Boar's head

A System of Heraldry
Alexander Nisbet

Boar's head

Nisbet, Alexander: 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 the Most Considerable Surnames and Families in Scotland, &c. Edinburgh: 1722.


     THE Boar, say the naturalists and heralds, is a champion among other wild beasts, and encounters his enemy with a noble courage; and, in order to battle, he is said to whet and sharp his tusks; Guillim says the same; he betokeneth a man of a bold spirit, skilful and politic in warlike feats, called in Latin, aper, ab asperitate; by the French, sanglier; his posture in armories, is passant and rampant; when his tusks are of a different tincture from his body, they say then, he is armed of such a tincture; the French say defendu; and when his eyes are sparkling and red, allumé; Monsieur Baron in his L'Arte Heraldique, says, "Sanglier est passant ou courant, quelquefois rampant, pour exprimer l'email de ses broches, on dit defendu, et celui de ses yeux, allumé."

     The boar's head, with all nations, is very much used as an armorial figure; and especially in Scotland, by many ancient families of different surnames in different shires through the kingdom.
     I shall begin with the ancient families, in the shire of Berwick, of the surnames of GORDON, NISBET, SWINTON, REDPATH, and DUNSE, so named by their baronies, which lie contiguous in that shire, from which their different surnames were taken; and who all carry three boars' heads of different tinctures; by which it seems that the tradition is probable that they were originally of one stock and gens, and afterwards became the heads of families of different surnames; their antiquity appears in the charters of our ancient Kings, Edgar, Alexander, and David, the sons of Malcolm Canmore, to the church of Durham, and abbacy of Coldingham, where they are not only witnesses, but, by their own deeds and charters, are donors to these churches, which are to be found in the Treasury of Durham, and other repositories and chartularies with us, of whom I shall speak a little separately, and of their armorial bearings.

