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The Scottish Nation
Bisset, Byset, or Bissert


BISSET, BYSET, or BISSERT, originally an Anglo-Norman name, belonging to a family which came into Scotland about the reign of William the First, and settled in two branches, the one in the province of Moray, and the other in Berwickshire. After Malcolm the Fourth had subdued, in 1160, the turbulent and rebellious inhabitants of Moray, and transported to Galloway all who had taken up arms against him, which included the greater portion of the population, he bestowed their lands upon strangers; and among the new settlers, besides the earls of Fife and Strathearn, and other powerful families, were the once potent Comyns and Bisset Ostiarii, who obtained large estates in the province, especially in that part which now forms a portion of Inverness-shire.

      Dugdale, in his Baronage (vol. i. p. 632), says that the first mention of the name of Bisset in England was in the nineteenth year of the reign of King Stephen, when Manser Bisset was one of the witnesses to that accord then made betwixt Stephen and Henry duke of Normandy, touching the succession of the latter to the crown of England. After this, being sewer to that king, he founded an hospital at Mayden-Bradley, in Wiltshire, for leprous women and secular priests. He was succeeded by his son Henry, who, dying without issue, another Henry, his nephew, became his heir; to whom succeeded John Bisset, brother and heir of William Bisset this John, being chief forester of England, was in the great tournament held at Northampton in 1241, (25th Henry the Third,) occasioned by Peter de Savoy earl of Richmond against earl Roger Bigod. On his death he left three daughters but no son.

      In the reign of Alexander the Second one Walter Bisset was a witness in a charter by that king to the abbacy of Paisley; and also with William Bisset was witness in another charter of the same monarch to the abbacy of Dunfermline. by the Chartulary of Melrose Walter Bisset, in the year 1233, married a daughter of Roland, lord of Galloway. These parties appear to be of the branch of the Bissets established in Berwickshire, to whom the following story refers: – In 1242 Walter de Bisset was accused of the murder of Patrick, sixth earl of Athol, at Haddington. [See Life of ALEXANDER II., ante.] That the murder might be concealed, the assassins set fire to the house in which the earl lodged. The murdered earl had been victor in a tournament with Walter Bisset, and it is remarked by Mr. Burton, [Life of Lord Lovat, p. 5,] as probable that he had no farther concern with the murder than his inability to restrain the fiery spirit of his Celtic followers, burning for vengeance. But in this he seems to be mistaken, as the Berwickshire Bissets were not likely to have Celtic followers, nor even those of Moray of that epoch, most of the native inhabitants having, as stated above, been transported to Galloway. The Scottish nobility, headed by Patrick, earl of March, and instigated by David de Hastings, who had married the aunt of Athol, raised their followers, and demanded Bisset’s life. Bisset sought and obtained the protection of the king, Alexander the Second, who, however, could not shield him long, so powerful was the combination against him, and he was compelled to leave the kingdom, when his estates were forfeited, and all his family were involved in his ruin. The Bissets fled to Ireland, from whence Bisset himself proceeded to England, and incited Henry the Third to take up arms against the Scottish king, which led to the treaty of Newcastle, 13th August 1244. [see ante, life of ALEXANDER II.] Henry the Third bestowed upon Bisset large possessions in the barony of Glenarm, county of Antrim, Ireland, In 1316, after Edward Bruce had been crowned king of Ireland, and was endeavouring to secure himself in that country, we find one Hugh Bisset mentioned as having, with John Loggan, defeated the Scottish force in Ulster with considerable slaughter. The castle Olderfleet, in the vicinity of Larne, the ruins of which still exist, is supposed to have been erected by one of the Bissets. The monastery of Glenarm was founded in 1465, by another of them, named Robert Bisset.

