Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox






THE last occasion on which the headsman's block, still preserved in the Tower, was used for its dreadful purpose, was the execution of the celebrated Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, for the part taken by him in the Rebellion of '45. The three other Lords sentenced for their part in the same rebellion had given little trouble at their trials. The Earls of Cromarty and Kilmarnock, seeing the strength of the evidence about to be brought against them, pleaded guilty at once, and humbly entreated that their lives might be spared. Cromarty pathetically appealed to the Lords on the plea of his unhappy wife and eight children; Kilmarnock appealed for mercy on grounds which seem far more extraordinary, for he attributed to the excellent principles of loyalty, in which he had educated his eldest son, that the young man had actually fought against him on the Royal side at Culloden ! and argued that this fact should be considered in his own favour.

Cromarty received a pardon, but Kilmarnock was ordered for execution.

Balmerino, a man of high spirit, and convinced in


his heart that he had fought in the good cause, made no submission, and after an attempt, which was overruled by the Judges, to disprove his presence in Carlisle on the day named in the indictment, gave up any further defence, and prepared to die with the same courage as he had shown through life.

Kilmarnock and Balmerino suffered upon Tower Hill in August, 1745, the former avowing his error and expressing remorse for his offence, while his companion boldly cried out "God save King James !" on his way through the gates to Tower Hill, and declared, before he laid his head on the fatal block, that if he had a thousand lives he would lay them down in the same cause.

The trial of Lord Lovat was delayed till March of 1746, owing to some difficulties of procuring evidence; for though no one had shown more energy in the Pretender's cause, Lovat had never been seen in arms against the Crown, nor in the commission of any overt act of treason. But John Murray, who had been Secretary to Prince Charles, had the baseness to place in the hands of Government, as the price of his own safety, a number of letters from Lovat to the Prince, which, with other corroboration, furnished unquestionable proofs of his guilt.

He conducted his own defence with a mixture of shrewdness and buffoonery which produced anything but a favourable impression upon the Peers who tried him. H. Walpole, who was present at the trial, observes, " I did not think it possible to feel so little as I did at so melancholy a spectacle; but tyranny and villany, wound up by buffoonery, took off all edge of compassion." At his


execution Lord Lovat behaved with wonderful coolness, remarking to the crowd who pressed round the coach of the Lieutenant of the Tower, in which he was carried through the gate to Tower Hill, that they need not be in a hurry, for there would certainly be no sport till he himself arrived.

He appeared to pay serious attention to a Catholic priest who administered to his last moments, and repeated from Horace, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori;" though, as Lord Stanhope has justly observed in his History, no man was ever less strongly imbued with that noble sentiment, except perhaps its writer.

The coffin-plates of Lords Kilmarnock, Balmerino, and Lovat were discovered about twenty-five years ago, when a quantity of bones were disinterred for the purpose of excavating the foundations of the present barracks.

They were thrown aside with the same carelessness as the gravestone of Talbot Edwards; but fortunately discovered by an officer of the Tower and placed in the vestry, where they are now carefully secured from accident in glass cases.