Nesbitt or Nisbet

Clan Nesbitt (or Nisbet) is a Scottish clan recognised by the Lord Lyon, King of Arms and first mentioned in a Scottish charter of 1139. It is a lowland family centred in Berwickshire, East Lothian, Edinburgh and Ayrshire, with a significant historical presence in Northumberland and Durham. It has a Chief, Mark Nesbitt of that Ilk, and active clan associations in the British Isles, North America and Australasia.






Origins of the Clan

The surname of the Berwickshire line derives from the hamlets of East Nisbet and West Nisbet, Berwickshire. Interestingly, until the 16th century, the lands are most often spelt Nesbit, which has a claim to be the original spelling. Some bearers of Nisbet/Nesbitt (and variant) names may originate from the village of Nisbet in Roxburghshire.

The lowland family of Nesbitt or Nisbet has its roots in the county of Berwickshire, in the Scottish Borders. Like the families of Home and Swinton, its descent can be traced from Gospatric, Earl of Northumbria (d. 1073). In 1139 King David I confirmed a charter (now in the archives of Durham Cathedral) granting the lands of Nisbet to Aldan de Nisbet, the founder of the line of Nisbet of Nisbet (i.e. Nisbet of that Ilk).

In the 12th century, castles were built by the Nisbet family at West Nisbet, two miles south of the town of Duns, and at East Nisbet, now known as Allanbank, southeast of Duns on the Blackadder Water. The castle at East Nisbet has long gone, but at West Nisbet the original pele tower was incorporated into the east end of a magnificent new fortified mansion house, built by Sir Alexander Nisbet of that Ilk (c. 1580-1660) in the 1630s. Nisbet House still stands, with an eighteenth century tower (with fine interior plasterwork) added to its west end. The house is in private ownership.



17th Century & Civil War

The family of Nisbet of that Ilk lost its estates in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the English Civil War. Chief Sir Alexander Nisbet of that Ilk was a fervent supporter of Charles I, but was to lose three sons, as well as his newly built tower house. The family motto, “I byd it” (I endure it) was all too appropriate. The eldest son, Sir Philip Nisbet, was executed in Glasgow after the Battle of Philiphaugh; Col. Robert Nisbet was captured after fighting in support of James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose and executed at Edinburgh in 1650.

Major Alexander Nisbet was killed at the Siege of York in 1644. His youngest son, Adam Nisbet, had one son, Alexander Nisbet (1657-1725), the well-known author of A System of Heraldry. Nisbet “The Herald” died unmarried, and is commemorated by a memorial in Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh.

In 1679 Capt. John Nisbet, of Ayrshire, helped win the Battle of Drumclog when John Graham, 1st Viscount of Dundee, also known as Graham of Claverhouse was defeated and a number of his men put to death. However, later the Covenanters, for whom Capt. John Nisbet fought, were defeated by the English in Lanarkshire and Capt. John Nisbet was compelled to hide. He was betrayed, and captured by Lieut. Nisbet and executed in Edinburgh in 1685.



18th to 19th Centuries

The family’s male line continued through Sir Alexander’s brother, the Reverend Philip Nisbet, who had moved south to York and become Rector of St. Martin’s Micklegate. The Reverend Philip was a fervent Covenanter and supporter of the Parliamentarian cause. The future history of the family was to centre on York, then London, with the spelling changing to Nesbitt in the 1830s.

Distinguished members of the clan include E. Nesbit, the children’s writer (The Railway Children), Alexander Nisbet, heraldic writer, Murdoch Nisbet of Hardhill, who translated the New Testament into Scots, Mary Nisbet (Lady Elgin), Robert Chancellor Nesbitt, M.P. and historian, and Frances Nisbet of Carfin, who married Lord Nelson.



Clan branches

Related branches of the Nisbet family became established at Dean in Edinburgh, Dirleton in East Lothian, Greenholm in Ayrshire, and Carfin and Cairnhill in Renfrewshire. In the 17th century, many Nisbets went to Ireland and, often via Ireland, to North America. An active DNA genealogy project is doing much to clarify relationships between different Nesbitt/Nisbet families in North America and the British Isles ].



The surname in England

Some families bearing Nesbitt/Nisbet surnames (in various spellings) may originate in northern England, from Nesbit, Northumberland, or the township of Nesbit in County Durham. The Durham place name dates back to 1250, some 100 years after it is first recorded in Berwickshire. It is not known if the Scottish and English placenames arose independently (Mills 1998).



Clan Tartan



Nisbet tartan.

According to the Scottish Tartans Society This is the sett that appears in the Vestiarium Scoticum as Mackintosh. There is no connection between the names, historically, to explain the position and it is interesting to note the similarity with the Dunbar tartan which also originates in the Vestiarium.

Given that use of tartan in lowland families appears to be a nineteenth century innovation, the Nisbet tartan may be of recent origin. A tartan maunfaturer may have taken the Dunbar family tartan as a model owing to the close relationship between the two families.



Clan Chief

The clan was chiefless for four centuries following the loss of the Nesbitt lands during the Civil War. In 1994 the Lord Lyon recognised Robert Anthony Ellis Nesbitt as Chief of the Name and Arms of Nesbitt (or Nisbet). After his death in 2000, his son Mark Nesbitt (1961-) became Chief.



Clan Profile

      Arms: Argent three boars heads erased Sable, armed Argent and langued Gules.

      Crest: A boar passant Sable, armed Argent and langued Gules

      Motto: I byde it (”I endure it”)

      Plant badge: Oak



Clan Castles

      Nisbet Castle, Berwickshire

      Dirleton Castle, purchased in 1663 by lawyer John Nisbet when it was already a ruin, Nisbet built nearby Archerfield as his country residence.



Variant spellings

Nesbitt, Nesbit, Nisbet, Nisbett, Nisbeth (Sweden and Denmark), Naisbitt



The Nesbitt/Nisbet Family Today

      Ancestral lands: Nisbet House.

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