      About the year 1400, John Mor Macdonald of Isla, founder of the clan Ian Vor, second son of the Lord of the Isles and Lady Margaret Stewart, daughter of King Robert the Second, acquired large possessions in Ulster, by his marriage with Mary or Marjory Bisset, daughter of Sir John Bisset, and heiress of the Glens in the county of Antrim, a district which included the baronies of Carey and Glenarm. On his death in 1427, the territory of the Glens was inherited by his eldest son, Donald, surnamed Balloch, a celebrated Highland chief, who, in 1341, defeated the earls of Mar and Caithness at Inverlochy, and who, having, by a stratagem, escaped the vengeance of King James the First, afterwards took so prominent a part in the rebellions of John, earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles. [Gregory’s Highlands and Isles of Scotland, p. 61.] The footing which this branch of the Macdonalds thus obtained in Ulster, was, in later times, improved by their successors, and thus it was that the Macdonnels, earls of Antrim, became entitled to the Bisset’s property in Ireland.

      The property in Inverness-shire which afterwards came into the possession of the Frasers, lords Lovat, formed a portion of the large territories in the north of Scotland belonging to the Bisset family. John Bisset, in 1230, founded a priory of the order of Vallis Caulium, or Val des Choux, in Ross-shire, which, from the beauty of its situation he called Beaulieu, now Beauly, and which gave name to the small river which flows past. A cut of the ruins of this edifice, from the rare work of Adam de Cardonnel, is subjoined, as they existed in 1788. It is one of many instances of Norman, or rather French, names, given at this early age to localities in the north of Scotland. The tower and fort of Lovat, founded in the same year, near the eastern bank of the Beauly, was anciently the seat of the Bissets.

      In 1245, Sir John Bisset of Lovat was imprisoned in the castle of Inverness for the imputed crimes of connection with the murder of the earl of Athol, and of fealtyship to the Lord of the Isles. In 1258 Sir John Bisset of Lovat mortified an annuity out of his lands to the bishop of Moray. He died without heirs of his own body, leaving his estate to his three daughters; the eldest of whom married David Grahame, thereafter designed of Lovat, as in an agreement betwixt him and the bishop of Moray, concerning the fishing of the water of Torn. The second daughter became the wife of Sir William Fenton of Beaufort, and the third of Sir Andrew de Bosco.

      In 1291, amongst the barons convened at Berwick, at the desire of Edward the First of England, as arbitrators between the competitors for the crown of Scotland, was William Bisset, probably the same person who, in the regulations adopted for the government of Scotland by Edward the First in 1304, is mentioned as sheriff and constable of Stirlingshire. His grandson, Sir Thomas Bisset, lord of Upsethynton, became, in 1362, fifteenth earl of Fife, by his marriage, he being her third husband, with the Countess Isobel, eldest daughter and heiress of Duncan MacDuff, earl of Fife, she having the earldom in her own right. Bisset, on his marriage, received from David the Second a charter granting to him and his heirs male by Isobel, his countess, the earldom of Fife, with all its pertinents. He died in 1366, without issue, and in 1371 the countess resigned the earldom to Robert Stuart, earl of Menteith and duke of Albany, the brother of Walter Scott, her second husband, who died young, without issue.

      In the accounts of the High Treasurer of Scotland, during the reign of James the Fifth, quoted in Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials (vol. i. part. i. Appendix, p. 286), under date September 25, 1537, there is the following entry: “Item, to James Bissat, Messinger, to pas with Letteris to the Provost and Bailleis of Dundee and Sanct Jonestoune (Perth) to serche and seik John Blacat and George Luwett, suspect of the hanging of the Image of Sanct Francis; and to his wage xxs.”

      Habakkuk Bisset, writer to the signet, clerk to Sir John Skene, lord clerk register in the reign of James the Sixth, is the reputed author of ‘Ane Short Forme of Proces, presently used and observed before the Lords of Counsell and Session,’ appended to Skene’s Scottish translation of the Regiam Majestatem, published in 1609. This work forms one of the articles in a scarce volume entitled, ‘A Compilation of the Forms of Pricess in the Court of Session, during the earlier periods after its establishment; with the variations which they have since undergone, and likewise some ancient tracts concerning the manner of proceeding in Baron Courts; published by order of this Commissioners lately appointed by his majesty for inquiring into the administration of justice in Scotland.” 8vo. Edinburgh, 1809. [Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials. Vol. i, part ii. page 286, note.]

