Extracted from Chapter I
THE STORY OF THE FAMILY
NORTH OF THE TWEED
The name of Nisbet first occurs in the public records of Scotland early in the twlelfth century. The story of any family of many generations, such as the Haldanes of Gleneagles, the Swintons of that ilk and others of a like age, makes a natural appeal to lovers of the past, for any such intimate journeying into former centuries illumines the pages of history. The feuds and fighting, the struggles over government and religion, especially in the case of a Border family, become more real. As a story, however, it becomes additionally interesting - at least to those who bear the name - when the men and women of that family have left behind some record of the part they played in the times in which they lived; how they fulfilled their duties as good citizens, if nothing more; how they lived and how they laboured, were married and given in marriage, bringing up families who in their turn carried on the line with credit to the stock from which they came. And so it has been with the family of Nisbet.
When a present-day descendant of such a family sits down to write the history of his family for the benefit of his relatives and those who will come after him, he will find himself, as the author of this book has found, beset with difficulties. Over four hundred years is a long time to trace beyond question the records of a family, to identify the several members of it with the particular period to which they belong, and to learn something of what each of them did; still more difficult is it should the family have taken root in the very early days of Scotland's history. Such, however, is the position of this family. As Sir Alexander Nisbet, in his Petition of 1662, reminded King Charles, his family had been faithful subjects "above the space of 600 yeares last past".
True it is that a territorial family whose association with one part of the country is of long standing, is less difficult to trace since the records of the land-owning class are more easily verified. Names of ancestral homes remain the same, entries in books of record are available, and other sources of information derived from the fact that public service has from time to time been rendered by members of the family, either in parliament or in county affairs, are capable of investigation. The Nisbet family has been, for all practical purposes, a landless family over two hundred years, and though Nisbet House, on the Scottish Border, and a large part of the estate still remains much the same to-day as when that staunch loyalist, Sir Alexander Nisbet, was forced to abandon it during the Cromwellian period, the family, so far as the direct line is concerned, have never been the owners of any landed property that can be called a family estate. Happily, however, Dirleton Castle, with some part of the estate, purchased by Sir John Nisbet, Lord Dirleton in 1663, still remains in the ownership of a descendant of his family, Lieutenant-Colonel John Patrick Nisbet Hamilton Grant, D.S.O., D.L. of Biel, East Lothian.
THE TWELFTH, THIRTEENTH AND FOURTEENTH CENTURIES
It is stated by Alexander Nisbet in his System of Heraldry that surnames first became hereditary in the reign of King Edgar (1097-1107) son of Malcolm Canmore and that King Edgar among other grants made a grant of the "teinds" of Nisbet where the Castle of Nisbet stood. His references to the family are based on the Records of Durham, the Priory of Coldingham, the Abbacy of Kelso and other Chartularies. During the reigns of Alexander I (1107-1124) and David I (1124-1153) the lands of Nisbet, situated in the County of Berwick, Parish of Edrom, were in possession of the powerful Earls of Dunbar and March. Cospatrick, the second Earl of Dunbar granted the town lands of Nesebite to the monastery of Coldingham. This grant was confirmed by King David on I7th September 1139.
From the reign of King David to the time of the Reformation there is a continuous list of Priors of Coldingham. The eighth prior was Thomas Nesbit, whose name appears in that capacity between the years 1219 and 1240. In a statute made by Prior Thomas in 1235, giving an account for the benefit of his successors of the possessions and dues of the abbey, occurs the entry: "Thomas de Nisbet et heredes sui pro villa de Nesbyt." The Priory of Coldingham still stands, an ancient and historic ruin, whose history, it is said, is of more importance than that of any other Border monastery. It was founded by King Edgar in 1098. The charter granted by him is in the Durham treasury where many documents concerning Coldingham are preserved. An inventory of 1446 contains the effects delivered over by Prior Oll to Prior Nesbit. This would be Thomas Nesbyt who was Prior from 1446 to 1456. He resigned in the latter year, and his petition to be permitted to reside in Durham "where he began his first lyffe" was granted 15th July 1456.
William de Nesebite was witness to a confirmation of the town lands of Nesebite, granted to the Priory of Coldingham by Patrick fifth Earl of Dunbar (1152- 1232). Robert of Nesbit was witness to a charter granted by Robert, son of Alexander of Lundin to the Abbey of Melrose in the reign of King Alexander II (1214-1249) Thomas de Nesebite was witness to several charters granted by Patrick, fifth Earl of Dunbar, to Coldingham. This Earl lived in the reigns of William the Lion (1165-1214) and Alexander II (1214-1249).
In the reign of King Alexander II Thomas de Nisbet granted to the Abbot and Monastery of Melrose two acres of land in Nisbet. Robert de Nesebith was witness to a charter by Patrick, seventh Earl of Dunbar, born in 1213, died in 1289, under the description Dominus Robertus de Nesebith Miles.
On the resignation of Walter, son of Walter de Nesebyte, in 1255 King Henry III of England confirmed to the Church of St. Andrew at Hexham in the County of Northumberland the whole manor of Nesebyte.
The Ragman Roll of 1296 shows the names of Jone de Nesbyt, William of Nesbyt, and Thomas of Nesebyt. Sir Ranulph de Nisbet in 1299 was presented by the Bishop of Durham to the living of St. Mary Magdalene's hospital, near Wooler.
In a later reign King Robert the Bruce (1306-1329), granted a charter to Adam Nisbet of that ilk of the lands of Knocklies which lay in Bruce's territory of Dumfries.
In 1305 Sir Robert de Nesebith paid five marks to Edward I of England for relief of his lands of Daliel at Martinmas.
In 1330 Thomas of Nesbit appears in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland as receiving payments on account of the King.
In 1336 the sum of twenty shillings is entered as due from West Nisbet for castle ward to Berwick, then in possession of the English. Among the garrison of Edinburgh in 1336-7 occurs the name of Johan de Nesbyt.
In 1373 Pafrick de Nesbyt rendered to the Crown an account of the contribution of the Sheriffdom of Berwick to the sum agreed to be paid to England for the ransom of King David II.
Adam Nisbet of West Nisbet is mentioned in a charter of 1442. By this charter dated at Haddington 1st July 1442 Patrick Macdowell of Logan conveyed to Philip, son of Adam Nisbet of West Nisbet, omnes terras meas de Reycleuch, the reddendo being one half of a pair of gloves or two pennies Scots. Raecleuch remained in the possession of the Nisbets until the ruin of the family in the days of the Stuarts.
Adam Nisbet of West Nisbet is mentioned in a precept by James III in 1464 for summoning an inquest; the retour of this inquest which was held at Berwick on the 4th May in that year reached certain decisions about some Swinton property, the details of which are not material. Many Berwickshire lairds served on this inquest with Adam Nisbet of West Nisbet, e.g. Sir Alexander Hume of that ilk, Alexander Cockburn of Langton, Robert Blackadder of that ilk, and James Spottiswoode of that ilk.
Adam Nesbitt de West Nesbitt designed also as the Laird of Nisbett served on an Inquisition at Edinburgh 15th June 1480 to assess the claim of the abbot of Melrose to certain lands and fishings. There is a charter dated October 1480 by which Thomas Forman of Hutone, proprietor of the half of the lands of Reycleuch, conveyed to him in the name of Adam Nisbet of that ilk all Forman's lands of Reycleuch to be held of the Earl of Huntly as superior.