Who was Johannes Cissoris?

Posted by on Sep 6, 2016 in Uncategorized | No Comments


by Andrew Medley (email)



The Dundee collection of mediaeval grave slabs was unearthed during construction work for the new East Church at St Marys which began in 1838. Of these the most tantalising is the Johannes Stone: tantalising because for a grave slab of that period it contains an unsual amount of information, a clearly legible text as well as a recognisable coat of arms, that of the Hay family, but fitting this information to historical fact has proved tricky. The following extract from James Thomson’s “History of Dundee” (1) serves as a good introduction to the stone:


“The first of these to which we refer is an old monument, in the form of the cover of a stone coffin, hewn into three panels, which was dug up while a drain was constructing at the north side of the old East Church in 1838. The centre panel bears the standard of the cross, the head of which, at the top of the stone, is contained within a circle, and is handsomely ornamented. Upon the standard, and immediately under the circle, a large escutcheon bearing three shields of the arms of the family of Hay is placed. On the left panel a sword is represented, whilst the right is inscribed as follows, in old Saxon characters, slightly cut in:-



            (Here lies John the son of Philip Cissoris)


This last name, as well as its connection with that of Hay, is unknown, but it is undoubtedly a proper, though now, perhaps, an extinct family name. The Hays of Errol can be traced to the Anglo-Norman barons who came to England with the Conqueror; and a branch of the family possessed the lands of Dronley from 15th century downwards. To one or other of these branches the individual here referred to may have been connected by marriage. Along with the monument bearing the above inscription, a few silver pennies, a coffin breastplate, about sixteen inches by twelve, a short sword, the blade of which was twenty inches and a half long and two inches broad at the broadest part near the point, the hilt five inches and a half, and the cross four inches long and one thick, were also found, with various fragments of arms, among them a two-handed sword, very much decayed. All these relics were picked up and carried away by parties who attended the operation of making the drain, in expectation of something curious being discovered.”


This was written in 1847, not long after the discovery. Unfortunately the whereabouts of the objects found with the slab are unknown.


Thomson considers ‘Cissoris’ to be a proper name. I had previously considered the possibility that ‘Cissoris’ was a nickname and that the occupant of the grave was John Hay son of Philip Hay. This assumption led to the conclusion that John Hay was from the Hay-Hue family in France who have the same coat of arms as Hay of Errol. Philip and probably his son too were fighting with the Scots against the English in the early part of 15th century in northern France. This would require the stone to date to 15th century and this is improbable based on the style and features of the stone. I now wish to consider the problem from James Thomson’s point of view i.e. that ‘Cissoris’ was a proper name and that the occupant of the grave was Johannes Cissoris who inherited Hay lands.




Dating mediaeval grave slabs is problematic, largely because there are so few examples for which a definite date can be attributed. Peter Ryder, an acknowledged expert in the field who has made extensive studies of cross slab grave covers in north of England, offers some pointers to dating of these slabs.(2) The style of the slab would often correspond to the style of church architecture of the time thus, the ‘dog-tooth’ ornament of the tegulated slab and the lozenge pattern of the ‘Wool Shearers’ stone, both in the Dundee collection, could be associated with the Norman architectural style, and probably date to the founding of St Mary’s Church in 1198, if not before. The style of the cross becomes more elaborate over the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries and in particular, the base of the cross changes from a simple stepped base to a decorated arch form, although this is not of much use for the stones in the Dundee collection as they do not seem to have bases to the crosses. During 14th century grave slabs became gradually less popular and effigial tombs became more favoured – a good example is another Hay burial, that of Sir William Hay of Lochloy in Elgin Cathedral, who died in 1421. In Croglin churchyard in Cumbria is a grave slab of known date – the grave slab for Robert, Bishop of Carlisle, who died in 1278 – it has some similarities with the Johannes Stone but is much simpler in design. With guidance from Peter Ryder’s work and bearing in mind that architectural styles and fashions in Scotland were possibly delayed with respect to developments south of the border, we can say that the Johannes Stone is likely to be  late 13th century or early to middle 14th century.



There are several mentions of people by the name of Cissoris in Scottish mediaeval writs and charters. In 1320 Hugonis Cissoris was granted the lands of Baberton, west of Edinburgh(3). Roger Cissoris had a charter for the “3rd part” of the lands of Longforgan during the reign of Robert I (4) and William Cissoris had a charter for the lands of  Invereighty also during the reign of Robert I (5). Of particular interest is a document(6) dated September 1321 which relates to a dispute over the inheritance of land of ‘Medowflat’ in ‘tenemento de Colbaynestoune’. This is Meadowflat, 1.2km west of Covington in Lanarkshire. The dispute was between Johannam son of Ade de Mora and Joannes Cissorem and his wife Sibilla de Quarenteley. The hearing took place at Forfar and resulted in overturning the decision of a previous hearing at Lanark which had found in favour the Johannam son of Ade de Mora, so, in 1321 the land of Medowflat became the property of Joannes Cissorem and Sibilla de Quarenteley.