BISSET, BISSAT, OR BISSART, PETER, professor of canon law in the university of Bologna, in Italy, was born in the county of Fife, in the reign of James the Fifth. He studied grammar, philosophy, and the laws at St. Andrews, whence he removed to Paris; and having completed his education in that university, he went to Bologna, where he received the degree of doctor of laws, and was afterwards appointed professor of canon law in that city. He continued there for several years, and died in the latter part of the year 1568. He possessed a high reputation not only as a civilian, but also as a poet, an orator, and a philosopher. Bisset has frequently been confounded by Scottish biographical writers with an Italian poet and historian of the 16th century, named Peter Bizari, who was in Scotland during the regency of the earl of Murray, and some of whose minor poems will be found in Gruter’s ‘Deliciae Poetarum Italorum.’ A quarto work, entitled ‘Patricii Bissarti Opera Omnia, viz, Poemata, Orationes, Lectiones Feriales, et Liber de Irregularitate,’ was published at Venice in 1565. Bisset is said by a recent biographer [Chambers’ Scottish Biography] to have been a descendant of Thomas Bisset or Bissert, earl of Fife in the reign of David the Second. But this is probably a mistake; or if he were so, it must have been by a previous marriage, as the Sir Thomas Bisset who married the widowed countess of Fife, and received from the crown a charter of the earldom of Fife, to be held by him and his heirs-male by the countess, left no issue by her.

BISSET, CHARLES, M.D., an able medical and military writer, the son of an eminent lawyer and scholar, was born in 1717 at Glenalbert, near Dunkeld. He studied medicine at the university of Edinburgh, and in 1740 was appointed second surgeon in the military hospital, Jamaica. During the years he passed in the West Indies, he devoted his attention to acquiring a knowledge of the diseases peculiar to the torrid zone; and the result of his inquiries appeared at Newcastle in 1766, in a volume entitled ‘Medical Essays and Observations,’ the principal papers in which treated particularly of the diseases of that climate. In 1745, in consequence of ill health, he resigned his situation, and returned to England, In May 1746 he purchased an ensigncy in the gallant 42d regiment; when he began to improve his natural ingenuity, by studying engineering, in which department he soon distinguished himself. In September 1748 the regiment was unsuccessfully employed on the coast of Brittany, but on the commencement of the ensuing campaign, it was ordered for foreign service against the French in Flanders. Some sketches made by Dr. Bisset of the enemy’s approaches at the action of Sandberg, and at Bergen-op-Zoom, were presented by his colonel, Lord John Murray, to the duke of Cumberland, the commander-in-chief, who thereupon ordered him to attend the siege of the latter place. with the view of keeping a regular journal of the attack and defence; when he was frequently observed to walk on the ramparts, with the utmost unconcern, amidst the enemy’s shot, the more nearly to observe the exact position of the French attacks. His journal, illustrated with plans, was duly forwarded to the duke, then at the head of the allied army, at Maestricht. On the recommendation of his royal highness, the duke of Montagu, then master-general of the ordnance, appointed him engineer extraordinary to the brigade of Engineers. He also at the same time received his commission as lieutenant. On the conclusions of the war he was placed on half-pay, when he visited several of the principal fortified places on the continent. In 1751 he published his first work, being an ‘Essay on the Theory and Construction of Fortifications.’ Having now retired from active service, he settled as a physician at the village of Skelton, in Cleveland, Yorkshire, where his practice became very extensive. In 1755 appeared his ‘Treatise on the Scurvy,’ dedicated to the lords of the admiralty. In 1762 he published ‘An Essay on the Medical Constitution of Great Britain,’ inscribed to his friend, Sir John Pringle. In 1765 he received from the university of St. Andrews the degree of M.D. A few years before his death, he placed in the library of the Infirmary at Leeds a manuscript, extending to nearly 700 pages, of medical observations, for which he received a vote of thanks. a manuscript treatise on Fortification, which he presented to the prince of Wales, afterwards George IV., was deposited in his royal highness’s private library. Dr. Bisset wrote also a small treatise on Naval Tactics, and a few political papers on subjects of temporary importance. He died at Knayton, near Thirsk, in May 1791, in the 75th year of his age. – Gentlemen’s Mag. vol. lxi.

      The following is a catalogue of his works: –

      Essay on the Theory and Construction of Fortifications. London, 1751, 8vo.

