Alexander Nisbet's Heraldic Plates - Part 4
Andrew Ross & Francis J. Grant
|Ross, Andrew (Marchmont Herald) and Grant, Francis J. (Carrick Pursuivant): Alexander Nisbet's Heraldic Plates, Originally Intended for his System of Heraldry, Lately Found in the Library of William Eliott Lockhart, Esq. of Cleghorn, Now Reproduced with Introduction and Notes, Genealogical and Heraldic. Edinburgh: George Waterston & Sons, MDCCCXCII.|
XII. Alexander Nisbet the eldest son of Adam Nisbet and Janet Aikenhead, was born in Edinburgh in April 1657, being baptised on the 23rd of that month. In the course of a litigation against his father's estate, raised during his minority by Catherine Nisbet, daughter of John, second son to sir Alexander Nisbet (see No. X. 2.), and her husband William Brown, Alexander, with consent of his mother as his curatrix, renounced, on 1st July 1675, his rights to his father's heritage. He attended the course of philosophy at the university of Edinburgh. The signature "Alexander Nisbet" occurs in the Edinburgh University matriculation record for the year 1675, and his autograph, prefixed twenty-seven years later to a copy of his Cadency in the possession of the writer, preserves in a remarkable degree the peculiarities of the boyish hand. In 1682 he was laureated. For some years he followed the profession of a writer in Edinburgh, but he commenced the study of heraldry at an early period of his career. Writing in 1702, he says he had barely finished his course of philosophy "when I became happily acquainted with some who were no Strangers to the Science [of heraldry], and e'en then I stole as many Hours as possible from business till about fourteen or fifteen years ago, having wholly laid aside the Imployment of a Writer, I applied myself entirely and assiduously to this Study." It would then be in 1687, when about thirty years of age, that he commenced to devote himself entirely to his favourite theme, and about this time the manuscript preserved in the Laing collection, Edinburgh university library, afterwards referred to, must have been executed. Whether or not he acquired a competency by his legal practice it is impossible to say. He refers more than once to his own narrow circumstances, and from casual references by himself and some of his contemporaries, it appears that he instructed several of the nobility and gentry in the principles of heraldry, the earl of Carnwath, for example, being one of his pupils. That indefatigable copyist Robert Mylne had access to many of Nisbet's manuscripts, and in one of his copies, preserved in the Advocates' library, he designs Nisbet as "teacher of herauldrie," an epithet we shall find applied later on. Nisbet was present at the depositing of the regalia of Scotland in the crown room of Edinburgh castle on 26 March 1707. He wrote an exhaustive description of the various articles, and that description down to our own day was relied upon by every subsequent writer. He had access to the charter chests of many noble and distinguished families, and the good use he made of his opportunities is attested by the fact that Douglas and subsequent writers rely upon him for the early genealogies of several houses. The national archives, kept in his day in the laigh parliament house in Edinburgh, were at his command for such aid as could be got from the confused and wasting mass. But the great idea of his life, for the execution of which he wrought and struggled steadily for upwards of thirty years, was to present to the world a perfect exposition of the science of heraldry. He prepared himself for the task by making himself acquainted with the English and French systems. German, Italian, Dutch, and Spanish armories he appears to have had some familiarity with, through the medium of Latin writers. He formed a collection of works on his subject, including several manuscripts, the more important of the latter being enumerated in his introduction to his System of Heraldry, published in 1722. The fate of these manuscripts it is unnecessary to recapitulate here; it is only a bye-way in bibliography.
Examine for a moment the position of heraldic literature in this country when Nisbet set himself the task of writing a complete system of heraldry.
Scottish Writers on Heraldry.
There were many interesting manuscripts in Scotland in Nisbet's day, chiefly books on blazon. The most important were the illuminated manuscripts of the poet, sir David Lindsay of the Mount, Lord Lyon king-of-arms in 1542, now preserved in the Advocates' library, reproduced in facsimile in 1822 and again in 1878; Workman's M.S., compiled in 1565-6 and onwards, to a portion at least of which competent authorities assign a much earlier date, which belonged to James Workman, herald painter in the reign of James VI.; the "Kings and Nobility's Arms" circa 1630; and other works of a like description of minor importance preserved in the Lyon office. In addition, there were illustrated manuscripts of arms, now in private hands, such as the volume in the possession of the earl of Crawford and Balcarres, executed in the reign of king James VI.; and Pont's manuscript, now in possession of the earl of Kinnoull. The manuscript executed in the reign of king James VI., now the property of MacLeod of MacLeod, was at one time in Nisbet's possession; there are several notes by various hands in the book, among which his are easily distinguishable, and the index to the volume is entirely in his handwriting. There was also the Scottish armorial, executed for Robert Lord Seton, afterwards first earl of Winton. It belonged subsequently to James Espleine, Marchmont herald from 1632 to 1661. It is now the property of Mr and Mrs Nisbet Hamilton Ogilvy. Of the Seton manuscript, in many respects the most valuable and beautiful of all, Nisbet expressly states he had the use; in his day it was the property of Mr Hugh Wallace of Inglistoun.
Of treatises upon the subject the most important were those either belonging to or written by sir James Balfour, who was appointed Lord Lyon in 1630; they chiefly relate to ceremonials and the duties of the various offices in heraldry.
Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, lord advocate of Scotland during the reigns of Charles II. and James VII., was before Nisbet the only Scottish writer who published a work on heraldry. He introduces his subject in these words:-
"Hearing when I was beyond Seas, Heraldry looked upon as the Science of Gentlemen, and finding it taught as such in the Academies, I resolved to know somewhat of it, upon design rather to serve my Country than to satisfy my Curiosity: For it was justly admired, that we only of all Nations had published any Thing to let the World know what Marks of Honour our Predecessors had gained. And having had great Intimacy with a most learned Advocate at Bourge in France, who was admired over all Europe for his skill in this Art, it was easie for me to find that there was one Book yet wanting upon this subject; for some had treated this Science as mere Law, without understanding the Practice of Blazoning, as Bartolus, Chassaneus, &c., whilst others handled it as a Part of the Civil Law as Guillim, Menestrier, Columbier, and others, without being bred to the Law, which requires a whole Man and his whole Age. To reconcile which two, I was induced to write some Observations, whilst I was young, to joyn the Theory with the Practice, and to examine and polish the Principles and Terms of that excellent Art: And if these serve to please and instruct you my Countrymen, I have satisfied my Ambition and got my Reward."
Mackenzie's work, a folio of ninety-eight pages, was published in 1680 under the title of The Science of Heraldry treated as a part of the Civil Law and Law of Nations, wherein Reasons are given for its Principles, and Etymologies for its harder Terms. He rejected much of the fable with which up to his time the study was identified. The great merit of his work is its simple and natural arrangement. Commencing with an account of the origin of arms and who may grant and bear them, he proceeds to describe the shield, its colours, metals, furs, partitions, the ordinaries, and the natural and artificial figures, in their natural and proper order. He concludes by treating of cadency, marshalling, supporters, and the other subdivisions of the science. There is an entire absence of pedantry in his work, which, written upwards of two centuries ago, remains to this day the simplest and easiest handbook to a knowledge of Scottish heraldry. Still it is no more than a masterly outline.
English Writers on Heraldry.
In England there was no lack of writers. Of the three hundred and seventy-six works enumerated in Moule's Bibliotheca Heraldica as appearing before 1702, at least twenty were published in England dealing with the principles of the science. Nisbet himself, in the introduction to the Cadency, wittily passes in review the claims of the chief English writers to distinction. His judgments are appreciative, and never uncharitable. They are also sound and fair, erring if anything on the side of leniency, for he does not profess to estimate the harm inflicted upon his favourite pursuit by preposterous learning.
The classical writers on English heraldry are Leigh, Ferne, Bolton, Boswell, Dugdale, Morgan, and Guillim, their principal works appearing between 1562 and 1682. It is only fair to take an English estimate of the merits of at least the earlier of these authors.
Of Leigh, Dallaway writes: "From his idea of attributing specific virtues or defects to each tincture, and of combining them so as to make them perfectly characteristic, a fantastic pedantry has pervaded the treatises of much more judicious authors in the progress of the science." "To Ferne," writes the same author, "the rank of a classic in heraldry will not be denied. His studies were directed to the investigation of the laws of chivalry, and he has transfused into his work the spirit of the voluminous codes, now forgotten, which he delighted to consult. It [The Glory of Generosity] may be considered therefore as the most complete epitome of them now extant. We must admit that he writes more for the amusement of the learned than for the instruction of novices." Bolton, according to Dallaway, displays more geometrical learning than heraldic knowledge.
Sylvanus Morgan, in his folio published in London in 1661, outdid all his predecessors. His title-page reads:-
"The Harmony of the Sphere of Gentry," he writes, "consisteth in Four Books containing IX Chapters a piece : whereof the first is under the nine Orders of Angels : The second under so many Worthies : The third Book having nine Muses : And the fourth Book consisting of the greater circles of the Spere, in which is comprehended the History of Nature and Art."
The first seven chapters of his first book correspond with the days of creation. The first day's work treats of colour and shields, because "the first dayes work was the production of light, and that light . . . . was the discoverer of what we call Tincture or colour cannot be denied; for this hidden tincture could not be made manifest, till the glorious ARGENT had illuminated the benighted Chaos." The second day's creation being the firmament, the seperation of the shield by lines and the charges incident to it are given; and so forth; the fifth day's work, for example, treating of fowls and fishes. Chapter VI. treats of "the sixth day's work, the first part of the honour of four-footed beasts, under the great banner of Raphael or Power." Chapter VII. "of the second part of the sixth day's work under the Auriflambe of the Arch-Angel Michael, of the whole Atchievement." Chapter VIII. treats "of the honour of the Woman displayed by the Angel Gabriel;" this book contains "the genealogy of Adam," whose sort of nobility we are told was that of "nobility by Ancestors, being the Son of the Ancient of Dayes." The arms of the descendants of Adam and Eve are duly blazoned and illustrated, those of Jubal being vert, a tent argent. After this, the incidents of the Flood, the atchievements of Noah and his sons, Joseph's coat, the pedigree of the Trojans, and the bearings of the line of English monarchs from Julius Csar to his sacred majesty king Charles, can hardly be expected to present any difficulties.
