Here the last letter is clearly an error.[1] It should be t, which gives us Byset or Bisset, a baronial name well known both in England and Normandy, and though not written in Domesday, to be met with as early as the reign of Henry I. William Biset, in 1130, held lands in Notts and Derby (Rot. Pip.). Manser or Manasser Bisset, Lord of Kidderminster in Worcestershire, was Sewer to King Stephen, and in 1165 held a fee at Chaucy in the bailifry of Coutances (Duchesne, Feod. Norm.). He was "one of the Witnesses to the Accord made betwixt that King and Henry Duke of Normandy, touching the Succession of the said Henry to the Crown of this Realm." He was, says Camden, "a most noble personage in his time," and founded a priory for secular priests at Bradley in Wiltshire, which he amply endowed; his son Henry confirming his grants. Henry had no heir, and was succeeded by another Henry, his nephew, and then by John Biset, Chief Forester of England under Henry III., mentioned "at the great Tournament held at Northampton in 1241, occasioned by Peter de Savoy, Earl of Richmond, against Earl Roger Bigod." He died not long after, leaving three daughters and co-heiresses; Margaret married to Richard de Rivers, Ela, and Isabel. One of the latter was the ill-fated "maiden infected with the leprosie, who founded a house for maidens that were lepers, and endowed the same with her own Patrimonie and Livetide, like as her father before time had thereabout erected a Priorie."—Camden. From her the place acquired its present name of Maiden Bradley. "She gave," says Leland, "her part here in pios usus, and the Personage of Kidderminster remains impropriate to Maiden Bradley. The other two Partis came to the Lorde Arbergavenny, and in that family it yet remainith." Combe-Biset, in Wiltshire, and the parish of Preston-Bisset in Berkshire, preserve the name of their most ancient lords.

If the history of the Bisets in England is brief and colourless, in Scotland and Ireland, on the other hand, it is full of incident and adventure. They had very early crossed the Border; for a William Byset appears at the court of William the Lion King, "a man of great courage and activity, who was settled in Lovat with commission from the King, and was known in 1170 as Lord of Lovat."—Wardlaw. His son Sir John, in 1230, founded the castle and priory of Beauly in Inverness-shire: the latter for monks of the Order of Vallis Caulium; and left three daughters; Mary, from whom the Frasers of Lovat are derived; Cecily, married to a Fenton; and Elizabeth, the wife of Sir Andrew de Bosco. The family had, however, still representatives in the male line, descended from a younger brother, and seated in the south of Scotland. Of these was Sir Walter Byset, who at a great tournament held in 1242 at Haddington, was worsted and unhorsed by his antagonist, the gallant young Earl of Atholl. There had been a smouldering feud of old standing between the families, which blazed out aflame after this unhappy encounter; and Atholl was found murdered in his own house, that had been set on fire by the assassins to conceal the deed. There could be little doubt as to their identity. "Suspicion at once fell upon Walter, who was an officer in the Queen's household, especially as he had prevailed upon the Queen to spend four days at his castle, on her journey south from Moray, at the very time when the murder was perpetrated." He was banished the realm, and compelled to take a vow that he would join the Crusade, and never set foot again in his native land. On this condition he was permitted to dispose of his lands and goods. But instead of going to the Holy Land, he and his nephew John landed on the coast of Antrim, where they obtained grants of land from the Earl of Ulster. In 1279, the son and heir of John held the seven lordships of the Glynnes in capite from Richard de Burgh, Earl of Ulster; and Robert Byset, in 1365, founded a monastery at their principal seat, Glenarm. The family became very numerous in the North of Ireland (where the name was sometimes spelt "Misset"), and kept up a close connection with Scotland. "It was in Sir Hugh Bisset's Island of Rathlin that the heroic Bruce took refuge in 1305, and where he formed the resolution of reconquering Scotland; and it was at Glendun, in Sir Hugh's manor of Glenarm, that Edward Bruce landed with the victors of Bannockburn. Upon the news of that invasion, Parliamentary summonses were issued to no less than five magnates named De Byset, John, Herbert, William, and two Hughs. One of these latter was the traitor baron, who, like Hugh de Lacy, Walter de Say, and Michael of Kylkcoran, also summoned as peers on the same occasion, adhered to the Scots. His hereditaments in Rathlin and Glenarm were forfeited 13 Ed. II., and given away by the King. Hugh, son of Walter Byset, obtained a general pardon from Edward III. excepting any share in the murder of the Earl of Ulster (Rot. Pat. p. 53). Sir Hugh Byset was regularly summoned to parliament by Ed. III. and Richard II.; and in 1400 Richard Savage, as Seneschal of Ulster, and guardian of the Cross lands there, obtained the wardship and marriages of Elizabeth and Marjorie, heiresses of Sir Hugh (Ibid, p. 146). Marjorie married John Mor MacDonnell, second son of John, Lord of the Isles. This marriage gave the Macdonnells that feudal title to Irish lands which they afterwards fought manfully to maintain, and which was at last fully recognised in the Patent of the Earldom of Antrim."—Ulster Archaeologia, vol. ii. p. 155.

In Scotland, the Bissets seem to have recovered their position within little more than a generation. "William de Byset, Constable of Stirling Castle, and Sheriff of Stirling, was one of the barons, convened at Berwick in 1291, who were chosen to act as arbitrators between the competitors for the Crown of Scotland—Bruce and Baliol. His grandson, Sir Thomas Biset, married Isobel MacDuff, heiress of Malcolm Earl of Fife, and widow of Walter Stewart, second son of Robert II.; and in consequence received from David II., in 1362, a grant of the Earldom of Fife to him and his heirs male by her; failing which it was to revert to the Crown, which accordingly it did on his death, in 1366, without male issue by her."—Notes and Queries, 5th S. vi.

A collateral branch, derived from Patrick Bisset of Lessendrum (who lived about 1490) survived in the male line till the present century, and the name is still found in Scotland.

  1. I have found another instance of this mode of spelling. Ralph de Bisegg or Bisech of Staffordshire occurs in the Rotuli Curiae Regis of 1199-1201.

-- Cleveland

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