Alexander Nisbet

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For the naval surgeon, see Alexander Nisbet (Royal Navy officer). For the Scottish judge, see Alexander Nisbet (judge).
Memorial to Alexander Nisbet in the Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh
Title page of Nisbet's A System of Heraldry

Alexander Nisbet (1657-1725) is one of the most important authors on Scottish heraldry. He is still much-cited, and his publications are still in print after nearly 300 years.

Scion of the ancient Borders family of Nisbet of Nisbet House, near Duns, Berwickshire, Alexander Nisbet was a grandson of Adam Nisbet, an Edinburgh lawyer. He matriculated at Edinburgh University in 1675, then became a private student of heraldry, earning a modest living as a writer in Edinburgh. He died in poverty on 5 December 1725, and was buried in the family vault in Greyfriars Kirk. In 1934 Nisbet's kinsman, Robert Chancellor Nesbitt, arranged for John Buchan to unveil a memorial plaque in Greyfriars Kirk, still visible in the church.

Nisbet's historical significance lies partly in his manuals on Scottish heraldry, but mainly on his comprehensive survey of the heraldry of Scottish families, A System of Heraldry, Speculative and Practical: With the True Art of Blazon. This remains much cited, in part because Nisbet took a clear-headed view of heraldic practice, and partly because the book is a record of arms and family papers long since lost.


  • An Essay on Additional Figures and Marks of Cadency (Edinburgh, 1702)
  • An Essay on the Ancient and Modern Use of Armories (Edinburgh, 1718)
  • A System of Heraldry (1722)


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