1306: Simon Fraser, William Wallace comrade in arms

Add comment September 8th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1306, Scottish patriot Simon Fraser was drawn and quartered in London.

This Norman-descended lord was one of the side-switching nobles during the wars of William Wallace, but after completing the full circuit from Wallace to Edward I and back again, he unexpectedly decided to lash himself to St. Andrew‘s cross for good.

Perhaps he could tell where the wind was blowing, and not just for his historical reputation: Fraser’s former ally, “Red” Comyn, went down the other fork in the road, submitting himself to an irresistible English invasion the better to devote his energies to his longshot horse in the confusing Scottish regnal derby.

Comyn’s reward was to be personally daggered to death at the altar of Greyfriars Church by Robert the Bruce.


The murder of John Comyn.

But no amount of royal sacrilege could arrest the popular fad for cutting a deal, and as celebrated in this History of the Frasers,

Every man of influence in the Kingdom, except Sir Simon Fraser, Sir William Wallace, and the band of patriots who comprised the garrison of Stirling, followed the example of Cumming [Comyn] … The patriots were proclaimed outlaws and their estates forfeited, and they ultimately sacrificed their noble lives in the undying service of their country. The redoubted Sir William Wallace continued most deservedly to be the idol of his countrymen for the glorious part which he took in establishing the independence of his fatherland, but “if to him be due the glory of being the first to awaken Scotland from her ignominious slumber, his efforts were nobly seconded by Sir Simon Fraser, who alone of the aristocracy was disposed to view with envy the merit which called his hero to command.”

Fraser outlived Wallace by a year, persisting in the field “bold as Caesar” which supposedly led a couple of Scottish knights imprisoned in the Tower to cockily wager their heads that the English would never corral him.*

Fraser suffered the torment of being hanged and cut down still alive for beheading, the spectacle of a double death (with the disemboweling part mercifully saved for posthumous application). His head was set on a spike on London Bridge beside Wallace’s, and his mangled trunk hung in chains under guard lest any soul sensitive to Scotch nationalism or mephitis should undertake to cut it down.

For all that he’s not even the most famous Simon Fraser to be executed by the English.

* Edward collected his prize; you can read all about it as an aside in this ballad on the execution of Fraser.

Sire Herbert of Morham, feyr knyht ant bold,
For the love of Frysel ys lyf wes ysold.
A wajour he made, so hit wes ytold,
Ys heued of to smhyte yef me him brohte in hold,
Wat so bytyde.
Sory wes he thenne,
Tho he myhte him kenne
Thourh the toun ryde.

Thenne seide ys scwyer a word anon-ryht:
“Sire, we beth dede; ne helpeth hit no wyht!”
(Thomas de Boys the scwyer wes to nome.)
“Nou Ychot oure wajour turneth ous to grome,
So Y bate!”
Y do ou to wyte,
Here heued was ofsmyte
Byfore the Tour gate.

Sir Herbert of Morham, a fair and bold knight,
For the love of Fraser his life was sold.
A wager he made, as it was told,
To have his head cut off if they captured Fraser,
Whatever betide.
Sorry was he then,
When he might see him
Ride through the town.

Then his squire spoke a word immediately:
“Sir, we’re dead; there’s no creature to help us!”
(Thomas de Bois was the squire’s name.)
“Now I know that our wager brings us to harm,
So my courage ends!”
I give you to know,
Their heads were cut off
Before the Tower gate.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Scotland,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1747: Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat

2 comments April 9th, 2010 Headsman

Unprincipled, octogenarian Scottish noble Simon Fraser,* Lord Lovat was on this date in 1747 the last to lose his head on Tower Hill.

The Clan Fraser patriarch was an expert double-dealer from his youth in Restoration England — when he recruited a small regiment in nominal service to William and Mary but allegedly plotting to desert to the Stuarts at the opportune moment.

That moment never came … and the Stuarts’ fruitless quest for it in the decades to come would eventually claim the Lord Lovat.

But first up: a long life of opportunistic, frequently reprehensible political maneuvering.

  • He kidnapped, raped, and forcibly married a woman from a rival clan in order to gain claim on a contested succession (Lovat had to flee the country, a death sentence in absentia at his heels)
  • He expediently converted to Catholicism to get in with the exiled Stuarts and their continental allies
  • He forged incriminating documents in an unsuccessful bid to undermine rival nobles
  • He played both sides of the Hanover-Stuart intrigue, ingratiating himself with both Jacobites and London during the 1715 rising. He did this so adeptly that George I served as Lovat’s son’s godfather

When the Jacobites decided to double down on doomed risings in 1745,** this wily knave finally managed to commit himself to the wrong team at the wrong time. Hey, everyone should be allowed one fatal mistake every 80 years or so. (Read all about those years in this public-domain biography.)

Though Lovat was so infirm he had to be borne on a litter, his military acumen would have been worth the rebels’ while had they possessed the muscle to get into a fair fight.

But they didn’t, and Lord Lovat was captured in the undignified circumstance of being stashed in a tree, and at length fitted for a no less undignified trial.

He could neither walk nor ride, as he was almost helpless; he was deaf, purblind, eighty years of age, ignorant of English law, and it was therefore not a matter of surprise that the high-born tribes, who thronged to his trial, were disappointed in the brilliancy of his parts, and in the readiness of his wit. “I see little of parts in him,” observes Walpole, “nor attributed much to that cunning for which he is so famous; it might catch wild Highlanders.” … It appeared, indeed, doubtful in what form death would seize him first, and whether disease and age might not cheat the scaffold of its victim.

Oh, well.

Only the good die young.

By his public life, he has left an indelible stain upon the honour of the Highland character, upon his party, upon his country.

* Not to be confused with the Canadian explorer for whom British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University is named.

** The 1745 rebellion spawned a popular patriotic song that became the national anthem: “God Save the King/Queen”.

One of the tune’s impolitic verses you won’t hear performed at glitzy official ceremonies (or much of anywhere at all) is this nationalist blast at the Jacobite party:

Lord grant that Marshal Wade
Shall by thy mighty aid
Victory bring
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush
Rebellious Scots to crush
God save the King.

All of which, one supposes, gives Simon Fraser claim to a spot in the fine print of the credits for the song, and for that matter, for the Sex Pistols’ riposte.

Nothing new, this scandalous punk riff: English radicals were travestying the nationalist anthem within the lifetime of many who personally saw the rebellious Scot Lord Lovat crushed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Infamous,Milestones,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Scotland,Soldiers,Treason

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