[from D. Robertson, Tour, 1794]
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE MANKS HlSTORY AND CONSTITUTIONCONCLUSION.
THE government of the Druids and of their Descendants forms a happy and enlightened epoch in the Manks history; but after the subversion of that system, it presents an awful picture of anarchy and devastation. To gratify the ambition of some turbulent chieftain, hecatombs of his fellow-creatures were frequently sacrificed; and after deluging the country with blood, perhaps the conqueror was scarcely seated on the throne, when he was expelled by some warrior more barbarous than himself: while his unoffending subjects were again overwhelmed in all the horrors of war. The people being thus generally the slaves of every new conqueror, the divine flame of liberty no longer warmed their bosoms. Oppression soon obliterated all sense of their native dignity. With their own minds they seldom conversed; and were consequently unacquainted with the vigour of intellect, or the fire of genius. Their mind was a chaos: and like the wild beasts of the forest, they were only gratified, when their corporeal wants were supplied, or their coarse desires satiated.
Amid such barbarous anarchy few traces of legislation can be discovered in this Island. In the tenth century, a feeble dawn of constitutional light appeared. Twentyfour persons (1) were appointed by king Orry, under pretence of assisting his deliberations for the public weal; but more probably to reconcile the natives to his assumption of the government, by giving the sanction of popularity to his proceedings.
Under the reign of their Danish and Norwegian princes, this island, though less subject to the devastation of foreign plunderers, was frequently lacerated by the contests of domestic oppressors. The succession of their kings, however, became more regular; the martial ardor of the people increased; and some portion of freedom and tranquillity began to be established among them. But even the scanty blessings- they had now obtained, were soon destroyed by the tyranny of their Scottish conquerors; who extinguished every spark of warlike genius among the Manks, banished the few virtues they possessed, and reduced them to a race of miserable slaves.
However, a more fortunate Era at length arrived; and, with this dawn of freedom, the happiness of the people began to revive. By the English conquest their oppression was diminished; and by the accession of the House of Stanley the prerogative of their kings was defined and published. The severity of the Feudal system, at this period so intolerant in the surrounding nations, was, from various causes, greatly mitigated in this kingdom. Being now subject to the government of a subordinate prince, military servitude was seldom demanded: and the rigour of civil vassalage was softened, sometimes by the generosity, but more frequently by the absence of the Feudal Lord, who usually resided in England. The rigour of their lieutenants, and the tyranny of the clergy sometimes affected the people; yet over both they at length triumphed: obtaining for themselves and posterity an acknowledgement, and declaration of their rights and privileges.
The Constitution of the country at this period consisted of two branches: the reigning Prince; and the twenty-four Keys, who were generally deemed the representatives of the people. The Monarchs of England claimed the sovereignty of the Isle, as lords paramount: but they did not interfere in the government of the kingdom; which was executed in the name of the subordinate Prince, by his Lieutenant and Officers(2). His power was ample. By his prerogative he coined moneys(3); punished, or pardoned civil delinquents; delivered from the sentence of the spiritual court those who appealed to his clemency; summoned a Tynwald, or Convention of the people, as it suited his interest or pleasure; and with the advice of his Council and Deemsters, and the assent of the Keys, made, or repealed any law for the welfare of the kingdom. He was stiled metropolitan of the holy church; was patron of the bishoprick and vicarages; high admiral of the Island, and lord of the soil: at least his subjects generally acknowledged him as such, by paying a fine on his accession(4); while, without his permission, or the approbation of his principal Officers, no person could legally mortgage or alienate his landed possessions.
This plenitude of regal and manorial power was however balanced by the other branch of the Legislature: for, without the assent of the House of Keys, no laws were valid; and no subsidies could be raised without their approbation. The Keys (5), on important occasions, formed the grand Inquest of the nation; were present at all trials that might affect the life of a subject; and from the decisions of the common law, the injured might appeal to their judgement.
Of the earlier part of their history little is known. They were constituted by King Orry, to assist his deliberations for the public weal: and from succeeding Princes gradually derived an increase of privileges, which were perhaps destroyed by the Scottish conquest. Under the establishment of the House of Stanley, the Genius of Freedom began to revive. Accordingly, in 1430, a House of Keys was elected by the people: and for their legislative proceedings the members were declared independent of the crown, and only amenable to their constituents. Being delegated by the voice of the Nation, they were then its real representatives: but they soon afterwards usurped arbitrary powers. Their election was no longer dependent on the people: for, when a member died, a majority of his surviving brethren chose two persons; and from these the Governor selected one, who immediately took possession of the vacant seat. Thus constituted, his legislative existence (if it suited his pleasure, and he remained unimpeached (6)) was coeval with his natural; while all his deliberations were industriously concealed from the Nation. Since 1765, the establishment of the British Government has in some degree, meliorated the spirit of the Manks laws(7): the form of the constitution, however, remains unaffected.. Consequently, from the middle of the fifteenth, to the close of the eighteenth century, the House of Keys has been a combined Autocracy, usurping a legislative existence, independent of the will of the People.
