THE LOVAT FRASERS

The Lovat Frasers Locally prominent for 500 years, lately visited by catastrophe, the Lovat Frasers were originally Norman from Anjou. By 1030 seigneurs of La Frezeliere (where strawberries grew, hence the name), with Simon Frisel or Frazer owning land in Scotland by 1160, the family tradition developed that the first born male of each new generation should be named Simon. So most Lovat lords came to be called 'Mac Shimidh', Gaelic for 'son of Simon'. William Fraser, brother of the founder of the Lovat line, was Regent of all Scotland north of the Forth in 1288. Simon Fraser of Oliver Castle defeated the English at Rosslyn a few years later, but was captured and hideously executed in London. By 1367 Hugh Fraser, Lord Lovat, held land near Beauly, while in 1500 Hugh Fraser of Glenconvinth famously slew a nine foot dragon in the heather. Setbacks included a disastrous 1544 battle against Clanranald, but a later Mac Shimidh could hang a golden chain at the 'Stock Ford of Ross' (Beauly River) and leave it there, and nobody dared steal it. So to the notorious 11th Lord, also Simon, (c.1667 - 1747). Lacking 'the kind nature that is attracted by honest labour' the 'Old Fox' first persuaded his cousin Hugh, the 9th Lord, to nominate as heir his own father, Thomas. When Hugh died in 1696 Simon promptly tried to marry his nine year old daughter, Amelia, then in 1697 abducted his widow. By force he wed then bedded her, a piper drowning her screams while a kinsman cut off her buckram stays with his dirk. Even by 1697 standards this, like the then recent Massacre of Glencoe, was too much. Outlawed, Simon fled to Eilean Aigas with his bride, unconvincingly denying charges of rape. Forced to release the lady, he fled to Skye, to become 11th Lord when his father died in 1699. Still outlawed, estates forfeit, he visited the Old Pretender in France and swore loyalty. Back in Scotland in 1703 as a Jacobite spy, he turned his coat, got involved in a plot that collapsed, and fled back to France. Jailed for almost a decade, he escaped and in 1715 led his clan against the Jacobites. Pardoned and regaining Lovat lands, he began 'brooding over how to make the Highlands a more profitable place for Simon Fraser of Lovat'. Advocating the formation of Highland Independent Companies to subdue Jacobitism, his command of one such company ended when General Wade removed him for stealing his clansmen's pay. When the '45 broke out and the Jacobites won at Prestonpans, this slippery rogue, now 78 and thrice married (his second wife had died, the third abandoned him), sent his son to fight for Prince Charlie. This was a bad move. On the run after Culloden, he was caught near Loch Morar. In London, his eloquent self defence was useless. As he was helped up to the block a woman howled: "You'll get that nasty head of yours chopped off, you ugly old English bitch". The last British aristocrat to be beheaded, he died with dignity, but was unusual in that most Lovats protected their folk, as during the Clearances, and in return received loyalty. Several raised special military forces. The Old Fox's eldest son led his Fraser Highlanders against the Heights of Abraham at Quebec in 1757. Over a century later the 16th Mac Shimidh (d. 1933) led locally raised Lovat Scouts in the Boer War. Later his cousin David Stirling, the 'Phantom Major', created and led the SAS in the Sahara during World War II. In a 1944 letter to Stalin, Winston Churchill described the 17th Lovat, also Simon, as 'the mildest mannered man that ever scuttled ships or cut a throat'. A natural leader and showman, when World War II broke out he led Lovat Scouts. After Dunkirk he argued the need for a fiercer type of war and formed the Special Services Brigade, the commandos. At dawn of 6 June 1944, on D-Day he landed his brigade on Sword Beach, beside him his piper, Bill Millen. To the skirl of 'Highland Laddie', carrying a rolled brolly and an old Winchester rifle with the name Lovat printed on his roll neck sweater, he led his men through fierce fire to relieve surrounded troops. In the 1960s epic movie, The Longest Day, Peter Lawford played Lovat. Surly critics said Lawford wasn't as handsome. After the war, married with six children, he rebuilt the Lovat estates. Reclaiming uplands for shorthorn cattle and reseeding low estates, by the 1960s he had over 35,000 acres of productive land, reinvesting the profits to employ local people. Historian and agriculturalist, an expert on Scottish affairs, all seemed well. Then a heart attack persuaded him to pass the estate to his first son, Simon. The rest is history. After years of financial collapse, in March 1994 his youngest and oldest sons died within ten days of each other, the first gored to death by a buffalo in Tanzania, the second of a heart attack while leading out the Dounie hunt. The 17th Lord survived by almost exactly a year. Beaufort Castle's new laird is, as it happens, by birth a Fraser. Creator of one of Scotland's biggest bus companies, on buying the castle she made clear her determination that 'such a great house should remain in Scottish hands' - not always the case these days. As for the new Mas Shimidh, the 18th Lord Lovat, remains clan chief of Lovat Frasers all round the globe. The long tale may have a twist yet.

Submitted By Carol Fraser 10 March 2001