Allan Massie

Taking the Low Road

The Last Highlander: Scotland’s Most Notorious Clan Chief, Rebel & Double Agent


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Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, was found guilty of treason and beheaded on Tower Green in 1747, the last aristocrat in Britain to be killed in this manner. He was almost eighty and went to his death cheerfully. He declared that he died ‘a martyr for my country’, though few would have agreed with this claim, and said that he hoped ‘to be in heaven by one o’clock, or I should not be so merry now’. His numerous enemies might have thought the alternative destination more probable. Hogarth sketched his portrait while the old man was travelling as a prisoner from his native Highlands to London; ‘There he sits, almost sprawls,’ Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson wrote in his history of the first three Jacobite Risings, ‘obscene, gross, faintly satanic, still bursting with life, awaiting the axe with cynical amusement.’

Lovat has generally been portrayed as a scoundrel. There is reason for this. He was a violent man who raped his first wife to compel her to marry him, the ceremony being conducted by a drunk Episcopalian minister. He was also instrumental in the kidnapping

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