However, as their interests were inseparably connected the welfare of the community, their exertions have contributed to limit the prerogative of their Lords, mitigate the severity of their Governors, and diminish the tyranny of their Clergy(8). Even the present members have been ambitious of emulating the spirit of their Predecessors. When the Duke of Athol (9) flattered himself, that the British Legislature would support his attempts, to subject the Island again to the rod of Feudal power, the House of Keys strenuously opposed his parliamentary applications. Though their pride and interest engaged them in the combat; their success has proved beneficial to the country: for, by repeatedly subjecting Antagonist to themortification of a defeat, in the presence of the British Nation, the animosities of both parties have acquired fresh vigour; and so long as these exist, mutual jealousies will secure the rights of the people from any new invasion. The duke of Athol, by his interest with the present Administration, will seek every opportunity ta diminish the triumph of the Keys; while they, to preserve their conquest, will assiduously endeavour to frustrate his power and intrigues. But should ever a Coalition (10) be effected, however the People may, for a moment, be deluded with the prospect of imaginary blessings, their necks will soon be trampled upon, and their interests sacrificed to the ambition and avarice of Individuals.
Good God ! is there no region where the Sun of Freedom shines unclouded(12); where the Sovereignty of the People is revered? Must the sacred rights of Mankind be for ever the monarch's scorn, and the courtier's jest ? Shall the despot for ever vaunt a delegated power from Thee, God of justice ! to crush his subjects with the rod of power; or deluge thy fair creation with the blood of thy children? Shall the guardians of the nation barter its interests for the smile of the monarch?
No more the Veteran, who the battle brav'd, Shall roam a beggar o'er the realms he sav'd: Worn out and famish'd, pour his piteous moan, " Then drop into the grave unpitied and unknown I " No more in prison pine the Sons of woe; But on their cheek returning roses blow. No more shall flow the Mother's deep'ning sigh) Responsive to her Infant's feeble cry; The Father's breast with awful anguish heave, And o'er the famish'd group in silence grieve. In solitude no more shall Genius sigh, Neglected live, and ah! neglected die; incense to him shall Freedom's altar breathe' And Glory crown him with her laurel-wreath.- See! see ! the Race of better days descend, When Worth shall Title's fading chaplet rend; The Nation's Majesty shall monarchs awe, And be the fount of Honour and of Law: While patriot Virtue, with indignant frown, Shall hurl the Tyrant from his gorgeous throne:'
Shall they for ever combine to fetter the Genius of their country; restrain prerogative ofthought; and insidiously plunge a dagger into the bosom of Freedom?No! These delusions, these oppressions, these villainies shall soon be extinct. A race of better days shall descend. " A new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness," shall appear; and from a brighter sky, the Sun of Freedom shall enlighten every land. The tyrant shall be hurled from his throne; the traitor of Liberty sacrificed at her altar; on the firm basis of Justice shall be established the Rights of Mankind: the wreath of Honour shall alone deck the brow of Virtue and Genius; and, " throughout the whole earth," every knee shall bow to THE MAJESTY OF THE PEOPLE!
1: Sixteen were appointed for Man, and eight for the residue of the kingdom of the Isles.
2: The Lieutenant was the representative of Majesty. A staff, which he held upright in his hand, was the ensign of his authority; and the oath administered to him on his appointment was, `` to do justice between the Lord and his People, al utright as the `taJf north standeth. His principal officers were the Receiver-General; the Comptroller, or Clerk of the Rolls; the Water Bailiff; and the Attorney-General. These, with the Bishop, the Arch-deacon, and the two Vicars general, formed the Lord's Common-Council: but his privy-counsellor5 were the two Deemsters, who were revered as the oracles of justice, and the Judges of the Nation. When appointed to the chair of judgement, they swore, " to do justice between man and man, as equally as Abe [lerring-60ne firs between the two sidles. The decision by Jury, however, guarded the lives and property of individuals.
3: This coinage was copper pence and halfpence, with the same impression and inscriptionon one side were the crest and motto of the Derby-Family, and on the reverse, the arms of the Island, with this inscription, ~orYnque jeceris styli'. In 1736, a new coinage of pence and halfpence, peculiar to the Islands was struck at the Tower, with the impression of his Majesty's head, in lieu of the crest and motto of the House of Derby. Manks money is inferior to sterling; an English shilling being equivalent to fourteen pence of that currency.The ensigns armorial of the Island are three legs, bended at the knees and girt in armour.
4: This fine, or feudal acknowledgement, was usually accepted by the Lord, in lieu of all other services demanded by that oppressive system. C~t-rents were afterwards introduced.