There remains the great English classic Guillim. He fights shy of the Flood:-
"As touching the antiquity of these signes which we call Armes, Diodorus Siculus maketh mention, that Osyris, sirnamed Jupiter the just, son to Cham the cursed son of Noah, called of the Gentiles Ianus, being banished from the blessed Tents of Shem and Japhet; by reason of the curse fallen upon his father, was constrained to seek some remote place wherein he might settle himselfe, his children, and people : for which purpose he assembled a great army and appointed Hercules his eldest son Captain. And in this so ancient an expedition of wars, as well Osyris himselfe, as Hercules, Macedon, and Anubis his sons, and others, did paint certain Signes upon their shields, bucklers, and other weapons; which signes were after called Armes : As for example Osyris bare a Scepter royall, insigned on the top with an Eye : Hercules a Lyon rampant holding a Battle-axe : Macedon a Wolfe, and Anubis a dog."
Guillim's account of the origin of regimental colours is worthy of notice:-
"The first sort of these Ensignes, God calleth Vexilla, that is to say, Standards or Banners, which standards served for the conduction of their severall Regiments. For the Israelites consisted of twelve Tribes, which were divided into four Regiments; that is, to wit, three Tribes to each Regiment, of which every one had a particular Standard, which as they differed in colour one from another, so did they doubtlesse comprehend in them several distinct forms."
He writes of blazon:-
"There be divers forms of blazon : a certain Dutchman who lived in the time of King Henry the fifth used to blaze Armes by the principall parts of mans body. . . . . Malorques a French man, made use of flowers for this purpose : Faucon, an English man, who lived in the time of King Edward the third, performed it by the dayes of the week : but in former times their predecessors used onely these three kinds following :- first, or, Mettals and Colours : secondly, by precious Stones ; and thirdly, by the celestiall Planets. Out of which sundry forms I have made choice of these three last which are most ancient and necessary, in respect that these above all other doe best fit my purpose; which is to apply to each particular state of Gentry, a blazon correspondent. As for example, to Gentlemen having no title of dignity, blazon by Metals and colours : to persons ennoblished by the Soveraign, by precious stones : and to Emperors, Monarchs, Kings, and Princes, blazon by Planets."
In expounding his system he decides to use some "manifest form of distribution," and he divides the blazon of arms into accidents and parts. The accidents, he maintains, are no part of the blazon of arms; they "may be said to be cousin-germans to nothing," and by the "accidents" of arms he means tinctures and differences. His system is altogether too fantastic to admit of intelligible analysis, yet his work as a whole is immensely superior to its predecessors. It contains a vast body of sound exposition, incessantly lighted up by flashes of quaint humour.
Such was the position of heraldic literature in this country when the genius of Nisbet appeared on the scene.
Nisbet's Original Scheme of Publication.
Nisbet has himself given to us, in the prefaces to the volumes published during his life, an outline of his struggles for the publication of his great work. The main parts of the story are given here in his own clear and modest language.
In 1699 he issued proposals for the publication of a
"Treatise of Herauldry, Speculative and Practical, where at large, I will describe the Nature, Rise, Beginning, and diverse Species of Arms, various Forms of Shields, their Tinctures, Furrs, Partitions, and Repartitions, Figures proper and Natural, with their Additional Forms, Significations, and Positions, after a Method more Exact and Mathematical than any hitherto Printed, together with reasons why these Figures and Pieces of Armory are carried. I shall likewise show by whom the Figures are carried amongst us and upon what Grounds and Reasons, as far as can be learned from the Memorials of their Progenitors, with such Genealogical Deductions of many Noble and Ancient Families, as will instruct the Rise of their Paternal Bearings, and conduce to the knowledge of their Genealogical Pennons . . . . I write also of the various occasions of Quartering divers Coats of Arms in one Shield, and give Rules for rightly Marshalling the same, with the Reasons of the Quartering of the Nobility and Gentry in this Kingdom. I shall likewise treat fully of the Exterior Ornaments of the Shield, their Rise, Nature, and Forms, and of the Practice of ours and other Countries, concerning them. I shall give a Description of the Office of Herauld, and several remarkable Things in relation to the Lyon Office with the Nature of Justs and Tournaments, and their Use of old with us, a Subject no Man and has yet attempted to handle. Lastly, I shall give an Account of the Armorial Ensigns of our Kings and their Children, together with their Devices, and many Coats of Arms, that are to be found upon Monuments, Churches, Tombs, and Seals of Honourable Families now extinct, yet worthy to be particularly noticed, because of that Alliance, which many Noble Houses now in Beeing, have had with them heretofore."
This account describes with accuracy that system which was not destined to see the light until twenty-three years afterwards. Of the disappointments and delays which took place between the conception and completion of the work we have a few glimpses. An attempt at issue by subscription was a failure.
"I gave some Proposals and Receipts to several Noblemen and Gentlemen who were to get me Subscriptions in the Country, but I never got any of them return'd, excepting from Mr Fraser, (Ross Herald), and those worthy Gentlemen, Sir David Dalrymple, Advocate, Sir John Home of Blackadar, Sir John Erskine of Alva, and Colonel Archibald Row, which with those I got myself made up in all an Hundred and Nineteen."
For various reasons, chiefly on account of the bulk to which the work would run, were the genealogies of the subscribers included as promised, the method of publishing by subscription was abandoned, and he applied for assistance to the Scottish parliament.
"I only crave that the Parliament would order the payment of the Paper, Types, and Printing of a Book already finished and fit for the press by any whom they shall think fit to trust. If this faill me, I shall be oblig'd to publish it Piece Meal, and by single Chapters, which will infallibly spoil my Design of giving a Compleat Treatise of Heraldry, illustrated with the Armorial Bearings of many of our Nobility and Gentry, cut very exactly on Copper Plates, and too large to be bound with the Book, if not (as I intended) printed in Folio. I have already a considerable Number of Plates of the most ancient Nobility and Gentry, who have cut their Armorial Ensigns with all the Exteriour Ornaments of the Shield. The Nobility are ev'ry one of them on a Plate by themselves, at 40 Shillings Sterlin Price, many of the Gentry by Two's on one Plate at 20 Shillings each. Some more curious have their Probative Quarters cut about their Shield, which augments the Price according to the Number or Intricacies of their Arms. The money goes entirely to the Engraver, and all I propose to my self, as a Reward for the Trouble of Directing him, is the Use of the Plates, which, by a Receipt I oblige my self to restore to the Owners, as soon as my Book is published; And if I shou'd not get one Plate more added to the Number already in my Hands, yet ev'ry Man will confess that Britain ne'er produc'd, before this time, any thing on this Science so splendid and so glorious. . . . The Nobility and Gentry thus paying for their own Arms, remove one part of my charges; But still the greatest part remains, since the Cutting of the Royal Ensigns, Badges and Devices of our Kings, with the Printing of the Book, still amounts to a Sum beyond what I can conveniently advance."
In support of his petition Nisbet was advised to afford the public an opportunity of judging of his knowledge of heraldry, and accordingly his Cadency appeared in the early part of 1702. The application to parliament was read on 14th June of that year, and on 6th September an allowance of 248, 6s. 8d. was recommended out of the rate of tonnage imposed for the five years from 1st September 1702. The recommendation was, however, passed over, and on 6th September 1703 he presented another petition to Parliament. His
"Treatise of Herauldry speculative and practical is now almost ready for the press, wherein the Petitioner has fully described the nature of Arms, and given a particular Account of their beginning and rise. . . . The Petitioner hath with much pains and labour, collected from foreign authors, our own histories, manuscripts, old rights, evidents, charters, monuments, tombs, and seals, whatsoever may contribute to the reviveing and perfecting the science of herauldrie. . . . So that after the space of many years the Petitioner has brought his work near a close. . . . The Petitioner not being able to defray the great charge his book will amount to in furnishing a fine large paper, printing, (especially Italick Types whereof there are very few in this kingdom), and the expenses of cutting in copper plate the armorial ensigns of this ancient Kingdom, the several devises of our Kings, and many coats of arms that are to be found upon monuments, churches, tombs, and seals of honourable families now extinct, whose names and honours are worthy to be perpetuat, asks help."
In response to this petition the committee recommended parliament to grant the erald a sum of 248, 6s. 8d. out of what fund should be thought fit.
In the minutes of parliament of 25th August 1705 it is stated:-
"We find that Mr. Nisbett's work of Herauldry deserves very much to be encouraged, yet the fund of Tunnage is either exhausted or embazled. . . . wherefore we presume to recommend him to your Grace and Lordships that he may be assisted in his honourable undertaking."
No further assistance was granted, and the Union, to which the heraldr refers in his works with a thinly-veiled hostility, put an end to all hope of parliamentary assistance. Thirteen years elapsed, and in 1718 his proposals for the publication of an Essay on Armories appeared. He had by that time despaired of the publication of his folio work, and his System was announced to appear in quartos in as many volumes as might be necessary for its completion. In the end of 1718 the Essay itself appeared, M`Ewen the bookseller undertaking the risk. In the introduction occur some bits of autobiography:-
"I proposed some Years ago a large Treatise of Herauldry Speculative and Practical, in Folio. . . . . I am now to acquaint the World with the Difficulties which have obstructed that Design. First, My rashly publishing Proposals, that whoever advanced a Crown when he subscribed, should have a complete Copy for Ten Shillings more at the Delivery of the Book; and being obliged to blazon all the Arms of our Nobility and Gentry, severals of them caused ingrave their Arms on large Copper Plate, and gave in long Memorials of their Families, without contributing any further towards such an expensive Undertaking. And finding my Book would swell to a much greater Bulk than I had foreseen, and the Expense so great, that the Work could not be performed but with a great Deal of Loss; I was obliged to lay aside that Design: But after, by the Advice and Persuasion of some Ingenious and Curious Gentlemen, I was encouraged and prevailed upon to apply to the Parliament for an Assistance, the work being of public Use, and for the better effectuating it, to give a Specimen of my Knowledge in Herauldry: Upon my own Charges I published an Essay on additional Figures and Marks of Cadency, the most intricate Part of the Science which has now been exposed to the public View for many Years, and I may say without Vanity that nothing of this Nature so perfect has been hitherto published. . . . . It has been approven of by the most knowing Heralds in Britain, and particularly by Sir George St. George, Garter King at Arms, which he was pleased to signify to me in his Letters; tho' in it I have shown but a small regard to the English Writers in Herauldry. . . . . Upon my Application for the public Assistance to enable me to go on with the Work, an Act of Parliament was made in my Favours, for Two hundred and fifty Pounds Sterling, but the Fund whereout I was to have the Money became ineffectual by the Union, so that all Hopes of any such Assistance being over I cooled in the Design, and retired for some Years to the Country, there my natural Inclinations led me to digest my Collections and Observations on Herauldry into several Forms as I thought might be most instructive and pleasant to the Reader: Since I came to Town I have been advised to publish then Piece-meal by Subscriptions, the rather because if my numerous Collections and Observations do not come to Light in my own Time, they may become Useless, to the Loss not only of the Learned and Curious in general, but also of many Noble Families, whose ancient Blazons and other Documents of honour are in my Custody."