Nisbet of that Ilk
     NISBET of that Ilk, argent, three boars' heads erased sable; crest, a boar passant of the last; motto, I byde it; as in Plate of Achievements.
    The surname is local (as all our ancient ones) from the lands of Nisbet in the shire of Berwick, which were of an ancient denomination ; for, in the donation of King Edgar, the son of Malcolm Canmore, (in whose reign surnames came first to be hereditary) to the Monks of Dunfermline, to pray for the soul of his father, and for the health of his own, among other lands, he gives those of Nisbet, at least the patronage of that church called East-Nisbet, (of late Elmbank) and the teinds of Nisbet (afterwards called West-Nisbet) where the castle of Nisbet stood, memorable in our histories for the fatal overthrow the English gave, by the assistance of the then rebel the Earl of March, to the flower of the youth of the Lothians.
     What I shall say of this ancient and honourable family, in general, is not without documents, which are to be seen among the records of Durham, priory of Coldingham, abbacy of Kelso, and other chartularies; but, from the charter-chest of the family, which, I suppose, is in the custody of the present possessors of these lands, I cannot vouch any thing, having never had access thereto.
     In the reign of King David the I. Philip de Nesbyth is a witness to that king's deed which he made to the religious at Coldingham, for prayers to be said for the health of his soul.
     In the reign of King Malcolm; Patrick Earl, one of the progenitors of the Earls of March and Dunbar, being designed in his charter, Patricius Comes, filius Waldevi Comitis, of the lands of Edrom, cum eius capella & suis pertinentiis, qua ducitur ad villam de Nisbet, to the Monks of Durham, to pray for the souls of King Malcolm, his sons, Edgar, Alexander, and David, kings of Scotland, and for the soul of Earl Henry, and for the health of King Malcolm, as the custom then was; in which charter many witnesses are named, amongst whom are Willielmus de Nesbyth and Alanus de Swyntoun: The same charter is long afterwards confirmed by a charter of King Robert the I. and they are fully narrated, which may be seen in the Collections of the Earl of Haddington in the Lawyers' Library.
     Philip de Nisbet is mentioned in the Bond of Submission given by the Barons of Scotland to King Edward the I. of England, in the year 1296. Prynne's History, page 654; and there James and John Nisbets.
     King Robert the Bruce grants a charter to Adam Nisbet of that Ilk of the lands of Knocklies, faciendo regi servitium unius militis in communi exercitu. This Adam, or another Adam Nisbet of that Ilk, his successor, flourished in the reign of David the II. and made a very good figure in the southern parts, the borders of the kingdom; he is one of the barons mentioned in that deed, whereby Alexander Lindsay of Ormiston makes over his estate to Johanna his daughter, married to Alexander Cockburn, who were the predecessors of the present Adam Cockburn of Ormiston. Adam Nisbet of that Ilk was succeeded by Philip Nisbet, whom I find designed de eodem, in a charter of George de Dumbar Earl of March, to Henry de Ogoul, of the lands of Popille in East-Lothian, of the date 1373, and he again was succeeded by his son Adam, whom I find designed of West-Nisbet in a charter of these lands in the year 1420: It seems it was about that time when East-Nisbet went off with a daughter of the family that was married to Chirnside of that Ilk. The family was afterwards sometimes designed of West-Nisbet, and sometimes of that Ilk; for his grandson and successor is designed Nisbet de eodem, in a charter which he gets from King James the IV. of the lands of Brighamshiels, to himself and his wife, Helen Rutherford, in the year 1506: His successor was Alexander Nisbet of that Ilk, for John Nisbet of Dalziel gives a charter to George Nisbet, son of Alexander Nisbet of that Ilk, of half of the barony of Dalziel, 1513, as in the Public Register.
     Which George succeeded his father Alexander; he gives a charter (wherein he is designed de eodem) to Elizabeth Cranston, daughter of Cuthbert Cranston of Mains, of the lands of Mungo's-Walls, West-Miln of West-Nisbet, and lands of Otterburn in Berwickshire, anno 1551. He was grandfather of Philip Nisbet of that Ilk, who married a daughter of Haldane of Gleneagles; with her he had Sir Alexander, who succeeded Philip Nisbet, who lived in England; of him are descended Thomas and Philip Nisbets, eminent merchants in London; and, for his third son Thomas, who married Agnes Purves, father and mother of Mr Philip Nisbet of Ladykirk, an eminent man for his learning and loyalty, grandfather of Margaret Nisbet, married to John Veitch of Dawick, chief of his name, of whom afterwards.
     Which Sir Alexander Nisbet of that Ilk, who demolished the castle of Nisbet, and builded the house of Nisbet, was most signally conspicuous for his bright parts, and dutiful loyalty to his Sovereign King Charles the I. He was principal Sheriff of the shire of Berwick during the peaceable time of that King's reign; he strenuously opposed the Covenanters; but they prevailing, he and his sons were forced to leave the country, and join with the King's army, where they served in honourable posts with valour and untainted loyalty, to the loss of their persons and estate: His lady was Katharine Swinton, only daughter of Swinton of that Ilk, and his first lady Katharine Hay, daughter of William Lord Yester; she bore to him Philip, Alexander, Robert, John, and Adam.
     The eldest son, Sir Philip, was on his travels abroad, who, hearing of his sovereign's troubles, came to England, and offered his service to his Majesty, who knighted him, and gave him the command of a regiment, and was Lieutenant-Governor of Newark upon Trent, when the Scots Covenanters besieged it ineffectually: He gave many singular proofs of his conduct and valour in the service of his king in England, till the affairs drew him to Scotland to join with the Marquis of Montrose, and continued with him till the battle of Philiphaugh, where, being apprehended, he was no sooner known but an order was sent from the Committee of Estates for his commitment to Glasgow; and there he was tried for being in arms with Montrose, which they easily found him guilty of, and gave sentence to lose his head; which judgment was execute upon him at Glasgow, in company with Alexander Ogilvie, eldest son of Sir John Ogilvie of Innerquharity, a youth scarce twenty years, both unmarried, upon the 28th of October 1646; as in the History of these times, by Dr George Wishart, Bishop of Edinburgh, who says, that the Covenanters beheaded then three stout gallant gentlemen, Sir William Rollock, Alexander Ogilvie, and Sir Philip Nisbet, of an ancient family, and chief of it, next his father, who had done honourable services in the King's army in England, and had the command of a regiment there.
     Alexander and Robert, both Captains, were killed in the field following Montrose. Mr John, the fourth son, married and died in England, leaving a daughter who was married to Mr Brown in Chirnside, a brother of Brown of Blackburn.
     Adam, the youngest son of Sir Alexander Nisbet of that Ilk, married Janet Aikenhead, grandchild to David Aikenhead, Provost of Edinburgh, father and mother of the author of this System of Heraldry, who is the only male representer of the ancient and honourable family of Nisbet.

