Baldred Bisset lived from about 1260 to about 1311. He was a clergyman and lawyer who played a leading role in preparing and presenting the case for Scottish independence from Edward I of England that helped gain support for the Scots cause from Pope Boniface VIII. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Baldred Bisset seems to have been born into the Bisset family of Stirlingshire: he was presumably a younger son as he went into the clergy. By the end of the 1280s he had risen to become the Official of St Andrews, effectively the judge administering justice in the court of the Bishop of St Andrews and, in modern terms, a senior ecclesiastical lawyer. In return he was granted the considerable income from the parish of Kinghorn in Fife.
During the 1290s, Bisset seems to have spent time working and studying at the important legal centre of Bologna in Italy. He may have been abroad when most of the nobility of Scotland signed allegiance to King Edward I of England in the "Ragman Rolls": or his name may simply be absent because he opposed the domination of Scotland by Edward. Either way, the English authorities subsequently replaced Bisset in his post at Kinghorn with a cleric who did support their cause.
Between 1299 and 1301, Bisset led the Scottish delegation sent by the Guardians of Scotland to the Papal Court of Pope Boniface VIII to argue the case for Scottish independence from England. The aim was to obtain the Pope's support and force Edward I to negotiate with the Scots. The Scottish case, largely constructed by Bisset himself, drew on historical evidence about the relationship between Scotland and England and referred to the ancient creation myth of Scotland involving Scota to prove that Scotland an England had different and distinct origins. To everyone's surprise, the Pope sided with the Scots.
This did not turn out to be the lasting and decisive victory the Scots had hoped for, but it was a highly significant moment for a number of reasons. At one level, the arguments used by Bisset were reused, to rather greater effect, in the "Declaration of Arbroath", written by Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, in 1320. At another level, it was the first public outing for the Scottish creation myth, in a form that greatly influenced medieval histories of Scotland such as those written by John of Fordun in 1360 and Walter Bower in 1446.
And the little known role of Baldred Bisset compares and contrasts interestingly with the considerably better known story of William Wallace. The two were among the few notables in Scotland never to give their allegiance to Edward I. And both failed to lift English oppression within their lifetimes despite short term successes. Yet both Wallace through his legend and Bisset through his words had a lasting impact on Scotland's evolution over the intervening seven centuries.