The reception the Armories received was so encouraging that within four years the long promised System, in folio, appeared.
The Nisbet Bibliography.
The Nisbet bibliography is not extensive, and is set forth here that some idea may be gained of the extent and nature of Alexander Nisbet's contributions to the literature of the science, before proceeding to indicate the grounds on which his claim to the highest place among British writers on heraldry is based.
1. An Essay on Additional Figures and Marks of Cadency shewing the Ancient and Modern Practice of Differencing Descendants in This and other Nations. More Fully and Exactly than any Thing hitherto Published upon this Part of Herauldry.-- In perpetuum per Gloriam. -- D. Justinian. Written by Alexr Nisbet, Gent. Edinburgh: Printed by John Reid, Junior. 1702.
The work is dedicated to "The Right Honourable Sir Alexander Areskin of Cambo, Baronet, Lord Lyon King of Arms." There are three pages of eulogistic verse addressed the author. "The address to the Reader," extending to thirty-one pages, roman numerals, contains some details of the writer's personal history, and a review of the leading European writers on heraldry. Errata.
The Essay extends to 254 pages, without chapters or subdivisions. An alphabetical table (22 pp.) is given of the surnames and titles of the nobility and gentry mentioned in the Essay. The six plates are unsigned, and only the first two, containing the tinctures and divisions of the shields, are complete, the others wanting two or more shields to complete them. In some copies the second plate, shewing the divisions of the shield, is altogether blank.
2. Proposals for Printing an Essay of the Ancient and Modern Use of Armories. By Alexander Nisbet, Gent. One leaf quarto. No date. [?1718.]
Explains the non-appearance of the promised folio by reason of the failure of the parliamentary grant, "and now I cannot hope for any such Assistance, I'm advised to take the ordinary Method of Subscriptions; the rather; because if my numerous Collections and Observations do not come to Light in my own Time, I'm afraid they may be misused or neglected, by the Ignorance or Negligence of those into whose Hands they may come. . . . . I shall therefore with all possible diligence publish all I first designed, but in different Pieces, form'd in as many Quartos as will suffice to complete the work." The price of the book to subscribers was to be six shillings, and it was to be printed at the charges of Mr James M`Ewen, bookseller in Edinburgh.
3. An Essay on the Ancient and Modern Use of Armories; shewing Their Origin, Definition, and Division of them into their several Species. The Method of Composing them, and Marshalling many Coats together in one Shield. Illustrated by many Examples and Sculptures of the Armorial Ensigns of Noble Families in this and other Nations. To which is added, an Index explaining the Terms of Blazon made use of in this Essay.-- In Perpetuum per Gloriam vivere intelliguntur.-- D. Justinian. By Alexander Nisbet, Gent. Edinburgh: Printed by William Adams, Junior, for Mr James Mack Euen, and sold at his Shop opposite the Cross-Well. Anno Dom. MDCCXVIII.
The Preface extends to five pages, followed by the Errata. Then come the names of the subscribers (191). The text extends to 224 pages, divided into seventeen chapters, as follows:-
|I. Of the Origin of Arms.
II. Of the Definition of Arms, and the Division of them into their several Species.
III. Of the Ancient Practice of Arms before and about the Time when they began to be Composed and Marshalled.
IV. Of Composed Arms and Collateral ones.
V. Of Marriage.
VI. Of Offices, Ecclesiastical and Civil.
VII. Of Arms of Alliances, with the Method of Marshalling them and others Quarterly.
||VIII. Of Adoption and Substitution.|
IX. Of Patronage.
X. Of Gratitude and Affection.
XI. Of Religion.
XII. Of Arms of general Concession.
XIII. Of Arms of special Concession.
XIV. Of Arms of Dominion.
XV. Of Feudal Arms, or Arms of Dignities.
XVI. Of Arms of Pretension.
XVII. Of other Methods of marshalling Arms.
There are ten pages of "An Alphabetical Index Explaining the Terms of Herauldry in this Essay," six pages of "An Alphabetical Table of the Names and Titles of the Families whose Blazons are in this Essay of Herauldry." The book contains seven copper plates, three engraved by Rot Wood, two by Ard Burden, and one by Rot Mylne. The seventh, unsigned, is probably Mylne's. Rough edges.
4. A System of Heraldry, Speculative and Practical: with the True Art of Blazon, according to the Most Approved Heralds in Europe: illustrated with suitable Examples of Armorial Figures, and Atchievements of the most considerable Sirnames and Families in Scotland, &c., Together with Historical and Genealogical Memorials relative thereto. By Alexander Nisbet, Gent. Edinburgh: Printed for J. Mack Euen. Anno Dom. MDCCXXII. One vol. folio.
There is a Dedication to the "Most Illustrious Prince, James Duke of Hamilton, Chasterault and Brandon," whose achievement is prefixed. The Preface, extending to four pages, gives some account of the author's previous attempts to publish the work, and of the manuscripts used by him. It is followed by the advertisement. The text, with which is bound up eleven illustrative plates, extends to 451 pages, and is divided into two parts. Part I., extending to 228 pages of letterpress, contains eighteen chapters, as follows:-
|I. Of the Rise and Progress of Armories.
II. Of the Definition and Division of Arms.
III. Of the Surcoat, Ensign and Shield.
IV. Of the Tinctures, or Armorial-Colours.
V. Of the Furrs in Herauldry, Ermine and Vair.
VI. Of the Points and Parts of the Shield; and Forms of Lines, which divide the Shield into several Parts.
VII. Of the Partition and Repartition Lines in Armories.
VIII. Of the Proper Figures in Heraldry, or the honourable Ordinaries in General.
||IX. Of the Pale.|
X. Of the Fesse.
XI. Of the Barr.
XII. Of the Chief or Chef.
XIII. Of the Bend.
XIV. Of the Bend Sinister; the Barr with the French.
XV. Of the Cross, and its Accidental and Proper Forms.
XVI. Of the Saltier or Sautoir.
XVII. Of the Chevron.
XVIII. Of the Sub-Ordinaries.
Part II., extending to 223 pages of letterpress, contains ten chapters, as follows:-
|I. Of Natural and Artificial Figures. The Common Charges.
II. Of Celestial Figures, the Sun, Moon, and Stars.
III. Of Man, and his Parts in Arms.
IV. Of Fourfooted-Beasts.
V. Of Fowls and Birds.
VI. Of Fishes.
||VII. Of Vegetables.|
VIII. Of Artificial Figures in Armories.
IX. Of Artificial Things, or Charges, as they relate to a Civil Life, in Temporal and Ecclesiastick Affairs.
X. Of Artificial Things, or Charges, as they relate to Professions Liberal or Mechanical.
Then come the errata, followed by twenty-five pages of plates, containing 288 achievements, the first, fourth, fifth, and twenty-fifth being unnumbered in those volumes which have come under the writer's notice. An "Alphabetical Index of the figures and terms of blazon in this System of Herauldry" extends to four pages. The "Index of Sirnames, Countries, Families, and Persons whose Arms are mentioned in this System," extends to thirty pages. An "Alphabetical List of the Encouragers of this Undertaking, and whose Atchievements are engrav'd on Copper-Plates," extending to two pages, concludes the volume.
5. Proposals for Printing by Subscription a Supplement and Appendix to the System of Heraldry, Speculative and Practical, lately published by Alexander Nisbet, Gent. (Two pages folio.) N.D. (?1723.)
The author explains that in the original proposals it was contemplated 120 sheets would be sufficient to complete the System; but that number having been exceeded in the first volume without the work being finished, he proposes in the Supplement "to carry on and treat of the remaining Parts of the Science of Heraldry, viz., Marks of Cadency, Dignities, and Offices, Marshalling of Divers Coats in one Shield, Trimming of the same with Exterior Ornaments in all their Variety; such as Helmets, Mantlings, Wreaths, Crowns, Mottos, Supporters, Compartments, &c. Their Rise and Use with Us and other Nations. As also a Treatise of Nobility, with its Proofs regularly counted, according as they ought to be placed on Funeral Escutcheons and other Paintings; with the Forms and Ceremonies of Ancient Funerals among us." The price of the work to be thirty shillings in sheets. Those who think themselves concerned in the work are desired to be expeditious in sending in their Memorials, "For on no Account will the compleating the Science be delayed."
6. A System of Heraldry, Speculative and Practical, with the True Art of Blazon, according to the Most approved Heralds in Europe; wherein Marks of Cadency, Marshalling of Divers Coats in One Shield, Exterior Ornaments, &c., are fully treated of: To which is subjoin'd Several curious Particulars, relative to Funeral Escutcheons, Publick Processions and Cavalcades, Coronations of our Kings, Precendency of our Nobility and Gentry; Return of the Lords of Session to an Order of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, requiring them to make up a Roll or List of the Peers of Scotland; and Memorials of many Antient and Honourable Families of the Scots Nation. With Critical and Historical Remarks, on that Part of Pryn's History, known by the Name of the Ragman-Roll. Illustrated with Copper-Plates. By Alexander Nisbet, Gent. Volume II. Edinburgh: Printed by R. Fleming, Sold by the Booksellers there; and at London by A. Millar and J. Davidson. MDCCXLII. Folio.