The reason that this is of such interest is that in the ‘Calendar of Writs Preserved at Yester House’, which contains charters and writs relating to the Hays of Lochorwart, There is a charter(7) by which William Hay of Lochorwart grants 10 oxgangs of land at Thankerton to one John of Geddes. The charter is dated 1399 – 1400. Thankerton is within the parish of Covington and is just 1.5km from Meadowflat. An oxgang of land is the area that can be tilled by one ox in one season and equates to around 20 acres, so 10 oxgangs would be about 200 acres or 0.8 km2. Given the proximity of Meadowflat to Thankerton and the size of the piece of land it is not too extravagant to propose that the land referred to here is the same land that was the property of Joannes and Sibilla. If this is the case, then the question arises as to how the Hays of Lochorwart acquired the land.


Sir William Hay of Lochorwart and Hoprew held lands in Tweedale through the marriage of his ancestor Gilbert Hay to the daughter and heiress of Sir Simon Fraser of Oliver Castle and Sir William’s wife, Jonet (or Johanna) Gifford of Yester was heiress to the Yester estate but Meadowflat cannot be connected with either the Tweedale or Yester estates. Our Johannes Stone affords a possible explanation: it could be that Johannes Cissoris of Meadowflat outlived his wife Sybilla de Quarenteley and then remarried into the Hay of Lochorwart family and Meadowflat became a Hay property through this marriage. Undoubtedly, when Johannes Cissoris died he was a person of substance. The grave slab indicates a high status burial of a person almost certainly titled ‘Dominus‘, and the Hay coat of arms indicates that he had inherited a Hay lordship but he was clearly not Lord of Lochorwart. One strong possibility is that the person buried under the Johannes Stone was  Lord of Tullibothville and I will now explore the reasons behind this. Before looking at this I should mention that John of Geddes, the beneficiary of the charter of land at Thankerton, is a name of interest. He is described as kinsman to Sir William Hay of Lochorwart and his name is mentioned in several of the documents in the Yester Calendar of Writs. I shall return later to the question of his identity.



Tullibothville Castle (now known as Tullibole) lies 1.5km east of Crook of Devon. We learn from Joseph Bain’s Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland(8) that in 1307 an inquistion established that Tullibothville was the lawful inheritance of Lora de Coningsburgh, daughter and heiress of William de Coningsburgh and that Lora was married to Thomas de la Haye. We also learn that the late king, Edward I, had planned to site his own castle there, a plan that was later abandoned, but Thomas Hay sought 80 marks compensation, the equivalent of one years rent. Thereafter there is no mention of Hay of Tullibothville in the charters until 1361 when ‘Johanni de Haya de Tolyboylle’ receives a charter from King David II for land lying between Rivers Spey and Tynot including the Forest of Awne(9). Stated in this charter is the following – “…quibus quondam progenitor noster de eadem terra predecessores ipsius Johannis infeodavit.” (..which once our progenitor of the same land infefted the predecessors of John). This could well be a reference to a previous charter of Robert I to Sir Gilbert Hay of Lochorwart for the Forest of Awne(10), in which case, it confirms that John Hay of Tullibothville was descended from Sir Gilbert Hay of Lochorwart but we have no information from the charters as to the exact genealogy: the descent from Thomas Hay, husband of Lora de Coningsburgh to John Hay of Tullibothville is not clear. Could it be that Johannes Cissoris is the person that fills this gap? Given that there are no other similar gaps in the Hay of Lochorwart genealogy in the early 14th century, this would seem to be highly probable if we are intent on splicing Johannes Cissoris into the Hay of Lochorwart family.


According to Douglas’ Peerage of Scotland, Thomas Hay was the son and heir of Sir Gilbert Hay of Lochorwart who died around 1320, that Thomas Hay lived until about 1346(11)and that he was succeeded by his only son, William. However, we also have a charter in the Yester Calendar of Writs, dated around 1330, in which Lochorwart is ‘the land of Patrick de Haya’ (12). Presumably Patrick and Thomas were brothers and there is some uncertainty over which of them was Dominus de Lochorwart. If Thomas was indeed Lord of Lochorwart and if his wife, Lora de Coningsburgh, bore him his son, William, then William would have been heir to both Lochorwart and to Tullibothville. Tullibothville would have simply become another property of the Hays of Lochorwart and Tweeddale. This clearly did not happen. There are three scenarios that would enable Tullibothville to become a separate and distinct lordship: 1) Thomas and Lora only had a daughter who inherited her mother’s estate of Tullibothville but Lochorwart passed to Patrick and then Patrick’s son; 2) Thomas had a daughter with Lora but had a second wife who bore him a son, William, who was heir to Lochorwart. 3) Patrick was the elder brother and therefore heir of Lochorwart, not Thomas. So, on the assumption that Peerage of Scotland is right and Thomas was Lord of Lochorwart then Tullibothville would have been passed on to Thomas’ and Lora’s daughter and it seems that, based on the Meadowflat evidence, that daughter married Johannes Cissoris after the death of Sibilla.



