Lovat of the 45, the old fox, scotland's most notorious clan chief, rebel and double agent


Simon Fraser, 11th lord lovat ‘last and greatest of the old-style scottish chiefs’

Like an old eagle, Lovat smiles enigmatically from under hooded eyes – complete with 18th century frock coat, wig, breeches, wrinkly stockings, and shoes with silver buckles. This is Lovat as the great cartoonist Hogarth saw him, in the Tower of London. Hogarth’s engraving of Lovat sold out 12 times. So many reprints earned the artist a lot of money. This oil  painting is based on the engraving.

Against the odds, Simon Fraser climbed the family tree to become Lord Lovat, chief of Clan Fraser, to lose it all on the last throw of the dice.


About Sarah

I am a writer, broadcaster, blogger and vlogger, wife, mother, granny and carer. We live in the Highlands of Scotland and London.

The end of lovat’s great gamble, 9th April, 1747, was a wet Thursday. The prisoner in the Tower prepared to die. ‘For my part,’ he said, ‘I die a martyr for my country.’ For the British government, Lord Lovat was that most dreaded and despised creature – a rebel, spy, and traitor.

In a life packed with plotting and incident, Lovat became the most notorious double-agent of the age.

He was born into a family that fought its way onto the beaches of England with William the Conqueror. The Old Fox became, by turns, a rebel Jacobite conspirator, a loyal British army officer, and government supporter. He spied for the Stuarts and the Hanoverian Kings. Born a Protestant, he converted to Roman Catholicism to follow the Stuarts. Mac Shimidh Mor to his kin (son of the Great Simon), Lord Lovat – somehow – kept ahead of his detractors and charmed his supporters for 60 years.


Last peer of the realm to be beheaded.  This is the block on which the Old Fox met his end.  It’s on display in The Tower of London

By the 1700s, Lovat Fraser country stretched over 500 square miles – from Inverness, south along Loch Ness, to the Atlantic west coast.

After the battle of Culloden, the Bonnie Prince escaped the manhunt for him. Lord Lovat became the British government’s most notorious prisoner. They put a ‘hook in the jaw of the great leviathan’, and locked him up in the Tower for a year. They did not let go until he was dead.

A lace-wristed courtier of kings in London and Paris, at the same time Lovat of the ’45 was a traditional Highland chief, with the power of life and death over his kin. But … he was born to none of this.

Born in obscurity, around 1667, Simon Fraser was merely second son of a second son. He should never have been chief. Yet, before he was twenty, a series of untimely deaths propelled him to the top of the family tree.

Within months, in one of those twists and turns that ruled his fate, he had been accused of raping a marquis’s daughter to accept his hand in marriage, and unjustly juggled out of his inheritance. Was he going to give up, let Murray and Mackenzie predators carve up the Frasers and their hereditary clan lands, and make them disappear for ever? No, he was not. He did what it took to survive, then thrived at the head of his clan from 1715-1745.

Map of the Clans

July 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie launched his clan powered odyssey to reclaim the thrones of his ancestors. Charles offered Lovat supreme command of his forces. The prince believed the old chief’s appearance would draw tens of thousands to the Stuart cause. An Old Fox to the end, Lovat hedged his bets. He disliked how the Prince had come so unprepared. ‘Siller [silver] would go far in the Highlands,’ he said, and Charles had come without money, men or arms.

So, Lovat sent out his son with the Fraser kin, and stayed at Castle Dounie himself, loudly lamenting the willful disobedience of children. The Jacobite armies reached Derby, before their ignominious retreat, to defeat at the hands of the government at Culloden.   

In The Last Highlander, I use the story of Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat’s life to recreate this extraordinary period of history in a gripping adventure and spy story. A 20th century novelist said Lovat was ‘the last and greatest of the old-style Scottish chiefs ’. A fellow Highlander, in 1747, said Lovat lived like a fox, but died like a lion, and, as a Highland chief should – that is, not in his bed.

The arc of Lovat’s life shows how defeat at Culloden leads to the death of the traditional Gaelic civilization of the clans.

Fear of the martial spirit of independent minded clansmen, led to a policy of ethnic cleansing that more than one historian has called ‘genocide’. The government ‘pacified’ the Highlands once and for all. The aftermath of Culloden anticipated the Clearances, when desperation forced so many Frasers to leave for America and Canada.

Read the latest books on the Frasers (the real Outlanders), the whole Jacobite drama  and Culloden


  1. Bradley Stanley frazier

    He did not die in 1747 look his coffin is empty save a mad woman that’s was swap for his freedom as the rigged by the Frasers podium fell the day off f his be heading that’s was just enough time to make the swap as he rode off to Ireland then sail to America starting my family line in Campbell VA

    • Sarah Fraser

      It’s a fun theory, but there is written evidence of his body and severed head being on display at the undertakers post mortem. Sarah.

  2. Tim Ball


    Can you help me with some research please?

    My great grandmother was a Fraser. Ketinah (unusual name but spelt correctly) died while giving birth to my grandfather in 1892. My grandfather, when he died in 1971, had a signet ring that belonged to Ketinah with the Fraser family crest on it. It was always said that she was directly descended from Simon ‘the Fox’ Fraser.

    My research on the Ancestry website confirms that Ketinah’s father, Donald, was born in Scotland in 1816. His marriage certificate confirms that his father was Alexander and there are various family trees on Ancestry that confirm that Alexander was born in 1789 and was the son of Hugh who was born in 1751. Then things become hazy! There are a number of family trees on the website that trace Hugh’s parents as being Alexander (born 1716) and Jannet (born 1717). Jannet was the daughter of Simon ‘the Fox’. However, my research on other sites also tells me that Jannet married Ewan Macpherson!

    The rumour of the link was certainly current in the later nineteenth century and the signet ring is gold so the link meant something to them. Whilst I understand that mistakes get repeated in internet research, that would not have happened back then so I think that there must be some truth in the rumour but I don’t think that it can be through this line. There must be a different link or, maybe, it was just a rumour which does not stand up to scrutiny.

    Do you have any thoughts?

    best wishes,


    • Sarah Fraser

      Hi Tim, The Old Fox had a son called Alexander, or Sandy, but he was born in 1729 – his mother died in childbirth. He died, unmarried in 1762 after a rackety life. Janet, as you say, married Ewen ‘Cluny’ MacPherson. None of Lovat of the ’45’s children produced children of their own who survived childhood. I’d get onto the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness. Here’s the link https://www.highlifehighland.com/highland-archive-centre/ They are very helpful. Good luck.

  3. Linda Arida


    My 5th great grandfather, Alexander Fraser (1728-1803 – died in Canada) is supposedly the son of Simon The Fox. When I look for Simon’s children I only find Simon and Archibald. Can you help me? I’m trying to make sure my tree is correct down to my 2nd great grandmother, Mary Fraser, from Picou, Nova Scotia.

    Thank you!

  4. Wendy. Cobham

    Hi Sara
    I too am Alexander Fraser’s (1728/9 1803) 4th great grand daughter and I can find his birth certificate and his marriage to wife Marion McIver but cannot find a reliable source of who his parents were. My mum’s family came down from his daughter Katherine. I have sent hours trying to find some credible reporting, can you help me. Thank you so much.

  5. Bernice Smith

    I’ve always been told that my ancestor on my maternal grandmother’s side was a kitchen maid and Lord Simon Lovat Fraser. It was always called on the wrong side of the blanket. Fraser was part of my family’s surname then people stopped using it. Another theory was after Culloden Lord Lovat asked villagers to change their surnames to Fraser and paid them with a bushel of corn.


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