The dedication of two pages, signed by the printer, is to the "Right Honourable James, Earl of Morton," whose full achievement is prefixed, engraved by R. Cooper. The preface, of two pages, is also signed by the printer. There are four paginations in the work, which is broken up into as many parts, with a poor index to each. The volume commences with -
Part III., which is divided into two chapters, extending to 113 pages, treating -
|I. Of Additional Figures, or Marks of Cadency.
||II. Of Composing and Marshalling of Arms.|
Part IV. treats of the exterior ornaments of the shield. It extends to 294 pages, and contains the following chapters-
|I. Concerning the Exterior Ornaments of the Shield, with several Additional Trimmings.
II. Of the Helmet or Casque.
III. Of the Ornaments of the Helmet, commonly called Mantlings, Lambrequins, Hachements, Volets, &c.
IV. Of the Wreath or Torce.
V. Of the Crest or Cimier.
VI. Of Mottos, Cries of War, and Devices.
VII. Of Supporters.
VIII. Of Diadems and Crowns, their Ancient and Modern Forms.
IX. Of the Cape of State.
||X. Of Ensigns belonging to Ecclesiastical Dignities.|
XI. Ensigns of Civil and Military Offices and other Politick ones, of Dignity and Chivalrie.
XII. Of the Compartment.
XIII. Of Manteauxes and Pavilions.
XIV. Of Nobility with its Proofs, regularly counted, as they are placed on Funeral Escutcheons, and other Monuments of Honour, with the Forms and Ceremonies of Funerals among us.
XV. Of Cavalcades and Publick Processions.
XVI. Of the Office of Heralds.
XVII. Of Precedency.
Part IV. further contains Appendix I., Roll of the peers of Scotland, parliament 1706. Appendix II., copies of the words of limitations in the patents of the peers; copy of the instrument taken by Mr William Wilson, one of the under-clerks of session, at depositing the regalia of Scotland in the castle of Edinburgh. The Appendix, extending to 308 pages, contains genealogical accounts of Scottish families. It is followed by historical and critical remarks on Prynne's history so far as concerns the submission and fealty sworn by the generality of the Scots nation to king Edward I. of England, in 1292, 1296, 1297, &c., commonly called the Ragman roll, extending to forty-six pages. The work was issued to the subscribers in sheets, and some of the genealogies are occasionally to be met with singly. The achievement of the earl of Morton accompanies the preface. There are five plates in the text - two illustrative of Part III., one illustrative of Part IV., a plate of the funeral escutcheon of the duke of Athole, to face chap. xiii. of Part IV., and one of the Scottish regalia to face the instrument. At the end of the volume are ten pages of plates, containing 120 achievements. The eighth and ninth plates are unnumbered. The five text plates are to be met with occasionally on large paper.
7. A System of Heraldry, Speculative and Practical, with the True Art of Blazon, according to the Most Approved Heralds in Europe: illustrated with suitable Examples of Armorial Figures and Atchievements of the most considerable Surnames and Families in Scotland, &c. Together with Historical and Genealogical Memoirs relative thereto. By Alexander Nisbet, Gent. The Second Edition. Edinburgh: Printed by and for Alex. Lawrie and Company. Sold by Alex. Lawrie; W. Laing; Manners and Miller; Arch. Constable and Co.; and Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, London. 1804. (Two vols. folio, edges uncut.)
This edition contains the dedications and prefaces to the volumes of 1722 and 1742. In an advertisement by the publishers, dated Edinburgh, October 24, 1804, it is stated that "an opportunity has been found of retouching the original plates, correcting many typographical and a very considerable number of mistakes chiefly in the orthography of persons, and a few notes added, but the publishers do not wish to be understood as having made any alteration in the substance, style, or language of the work." In the first volume the achievement of the duke of Hamilton appears in the preface, and the eleven illustrative plates are bound up with the text as in the 1722 edition. There are twenty-four pages containing 276 achievements at the end of this volume. In the second volume the achievement of the earl of Morton and the five illustrative plates appear as in the 1742 edition, and the other two plates are to be found, according to the vagaries of the binders, in the middle, at one end, or one at each end, of the volume; there are eleven consecutively numbered pages of plates containing 132 achievements at the end of the volume, the eleventh being formerly the twenty-fifth plate of the volume published in 1722. The main alterations in this edition are upon the genealogies in the second volume.
8. A System of Heraldry, Speculative and Practical, with the True Art of Blazon, according to the Most Approved Heralds in Europe: illustrated with suitable Examples of Armorial Figures and Atchievements of the most considerable Surnames and Families in Scotland, &c. Together with Historical and Genealogical Memoirs relative thereto. By Alexander Nisbet, Gent. A New Edition. Edinburgh: Printed for William Blackwood, Prince's Street, Edinburgh, and Rodwell and Martin, New Bond Street, London. 1816. (Two vols. folio.)
This edition is a re-issue of that of 1804. Some copies were issued with uncut edges. I have never seen a copy of this issue without a blemish of some kind. There is an appendix of six pages containing an account of "the family of Chalmer of that Ilk or of Galdgirth in the shire of Air," which ought to be bound up in Vol. II., appendix, page 20, after the article, "Chalmers of Galdgirth." Occasionally the additional Chalmers genealogy appears as an appendix to Vol. I., at other times as an appendix to Vol. II. This re-issue is sometimes advertised by booksellers as the only desirable edition, inasmuch as it contains "the author's latest corrections."
9. Nisbet Gen. Coll. 34. 3. 5. MS., Advocate's Library, 280 pages folio, contains the following plates, reproduced in this volume:-
|1. Dunbar of Westfield.
2. Home, Earl of Home.
||3. Hume of Wedderburn.
4. Earl of Winton.
||5. Countess of Winton.|
6. Somerville of Drum.
The volume contains also genealogies of the following families:- 1. Dunbar, Earl of March. 2. Dunbar, Earl of Moray. 3. Dunbar of Westfield. 4. Home of Home. 5. Hume of Wedderburn. 6. Setoun, Earl of Winton. 7. Somervil of Drum. 8. Gordons, Earles of Sutherland. 9. Innes of that Ilk. 10. Lindsay of the Byres. 11. Riddell of that Ilk. 12. Bourdon of Feddal. 13. Boisville of Balmouto. 14. Hamilton, Earl of Abercorne. 15. Keith, Earl of Kintoir. 16. Dundas of that Ilk. 17. Kirkpatrick of Closeburn. 18. Murray of Touchadam and Polmais, Family of Douglas. 19. Lauder of Fountainhall. 20. Baillie of Parbroth in Fife. 21. Ingles. 22. Areskin, Earl of Marr. 23. Duke of Queensberrie. 24. Family of Hamilton. 25. Aikman of Cairnie. 26. Law of Lawbridge. 27. Skeine of that Ilk. 28. Frazer, Lord Salton. 29. Ogilvie of Barras. 30. French of Thornydikes. 31. Haig of Bimersyde. 32. Farquharsone of Invercauld. 33. Lockhart of Cleghorn. 34. Colquhoun of Luss or of that Ilk. 35. Drummond, Earl of Perth. 36. Drummond of Concraig. 37. Drummond of Carnock. 38. Drummond of Hawthornden. 39. Bothwell of Glencross. 40. Douglas, Earls of Douglas. 41. Houston of that Ilk. 42. Shaw of Greenock. 43. Lindsay, Earl of Crawford. The volume also contains: dame Christian Fletcher, her information how she and her husband preserved the Regalia. Warrant for a patent for reviving the order of the thistle by the king, James VII., with the habits and the institution. Patent for renewing the order of the thistle by queen Ann. Act of parliament of exoneration of the earl Marshall in keeping the honours. Act of the earl marshall's court. Diploma Mr Jacobi Dunbar de Hempricks junioris. Report of the commission anent the priviledges of the high constable. The duke of York's pretensions to the crown of England. An account of the creation of sir Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, as lord and earl. A particular description of the regalia of the kingdom of Scotland, viz., crown, sceptre, and sword, written by Nisbet, on the 8th day of September 1703. A list of the knights baronets in Scotland, with the dates of creation. Notes from sir James Balfour's heraldic manuscripts. Index. The volume is paged only up to 229. Pages 81 to 84, and 129-30, inclusive, are awanting. The paginations 155 and 185 are duplicated. This volume consists of a series of genealogical notes, subjected to frequent revisions. At the end are receipts by one or two of Nisbet's friends for volumes borrowed from him.
10. th part of the Science of Herauldrie anent the Exterior Ornaments of the Shield. MS., Lyon Office, Edinburgh.
A small quarto, 8 inches by 6 inches, extending to 272 pages, written on one side, several of the blank pages having additions and alterations in the author's handwriting, occupying in one or two cases the entire page. The manuscript contains thirteen chapters as follows:-
|I. Of the Exterior Ornaments of the Shield in General.
II. Of the Helmet or Casque.
III. Of the Ornament of the Helmet called ordinarily, Mantlings, Lambrequins, Hachements, Volets, &c.
IV. Of the Wreath or Torce.
V. Of the Crest or Cimier.
VI. Of Motto's, Cry's of war, and Devises.
||VII. Of Supporters.|
VIII. Of Diadems and Crouns, their ancient and modern Forms.
IX. Of the Cape of State.
X. Of Ensigns of Ecclesiastical Dignities.
XI. Of Ensigns of Civil and Militarie Offices, and other Politick ones of Dignity and Chivalrie.
XII. Of the Compartment.
XIII. Of Manteaux's and Pavilions.
These chapters correspond generally to the thirteen chapters of Part IV. of Vol. II., originally published in 1742. This manuscript is fully referred to at a subsequent part of this introduction.