5: According to Bishop Wilson " The twenty-four Keys are so called from unlocking, as it were, the difficulties of the Law.
6: When a member is found guilty of any public crime, he is ejected from the House by the voice of his Brethren.
7: I shall here mention a few of the Manks Laws, which, from their singularity, merit attention.
" An Alien, forfeiting life and limb, before verdict given, the Lord need not receive him to grace, unless he pleases: but if a Native, who has made fealty, put himself in grace, he ought, by law, to have his life on forfeiting his goods, and submitting himself to one of these three punishments. The first, to remain in prison for a year and a day; drink of the water next the prison door, and eat the bread of the prison, being a mixture of meal, chaff, and ashes. His second choice shall be to forswear the King and all his lands: and the third, (which in severity seems to bear no proportion) `` was to pay the King 31. From this we may conjecture, that a considerable part of the Lord's revenue arose from the commutation of punishments, and the forfeiture of effects.
" If any man hath done treason, and taken sanctuary; it shall not avail him: and if any man-slayer taketh sanctuary, yet refuseth to confess the crime, the coroner shall take him out of the sanctuary. The Laity shall forfeit life and effects for receiving, or relieving an out-law: and any Bishop guilty of the same crime, shall be deprived of his temporalities.
" We also give for law, that our Lord and his household be victualled on the following terms: A bullock, 3s. 4d. a Jo mutton, 6d. a lamb, 2d. a pig, 1d. a kid, one farthing; and a goose, one halfpenny,,'
" If a man be guilty of felony, his wife's share of the goods to be exempt from forfeiture: If a woman be guilty, she may be " forsaken by her husband; but if he conceal her crime, the c' law shall deem him equally criminal. A widow shall have one half of her husband's estate, if she be his first wife; and if his second, or third, only one quarter: but, if she marry, or miscarry, she shall lose her widow-right."
" During the lifetime of her husband, a wife shall have the power to bequeath by will, independent of his pleasure, one " half of all the effects moveable and immoveable."
" If there be no son, the eldest daughter shall inherit."
" No criminal shall be executed in Passion week.''
" If a woman bring forth a dead child, the child shall not be buried in the church-yard, except the mother swear that she " has received the Sacrament since the quickening of the child."
" If a man ravish a wife, he must die: but if he violate the chastity of a maid, the Deemsters shall deliver to her a rope, a sword, and a ring; and she is then to have her choice, to hang, behead, or marry him."
The generosity of the following law I admire.
" If a man get a young woman or maid with child, and, within two years after the birth of the child, marry her; that child, though born before marriage, shall possess his father's estate, according to the custom of the Island, as amply as if that child had been born in wedlock.',
8: " The Manks still retain an usage (observed by the Saxons before the conquest) that the Bishop, or some priest appointed by him, do always sit in their Great Court along with the " Governor, till sentence of death (if any) be to be pronounced. The Deemster asking the Jury (instead of guilty, or not " guilty) Vod Fir-charree sole ? which literally translated is, May the man of the Chancel, or he that ministers at the altar, continue to sit t If the Foreman answers in the negative, the Bishop, or his substitute, withdraws; and sentence is then pronounced on the criminal.This last article is copied from Bishop Wilson.
9: The manerial rights of the Athol-family were not affected by the revestment of the royalty of the Isle: but the present Duke pretending that several of these had been either lost, or assumed by the Crown of Britain, petitioned Parliament for their restoration. The House of Keys opposed his Grace's attempts; as from the language of his first Bill, and the mystery of his subsequent proceedings, they imagined that, under pretence of recovering rights which had never been alienated from him, his real intentions were, to re-establish, in this country, a portion of that oppressive system to which it had formerly been subject.
10: This hint may not be unnecessary. Since the Review of the Manks History was written, the Duke of Athol, has been appointed Governor of the Island; and a Majority of the House of Keys has already congratulated his Grace on the avidity and success with which he solicited an office, that his Ancestors were accustomed to confer on their dependents.
11:Jam nova progenies ccelo demittitur alto. VIRG.
12: The following description of the Bar of Liberty is copied from a Poem, which, with some other poetical pieces, written by the Author of this Volume, will soon be submitted to the candour of the Public. _" But whence those holy raptures that inspire My throbbing bosom with prophetic fire ? I view, I view, in yonder redd'ning sky, The pure refulgent morn of Liberty; Opposing clouds recede; her beams expand, And Freedom's day-spring visits every land; O'er every region flows serenely bright, But breaks on Britain's vales a flood of beauteous light. O'er bigot night Religion shall display The pure effulgence of celestial day; Justice and Mercy in her beams expand, And scatter blessings o'er a smiling land. From hill and vale shall Freedom's paean rise, Her triumphs sparkle in a Nation's eyes. Sleep shall the brazen trump: for human gore The savage sword of war shall thirst NO moe.