himself irrevocably to the Pretender till the success of the enterprise became more certain. It was not till after the battle of Prestonpans on 21 Sept. 1745 that he ‘threw off the mask’ so far as to send round the fiery cross to summon his followers, but even then his friendly communications did not cease with Duncan Forbes, to whom he explained that his son had joined the Pretender contrary to his wishes, and that ‘nothing ever grieved his soul so much’ as his son's resolution to join the prince. It was impossible to believe such protestations. Lord Loudoun therefore on 11 Dec. marched to Castle Downie, and seizing Lovat brought him to Inverness as a hostage for the clan's fidelity, but on 2 Jan. he made his escape. He now wrote to his son that nothing ever made him ‘speak so much as a fair word’ to President Forbes, except to save himself from prison (State Trials, xviii. 771), and that his chief desire now was that his son ‘should make a figure in the prince's army;’ but at the same time he asked him to take measures to secure the patent of the dukedom, stating that if it was refused he must keep to his oath that he would never draw sword till that was done. The northward retreat of the prince's forces had already begun. Desirous to back out of the enterprise even at the eleventh hour, Lovat now sent a message to his son desiring him to come home, professedly that he might raise more troops; but such a shallow pretext did not for a moment deceive the son, who advised his father ‘not to lose on both sides’ (ib. p. 764). After the disaster of 10 April 1746 at Culloden, the one half of the highland army retreated by Gortuleg, where Lovat was then staying at the house of one of the gentlemen of his clan. He was anxiously awaiting news of the result of the struggle, when the ‘wild and desolate vale below him was suddenly filled with horsemen riding furiously towards the castle.’ A lady who was there at the time as a child records that the sudden appearance of the confused multitude in the plain below her seemed to her a vision of the fairies, and that, in accordance with highland tradition, she strove to refrain from moving her eyelid lest the vision should disappear. Driven to bay, Lovat now vainly advised the prince to make one resolute stand, telling him that his great ancestor Robert Bruce after losing eleven battles won Scotland by the twelfth. The prince in the morning fled westwards, and Lovat sought a retreat he had prepared for himself on Loch Muilly. On the way thither he is said to have witnessed from a hill-top the blaze of Castle Downie, set fire to by the soldiers of Cumberland. He had boasted of his retreat that he ‘would make a hundred good men defend it against all the forces that King George can have in Scotland’ (Letter to his son in State Trials, xviii. 759), but he left this retreat for another seventy miles further off, in the lake of Morar on the western coast. As he possessed the only boat on the lake, he felt pretty secure in his hiding-place, but the sailors from a man-of-war towed a boat over the peninsula separating the lake from the sea, and launched it on the lake. Lovat was discovered in the hollow of a tree, his legs muffled in flannel betraying his presence. He was carried in a litter to Fort William and thence by easy stages to London. At St. Albans he had an interview in the White Hart with Hogarth, with whom he had a previous acquaintance, and who then had the opportunity of sketching the famous portrait of him, impressions of which were immediately prepared for sale, and were in such demand that the rolling-press was kept at work day and night. On reaching London Lovat was lodged in the Tower. He was tried for high treason before the House of Lords, and, being found guilty on 18 March 1747, was beheaded at the Tower on the 9th of the following April. In accordance with the regulations as to cases of high treason, all help from counsel was denied him except in regard to strictly legal points. Old and infirm, he was thus placed at great disadvantage. Much evidence was admitted against him the legal validity of which was very questionable. He conducted himself with great tact, and the objections he made as well as his set speeches fully bore out his reputation for shrewdness. On the lord high steward putting the question whether he wished to offer anything further, ‘Nothing,’ said Lovat, ‘except to thank your lordship for your goodness to me. God bless you all, and I wish you an eternal farewell. We shall not all meet again in the same place; I am sure of that’ (State Trials, xviii. 840). The story of Lovat's life, and possibly also his great age, attracted an extraordinary crowd to witness his execution. A scaffold fell, causing the deaths of several people, on which Lovat grimly remarked, ‘The more mischief the better sport.’ When on ascending to the place of execution he saw the immense crowds beneath him, ‘Why,’ he said, ‘should there be such a bustle about taking off an old grey head that cannot get up three steps without two men to support it?’ Before placing his head on the block he, with characteristic appropriation of the noblest sentiments, repeated the line from Horace:

    Dulce et decorum est pro patriâ mori;

and in a vein of becoming moralising, he also quoted Ovid:

    Nam genus et proavos, et quæ non fecimus ipsi,
    Vix ea nostra voco.