11. An Ordinary of Arms. University Library MS., Laing Collection. Size 6 inches by 4, seventy-six pages, contains thirty-nine pages of a closely written Scottish heraldic ordinary, containing between 600 and 700 blazons; blazon of the achievement of Scotland (king James VII.); blazon of the achievement of Great Britain (Scotland first and fourth); notes on marks of cadency - helmets, mantlings, wreaths, crests, crowns, supporters, mottoes, devices, and slughorns, ten pages; a continuation of the heraldic directory, letters A and B, eight pages; order of precedency, eleven pages. The volume also contains:- 1. An account of the uplifting of the rents of the Widow Nisbet's land be Andrew Paterson from Whitsunday 1676 to Whitsunday 1680 for payment of 2000 merks annual rent from the fore said term. 2. Ane compt and reckoning betuixt Johnet Aikenhead and Andrew Paterson upon the 21 of February 1681. 3. Ane other account be Mrs Nisbet to Andrew Patersone for repairing her house beyond their mutuall contract. 4. An account of Adam Nisbet's annual rent to Lumsdain's creditors which can be instructed by discharges. 5. A law account, evidently connected with commissary court work, undated. 6. A medical prescription for Alexander Nisbet. Undated, but not later than 1689.
Nisbet's Authority as a Herald.
In forming an estimate of Nisbet's position as a herald it is necessary to disregard, for reasons to be immediately discussed, the contents of the volume published in 1742, which professed to form the second volume of his System of Heraldry, and was reprinted as such in good faith in 1804. His fame is based upon the first, third, fourth, and tenth numbers of the preceding bibliography, and it is sufficient to point out here, in respect to the tenth, that as regards clearness of exposition and brevity of style, it is equal to any of its author's published works.
In 1702, and again in 1718, Nisbet found himself forced by circumstances into authorship. Upon the first occassion it was necessary for him to prove to the public that he was qualified to write a work of a standard sufficiently high to entitle him to national support. Hence the appearance of the Cadency, originally written as a chapter of his complete System. Its accidental birth explains its unpresentable form. It runs through 254 pages of text, without subdivision of any kind. Detached from its context, and published as a separate essay, it became necessary to insert those expositions of general principles which occur so oddly in its pages, but which add so immensely to its value. Naturally it divides itself into four sections. It deals first with the origin and progress of heraldry, pointing out the necessity for differencing arms. It then discusses the additional figures and marks of cadency made use of in Scotland and other nations, and describes the difficulties of the subject. It deals, secondly, with cadency in France, citing some examples from Scots heraldry to shew how closely French methods were followed in Scotland. In the third place the English practice is examined, the author censuring severely the practice of minute differencing. Scotland comes last, and the author shews how the usage in that country is wider and more scientific in its methods than that either of France or England. From the date of its publication the Cadency has remained the leading authority on the subdivision of the science of which it treats. Abridged and mutilated, it forms the opening chapter of the 1742 folio.
In 1718 the herald was in the sixty-second year of his age, and, despairing of ever witnessing the appearance of his long-looked-for folio, made a final effort to publish his work by instalments in quarto, and selected as an example of his powers the chapter on the "Marshalling of Arms." Here, as in the Cadency, he felt himself obliged to discuss to a certain extent the "origin" and first principles of heraldry, and the opening chapter of the Armories is entirely devoted to the question of the rise and progress of arms. Is it worth while mentioning that this opening chapter is entirely omitted from the fraud of 1742 and its subsequent reproduction?
Unquestionably, had the herald been left to exercise his own discretion, the Cadency and Armories would never have appeared in the form they have come down to us, and those clear expositions of the rise and progress of arms now scattered through three volumes would have been condensed into a single introduction. It is proper therefore to regard Nisbet's works, although published at three separate periods, as parts of a whole.
And first as to his method. His plan was simple. It was to describe the origin and form of arms; those who had the right to bear them, and how the right was acquired; as illustrative of his theories, to give the genealogies of the bearers; and his authorities were to be charters, monuments, churches, tombs and seals. To his plan he rigidly adhered. With every inducement to go astray, after the manner of his predecessors, his profound scholarship and sound common sense kept him in the straight path, enabling him to sweep away at a dash those barriers to a lucid knowledge of his science raised by the scholastic nonsense and childish theories of his predecessors and contemporaries. For a parade of fantastic systems, each surpassing its predecessor in outrage upon common sense, he established, on the ground of a simple narration of ascertained facts, a clear and definite system, which any person devoting a quiet week to the work may comprehend. Try him on that touchstone of the heraldic writer, the definition of the origin of arms:-
"Arms are Heritable Marks or Signs of Honour taken or granted by Sovereign Princes to distinguish Persons, Families, and Communities; and are so called because upon Ancient Times they were painted upon Shields and other pieces of Armour and Warlike Instruments; as sometimes upon Banners and Pennons, whence they got the Name of Armorial Ensigns, and being ordinarily drawn upon the Surcoats of Military Persons they were called Coats of Arms."
In another place he says:-
"Arms neither began at the Siege of Troy, nor in the days of Alexander the Great, nor under the reign of the Roman Augustus: neither do they owe their Original to the practice of the Goths and Vandals, nor to the Roman Plays, Tournaments, or Croisades, but that they were in some sort made use of long before any of these, and have borrowed something whereof they are now composed from all of them. So that by degrees they have grown insensibly up to the Beauty and Perfection we now find them in."
And again he writes in the chapter treating of the Marshalling of Arms:-
"I define Arms, Hereditary Marks of Honour, regularly compos'd of certain Tinctures and Figures, granted or authorised by Sovereigns, for distinguishing, differencing, and illustrating Persons, Families, and Communities. The Kind, the Difference, the Form, and the End of Armories, are these:-
"1. The Word Armories is a general Term that is common to all sorts of Ensigns of Honour. "2. Hereditary Marks of Honour, regularly compos'd of certain Tinctures and Figures, are distinguished from Symbols, Emblems, and Devises, which are but Temporary, and are composed of any Colours or Figures. "3. In the Third Place, granted or authorised by Sovereigns, they differ also from arbitrary Marks, such as these assum'd by the Ignoble at their own Hand, and which cannot be called Ensigns of Honour, however so like Arms, for nemo potest dignitatem sibi arrogare sine principis licentia - none can assume Marks of Honour without the Allowance of the sovereign Power: Arms being only allow'd to the Noble, so the Ignoble are discharged the Use of them by the Laws of all well governed Nations. "4. The Words, For distinguishing, differencing, and illustrating persons, families, and communities, shew the Three principle Ends of Armories: The First is, to distinguish the Noble from the Ignoble, the Worthy from the Unworthy; being Marks of Honour, confer'd by Princes upon their well deserving Subjects, and their Families, in Reward of their virtuous Actions, and brave Attempts . . . . as principal and paternal Arms, describing their Tinctures and Figures, proper and natural, with their suitable Blazons. By principal or paternal Arms, I mean those of Chief Families by which they are distinguished from one another . . . . .
"he Second End of Armories, is to difference the Branches or cadets of one and the same family, that the first may be known from the second, and he again from the third, and the third from the fourth, and so on were there never so many of them. . . . .
"The Third End of Armories, is to illustrate Persons, Families, and Communities with Ensigns of Noble Descent and other Additaments of Honour within or without the Shield."
The blazoning of gentlemen's arms by tinctures, of the nobility's by precious stones, and of sovereign princes' by planets, he dismisses as "mere fancies unfit for the art in which they were employed;" and in regard to the achievements of Noah and his sons, the pedigree of the Trojans, and the arms of Joseph and his brethren, he is altogether silent. The tinctures, divisions, and charges of the shield are dealt with in their natural order. Here and there he expands into a genealogy, but usually contents himself with a simple outline of family history. His original intention was to give only family names in the body of his work, reserving genealogical details to the conclusion, and he draws a broad distinction between heraldry and genealogy, which it is important to bear in mind. "If at any time I tell a Story which is not to be found in any Authentic History, or which cannot be instructed by other evident proofs, I only make use of it as a Herauld, without asserting it either to be true or false." According to Fleming, Nisbet insisted that the family memorials handed in to him for publication should be signed, but Fleming (the publisher of the 1742 volume) states "that practice was afterwards neglected, since" (as that worthy sagely remarked) "every one no doubt will be ready to support what he has advanced for the honour and antiquity of his family." Genealogy is undoubtedly Nisbet's weak point; but it is only fair to remember the tremendous disadvantages under which research in his time lay. It is easy for modern antiquaries, whose path has been made easy by the truly splendid series of publications of the record commissions, to pick holes in the work of men like Nisbet and Crawfurd. It is sufficient for Nisbet's reputation to point out that where he uses the formula "I have seen" in describing charters, his descriptions have been, in those examples inquired into, verified. Some charters to which he refers are not now available, but being himself a careful and accurate writer and a thoroughly competent scholar, it is reasonable to conclude that where he went astray it was by reason of imperfect copies, or the unwarranted statements of those upon whom he was compelled to depend.
As a herald he remains unrivalled. Many of the methods in fashion in his day in differencing and quartering arms, and which he so heartily denounced, have been laid aside. The reforms he urged in the methods of blazon have been mostly adopted. His classification of ordinaries and sub-ordinaries has been almost universally acquiesced in. Here and there his extreme desire for exactitude led him to urge peculiar views, as, for example, in his description of the shield gyronny. His derivations, too, or rather those he was content to accept, are sometimes quaint, and critics may point to his account of the origin of the double tressure on the Scottish arms as a proof that he was not free from the credulity of his predecessors. As a reformed he was bound to cross swords with many of his predecessors and contemporaries, and he found more to find fault with in English writers than in those of any other nation. He rarely leaves his enemy unconquered, but his language is uniformly moderate, and he never fails to do justice to the learning of his opponent. Of some of the English writers, as Camden, Selden, Dugdale, Guillim, and others, Nisbet speaks in terms of the highest admiration, and he in turn was regarded with equal respect by his English contemporaries. His method of conducting disputes became alike his lineage and his work. Here is an example. He is discussing that sore point with some writers, the charges upon the English shield; "I shall not insist upon a long Numeration of English Heralds for blazoning the Figures of England, Leopards; nor of the French and those who write in Latin. . . . . 'Tis true, for the majesty of England, some English Writers say they should be called Lions passant guardant. Upon which account, I have before, and shall after blazon them so." In return for his courtesy English heralds have paid an unvarying tribute of respect to Nisbet's authority and genius; they have left to his countrymen the task of detraction and disparagement.
