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Forensic expert to find out if coffin contains the 'Old Fox'

By Val Sweeney

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Wardlaw Mausoleum
Wardlaw Mausoleum

A COFFIN will be opened by a world-renowned scientist this week to see if it contains the remains of a notorious clan chief executed 270 years ago.

Scottish forensic anthropologist Dame Sue Black and her team will carry out an on-site examination in the crypt of the Wardlaw Mausoleum near Kirkhill to hopefully ascertain once and for all if the bones belong to Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat. Nicknamed the Old Fox, he was the last person to be beheaded in Britain.

TV presenter Dan Snow is also filming at the mausoleum and Culloden Battlefield for his history podcast, Dan Snow’s History Hit. 

Lord Lovat was executed in London in 1747 for supporting the Jacobite rebellion and Bonnie Prince Charlie despite previously doing deals with the cause’s enemies.

His body was buried under the floor of a chapel at the Tower of London but, according to the Lovat Fraser clan, it was intercepted by his supporters and brought back to the Highlands where it was laid to rest in his family’s mausoleum.

In recent times, the site has drawn in visitors, with the Old Fox known to fans of the popular Outlander books and television drama as the grandfather of lead character, Jamie Fraser.

Erik Lundberg, custodian of the mausoleum, is looking forward to finally getting some answers on who lies in the coffin.

"It is very exciting," he said. "I have had a 20-year interest in the building and been aware of this question. It has been a bit of a quest and finally, we might be getting an answer. I am reasonably confident it is him."

He said Dame Black and her colleague would "carefully and respectfully" lift the contents from the crypt to carry out an anatomical study, particularly focusing on the top vertabrae on the neck.

"One of Sue’s main skills is that she is an expert in beheadings," Mr Lundberg said. "She will look for axe marks on the vertabrae which can be matched to those of the actual axe in the Tower of London. To my mind, that will be conclusive evidence."

Dame Black will also look for evidence of gout which Simon Fraser suffered from and whether the remains are consistent with a famous portrait by William Hogarth when he was taken to London.

She will also try to extract any DNA samples, although it may not be viable as the remains have been stored in a lead coffin.

The results are expected to be revealed in Inverness in November.

Mr Lundberg hopes the worldwide interest in the story will help to raise £100,000 to carry out vital repairs to the mausoleum.

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