[From King Orry to Queen Victoria, 1899]




THE peculiar tenure of land in the island dates as far back as the return of King Godred Crovan, after the defeat of the combined forces of Tosti Godwinson and his Manx allies by Harold, King of England, in 1066 A.D., at Stamford Bridge, when, after putting down the rebellion of his own subjects, who opposed his landing on the island, he granted the Manx people all their lands, which they had forfeited by their rebellion, upon the condition that ‘none of them or their descendants should ever presume to claim them as their inheritance, but hold them in perpetuity under the King.’

With the exception of one or two estates, which are termed baronies, all land and real property is still held under the Lord of Man in accordance with Godred Crovan’s grant, and is subject to a certain small yearly rent and alienation fine, but is, never theless, virtually the same as freehold, to all intents and purposes.

The ownership of all real estate is registered in the office of the Seneschal at Douglas, and such registration is defacto the title to the same.

An estate may be transferred from one person to another at a very trifling cost and on a sheet of foolscap or teller paper, no stamps being required, and only a small registration fee is payable to the Seneschal.

All deeds of transfer of real property, and all mortgages thereon, must be recorded at once at the Registrar of Deeds at the Seneschal’s office, as also must all wills be recorded or registered.

In the case of mortgages the priority of registration takes precedence of date of all or any other deeds relating to the same property. Thus a second mortgage, if duly recorded on the Registry of Deeds prior to any first mortgage, if there be such a one, that has not been recorded, takes precedence and ranks as a first mortgage or charge on the property. In this respect the law is identical with that in England appertaining to the ownership of ships. The first mortgage deed or deed of sale of a ship or part of a ship recorded and registered at the Custom House takes precedence of any other, notwithstanding the other may be of prior date. Hence the necessity, both in relation to Manx real property and English shipping, of immediate registration of the deeds.

When the vendor or mortgager of real property is married, it is necessary to have the signature of the wife also to the deed, in addition to himself, in accordance with the law on this point instituted after the Battle of Santroust, in Jurby, between Ottar and MacManus, by which one-half of all goods immovable, not having any life, are the property of the wives of the northern sheadings, and one-third of such the property of the wives of the southern sheadings.

The matter of registering change of ownership of property with the Seneschal is simply for the purpose of that official having a proper knowledge and record of the owners of property, so as to have the lord’s trifling rent collected from them, and also the alienation fines. This has to be done at the Baron Courts held once a year.

The following is the Seneschal’s notice of the holding of a Baron Court, as it appears in the Isle of Man Times newspaper for the year 1898 A.D.:


‘I do hereby give notice that the COURTS BARON for the Parishes, Abbey Lands, and Baronies of this Isle will be held by me at the times and places undermentioned, viz.:

‘The Parish of SANTON, at the Court House at Douglas, at the hour of 12 noon, on Saturday, April 16.

‘The Barony of ST. TRINION’s at the Court House at Douglas, at the hour of 2.30 p.m., on Saturday, April 16.’ (And so on for all the parishes of the island.)

‘At which Courts all persons who have become entitled to Lands and Hereditaments within this Isle, by inheritance, purchase or otherwise, and who have hitherto neglected to cause themselves to be entered on the Court Rolls as tenants to such premises, are strictly enjoined to attend, in order that they may be entered as tenants to the same, and avoid the penalties provided for such neglect.

‘And Notice is further given that such persons who have acquired Lands and Hereditaments as aforesaid are required to lay all deeds or other evidences of their title before the Setting Quest of the Parish wherein such Lands and Hereditaments are situate, some days previous to the Court Day for the said Parish.

‘The Moars and Setting Quests of the respective Parishes, and the Sergeants and Setting Quests of the respective Abbey Lands and Baronies above named, are hereby required to attend such Courts as appointed.

‘Given at Douglas, this 1st day of March, 1898.



How glorious it would be if such a law of land tenure and registration of titles to real property, and facile transfer, could be brought about in Great Britain! Certainly the registration of mortgages would be a death-blow to a great deal of fraud.

Unfortunately such an importation of Manx law into England would not meet with the approval of the lawyers. Like Othello, ‘their occupation would be gone.’ If not the whole, certainly the greater and most profitable part would.

Still, even under this law Manx lawyers manage to live, and possibly English ones need not starve.


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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001