     There were of old several good families of the name, branched from the house of Nisbet, now extinct, as Nisbet of Paxton, Nisbet of Spittle, Nisbet of Swinewood in the shire of Berwick, and Nisbet of Dalziel in the shire of Lanark, which flourished from the reign of King David the II. to the reign of King Charles the II. from whom were descended the Nisbets, who were magistrates and eminent merchants in Glasgow.

     There was also another family of the name in the shire of Renfrew, stiled NISBET of Johnston, which, in the time of King James the I. went of with an heiress married to a son of Wallace of Ellerslie, who thereupon quartered the coat of Nisbet with that of Wallace, which, as I am informed, are to be seen engraven on the house of Johnston.

Nisbet of Dean
     The most eminent families of the name, now standing, are Nisbet of Dean, Nisbet of Craigintinnie, and Nisbet of Dirleton, being all come of three sons of one Hary Nisbet, merchant in Edinburgh, descended from Nisbet of that Ilk.

     The present Sir JOHN NISBET of Dean, Baronet, lineally descended of the eldest son James, carries argent, a cheveron gules, between three boars' heads erased sable; crest, a boar's head sable : motto, I byde it. The family has been in use to carry their arms supported on the right side by a savage wreathed about the head and middle, all proper, holding a batton on his shoulder, and, on the left, by a greyhound, proper; which are to be seen cut on the frontispiece of their aisle of the West-church, and in Plate of Achievements.
     ALEXANDER NISBET of Craigintinnie, descended of the second son William, carried the same as Dean, but charged the cheveron with three cinquefoils argent.
Nisbet of Dirleton      Sir JOHN NISBET of Dirleton, a famous Lawyer, was one of the Senators of the College of Justice, and Advocate to his Majesty King Charles II. from the year 1663 to the year 1677: His father was Sir Patrick Nisbet, also one of the Lords of Session, stiled Lord Eastbank, descended of the third son. Dirleton carried argent on a cheveron gules, betwixt three boars' heads erased sable, as many cinquefoils of the first; the cheveron ensigned on the top with a thistle, proper; crest, a hand holding a pair of balances; with the motto, Discite justitiam; which arms are now carried by William Nisbet of Dirleton, eldest son of the above-mentioned Alexander Nisbet of Craigintinnie, as heir of tailzie to Sir John Nisbet. See Plate of Achievements.
Nisbet of Greenholm

     NISBET Of Greenholm, a family of a good old standing in the shire of Ayr, descended of Nisbet of that Ilk, carries argent, three boars' heads erased within a bordure sable; crest, a boar's head as the former; with this motto, Vis fortibus arma, as in Plate of Achievements. Of this family is NISBET Of Carphin, and Mr ALEXANDER NISBET, Chirurgeon in Edinburgh, who carries argent, three boars' heads erased sable, within a bordure invected gules, for his difference; crest and motto, as Greenholm. Plate of Achievements.

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