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Headless woman in clan chief mystery reinterred

The casket was laid to rest in the site of the original discovery in the mausoleum by current Clan Fraser chief, Simon and Erik Lundberg, of the Wardlaw Mausoleum Trust.
The casket was laid to rest in the site of the original discovery in the mausoleum by current Clan Fraser chief, Simon and Erik Lundberg, of the Wardlaw Mausoleum Trust.

The remains of a unidentified headless young woman, discovered in the search for the body of Jacobite Clan Chief Lord Lovat, have been laid to rest.

A short religious service was conducted by Father Max Nwosu yesterday at the Wardlaw Mausoleum in Kirkhill to reinter the remains after they were found not to belong to the legendary chieftain known as the “Old Fox”.

Anthropologist Professor Sue Black at work identifying some of the bone brought out. Picture by Sandy McCook.

The current chief Simon Fraser, 16th Lord Lovat, and Sarah Fraser who married into the clan and wrote The Last Highlander, an acclaimed biography of the Old Fox were both present.

So too was the custodian of the Wardlaw Mausoleum, Eric Lundberg, who described the service as a “very fitting reinternment.”

Erik Lundberg of the Wardlaw Mausoleum Trust.

He said: “The service went very well with a good representation from the Lovat family with Simon, Lord Lovat, and Sarah Fraser. There were lovely prayers from Father Max. Lord Simon personally took casket down into the crypt and laid it to rest.”

Now, despite the current forensic investigation ending, new leads are to be pursued in London by Mr Lundberg and Mrs Fraser.

The pair are to travel to the Tower of London next month to access a crypt that may yet hold the remains of elusive chieftain.

TV presenter Dan Snow in the crypt with the open coffin. Picture by Sandy McCook.

Experts had hoped they were close to answering the question of where the clan chief who was beheaded was buried after exhuming remains from the Wardlaw Mausoleum.

The mausoleum is located just four miles from the seat of the clan and the discovery of a headless body ignited the forensic investigation with a team travelling there last year to carry out DNA and other tests.

But in January Scotland’s top anthropologist, Dame professor Sue Black, revealed with confidence that the body was not the 80-year-old, 6ft Jacobite clan chief.

Dame Black, from Inverness, found instead that the remains were those of five different people and the most complete of those belonged to an unknown, headless young woman aged 25 to 35.

Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, was the last person to be beheaded in Britain at the Tower of London in 1747 for his support of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellion.

Official accounts state he was buried under a chapel floor in the tower but the clan always claimed his body was taken by supporters and returned to Scotland in a lead casket.

Lord Lovat, the Old Fox who laughed until his head fell off

Simon, 11th Lord Lovat, led a long and enormously colourful life that saw him feud, marry his aunt, be exiled, imprisoned and exiled again, side with the Stuarts, then against them and then for them – before finally being executed at the age of 80.

The most famous story involving the Old Fox was his mirth at the collapse of a stand that killed 20 spectators who had come to witness his execution.

When the axe came down he was said still to be chortling so hard that the phrase “laughing his head off” was born.

Around half a century before during a feud over succession he tried to marry his cousin but failing in that he married her mother instead.

He succeeded his father and found favour at the exiled Stuart court in France but in 1703 he secretly gave the government French invasion plans.

When this got back to Paris he was exiled from the capital to Bourges where he threw a huge celebration, was jailed, before a second exile.

He returned to London in 1714 and when the Jacobite rebellion broke out the next year he pledged his clan to government and his military skill led to the restoration of his title and estates.

Despite being a sympathiser he remained undecided about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s arrival in Scotland.

But his son Simon instead took the clan to war and after Culloden he was captured and taken to London for his trial for high treason.

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