We know that John Hay of Tullibothville obtained the lands between the Spey and the Tynot rivers, including the Forest of Awne. Two further charters give more information. In the first, dated 1374, he founds a chapel at Kyncragy to be supported from funds from his lands of Lochloy, or any of his other properties in the Barony of Nairn.(13) The charter provides for land and a mansion at Wester Rait to be assigned to the chapel. The location of Kyncragy is unknown, although it was presumably not far from Nairn. Lochloy lies 4km east of Nairn and Wester Rait was probably west of Rait Castle (4km south of Nairn), rather than Wester Rait near Kingussie. The second charter(14) is undated but in the cartulary it is placed immediately after the Kyncragy charter and before another charter dated 1383. In this charter John Hay founds another chapel, this time at Geth and supported by his farms in Forest of Awne. Some have identified Geth with Bellie Church by the Bog of Gicht near Fochabers but perhaps Geddes Chapel by Rait Castle is a stronger contender. ‘Geddes’ is thought to derive from ‘Ged’, the old Scots word for pike (the fish). Both charters make reference to John Hay’s son and heir, also John. John Hay’s second son was William who became Sir William Hay of Lochloy. It is his tomb and effigy that lies in Elgin Cathedral and tells us that he died in 1421. From Sir William are descended the family of Hay of Lochloy and Park. John Hay of Tullibothville, William’s brother, had no son and so the Lordship of Tullibothville passed to his daughter Egidia or Giles Hay who married Alexander Seton in 1426 or 1427.(15) It is worth noting that the Seton Armorial gives the arms of ‘Setoun of Tullibode’ as ‘Quarterly:1st and 4th Or, three crescents within a double tressure flory counter-flory Gules (Seton) 2nd and 3rd Azure, three escutcheons Argent (Hay)’. The Hay component of these arms is 3 white shields on blue not the more familiar 3 red shields on white of Hay of Errol. This is further confirmation that Hay of Tullibothville is descended from Hay of Lochorwart because this was the original arms for Hay of Lochorwart (see also Lord Zester in same armorial). At a later date the arms for Hay of Yester changed and the white shields on blue were swapped for red shields on white.



I now return to the question of the identity of John of Geddes, the beneficiary of the 1399 charter of William Hay of Lochorwart for 10 oxgangs of land at Thankerton.(7) .William Hay of Lochorwart described him as his kinsman and also stipulated that the land should be passed on to John of Geddes’ heirs male, failing which to the second son of his brother. We learn from a later charter(16) that the land at Thankerton did indeed pass to the second son of John of Geddes’ brother so we know that John of Geddes did not have a male heir. Could it be that John of Geddes is none other than William’s kinsman, John Hay of Tullibothville, son of John Hay who founded the Chapel of ‘Geth’? We know that the younger John Hay of Tullibothville had no male heir and that his brother was William Hay of Lochloy, whose first son would be heir to the lordship of Lochloy whilst his second son would not be provided for. If this speculation is correct then William Hay of Lochorwart has chosen to refer to John Hay of Tullibothville as John of Geddes and the reason for that must be that John is not descended, in the male line, from Hay but from another family and in all probability, his grandfather was Johannes Cissoris, whose land at Thankerton was now being passed on to his grandson.  We can also suppose, if the speculation is correct, that the village of Geddes must have been a principal residence for John Hay of Tullibothville. Geddes House is a fine Georgian Mansion 600m west of Geddes Chapel and 1km west of Rait Castle. The Roy Military Survey, which predates the construction of the present Geddes House, indicates that Geddes House replaced an earlier building. Was this John Hay’s mansion at Wester Rait?


If Johannes Cissoris is Lord of Tullibothville after Thomas and before his son John then we can say that Johannes Cissoris must have died before 1361 which is the date of the earliest extant charter for John Hay of Tullibothville in which he is granted the lands between the Spey and Tynot. We know that Thomas Hay was still alive in 1327/28 because he was mentioned in a charter, with this date, for the lands of Kincarachy(17). So it seems that Johannes Cissoris must have died between these dates.


(1) “History of Dundee” by James Thomson. pp 206, 207

(2) “The Cross Slab Grave Covers of Cumbria” by Peter Ryder. pp 1-4

(3) Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scottorum 71

(4) RMSRS App ii 649

(5) RMSRS App ii 449

(6) RMSRS App i 74

(7) Yester Calendar of Writs. Nos 39, 42.

(8) Joseph Bain “Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland” v3 no13.

(9) RMSRS 118.

(10) RMSRS App i 65.

(11) The Peerage of Scotland by Robert Douglas. p679

(12) Yester. No 23

(13) Registrum Episcopatus Moraviensis. No 245

(14) Ibid. No 246.

(15) The Peerage of Scotland by Robert Douglas p298

(16) Yester. No 66

(17) Yester. No 21


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