Crime: high treason
Date Of Execution: 9 Apr 1747
Execution Place: unknown
Beheaded for High Treason, at the age of Eighty, on 9th of April, 1747
Execution of Lord Lovat
LORD LOVAT, who in 1715 had been a supporter of the House of Hanover, in 1745 changed sides, and became a friend of the party which he had before opposed.
His career in life began in the year 1692, when he was appointed a captain in Lord Tullibardine's regiment, but he resigned his commission in order to prosecute his claim to be the Chief of the Frasers; in order to effect which he laid a scheme to get possession of the heiress of Lovat, who was about to be married to a son of Lord Salton. He raised a clan, who violently seized the young lord, and, erecting a gibbet, showed it to him and his father, threatening their instant deaths unless they relinquished the contract made for the heiress of Lovat. To this, fearing for their lives, they consented; but, still unable to get possession of the young lady, he seized the Dowager Lady Lovat in her own house, caused a priest to marry them against her consent, cut her stays open with his dirk, and, assisted by his ruffians, tore off her clothes, forced her into bed, to which he followed her, and then called his companions to witness the consummation of the outrageous marriage. For this breach of the peace he was indicted, but fled from justice; but he was nevertheless tried for rape, and for treason, in opposing the laws with an armed force; and sentence of outlawry was pronounced against him. Having fled to France, he turned Papist, ingratiated himself with the Pretender, and was rewarded by him with a commission; but he was apprehended on the remonstrance of the English ambassador in Paris, and lodged in the Bastille, where, having remained some years, he procured his liberty by taking priests' orders, under colour of which he became a Jesuit in the College of St Omer.
In the first rebellion of 1715 he returned to Scotland, and, joining the King's troops, assisted them in seizing Inverness from the rebels; for which service he got the title of Lovat, was appointed to command, and had other favours conferred upon him. In the rebellion of which we are now treating he turned sides and joined the Pretender, a step treacherous in the extreme. When taken, he was old, unwieldy and almost helpless; although in that condition he had been possessed of infinite resources to assist the rebellion. He petitioned the Duke of Cumberland for mercy; and, hoping to work upon his feelings, recapitulated his former services, the favours that he had received from the Duke's grandfather, King George I., and dwelt much upon his access to Court, saying he had carried him to whom he now sued for life in his arms and, when a baby, held him up while his grandsire fondled him.
On the 9th of March, 1747, however, he was taken from the Tower to Westminster Hall for trial, and, the evidence adduced clearly proving his guilt to be of no ordinary character, he was convicted. He was next day brought up for judgment, and sentence of death was pronounced.
That this sentence was not ill deserved appears from a speech of Lord Belhaven, delivered in the last Parliament held in Edinburgh, in 1706, in which his lordship, speaking of this nobleman, then Captain Fraser, on occasion of the Scots plot, commonly called Fraser's plot, says that "he deserved, if practicable, to have been hanged five several times, in five different places, and upon five different accounts at least: as having been notoriously a traitor to the Court of St James's, a traitor to the Court of St Germain's, a traitor to the Court of Versailles and a traitor to his own country of Scotland; in being not only an avowed and restless enemy to the peace and quiet of its established government and constitution, both in Church and State, but likewise, a vile Proteus-like apostate and a seducer of others in point of religion, as the tide or wind changed; and, moreover, that (abstracted from all those, his multiplied acts of treason, abroad and at home) he deserved to be hanged as a condemned criminal, outlaw and fugitive, for the barbarous, cruel and most flagitious rape he had, with the assistance of some of his vile and abominable band of ruffians, violently committed on the body of a right honourable and virtuous lady, the widow of the late Lord Lovat, and sister of his Grace the late Duke of Atholl. Nay, so hardened was Captain Fraser, that he audaciously erected a gallows, and threatened to hang thereon one of the said lady's brothers and some other gentlemen of quality who accompanied him in going to rescue him out of that criminal's cruel hand."
On the morning fixed for his execution, 9th of April, 1747, Lord Lovat, who was now in his eightieth year, and very large and unwieldy in his person, awoke at about three o'clock, and was heard to pray with great devotion. At five o'clock he arose, and asked for a glass of wine-and-water, and at eight o'clock he desired that his wig might be sent, that the barber might have time to comb it out genteelly, and he then provided himself with a purse to hold the money which he intended for the executioner. At about half-past nine o'clock he ate heartily of minced veal, and ordered that his friends might be provided with coffee and chocolate, and at eleven o'clock the sheriffs came to demand his body. He then requested his friends to retire while he said a short prayer; but he soon called them back, and said that he was ready.