For his style he makes one or two apologies: "It is such that my meaning may be easily understood, which, being the principal end of any language, is all I aim at;" and he adds, "I am so much taken up in conversing with the Dead, and in turning over the works of those who lived many Ages before me, that it cannot be expected my Writing should appear in that Neat Dress, into which other Modern Authors carefully lick themselves." No man ever had less need of an apology. He is full of his subject. He uses the simplest language to express his views, and there is a striking absence of pedantry in his work. His beauties are clearness and brevity. Mr Seton complains that, when appealed to for the settlement of nice or controverted points, his language is loose and inelegant. That is a criticism which applies justly to the second volume only of the Heraldry, for the contents of which Nisbet is in no way responsible. Once or twice Nisbet does seem to withhold an opinion. This diffidence, where it is apparent, is attributable to two causes - first, that perfect mastery of his subject which so frequently leaves a great writer in the attitude of tolerating all opinions rather than expressing his own; and secondly, his indifference on one or two points, particularly those relating to the quartering of the royal arms subsequent to the Union - a political event he regarded in the light of a passing misfortune. Style is a stilt, to be used by the halt and the maimed. A past master in his art, as Nisbet was, requires no secondary help. Find a clearer definition than his of the origin of arms, or give a terser description, "Arms are silent names."
The Forgeries of 1742.
How then does it come to pass that Nisbet is regarded with feelings curiously compounded of regard for him as an authority and contempt for him as a man? -- "the honest herald," "poor Nisbet," "Nisbet the Scotch writer," "the good herald," "honest Nisbet," and such like patronising epithets being showered upon him by writers immeasurably his inferiors. The reply is, that he was the victim of a series of forgeries, which have remained undetected for one hundred and fifty years. Let us expose them.
Nisbet had some foreboding of the fate destined to overtake his reputation. He describes, in 1718, his anxiety to publish, "because if my numerous collections and observations do not come to light in my own time, I'm afraid they may be misused or neglected by the ignorance or negligence of those into whose hands they may come." The disaster he apprehended came to pass.
In 1742 there was issued a folio dubbed by the publisher of it "the second volume of Nisbet's Heraldry." It is described in No. 6 of the preceding bibliography. Not to mention the style of the book, its jumble of contents, and its digressions, suspicion is excited at once by its arrangement, pagination, and indexing, forming as they do so striking a contrast to the works published in the author's lifetime. Fleming the publisher palmed off the volume upon the public in the following terms:-
"Mr. Nisbet not being able to overtake his whole design in one volume, as at first he intended, for the several reasons set forth in the said preface [to Volume I.], he therefore promises an Appendix or Second Volume, wherein the several branches of heraldry, not there treated of, were to be illustrated; and, as this undertaking is now finished and presents itself to the public, it will be necessary that the editor should say something in behalf of the performance.
"In the First Part of this Volume [i.e. Volume II.] the following branches of Heraldry, viz., Marks of Cadency, Marshalling of Divers Coates in one Shield, Exterior Ornaments, &c., are fully treated of, and illustrated by proper examples, all which were executed by the author himself in his own lifetime; the manuscript copy of which, in his own handwriting, the editor has preserved for the satisfaction of the curious.
"The other parts handled in this undertaking are inserted because of their co-incidency with the principal subject treated of in this Volume. Of this kind is the chapter of Funeral Escutcheons, which was composed by Roderick Chalmers, herald and herald painter in Edinburgh, whose understanding and practice in these matters is well known; and the other chapters, such as that of Precedency, the Office and Dignity of Heralds, &c., and that concerning Public Processions and Cavalcades, which gives an idea of the grandeur of this antient and once flourishing kingdom, were all carefully collected from Manuscripts in the Lawyers' Library, and the writings of the learned Sir George Mackenzie, &c.
"To render this work the more useful and complete, the editor has given the Return of the Lords of Session, to an order of the House of Peers concerning the Scots peerage. . . . . The editor observing that no body had ever yet published an exact draught of these monuments of the antiquity and independency of this kingdom, the Regalia, viz., Crown, Sceptre, and Sword; and as the originals are not now to be seen, he has embellished the work with a plate of them. . . . . But what takes up a great part of this volume is the memorials of private families, which neither Mr Nisbet nor the publisher are anyways answerable for; they must stand upon the faith of those who gave them in and the vouchers they adduce for their support. . . . .
"It may now be expected that he should give some account to the subscribers for the delay in the publication; and indeed this in part may be ascribed to Mr Nisbet's death and the property of it going through many different hands, and likewise to the dilatoriness of the subscribers in giving in memorials of their families. However, as it now comes abroad into the world, 'tis hoped it will give general satisfaction, and meet with a favourable reception, both as it completes the design of its worthy author, who was the most learned in the noble Science of Heraldry, of any that ever appeared in this country, yea perhaps not inferior to any; and, as it contains many curious things which tend to illustrate the honour and dignity of the nation, either never before printed or only to be found in loose papers in the hands of the curious. . . . .
"Since finishing the impression of this work, the editor coming to the knowledge that a learned antiquarian had written Historical and Critical Remarks on the surnames and families of those whose predecessors swore fealty to Edward I. of England in 1292, &c., inserted in a writing commonly known by the name of Ragman Roll, he purchased the same at considerable expence, and has printed it in a size fit to be bound up with this volume. . . . ."
The only portions then of the volume for which, by Fleming's own admission, Nisbet can be held responsible, are the chapters on cadency and the marshalling of arms, extending to 113 pages, and the division relating to the exterior ornaments of the shield, 146 pages, - in all 259 pages of letterpress, "all which," writes Fleming, "were executed by the author himself in his own lifetime; the manuscript copy of which, in his own handwriting, the editor has preserved for the satisfaction of the curious." The manuscripts of the first portion being the chapters treating on cadency and marshalling have not been recovered. This is the less to be regretted since we have the author's finished work on these branches, published in 1702 and 1718, during his lifetime, and the mutilated transcriptions issued in 1742, after his death may therefore be safely disregarded. So mutilated are the original works that, were it not for the order in which marks of cadency and forms of marshalling were originally treated by Nisbet being observed, it would hardly be possible to discover here and there some traces of his language. It follows that references to Nisbet as an authority on either of these branches of heraldry can only be made to the volumes of 1702 and 1718. It may be added that in the 1742 volume the modest and graceful references to his own family in the Cadency, and the touching passage in the Armories in which he describes the execution of his uncle sir Philip Nisbet at Glasgow, with his companion in arms Ogilvy of Innerquharity, are shamelessly suppressed.
The manuscript of the second portion of this 1742 volume, that treating of exterior ornaments of the shield, has by good fortune been preserved in the Lyon office, and is part of the manuscript "preserved for the satisfaction of the curious." It was at one time the property of James Cumming, who in 1770 held the office of Lyon clerk depute, and subsequently that of Lyon clerk; the handwriting is identical with other Nisbet manuscripts which have fortunately been preserved. It is described in No. 10 of the bibliography. It appears to have been written later than the manuscript preserved in the Advocates' library, 1695-1702; but there are additions - chiefly references to foreign authorities - in Nisbet's handwriting, evidently of a much later date than the original work, and possibly executed in 1718, when he contemplated publishing his work by quartos. The liberties taken with the Essay on Exterior Ornaments are quite as great as those taken with the Cadency and the Armories. The sins of omission are grievous, but it is in the sins of commission that the deadliest blows were struck at the author's reputation.
If Alexander Nisbet had one failing it was family pride. The bibliography shews that on the title-pages of the three works published in his lifetime he describes himself as a "gentleman." In each he is careful to refer to the antiquity of his family and to its service in the royalist cause, and those readers who care to refer to the passages will find them characterised by dignity and modesty. The poverty he was compelled publicly to admit as the main explanation of the non-appearance of his great work seemed only to deepen his pride. Devoting his life to a science which might bring him fame but never profit, and to the preservation of the achievements of those whose descendants had it not in their power to reward him, he would have been more than human had he not reminded his countrymen once and again of the position in which he stood, and of the purity of his motives.
"I am very sensible that a work of this nature, in which so many different persons and families are more or less concerned, must expose the author to variety of censures, and readily they who are least concerned will be most censorious; but as it is the service of my country and benefit of posterity that I chiefly write for, so I shall be easy as to the snarls of idle and ignorant critics; and shall be ready on all occasions fully to satisfy candid and judicious readers; and whatever fate the following book may undergo in the present age, I shall comfort myself with the thoughts of this, that the older it grows the more useful and valuable will it be to posterity."
With so high an ideal and such single-mindedness of purpose how did he come to write such a passage as this:-
1742 FOLIO, PART IV., PAGE 134.
For writing these words the old herald was denounced as a trafficker; he who did so much for the science of heraldry, who professed, from motives of public spirit, to give an account of "honourable families now extinct, whose names and honours are worthy to be perpetuat," was accused of retailing for a pittance the ancient honours of his own. Did he write these words? Never! This is what Alexander Nisbet wrote: -
Possibly the original authors of this extremely clever forgery formed no idea of its ultimate result. The deed was perpetrated in the interest of the Dean branch of the Nisbet family, whose influence throughout Vol. II., in which they more than once claim to be the principal family of the name, is quite apparent, and how the act might affect the herald's reputation probably never occurred to them. But the result was disastrous. The single-minded patriot was transformed into the needy trafficker in ancestral honours, and since it was impossible to overlook his work, he is quoted sometimes with pity, and as frequently with contempt.
"The motives of the literary forger," writes an author of our own day, "are curiously mixed, but they may perhaps be analysed roughly into piety, greed, push, and love of fun." To these a fifth class - family pride - may now be added. There can be no doubt at whose instigation the interpolation was made, nor that it was effected between 1723 and 1728, and the irony of the situation consists in the fact that sir John Nisbet of Dean, for whose family glorification the fraud was concocted, died fourteen years before the world became acquainted with the ambitious claim made by him on behalf of his family.
It has been the usual fate of literary forgeries to be exposed soon after being launched upon the world, and before their appearance had much effect upon the reputation and character of their supposed authors. The present example is a striking exception to the rule. Detection has generally been rendered possible by some inherent weakness, anachronism, or blunder in the fraud. But here the statement is short, clear, and decisive. Nothing appears on the face of the lie likely to lead to detection, the language bearing only too great a resemblance to that likely to be used by a man who, hard pressed at the close of his career, was driven at the last to sell his birthright. Besides, there was the audacious assertion of the publisher that he held the manuscript copy of the work in Nisbet's own handwriting for the "satisfaction of the curious;" and so it came to pass that the fraud remained undetected for one hundred and fifty years.
