19/01/2018
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Research on the final resting place of 'The Old Fox' - the DNA results are in

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An expert team led by leading forensic anthropologist Professor Dame Sue Black has carried out detailed investigations, including DNA testing, in an attempt to discover whether remains at Wardlaw Mausoleum are those of Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat.

The debate has run since he became the last man to be beheaded in Britain in 1747 - was the Jacobite supporting clan chief Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, buried in the Tower of London or do his remains lie in his family’s Highland cemetery? 

'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.

He was among those who supported Bonnie Prince Charlie defeated at the battle of Culloden, and was sentenced to death for treason against the Crown. 

Discover of a headless body

The mystery deepened with the discovery of a headless body in a damaged lead casket in the cemetery, Wardlaw Mausoleum at Kirkhill, near Inverness.

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 clan has maintained that his body was intercepted by his own supporters and returned to Scotland in the casket, which is expensive double lead. 

The research results

Professor Black, Director of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, told an audience of more than 400 people gathered at a special event on 18 January organised by the RSE at the Kingsmill Hotel in Inverness that the headless body in the lead casket was a woman, and one aged around 25 or a little more.

Professor Black said: “We can say with absolute certainty that these are not the remains of The Old Fox. 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.

“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.” 

The debate continues

This now leaves the debate to look at how the remains of a headless young woman came to lie in a casket thought to have been designed for Lord Lovat. Did the family simply decide to put to use an expensive casket? Or is more of a conspiracy at play? But for sure, the Tower has always maintained that Lovat was buried within its walls, and there is no reason to doubt that at present.

Professor Black said: “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.” 

For more details on the RSE @ Inverness programme and to book online, visit their website.

Image of Wardlaw Mausoleum copyright Wardlaw Mausoleum

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