In the paper he delivered to the sheriff he declared that he died ‘a true but unworthy member of the holy catholic apostolic church.’ He had left a codicil to his will that all the pipers from John o' Groat's house to Edinburgh should be invited to play at his funeral; but events having rendered this impossible, he had desired before his execution that he might nevertheless be buried in his tomb at Kirkhill, that ‘some good old highland women might sing a coronach at his funeral.’ He died in this expectation, but although the body was given to an undertaker for this purpose, ‘leave not being given as was expected, it was again brought back to the Tower and interred near the bodies of the other lords’ (Gent. Mag. xvii. 162).

During the lifetime of the Dowager Countess of Lovat, whom he had forcibly married, Lovat was twice married: first, in 1717, to Margaret, daughter of Ludovic Grant of Grant, by whom he had two sons and two daughters; and secondly, to Primrose Campbell, daughter of John Campbell of Mamore, whom he is said to have induced to accept his addresses by inveigling her into a house in Edinburgh, which he asserted was notoriously one of ill-fame, and threatening to blast her character unless she complied with his wishes. By this lady he had one son. His eldest son by the previous marriage was Simon [see {{sc|Fraser, Simon, 1726–1782]. The second son, Alexander, rose to the rank of brigadier-general. Janet, the eldest daughter, married Macpherson of Clunie; Sybilla, the younger, died unmarried. Archibald Campbell Fraser [q. v.], the son of the second marriage, succeeded to the estates on the death, without issue, of his half-brother Simon in 1782. Archibald survived his five sons, and on his death in 1815, the descendants not merely of Simon, twelfth Lord Lovat, but of Hugh, ninth Lord Lovat, became extinct, the estates and male representation of the family devolving on the Frasers of Strichen, Aberdeenshire. Besides the portrait taken at St. Albans, there is another of Lovat by Hogarth, done at an earlier period. The original St. Albans portrait came into the possession of the Faringtons of Worden, Lancashire (Notes and Queries, 4th ser. ii. 59, 191). There is an engraving of Lovat in the prime of life in Mrs. Thomson's ‘Memoirs of the Jacobites.’ The description of Lovat by a correspondent in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ at the time of his trial, tallies closely with the Hogarth likeness: ‘Lord Lovat makes an odd figure, being generally more loaded with clothes than a Dutchman with his ten pair of breeches; he is tall, walks very upright considering his great age, and is tolerably well shaped; he has a large mouth and short nose, with eyes very much contracted and down-looking, a very small forehead, almost all covered with a large periwig; this gives him a grim aspect, but upon addressing any one he puts on a smiling countenance’ (xvi. 339). A gold-headed cane, said to be that handed by Lord Lovat to his cousin on the scaffold, was sold by auction in January 1870 for 24l. 10s., but the genuine cane was afterwards asserted never to have left the possession of the Frasers of Ford (Notes and Queries, 4th ser. v. 137, 213).

[John Anderson's Historical Account of the Family of Fraser, 1825; Genuine Memoirs of the Life of Lord Lovat, 1746; French translation published at Amsterdam, 1747, under the title Mémoires Autentiques de la vie du Lord Lovat, which is included in Mémoires de la vie du Lord Lovat, 1747 (containing in addition an account of Lord Kilmarnock, &c.); A Candid and Impartial Account of the Behaviour of Lord Lovat, 1747; The Life, Adventures, &c., of Lord Lovat, n.d., reprinted erroneously as by Rev. Archibald Arbuthnot, 1747; Memoirs of Lord Lovat, 1746, reprinted 1767; Memoirs of the Life of Simon Lord Lovat, written by himself in the French language, and now first translated from the original manuscript, 1797; Information for Simon Lord Lovat against Hugh Mackenzie, and various other legal documents on the Lovat Peerage Case, 1729; State Trials, xiv. 350–78, xviii. 530–858; Spalding Club Miscellany, ii. 1–25; Macpherson's Original Papers; Culloden Papers; Lockhart of Carnwath's Papers; Account of the Scotch Plot in Somers Tracts, xii. 433–7; Hooke's Correspondence; Correspondence of Lord Lovat, 1740–5, in University Library, Edinburgh (Laing collection); Ferguson's Robert Ferguson the Plotter, 1887; Gent. Mag. vols. xvi. and xvii.; Scots Mag. vol. ix.; Mrs. Thomson's Memoirs of the Jacobites, ii. 208–388; Hill Burton's Life of Simon Lord Lovat; Major Fraser's Manuscript, ed. Lieutenant-Colonel Fergusson.]

T. F. H.