The 1743 Lord Lovat-David Fraser piping indenture

Lord Lovat.
Lord Lovat.

Few, if any, documents connected with the early history of piping have been more frequently cited than the 1743 indenture in which, as writer after writer has claimed, the Jacobite Lord Lovat of the ’45 agreed to send his servant, David Fraser, “to the Isle of Skye in order to have him perfected as a Highland Pyper by the famous Malcolm MacCrimon.” What gives this document its unique importance is that no other such indenture confirming the. Existence of the MacCrimmon school or college of piping — the classic centre of Scotland’s greatest national music — is known to survive,

None of the authors who have quoted from it during the past 70 years, however, has ever seen the original indenture. Most of the texts that have been published have been derived directly or indirectly, from the ‘full’ version printed by F. T. MacLeod in his 1933 book on the MacCrimmons. And although he claimed that “the original … is preserved among the Dunvegan papers,” no-one has been able to find it among the Macleod Muniments: it is not there, and never was.

F. T. MacLeod’s version is in fact an only approximately accurate reproduction of the abridged text printed on pages 62 and 63 of the selection of Forfeited Estates papers edited by A. H. Millar for the Scottish History Society and published in 1909. Even then, the transcript Dr. Millar used was almost 20 years old, having been made “from the original” with various additions and subtractions, by Walter MacLeod in 1890.

In those circumstances it is hardly surprising that the very existence of the Original indenture has recently been called in question. Is the text, then, a fraud, wittingly or unwittingly perpetrated by successive generations of piping historians?

Photographic reproduction of page one of the 1743 piping indenture.
Photographic reproduction of page one of the 1743 piping indenture.

That it is not, and that the original did, and does, exist and is unquestionably authentic can now, at last, be proved. The 238-year-old document has been located in that treasury of the nation’s past, the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh. Dated at Beaufort, near Inverness, on the 9th of March, 1743, it consists of a folded sheet of stamped paper bearing upon its first two pages, in the clear 18th century hand of Lord Lovat’s secretary, Hugh Fraser, the full text of the agreement between Lovat and the Fraser brothers, David and William. Both pages are signed at the foot by all three parties, and the second page carries the two witnesses’ signatures in its margin,

After the ‘45, in which “he fought at the battles of Falkirk and Culloden,” David Fraser joined in 1749 with over 40 other former employees of Lord Lovat in assigning his claim upon his executed chief’s estate to an Inverness merchant, to save the expense of giving in individual claims, and this resulted in the indenture’s transference to Edinburgh, where, among the Exchequer papers, it has lain for more than 200 years.

David Fraser himself was no mean survivor, as he lived, hale and hearty, until the closing days of 1811. His obituary notice in the Inverness Journal gave his age as 96 (perhaps a slight exaggeration), and described his burial at Kirkhill, to which the then Lovat, as a mark of respect, sent “both his pipers . . . playing a mournful dirge” and “a sufficient supply of good Highland whisky for the refreshment of those who attended the funeral.”

The text of the indenture (Scottish Record Office ref: E769/12/5/8/11), here reproduced for the first time by permission of the Controllers of HM Stationery Office, is as follows:

‘At Beaufort the Nynth day of March One thousand seven hundred and forty three years, It is Contracted and Agreed upon betwixt the Right Honourable Simon Lord Fraser of Lovat, On the One part And David Fraser his Lo/rdshi/ ps servant Brother german to William Fraser Tacksman in Bewly his Lo/rdshi/ ps Musician, And the said William Fraser as Cautioner and surety for his said Brother On the other part, In manner following That is to say, Whereas the said Simon Lord Fraser of Lovat has out of his own Generosity Cloathd and mantaind the said David Fraser for these severall Years past, And has also bestowed upon him during that time for his Education as a Pyper with the now deceast Evan McGrigor his Lo/rdshi/ ps late Pyper, And that his Lo/rdshi/ p is now to send him upon his own Charges to the Isle of Skie, In order to have him perfected a Highland Pyper by the famous Malcolm Mcgrimon whom his Lo/rdshi/ p is to reward for Educating the said David Fraser, Therefore, And in Consideration of his Lo/rdshi/ ps great Charity kindness and generosity The said David & William Frasers have become bound And hereby bind and Engage themselves Conjunctly and severally, That the said David Fraser shall honestly & faithfully serve the said Simon Lord Fraser of Lovat or his heir and Successor by Night & by day, For the haill Space of Seven full & compleat years from & after the Term of Whitesunday next to come, And that he shall never do or Committ any thing inconsistent with or contrary to that duty & Obedience which a faithfull Servant Owes to a bountifull Master, But shall serve them uprightly to the outmost of his Skill and Capacity, For which Cause And on the other part the said Simon Lord Fraser of Lovat binds and Obliges himself And his Lo/rdshi/ ps heirs Executors and Successors whatsomever To Mantain the said David Fraser his servant during the space above mentiond in Bed Board & Washing & to furnish & provide him in Cloaths Shoes & Stockings And likeways to Satisfie and pay to him Yearly and ilk year the sum of Fifty Merks Scots money In name of Wages during the said Space of Seven years Commencing from Whitesunday next, And in the Meantime to Send him with all due convenience to the Isle of Skie to be perfected a Highland Pyper by the above namd M°Grimon, The Charge and Expence whereof his Lo/rdshi/ p is to defray As said is. Lastly the said Simon Lord Fraser of Lovat binds and Obliges himself & his foresaids, And the said David & William Frasers bind & Oblige themselves Conjunctly and severally their heirs Executors and Successors To Implement & perform their respective parts of the premisses Ilk One to another Under the penalty of Ten pound Sterling by & attour performance & for the more security both partys Consent to the Registration hereof In the books of Councill & Session Or many [sic] other competent Register within this Kingdom That Letters of Horning & all other Execution needfull may pass hereon in form as effiers & to that effect Constitute

Their Pro/curato/ rs & In Witness whereof (Written upon stamped paper by Hugh Fraser Secretary to the said Lord Lovat) His Lo/rdshi/ p & the said William & David Frasers have subscrived thir presents Consisting of this & the preceeding page Place & date above mentiond before witnesses John Forbes Servant to his Lo/rdshi/ p & the said Hugh Fraser


* From The International Piper of September 1981.