[From King Orry to Queen Victoria, 1899]




THE first Norse King of Man, of whom the Manx are so justly proud—King Gorree, or Orry—did not land there till 938 A.D., when he arrived, after having conquered the Southern or Soderen Isles, with a fleet of strong ships worthy of being under the command of such a leader.

It is reported by oral tradition that on King Orry’s landing at the mouth of the river Lhane he was met on the shore by a deputation of the inhabitants, and on being asked whence he came, ‘That is the way to my country,’ he replied, pointing upwards to the Milky Way. To this day the great celestial phenomenon is called in the native Manx ‘Raod-Movarree-Gorree ‘—the Great Road of King Orry.

In a manuscript of unknown antiquity, now preserved in Castle Rushen, at Castletown, occurs the following passage: ‘And there came a son of the King of Denmark, who conquered the land, and was the first that was called King Orry; and after him succeeded twelve of that stock of Kings.’ Gorree, or Orry, seems to have been a corruption of Godfrey.

This King Orry it was who instituted the first constitutional representative Parliament the world ever saw. The representatives were called ‘Taxiaxi,’ and subsequently ‘Keys.’

He was the first King who reduced the laws to writing, and he also divided the island into six divisions or sheadings that now exist. Each sheading sent its representatives to Parliament—a Court held at Tynwald Hill. The sheadings were subdivided into districts, sixteen in all, each of which sent to the Keys its own member. These districts are now represented by the several parishes. But in Bishop Wilson’s time, Kirk Patrick, a seventeenth, was formed.* The Isle of Man sent sixteen, and the Southern or Soderen Isles eight, representatives to Tynwald.

These Southern or Soderen Isles, now comprehended in the word Sodor, consisted of Colonsay, Oransway, Jura, Islay, Arran, and Bute, the two Cambi Islets, and the peninsula of Cantyre. In all, twenty- four representatives constituted King Orry’s House of Keys, a body that has remained in power ever since, and whose constitution will be more fully explained hereafter.

Thus to the Isle of Man belongs the proud distinction of having both the first and the oldest representative Parliament in the world.

King Orry’s House of Keys was the precursor of the Imperial Parliament of the British Empire, and the cradle of constitutional and representative government.

The Tynwald Hill, where the Manx Parliament met, and where once in the year, on July 6*2, old Midsummer Day, it still continues to meet, is a circular hill, artificially made, and situated near the centre of the island. In appearance it resembles four cheeses or gigantic round flat cakes piled one on the other, each one smaller than the one under it, with a tall flagstaff on the top. A curious speciality is that it was originally constructed of earth taken from every division or parish in the island, so that virtually each representative could stand on the soil of the district he was member for.

King Orry died 947 A.D., close on 120 years before William the Conqueror’s invasion of England. He was succeeded by his son Guthred, who commenced building the Castle of Rushen, which was afterwards completed by his son and successor, Reginald.

Orry was a wise and politic Prince. Under his rule the Manx enjoyed undisturbed tranquillity. Both his reign and his character afford an historical parallel —not inferior in any respect—to Alfred the Great of England.

In 960 A.D. Guthred died, and was buried in Castle Rushen. This castle now stands as firm as ever, and is one of the finest and most perfect specimens of old Saxon castles in the whole world. It is built of limestone, quarried near by, and, notwithstanding its great age, is still in a perfect state of preservation. It is now used as a prison and for certain of the Government offices. Till a comparatively very few years ago it was the residence of the Governors of the island. We shall have occasion to allude again to this grand old relic of the past.

King Reginald, who completed the castle, had the reputation of being a great magician, and is said to have attempted to build a bridge from Point of Ayre, the northern extremity of the island, to the coast of Galloway in Scotland. He was succeeded by his son Olaf or Olave, who, not having given the customary acknowledgment of vassalage and superiority to the Norwegian monarch, a custom performed for many years by the Kings of Man, who were both allies and vassals of the more powerful Norse Kings, was summoned to the Court of Harold II., surnamed Grafeld, then on the throne of Norway, and was afterwards executed as a traitor for his omission. A rapid succession of the descendants of King Orry filled the throne of Man, one of whom —Hacon, who lived in 974 A.D —calls for special notice.

In addition to owning a vassalage to Norway, the Kings of Man at this period acknowledged a certain dependence on the Kings of England. When Edgar, King of England, was rowed in his state barge on the river Dee, Hacon was one of the eight Princes who pulled the oars. Edgar himself acted as coxswain, and held the rudder to testify his superiority over the others.

The royal rowers were Kenneth III. of Scotland; Hacon, King of Man and the Isles; Malcolm, King of Cumberland and five petty Kings of Britain.

Hacon stood so high in the esteem of King Edgar, on account of his great naval acquirements, that he pulled the second oar, taking rank next to Kenneth, King of Scotland. When Edgar granted the celebrated Charter to Glastonbury Abbey, Hacon’s signature came third, immediately after the Kings of England and Scotland.

Hacon was employed by Edgar to patrol the seas round the English coasts in search of pirates, and was regarded as the mightiest sea-king of his day. He held the chief command of the allied English and Manx fleets, and is stated to have sailed round the British Islands with 3,600 vessels. If this be true, well indeed might Hacon, King of Man, bear the proud title given to him of’ Prince of Seamen.’

At any rate, he may be regarded as the first British admiral, the precursor of that glorious list on which are enrolled the names of Drake, Shovel, Hood, Howe, Nelson, and so many others, whose deeds have ever been the proud boast of their countrymen.

Hacon took for his armorial bearings a ship with sails furled, and the motto, Rex Manniae et Insularem, which continued to be the Manx arms till the time of the Scottish conquest, when the more ancient device of the ‘Three Legs’ was resumed, and has continued to this day *3.

*1 - Patrick being the 17th Parish is nonsense - however Patrick & German shared a common parish church (St Peter's in Peel) until Bishop Wilson had the Parish Church at Knockaloe built in 1714.

*2 July 5 is usual date of Tynwald

*3 The Three Legs would appear to date from mid 13th century - there is no evidence of any earlier use.


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HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001