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The Black Knee Chronicles

Volume 1

A Note on Archibald Frazer

by Wilson Ray Frazer (1874-1963)

In 1884 the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords had before them a claim preferred by John Fraser to the Barony and Estates of Lovat (1) Fraser contended that he was descended from Alexander, the elder brother of Simon Fraser, the Lord Lovat of the 1745 (2). The proceedings roused a great deal of public interest. In the end it was proven beyond doubt that Alexander had died, unmarried, from wounds received at the battle of Killicrankie. Fraser's claim was rejected.

Reading about the claim revived in my father's (3) memory a family tradition, given later on, which had lain almost forgotten for nearly 70 years. My father, knowing little of the clan genealogies and ramifications, got the idea that Alexander, whom John Fraser claimed as his ancestor, was in fact ours. Accordingly he spent some time and effort in trying vainly to trace the connection, until it was made quite clear that Alexander never had any descendants.

It was during this period that I asked my father how old Archibald was when he died. Without hesitation my father said "Ninety or over". I want to emphasize that this was my father's immediate reaction to the question, because at a later date when chasing other ideas, we rather lost sight of, or ignored, my father's categorical statement on this obviously important point.

Our interest flagged, and it was not until after the war of 1914-15 that my brother Joe (4) made a careful study of the clan genealogies, and these, together with information which I gleaned from the Stuart Papers at Windsor, led us to think that the link we were looking for was Simon Fraser of the Cadet House of Brae. A very great deal of research has been made into the life of Simon of Brae. Quite a biography of him has emerged. In a letter he himself says that he left a small family "behind" when, after the failure of the 1715 rebellion, he escaped to join the Jacobites in France. It seemed a pretty good scent, and it was followed up with vigour. But in spite of all our efforts no trace whatever of the "small family" has been found. When Simon of Brea died in Edinburgh, no heirs put in an appearance. So gradually doubts have been growing in my mind. It may be that the small family were all girls; or if there was a boy, that he died young; or indeed, at that period, the mother and children all died in some epidemic. Certainly at the end of his life Simon of Brae seems to have been remarkably solitary.

Up to this we had not seriously considered the possibility of Simon of Lovat himself being our link. His family affairs were well enough known, and did not seem to offer any point for our speculations. One day, however, when reading some correspondence in the British Museum, I came across what appears to be conclusive evidence that Simon of Lovat had a legal wife in France in 1702-3. This discovery led me to abandon Simon of Brae, the more especially since the family traditions and other indications seem to be even more applicable to Simon of Lovat than to Simon of Brae. Unfortunately, my retirement, the war (5), and subsequent disabilities have hampered me in pursuing the matter.

The traditions and indications mentioned above are as follows:-

(1) The family tradition. This relates to when Archibald (6), the last surviving male representative of Simon Lovat of the '45 died in 1814, Joseph the eldest grandson of our Archibald - he who was fated to be murdered 20 years later - urged his father Robert to put in a claim for the Lovat peerage and estates and "not to lose what rightly belonged to them". To this his father replied "Child, what you never had, you never lost" and refused to do anything about it. He did not, however, deny the relationship which would in other circumstances have made the claim possible. As things were, both the title and the estates had been forfeited after the '45: and though some 40 years later the estates had been restored to the old Lovat's son Sir Simon Fraser on payment of a substantial sum, Sir Simon had entailed them successively on the Chief Houses of the Clan in the event of he himself and his brother Archibald dying without male heirs; as indeed happened in 1814 when the house of Strichen succeeded to the estates under the entail and have since secured by Act of Parliament the restoration of the Barony. In these circumstances, it would clearly have been absurd for Robert to have made a claim.

(2) The fact that Archibald clearly had French affinities, is said to have spoken French more readily than English, and was known as "the Frenchman" among his neighbours in Queens County, Ireland.

(3) The date of Archibald's death. Probate was granted on his will on the 12th April 1796. The proving of a will was a slow business, and it would be quite reasonable, I think, to put the actual death in April 1795 or even earlier. If, as my father stated, Archibald was "90 or over" at his death, a date for his birth in 1703 would not be unreasonable.