At the bottom of the first pair of stairs, General Williamson invited him into his room to rest himself, which he did, and on his entrance, paid his respects to the company politely, and talked freely. He desired of the general, in French, that he might take leave of his lady, and thank her for her civilities: but the general told his lordship, in the same language, that she was too much affected with his lordship’s misfortunes to bear the shock of seeing him, and therefore hoped his lordship would excuse her. He then took his leave, and proceeded. At the door he bowed to the spectators, and was conveyed from thence to the outer gate in the governor’s coach, where he was delivered to the sheriffs, who conducted him in another coach to the house near the scaffold, in which was a room lined with black cloth, and hung with sconces, for his reception. His friends were at first denied entrance but, upon application made by his lordship to the sheriffs for their admittance, it was granted. Soon after, his lordship, addressing himself to the sheriffs, thanked them for the favour, and taking a paper out of his pocket, delivered it to one of them, saying he should make no speech and that they might give the word of command when they pleased. A gentleman present beginning to react a prayer to his lordship while he was sitting, he called one of the warders to help him up, that he might kneel. He then prayed silently a short time, and afterwards sat again in his chair. Being asked by one of the sheriffs if he would refresh himself with a glass of wine, he declined it, because no warm water could be had to mix with it, and took a little burnt brandy and bitters in its stead. He requested that his clothes might be delivered to his friends with his corpse, and said for that reason he should give the executioner ten guineas. He also desired of the sheriffs that his head might be received in a cloth, and put into the coffin, which the sheriffs, after conferring with some gentlemen present, promised should be done; as also that the holding up the head at the corners of the scaffold should be dispensed with, as it had been of late years at the execution of lords.
When his lordship was going up the steps to the scaffold, assisted by two warders, he looked round, and, seeing so great a concourse of people, "God save us," says he, "why should there be such a bustle about taking off an old grey head, that cannot get up three steps without three bodies to support it?"
Turning about, and observing one of his friends much dejected, he clapped him on the shoulder, saying: "Cheer up thy heart, man! I am not afraid; why should you be so?" As soon as he came upon the scaffold he asked for the executioner, and presented him with ten guineas in a purse, and then, desiring to see the axe, he felt the edge and said he "believed it would do." Soon after, he rose from the chair which was placed for him and looked at the inscription on his coffin, and on sitting down again he repeated from Horace: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" [it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country] and afterwards from Ovid [Met. 13. 140-1]: "Nam genus et proavos, et quae non fecimus ipsi, Vix ea nostra voco." [As for things done by our ancestors and other people than ourselves, I say we can have no credit for them]
He then desired all the people to stand off, except his two warders, who supported his lordship while he said a prayer; after which he called his solicitor and agent in Scotland, Mr W. Fraser, and, presenting his gold-headed cane, said, "I deliver you this cane in token of my sense of your faithful services, and of my committing to you all the power I have upon earth," and then embraced him. He also called for Mr James Fraser, and said: "My dear James, I am going to heaven; but you must continue to crawl a little longer in this evil world." And, taking leave of both, he delivered his hat, wig and clothes to Mr William Fraser, desiring him to see that the executioner did not touch them. He ordered his cap to be put on, and, unloosing his neckcloth and the collar of his shirt, knelt down at the block, and pulled the cloth which was to receive his head close to him. But, being placed too near the block, the executioner desired him to remove a little farther back, which with the warders' assistance was immediately done; and, his neck being properly placed, he told the executioner he would say a short prayer and then give the signal by dropping his handkerchief. In this posture he remained about half-a-minute, and then, on throwing his handkerchief on the floor, the executioner at one blow cut off his head, which was received in the cloth, and, with his body was put into the coffin and carried in a hearse back to the Tower, where it was interred near the bodies of the other lords.
His lordship professed himself a papist, and, at his request, was attended by Mr Baker. attached to the chapel of the Sardinian ambassador; and though he insisted much on the services he had done the royal family in 1715, yet he declared, but a few days before his death, that he had been concerned in all the schemes formed for restoring the house of Stuart since he was fifteen years old.
This nobleman’s intellectual powers seem to have been considerable and his learning extensive. He spoke Latin, French, and English, fluently, and other modern languages intelligibly. He studied at Aberdeen, and disputed his philosophy in Greek; and, though he was educated a protestant, yet, after three years’ study of divinity and controversy, he turned papist. He maintained an appearance of that facetious disposition for which he was remarkable, to the last ; and seems to have taken great pains to quit the stage, not only with decency, but with that dignity which is thought to distinguish the good conscience and the noble mind.
The following lines upon the execution of these noblemen are said to have been repeated with great energy by Dr Johnson, although there appears to he no ground for supposing that they were the Doctor’s own composition. They first appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine:
Pitied by gentle minds, Kilmarnock died
The Brave, Balmerino, were on thy side;
Ratcliffe, unhappy in his crimes of youth,
Steady in what he still mistook for truth,
Beheld his death so decently unmoved,
The soft lamented, and the brave approved.
But Lovat’s end indifferently we view,
True to no King, to no religion true:
No fair forgets the ruin he has done;
No child laments the tyrant of his son;
No Tory pities thinking what he was
No Whig compassions, for he left the cause;
The brave regret not, for he was not brave;
The honest mourn not, knowing him a knave."