Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat (c.1667-1747) c.1703 1703

Sir John Baptist De Medina 1659 - 1710

Portrait of Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat (c.1667-1747) c.1703, Sir John Baptist De Medina
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches, 75 x 62.5 cm
Sir William Augustus Fraser 4th Bt; by descent to Sir Keith Fraser 6th Bt; 12th Marquess of Lothian; Private Collection from 1950; thence by descent.
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We are grateful to Dr. Duncan Thompson, former Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, for confirming the attribution to John Baptist de Medina.

This portrait is an important addition to the known iconography of one of Scotlandís most notorious and romantic figures. Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, was the most famous Jacobite supporter of the early eighteenth century, and has become a byword for crookedness and double-dealing. He is shown here as a shrewd and calculating soldier in the run up to the first serious Jacobite rebellion of 1715.

Lovat was primarily a man of unlimited personal ambition. He quite simply followed, without scruple though always with wit and flair, whichever course promised him the most personal reward. As such, he was one of the most unpredictable forces in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century Scottish politics. Among the most notable outrages of his early career was the rape and forced marriage in 1696 on the widow of the 10th Lord Fraser. Lovat was keen to secure his own claim to be chief of the Fraser clan and the income of the Fraser estates (not fully achieved until 1730). Such were his brideís screams of protest that he was obliged to summon a piper to drown out the noise. The affair split clan loyalties, and Lovat was forced to flee.

After a period of outlaw roaming the Scottish highlands, Lovat decided to seek political favour with the exiled titular James III, the Pretender, in France. Lovatís arrival at Jamesí court at St Germain in 1702 marked the beginning of his flirtations with both Catholicism and Jacobitism, though James was even then unconvinced of his genuine support for a Stuart restoration. A period of double dealing followed, with Lovat feigning support for James, but in fact acting as an agent for the authorities in Britain. In 1703 he returned to Scotland, ostensibly to test the Scottish waters for the Jacobites, and it was possibly then that he sat to Medina, when he would have been about thirty-five. He was, on his return to France, arrested by the French for spying, and obliged to spend ten years in confinement - including a short spell in the dungeons of the Bastille.

In 1713, however, Lovat enjoyed a sudden improvement in his fortunes. The Fraser clan in Scotland sought to re-install Lovat as chief, and helped engineer his escape and return to London. He remained in London until the first Jacobite rising began in Scotland in 1715, and immediately, if unexpectedly, decided to support the new Hanoverian dynasty. Lovatís decisive return north and resolute command of the Fraser clan played a large role in the Jacobite defeat. In return, George I made him Governor of Inverness.

And yet, Lovat was unable to resist simultaneously plotting with the Stuart dynasty. From 1719 onwards he began corresponding with the Jacobite Court, and by 1737 he was recognised by the Government as open to James IIIís return. Despite having succeeded in his claims to the Lovat title, the wealth of the Fraser estates, and some degree of political success, Lovat was impatient for greater things. It was perhaps inevitable that James IIIís promise of a Dukedom secured Lovatís his support during the last and most successful Jacobite uprising in 1745, when Bonnie Prince Charlie reached as far as Preston in England. The rebellion failed, however. After the defeat of Culloden, Lovat, the erstwhile Duke of Fraser and one of the most colourful characters in Scottish history, was found hiding in a tree. He was the last person to be executed in the Tower of London.

The earliest confirmed owner of this portrait is Sir William Augustus Fraser (1826-1898), a direct descendant of Hugh, 1st Lord Lovat, and a kinsman of the sitter. As with all portraits of Lovat it is not yet possible to know for certain any earlier provenance. After his capture in 1746 Lovat forfeited his estates and possessions, and in the absence of a will we have no way of knowing which portraits were first owned by him. As he wrote to his kinsman Major Fraser in April 1746, ĎI have neither house nor hall, wine ale, beer nor brandy, corn meal nor bread, but thank God am still in good spirits.Ē [Public Record Office SP 54/30/33B]

The earliest known portrait claimed to show Lovat (fancifully ascribed to Hogarth) shows the peer in a long wig and armour, and was last recorded in the possession of Sir Keith Fraser Bt., who also owned the present painting. A portrait showing Lovat in later middle age, and ascribed improbably to Kneller (more probably by Jervas), has only recently entered the family collection. Another portrait, attributed to Aikman but more probably another version by Jervas, is in the collection of the Earls of Seafield. Hogarthís original drawing appears to be lost. The present picture shows Lovat in early middle age. Though it shows Lovat as a younger man, this portrait by Medina is the closest likeness to the unrepentant rogue of Hogarthís famous drawing of 1746.
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