Nisbet's fate has been a hard one. The shadow has rested upon his name for upwards of a century and a half. Is it too much to demand that he shall henceforth be permitted to occupy that position in the republic of letters to which his unspotted personal character, his purity of motive, and his great institute so justly entitle him?
The sins of omission and commission perpetrated in connection with this manuscript on the Exterior Ornaments of the Shield are innumerable, and one or two examples are too tempting to omit:-
MANUSCRIPT, PAGE 60.
The honourable familie of Cuningham earls of Glencairn have been in use for a long time to carrie for crest an unicorn's head couped argent, horned and mained or, being the head of the royal supporter of Scotland, as also Hume of Wedderburn for his frequent services against the English to carrie the same with the addition of being gorged with an open croun as in the royal achievement, as may be seen on the church of Dunglas (if the present possessor has not defaced them as he has disgraced the church by making it a stable) wherof he was a founder with the earl of Home's progenitor, as also on the frontispiece of the House of Wedderburn and on a seal of armes in custodie of the present George Hume of Wedderburn (which he had lately from myself) of his progenitor sir David Hume of Wedderburn appended to a discharge of his to sir Alexander Home of that ilk of the date the 27th January 1443.
1742 FOLIO, PART IV., PAGE 18.
The honourable Familiy of Cuninghame Earls of Glencairn have been in Use, for a long Time, to carry for Crest an Unicorn's Head couped Argent, horned and mained Or, being the head of the Royal Supporter of Scotland. As also Home of Wedderburn, for his frequent Services against the English, carries the same, with the Addition of being gorged with an open Crown, as in the Royal Atchievement; as may be seen on the Church of Dunglass (if they have not been of late defaced) whereof he the said Wedderburn was a Founder, with the Earl of Home's Progenitors; as also on the Frontispiece of the House of Wedderburn, and on a Seal of Arms in Custody of his Progenitor Sir David Home of Wedderburn, appended to a Discharge of his to Sir Alexander Home of That-ilk the 27th of January 1443.
Cryes of war, cris de guerre, well known by the French and by us called Slughornes. These have a great affinitie with motto's or devises that many times they are taken for one another, and the same may adorn the achievement.
Cry of war a public epigraphe consisting of three or four words at most called by Sylvester Petra Sancta, Clamor Militaris which belongs to none but to sovereign princes, dukes, earls, great barons, and chiefs of potent families, who had the command of troops of men, by which they gathered them, led them on to battell and rallied them. . . . .
These crys are either taken from the name of the chief commander of troops, from the place where they are to meet and randevous, from the armorial figure, or from some patron saint.
For the first we have the practice of cryes from the names of the heads of potent families. The cry of the old earls of Douglas was, a Douglas, a Douglas, which was verrie formidable to the English; that of the familie of Seton, a Seton, a Seton; and that of Home, a Home, a Home; and the cry of the family of Bourbon was Bourbon; as did other families abroad who often added some elogium to the name to shew their best qualities as the cry of the counts of Haynalt, Hainalt the Noble, the duke of Milan, Millan the Valiant, and the king of Armenia cry'd Armenia the noble king.
The cry was sometimes with us the name of the place where the rendevous were ordinarilie made, which with some was the same with the name, as Seton and Home castles. The sirnam of M`Keinzie have for cry Tullochard, the M`Phersons Craig-gou or Craig-owie, and the Grants Craig Ellachie, being the places where these clans do randevouse, and this cry or slughorn (in the south called slogan) was proclaimed through their countries by such as were appointed carryeing a cross of wood burnt at the ends called a fyrie cross upon which all the vassals and dependers met at the places named which were after in their expeditions, the military cry of these troops.
Cries of War were well known of old by the Ancients, and much in request, I may say, by all Nations; by the French called Cris de guerre, and with us called Slughorns. These have a great Affinity with Mottoes and Devices, and many Times are taken for one another; so that the Cry has become Mottos to ancient Families.
Cries of War consist ordinarily of three or four Words, called by the Italian S.P.S. Clamor militaris. It belonged anciently to none but to Sovereign Princes, Dukes, Earls, great Barons, and Chiefs of potent Families, who had the Command of Troops of Men; by which Cry they gathered them, led them on to battle, and when distressed or put to Confusion did rally them. . . . .
These cries are either taken from the Name of the chief Commander of Troops, from the Place where they are to meet and rendezvouze, or from the Figure on the Banner or Standard.
As for the first, the Cry of the Family of Bourbon, was Bourbon; and other great Families besides the Name added some Elogium, to shew their best Qualities; as the Cry of the Counts of Haynault, Haynault the Noble; the Duke of Milan, Milan the Valiant; and the King of Armenia cried, Armenia the noble King. With us the Cry of the old Earls of Douglas was, a Douglas, a Douglas, which was very formidable to their enemies who had found their Valour.
Cries from the Place of Rendezvouzing were frequent with us; as that of the Homes, a Home, a Home, intimating the meeting at Home Castle; the Mackenzies have for Cry, Tullochdar; the Clanchattons, Craig-gow, or Craig-Owie; and the Grants, Craig-Ellachie, &c., which were cries taken from the Places where those Clans do rendezvouze, and proclaimed thro' their countries, by such as were appointed, carrying a Cross of Wood burnt at the End, called a fiery Cross; upon which all the Vassals and Dependents met at the respective Places of their Clans; and the Cry continued in their Expeditions, and in Action to distinguish their different troops.
MANUSCRIPT, PAGE 144.
Sir Thomas Livingstoun being made viscount of Teviot for his victorie over the king's forces at Crumbdell, had given him for supporters two white horses bridled and furnished gules.
1742 FOLIO, PART IV., PAGE 36.
Sir Thomas Livingston being made Viscount of Teviot, for his Victory at Crumbden, had given him for Supporters, two White Horses, bridled and furnished Gules.
The Scotsman who in 1718 was not afraid to designate the Highlanders under Buchan and Cannon, who were surprised and dispersed by the Scots Greys on the morning of the 30th of April 1690, as "the king's forces," was a man of courage. But Nisbet's Jacobite proclivities were well know to Fleming, who was careful to guard against them. Observe his description of "the pretender":-
MANUSCRIPT, PAGE 176.
Since the happie restoration of king Charles the 2nd it was ordered by the king in council that the son and heir apparent of the croun of England should bear his coronet heighned as before and closed with ane arch and on the tope a mond ensigned with a cross patee as hath the royal diadem (which was born by James prince of Wales onlie son of king James 2nd of England and 7th of Scotland upon his shield of armes) and likewayes it was ordained that the duke of York and all the immediat sons and brothers of the kings of England shall use and bear their coronets heighned with crosses pattees and flower de lisses alternately only and not closed and all their sons respectively having the title of duke shall bear and use their coronets heighned with crosses patees and trefoils alternately; but the sons of nephews shall use coronets of other dukes not being of the blood royall as by the said act in Sandford's historie at the title of James, duke of York.
1742 FOLIO, PART IV., PAGE 43.
Upon the Restoration of King Charles II. it was ordered by the King in Council, "That the Son and Heir apparent of the Crown of England should bear his Coronet brightned as before mentioned, and closed with an Arch adorned on the Top, with a Mond ensigned with a Cross Patee, as the Royal Diadem." Likewise it was ordained "That the Duke of York and all the immediate Sons and Brothers of the Kings of England should use and bear their Coronets brightened with Cross, Patees, and Flower-de-Lisses alternately only, and not closed: as also their Sons respectively, having the Title of Duke shall have and bear their Coronets only brightened with Cross Patees and Trefoiles alternately; but the Sons of Nephews shall use Coronets as other Dukes, not being of the Blood royal;" as appears by the said Act, given us by Sandford in his History, at the Title of James Duke of York.
The last specimen will give some idea of the transformation Nisbet's simple and direct language underwent:-
MANUSCRIPT, PAGE 246.
Of the Compartment.
Its that figure upon which the shield and suporters stand and contains the motto names and designations of the owner. It has no fixed form, sometimes like an escroll, most frequently at other times like an oblong oval or after anie other form the painters or engravers thinks fittest and which they embellish with various florishes to sett out their work so that its neither a proper or regular piece of armorie, neither can I say that its ancient, for upon old seals there's no such thing, and in those ages where shields of armes were represented couch, there was no compartment needful, for they hung by the left corner, and supporters stood on the sides of the shield supporting the casque on the top of the shield.
1742 FOLIO, PART IV., PAGE 137.
Of the Compartment.
The Compartment is that Figure upon which the Shield and Supporters usually stand or rest, and very frequently therein is insert the Name and Designation of the Bearer, and when the Person carries more Motto's or Epigraphs than one, if any of them relate to the Supporters or Arms, then they are commonly and most properly placed upon the Compartment below, but if the same is intirely relative to the Crest, the same most regularly ought always to be placed in an Escroll above it.
The Compartment is of no fixed Form in Heraldry neither by our Practice at home nor yet abroad; for sometimes and that very frequently it is formed like an Escroll in order to contain more aptly a 2d Motto, and at other Times it is formed liked an Oblong Oval wherein either to insert the Motto or Designation of the Person to whom the Arms belong; and seeing there is no stated rule hereanent in the Science of Herauldry it is now customarily drawn after whatever Form the Painters or Engravers of Armorial Achievements think best and fittest and which they commonly embellish with various Flourishes, Foldeshes and running Leaves in order to adorn their Work and Performance. But as the Compartment is neither a proper nor regular Piece of Armourie, so neither can I say that it is very ancient; for upon old Seals there's no such Thing to be seen. And in those Ages, when Shields of Arms were represented Couchee there was no Compartment needful; for they hung always by the left Corner, and the Supporters belonging thereto commonly stood on the Sides of the Shield, and 'tis to be observed did not support the same as the Practice now is, but only supported the Casque or Helmet placed on the Top thereof.
