BISSE, James (c.1552-1607), of Wells, Som.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. c.1552, 2nd s. of Richard Bisse by Mary, da. of Joseph Carter. educ. Magdalen Coll. Oxf. 1571, BA 1573, fellow 1574-84, MA 1577; incorp. Camb. 1581, DD. 1596. m. Mary, da. of Geoffrey Upton.

Offices Held

Canon, Bath and Wells 1583, canon residentiary 1585, sub-dean 1585; auditor 1586-7, 1588-9, 1589-90, 1590-1, 1596-7, 1597-8, 1598-9, 1599-1600, 1600-1, 1605-6, 1606-7, 1607-d., surveyor of houses 1587-8, 1592-3, 1598-9, 1601-2, 1605-6, 1606-7; master of fabric 1590-1, 1591-2, 1599-1600, 1600-1; steward 1607-d.

Prebendary of Warminster 1583, of Compton Bishop 1596; rector of Mells 1583-9; vicar of Bishop’s Lydiard 1586-9; rector of Christian Malford 1590-1607, of Blagdon 1597-1607.

Freeman, Wells 1584; j.p. Som. by 1588.


There were a number of James Bisses in Somerset at this time, taking into account the usual variant spellings of the surname, but the man whose particulars appear above is the only one likely to have been the MP. He would have been returned through the influence of Bishop Godwyn, who also brought in Bisse’s fellow-Member George Upton, to whose sister Bisse was married. Bisse left no trace upon the records of the 1584 Parliament, although, interestingly enough, it is known that he intended to go to London at the time, for on 16 Jan. 1585, together with two others, he received ‘so many days of grace sine fractu as the Parliament shall continue the next session’. This does not prove that he was attending the House of Commons rather than, say, convocation, but it is more likely that he was in the Commons than that a namesake of lower social standing was there at this very time sitting for Wells. The question of identity is worth discussion because if Bisse was an MP while in holy orders, this would be unusual, though not unique. For a number of his appointments, whether as canon, prebendary or rector, he could have been a layman. Wells itself provides a precedent in Sir John Wolley, the Latin secretary, who was prebendary of Compton Dundon in 1569 and dean of Carlisle in 1577. In 1583 Bisse applied for a licence to preach, but this again, if the licence was granted, would not prove that he was in orders. However, there can be little if any doubt that as vicar he ought to have been an ordained clergyman, with cure of souls, even allowing for the laxity which prevailed at Wells under Bishop Godwyn, and the fact that Bisse himself was responsible for much of the administration of the diocese. In the course of his duties he collected the subsidy payments, visited London to procure a new charter for Wells cathedral, received gifts of wine from the Bath corporation, and even attained the commission of the peace. He died in November 1607.

Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 8; PCC 90 Windebanck; HMC 10th Rep. III, ii. passim; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 323; Wells Charters (Som. Rec. Soc. xlvi), 189; APC, xv. 21-2; xvi. 232; xxiv. 23-4; xvii. 415; xxx. 386; Bath Chamberlains Accts. (Som. Rec. Soc. xxxviii).

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: W.J.J.