Archibald is said to have been buried "in front of the altar" in the church of Dunkerrin, King's County: but unfortunately the church and its records were destroyed by fire over a century ago.

(4) The statement of Sir John Maclean. Outlawed and in peril of his life, Simon fled from Scotland and came down to London. This was in 1701, and for the greater part of that year he remained in London. But on the death of King James in September 1701, Simon risked a dash to the Highlands to get the opinions of Chiefs of Clans on the question of an armed rising to restore the Stuarts. He was back again in London about February, 1702. He soon made up his mind to take the information he had collected in Scotland to St Germain.(7)

However he lingered for some time in London - there was a lady in the offing as we shall see - but ultimately he set out at the end of May or early in June and reached Paris about mid-July. There is a little mystery about the date of his arrival. He himself says in his memoirs that he "arrived in Paris with this important commission about the month of September, 1702". There is, however, conclusive evidence that he was in Paris as early as mid-July. An explanation of the discrepancy will be suggested later. Earlier or later, however, he got in touch with his cousin Sir John Maclean who had been at St Germain for a number of years, and by him and others no doubt was instructed in the politics and intrigues at St Germain. During a part of this period he seems to have lived as Capt. John Campbell. Eventually, in September or perhaps October or later, he was introduced to Lord Perth, and through him to Queen Mary of Modena, and ultimately to King Louis himself. To them he expounded his plan for a Scots rising in favour of the young James. The plan met with general approval. While the project was being considered by Queen Mary and her advisers, Simon seems to have taken lodging at St Germain: but later when the project was under consideration by the French Government, he had to find an apartment in Paris, to facilitate the lengthy explanations and consultations about his scheme which he was to have with several French ministers.

It was presumably at this time - the very end of October or the beginning of November - that Simon received from Sir John Maclean two letters, copies here. The letter F55 contains two references which help fix its approximate date. The burning of the treasure ships which so upset Louis XIV, was the news dated 23 October 1702, which is reported from Paris in the London Gazette of 27 October, that "Admiral Benbow has burned 10 or 12 French merchant ships of great value". The reference to Prince John of Baden coming over the Rhine is more obscure, but troops under his command seem to have crossed the Rhine and then recrossed it in the latter part of October. From this indication I think Sir John's letters were dated about the end of October or beginning of November 1702.

Sir John's writing and spelling was erratic, but I think that the meaning of the letter, including the Gaelic, is reasonably clear.

The outstanding point in these letters is, of course, the reference to Simon's hitherto unheard of wife of 1702.

A careful study of the letters is illuminating. In the case of F55 Simon had apparently written to Maclean, enclosing a letter to be handed to Perth. In his reply (F55) says nothing about the letter for Perth but tells Simon about Craig (? code name for Perth) visiting the Queen, and about the departure of Simon's wife. Simon, as I infer from the subdued tone of F59, wrote back sharply asking whether his letter had been delivered to Perth, and when and why his wife had left them and where she had gone. At the same time he possibly hinted that his wife was pregnant and should have been treated more considerately, or something to that affect. This conjecture is, I think, reasonable and necessary to explain not only the subdued tone of F89 and the obvious change in Lady Maclean's attitude, but also Sir John's declaration - "I am yours and you heirs for ever" - and his address to Simon as "the poor MacKimmie, Cock expecting and heir". Pursuing the same vein of pleasantry, Sir John inserts "potent" before "impotent" which in F55 was probably a playful reference to Simon as a chief without a clan.


  1. Lord Lovat being the hereditary Chief of the 'Highland' Frasers, Lady Saltoun being the Chief of the Clan of Fraser. (Back)
  2. Notorious for his marital and political dealings; active in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 leading to the final defeat at Culloden, was beheaded for treason at the Tower of London, the last person to have this honour; the axe and block are still on display. (Back)
  3. Joseph Frazer 1838-1908. (Back)
  4. Joseph Frazer c1986-1946. (Back)
  5. World War II 1939-45. (Back)
  6. Archibald Campbell Fraser 1736-1815, youngest son of Simon of Lovat, not our Archibald. (Back)
  7. The Jacobite Court in exile in France. (Back)


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