Had this interpolator chosen to confine himself to structural alterations or paraphrases upon Nisbet's original sentences, the worst effect of his meddlesomeness would have been to subject his author to the charge - more than once, indeed, levelled at him - of being loose and inconsequent in his language; and it is worthy of note that where this accusation has been made, it has invariably been founded upon passages in the volume of 1742. It is right to add that no alteration of moment has been made on the passage in which Nisbet indicates his opinion of the respective rights of the heir of line and the heir male to heraldic honours.
The Heraldic Plates.
There remains to be told the story of the collection of plates which appear in the present volume. About four years ago Mr Eliott Lockhart of Cleghorn discovered, in going over his library, a collection of old folio sheets of heraldic plates stitched together, which he placed in the writer's hands for examination. They could not be identified as belonging to any existing work, although their appearance led to the irresistible conclusion that they were intended for publication. The introduction to the Cadency solved the puzzle, they formed a portion at least of the "Armorial Bearings of the Nobility and Gentry, cut very exactly on Copper Plates . . . . the Nobility on a Plate by themselves, and the Gentry by Two's on one Plate," so fully described by Nisbet as prepared under his superintendence at page xxiv. of the preface to that work; the passage is quoted at page xxix. of this introduction. An account of the plates appeared in the Scotsman of 10th March 1890, and their interest and beauty led the publishers to believe that it might be useful to place them within the reach of students of heraldry, a proposal to which Mr Eliott Lockhart kindly gave his consent.
It was considered possible that some of the original plates, or proofs from plates, might be in existence, and the publishers of this volume accordingly some months ago instituted an inquiry, in the hope of some discovery being made among the families whose arms are included in this collection, or in the repositories of other families of the nobility and gentry whose arms might have been engraved for the work. The search, though addressed to all families of note in Scotland, and to others who take an interest in heraldry and genealogy, has been fruitless. Whether the copper-plates remained in the herald's possession or were returned to the owners, it is not possible to say. Had they been returned, there is little doubt that from some quarter or other one or more examples would have been forthcoming. Some book-plates engraved by Nisbet's artists have come to light, but the only additional plate discovered is that of the countess of Winton (page 75 of this collection), preserved in the Nisbet manuscript in the Advocates' library. Could Nisbet's original intention have been carried out on the scale of which but a portion remains, his boast that "Britain ne'er produced before this time anything on this Science so splendid and so glorious," would have been amply justified. How hard must have been the struggle before he surrendered his cherished idea can only be imagined. He had to relinquish it at last, and to rely for illustration upon a collection of respectable book-plates instead of his stately engravings.
Piecing together the evidence, it is clear that nearly all, if not all, of these plates were executed before 1702, the date of publication of the Cadency. The first portion of the Advocates' library manuscript was written, and some of the plates engraved, before 1698, and there are blanks left in that manuscript at the head of some family histories for the insertion of an impression of the plate of arms. Nisbet devoted himself exclusively to heraldry in 1687, he was prepared to publish his complete work before 1702, and it seems most reasonable to assign as the date of engraving the plates 1695-1704. Probably the only plate executed after 1702 was that of the countess of Winton.
Of the fourteen small plates, the first two are identical with plates 1 and 2 of the Cadency, 1702, and that the other twelve were executed to the author's order for insertion in that work there is no room to doubt. Almost every shield in the twelve plates is blazoned in the Cadency. Why they were not inserted can only now be matter for conjecture. It may have been, and probably was, owing to financial reasons; but still the wonder is why, when they were all but complete, they should have been sacrificed.
The plates form the most interesting and important examples of heraldic artist's work of the seventeenth century we possess. They are spirited examples of the art of the old line engravers, and may do much to resuscitate the proper treatment of heraldry as a decorative art, especially when applied to such purposes as book-plates, monumental brasses, buildings and carvings in stone and wood. There are some fine examples of "probative quarterings," such as those of Queensberry, Seton of Pitmedden, and Bourdon of Feddal. The treatment of the mantling differs widely in various examples, and its value as an artistic setting was fully appreciated by these old Edinburgh engravers. Where there are no supporters, as in the examples of Home of Ninewells, Trotter of Mortonhall, Ogilvie of Boyne, Scott of Ancrum, Wyllie, and others, the mantling almost completely encircles the shield in its luxuriant foliage, and there is never any repetition in detail. Serving in this way sometimes as a background, on other occasions it appears in the form of a rich canopy, as in the example of Lockhart of Cleghorn, while in the Primrose of Carrington plate the richness of the canopy is further enhanced by the device of slinging the shield from the helmet.
Where supporters appear, an extremely skilful use is made of the lambrequin as a subsidiary decoration, as in the arms of Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, Murray of Touchadam and Polmaise, Lauder of Fountainhall, Dundas of that ilk, and others. In some examples, as Skene of that ilk, Dalmahoy of that ilk, and Pollock of that ilk, the shield is suspended from the helmet by an ornamental belt, permitting of a massive treatment of the lambrequin, and of full justice being done to the supporters and other accessories.
The helmets of the various orders shew an equally remarkable resource in treatment, an observation which applies also to the small shields of the probative plates.
There are three distinct forms of mantles in the plates. First, the ermine mantle adopted for the arms of nobles, on the laps of which appear the arms divided perpendicularly, "so that when they are brought over the escutcheon and meet the embroidered arms, are entire as on the escutcheon within" (see the Queensberry, Home, Winton, Hepburn, Kintore, and Traquair mantles). The division has sometimes a curious effect, as in the Winton plate, where the line, in passing through the surtout, divides the blazing star into equal parts. An exception to the rule of presenting the arms is to be found in the case of the Carnwath mantle, where a tasteful extension of the lambrequin supplies the place of the usual armorial detail. The plate of arms of the countess of Winton, the sole example of a lady's achievement in the present collection, shews the lozenge adorned with the widow's cordelire. The place of honour on the mantle is given to the husband, the arms of the wife appearing on the sinister lap. "The first practice I meet in Scotland," writes Nisbet (Lyon office manuscript, p. 262), "of those mantles was Charles earl of Lauderdale, from London, cut on copper-plate. In imitation of these I directed the engraver so to trim the achievements of our dukes, marquises, and earls, on copper plate designed for this treatise, but to none under these degrees of nobilitie till it be practised by other nations."
An example of a military mantle Nisbet gives us round the arms of his old friend colonel Archibald Row, who fell at the head of his regiment, the old 21st Royal Scots Fusiliers, when leading it to the charge on the field of Blenheim. The honourable augmentation granted to the colonel by king William is one of the earliest examples in our modern military annals of an armorial distinction granted by the sovereign to a soldier - "on a dexter canton an orange slipped and stalked vert." I have seen the orange insignium on old colours of Scots companies raised in 1689 in aid of the claims of king William and queen Mary.
The square mantle, examples of which may be observed round the arms of Purves of that ilk, Morison of Prestongrange, Watson of Saughton, and Weir of Blackwood, are compared by Nisbet to a curtain, and he observes, "such are very frequent in the last edition of Guillim's display."
Examples of a combination of the lambrequin and the mantle, producing an extremely rich effect, are seen in the Home, Winton, Carnwath, Kintore and Traquair plates.
The description of the Highland dress on the supporters of the Skene arms, and the epithets applied to the trews and kilt respectively, are worth noting. The Advocates' manuscript runs thus: "Supported on the dexter by a highland gentleman in his proper garb, holding a skein with his right hand in a guarding posture, and on the sinister by another highlandman in servil habit, with his target on his left arme and his dorloch be his side." The arms of Andrew Stewart are of interest, as preserving to us the representation of one of the flags which flew in the ill-fated Darien expedition. The slogan over the earl of Home's achievement was no doubt intended to illustrate the text quoted on page xliii. of this introduction; the baton behind the Dalmahoy arms is quaint. The crest of Drummond of Carlowrie is one of the earliest, if not the earliest illustration we possess of a curling-stone; this achievement, with its description, appears in the earlier part of the Advocates' library manuscript. Nisbet's authority for the exterior ornaments he has placed round archbishop Cairncross's arms has not been ascertained.
Regarding the engravers employed by Nisbet, not much information has been gleaned. Richard Cooper is stated, in the Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, to have been born in Yorkshire in 1705. He survived until 20th January 1764. It was to this engraver that sir Robert Strange served his apprenticeship 1735-1741. Mylne is the best known of the others. His name appears as the engraver of the entire series of plates for the folio volumes.
The Close of the Herald's Career.
Nisbet had no official connection with the science to which he devoted his life. His pronounced Jacobitism may have been one reason for his exclusion from office, but it reflects no credit on the Lyon king of the day that although between 1687 and 1722 twenty-five vacancies occurred in the ranks of the heralds and pursuivants, his claims were ignored.
No portrait of Nisbet has been discovered. He tells us that in the year 1703 he, "in presence of several artists and with their assistance," -this single word "artists" by the way being paraphrased in the 1742 folio into "gentlemen, antiquaries, jewellers, architects, and others, whose names I could here mention if convenient," - drew up a description of the Scottish regalia; and one cannot help feeling that the features of so remarkable a man must have been transferred to canvas by some one or other of his artist friends. A search so far has proved fruitless, though it well may be that a portrait lurks in some yet undiscovered corner.
Three years after the publication of his folio the end came.
In the register of interments in the Greyfriars churchyard of Edinburgh, in the custody of the lord provost and magistrates, occurs the following entry, under date December 1725 :- "Alexander Nisbet, Professor of Herauldrie, died 5th, buried 7th, close to the south side of Nisbet's tomb." He was in the sixty-ninth year of his age. The Nisbet tomb has long since disappeared, and it is now impossible to tell the spot where the herald is laid. No record of his will has been discovered, nor is it possible to say who succeeded to any estate he may have left. Fleming states that after his death his manuscripts went through various hands before the appearance of the 1742 volume, and it is only too probable that he died in poverty. George Crawfurd the antiquarian, the author of the Peerage of Scotland, a History of Renfrewshire, and other works, and who is believed to have written the remarks on the Ragman Roll appended to the 1742 volume, wrote of him: "He was a worthy, modest gentleman, who had as many friends and as few enemies as any man I have known."
Is it permissible to hope that the family of which he was the distinguished representative will take steps to place in the ancient burying-ground a fitting memorial of the old herald?
|EDINBURGH, March 1892.
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