      Treatise on the Scurvy, with Remarks on the Cure of Scorbutic Ulcers; designed chiefly for the use of the British Navy. Lond. 1755, 8vo.

      Essay on the Medical Constitution of Great Britain; to which is added, Observations on the Weather, and the Diseases which appeared in the period included between the 1st of January 1758, and the summer solstice 1760. together with an Account of the Throat Distemper, and Military Fever, which were epidemical in 1760. Likewise, Observations on Anthilmantus, particularly the Great Bastard Black Hellebore, or Bear’s Foot. Lond. 1760, 8vo.

      Medical Essays and Observations. Newcastle upon Tyne, 1766, 8vo.

      Observations on Lymphatic Incysted Tumours. Med. Conn. ix. p. 244. 1785.

      A Case of an extraordinary, irritable, sympathetic Tumour. Memoirs Med. iii. p. 58. 1792.

      Treatise on Naval Tactics.

BISSET, JAMES, an eccentric but ingenious artist, was born in Perth about 1742. When he was about fifteen years of age he went to Birmingham, where he resided for about thirty-six years, having established there a museum and shop for the sale of curiosities. In 1813 he removed to Leamington, where he had opened a news-room and picture gallery the preceding year. His collection consisted principally of articles in natural history, particularly birds, the costume and arms of savage nations, models in wax and rice paste, &c. In 1814, we find him styling himself Modeller to his Majesty. He had a remarkable facility in writing rhymes, which he indulged in on all occasions. Even his Guides and Directories were half prose and half verse. To the works subjoined, of which he was the author, might be added a long series of ephemeral verses, which his loyal and patriotic muse poured forth on every public occasion, and particularly on the periodical recurrence of the Shaksperian jubilee at Stratford; a few of which were admitted into the pages of the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine.’ In a letter to the editor of that periodical, dated in 1831, he said that there was not a single newspaper taken in, in Leamington, till he established public rooms there. His mind was ever active in suggesting public improvements, and there is no doubt that that now fashionable and increasing watering-place owes much to Bisset’s enterprise and public spirit. He collected many paintings of value, and executed some very good pieces himself. On his death, his pictures were disposed of by auction. He died August 17, 1832.

      The following are Bisset’s principal productions:

      A Poetic Survey round Birmingham, with a brief Description of the different Curiosities and Manufactures of the Place, accompanied by a Magnificent Directory, with the names and professions, &c., superbly engraved in emblematical plates, 12mo, 1800.

      Songs on the Peace, 1802.

      The Converts, a Moral Tale, recommending the practice of Humanity, &c. 8vo, 1802.

      The Patriotic Clarion, or Britain’s Call to Glory; original songs written on the threatened Invasion. 1804.

      Critical Essays on the Dramatical Essays of the Young Roscius; by Gentlemen of Literary Talents, and Theatrical Amateurs, opposed to the Hypercriticisms of Anonymous Writers. Interspersed with Interesting Anecdotes. 8vo, 1804.

      Birmingham Directory, with 45 Copperplates, 1805.

      A Guide to Leamington, 1814.

      Comic Strictures on Birmingham’s Fine Arts and Converzationes, by an Old Townsman, 1829.

BISSET, ROBERT, a miscellaneous writer, the son of the Rev. Dr. Bisset, minister of Logierait, Perthshire, was born about 1759, and studied at Edinburgh for the ministry. After taking the degree of LL.D., he went to England, and was first a schoolmaster at Chelsea, near London, but afterwards became a writer for the press. He died in 1805, aged 46. Besides a Life of Burke, in 2 vols., he published various works, of which the following is a list:

      Sketch of Democracy. London, 1796, 8vo.

      The Life of Edmund Burke, &c. Lond. 1798, 8vo.

      Douglas, or The Highlander; a Novel. 1800, 4 vols. 12mo.

      The History of the Reign of George III, to the termination of the late War; to which is prefixed, a View of the progressive Improvement of England, in Prosperity and Strength, to the accession of his Majesty. Lond. 1804, 6 vols. 8vo.

      Modern Literature. A Novel. 1804, 3 vols. 12mo.

      An edition of the Spectator, with lives of the authors, in 6 vols.


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