Nisbet, Alexander (DNB00)


NISBET, ALEXANDER (1657–1725), heraldic writer, was son of Adam Nisbet, writer in Edinburgh, the youngest son of Sir Alexander Nisbet of that ilk in Berwickshire. His mother was Janet, only daughter of Alexander Aikenhead, writer to the signet (whose father, David Aikenhead, was provost of Edinburgh 1634–7). He was the third of ten children, and was born in April 1657, being baptised on the 23rd of that month. In 1675 he matriculated at the university of Edinburgh, and was laureated in 1682. Educated for the law, he followed for some years the profession of a writer, but devoted himself chiefly to heraldry and antiquities, and was described by contemporaries as a ‘professor’ and ‘teacher’ of heraldry. After laborious research he proposed in 1699 to publish his ‘System of Heraldry’ by subscription; but the response to his appeal proving inadequate, he, in 1703, applied to parliament for a grant in aid, and was voted a sum of 248l. 6s. 8d. Scots (Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, xi. 50, 85, 195, 203), but the money was never paid. He died on 7 Dec. 1725, and was buried in Greyfriars churchyard, Edinburgh. He was the last male representative of his family.

His published works were: 1. ‘An Essay on Additional Figures and Marks of Cadency,’ 1702. 2. ‘An Essay on the Ancient and Modern use of Armories,’ 1718. 3. ‘A System of Heraldry, speculative and practical, with the true art of blazon,’ 1 vol. folio, 1722. What purported to be a second volume was issued in 1742 by R. Fleming, an Edinburgh printer, but it only contained mutilated extracts from Nisbet's manuscripts. Of the two volumes folio editions were issued in 1804 and in 1816 at Edinburgh.

Nisbet left in manuscript: 1. ‘Part of the Science of Herauldrie and the Exterior Ornaments of the Shield,’ 272 pp., 4to, preserved in the Lyon Office, Edinburgh. This forms part of the second volume of the ‘System,’ but was largely altered by the compiler of that volume. 2. ‘An Ordinary of Arms,’ &c., 76 pp., 4to, preserved in the Laing Collection of MSS., University Library, Edinburgh. 3. ‘Genealogical Collections, with some Heraldic Plates, preserved in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh.’ These plates, with a collection recently discovered in the possession of Mr. Eliott Lockhart of Cleghorn, have been reproduced and published as ‘Alexander Nisbet's Heraldic Plates, originally intended for his “System of Heraldry,”’ by Andrew Ross, Marchmont herald, and Francis J. Grant, Carrick pursuivant, fol., 1892.

[Introduction to Alexander Nisbet's Heraldic Plates.]

H. P.