It’s a legend in my mother’s family that its head is the rightful Lord Lovat. His forebear was the younger brother of the Lovat who was the last man to have his head chopped off on Tower Hill in 1747 when he was 80. His lifetime of wickedness caught up with him when he backed the losing side in Prince Charles’s Rising of 1745. His younger brother John was his enforcer earlier in the century and he is said to have been killed in 1716. Not so, runs the family tale. Scotland became too hot for him and the brothers concocted the story that he was dead, but instead he escaped to America. And the title was eventually claimed by a junior branch of the family who have held it ever since. John’s grandson, Alexander, heard about this and came over from America, briefed his lawyers and laid claim to the title in 1845. His petition was heard in the House of Lords and went no further. He may have run out of money, but more likely was that his son thought it a waste of time and that such family vainglory was unseemly. He and the next five generations of his descendants were ordained parsons and were busy doing the Lord’s work, mostly round the Empire. Now the story is just a quaint family myth.

But next month they are going to disinter the bones of the executed Lovat and try to find out if the occupant of the coffin is indeed the man who lost his head. That won’t be there since it was stuck on a spike on London Bridge, but the rest of him was bought home to lie in the family mausoleum. The skeleton should be that of a burly decapitated old man. They hope to extract DNA.

So it may finally be proven that my coz is indeed the descendant of brother John. Or not. It’s a shame really. Such things should remain a mystery.

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