[From Ellan Vannin, 1895]
THE government of the early ages is but little known. We can find no historic signs of freedom. If we assume a time of Druidic rule, it would be oppressive to the last degree. The interval sometimes allotted to the sway of Edwin of Northumbria, and others, in the obscure ages, if held to be authentic, would not relieve the scene. The government of the Norwegians, from Orry to Godred Crovan, and from Godred to the last of his line, when the Scots came into power, was that of invaders and conquerors, who robbed the Manx people of their rights. In all those ages the general condition was exposure to violence. Under the Stanleys the spirit of the government was feudal, and the reverse of free. The offering of a brace of falcons at each coronation was, to Manxmen, a sign of arbitrary power. In the Institution of Tynwald liberty was possible rather than real. In theory, there was the authority of the "Commons and Tenants of Man," but in fact there was no power to control or modify the ruling policy. Tynwald, with its fence and security, as the alleged meaning of the word would suggest, left the people without freedom. Under the title of "The Commons of Man" had been united, with the House of Keys, at times, six representatives from each sheading, and four from each parish; sometimes mention is made of a "Court of the whole country." These met once at Rencurling in Kk. Michael, once at Castle Rushen, and once at St. John's but the ruling power was really a tyranny, and liberty only' a name. The monks of Rushen speak of "The Sheriff of Man"; a similar official is named in The History of the Hebrides, but his powers cannot be defined. It is said that Reginald, son of Godred, "King of the Isles," was chosen King of Man, in 1187, by the Manx people; but if so, the historic circumstances show that the case was really invasion and conquest. From the time of Orry, usually fixed at about 912, to the time of the House of Athol, no substantial freedom can be found. There seem to be traces of a dual government on each side of the mountain range, with some difference in the laws. Tynwald was held at Keill Abban, in Baldwin, in 1429, and, in other years at Cronk Urleigh and Castle Rushen. Since 1577, it has been held at St. John's, "Cronk y Keillown," as termed in Manx, "the Hill of St. John's Church." Until the time of the Stanleys, little is known of the House of Keys, and then there was no due recognition of popular rights. The people were treated as a mere appendage to the land, not to leave the island without government permission. Even after the sixteen members for Man had been increased by the eight for "the Isles," the " Kair as fead" had but little power. The same disregard for Manx rights prevailed, more or less, on to 1662, when in defiance of law and right, the life of "Iliam Dhone" (brown William). was taken at Hango Hill. Liberty could find no place under the "breast laws" of the earlier centuries, under the ecclesiastical Barons, under the Papal ascendency, under the Canon law, under a self-elected House of Keys, with a co-ordinate Lord of the Isle.
There were other dominating influences, also, unfavour able to freedom. Until the Revestment of the Island in the British Crown, in 1765, there was no imperial refuge from local oppression. Before the gift of the Island to Stanley by Henry IV., England had long won its Magna Charta, but Man was a stranger to the liberties then asserted. Invasion, violence, usurpation, injustice, with no relief from the Norwegian, and but little from the Scots, had sent their accumulated evils into comparatively modern times. The isolated position, limited population, the too patiant Manx submission, left the people to the often unjust sway of the lords of Derby and Athol.
In the distant past, the frequent change in the lordship of the Island had hindered freedom. In 1219, Reginald had surrendered the island to the Pope, so giving him the appointment of the Bishop, the control of ecclesiastical affairs, and the power of Canon law in the Manx diocese. The separate jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical Barons, with their independent courts, the Bishop with his prison at Peel, as well, added to the bondage. In such an environ ment, true liberty could not exist. Then came the trans fers afterwards, when Norway retired; to Scotland in 1252; to the Earl of Salisbury in 1344; to the Earl of Wiltshire in 1394; to the Earl of Northumberland in 1402. Norway still coveted its former position as late as 1238; Edward I. and his successors advanced claims, and Scotland disputed about possession. The Island became an imperial prison for the Earl of Warwick, in Peel Castle, in 1398, and for the Duchess of Gloucester in 1446. The expert seamanship and bravery had been enlisted by English sovereigns against the pirates who infested the Irish Sea; but the service brought no amelioration to the Manx people.
The peculiar position and character of the Derby rulers was a barrier to Manx liberty. The family historian, Sea combe, unconsciously relates much of what was adverse in their training and habits. The times of Henry IV. did not understand the rights of man. He had seized the English throne from his cousin, Richard II., in 1399, and, to secure Church support in his usurpation, had promised to crush the Lollards, the followers of Wycliff. It was he who ful filled his promise to the Papacy by his sanction of the first English law for the burning of heretics. The victory' on the field of Bosworth, in 1485, won chiefly by the strategy of the Stanley, had dethroned Richard III. and taken his life, had made the Earl of Richmond, with the fallen crown placed on his brow by Stanley, Henry VII., and had given the brave Stanley the rank of Earl of Derby. The marriage of this new Earl to the widowed mother of Henry VII. gave him relations to royalty, and a place in the centre of arbitrary Tudor ideas. The Wars of the Roses, ended by the marriage of Henry of Lancaster to Elizabeth of York, left the Earl high in the despotism of the time. The spirit of the Stanley policy in Man may be thus accounted for, and a comment be found in the counsels of father to son in 1643. In addition, there were habits of government under the English crown. In Ireland, one of the Earls, under the Tudor rule, had been Lieutenant for many years. The sympathy of "the great Earl" with the Stuart dynasty is historic, and was repaid with characteristic ingratitude. The long absences of the Earls in the great affairs of State, left the little Island to the tyranny of subordinates, one of whom, in 1588, the Earl had to reprimand for oppression which could no longer be endured. The strength of the Stanley position with royalty, even at a much earlier period than the era now named, was seen in the summary dis missal of the five ecclesiastical Barons who refused homage. Without the intention, the act made the transition from Popery much easier ages after.
At the same time, with this strong rule, it must be admitted that in the Stanley character there was a liberal churchmanship. An illustration occurs in the ordination of the great John Howe, in the church at Winwick, not far from Knowsley, and one of the rich Derby livings. The ordainers were the Rector and his curates, all Presbyters, and no Bishop. The event would hardly have taken place, almost under the eye of the patron, had he been a High Churchman. It was an anticipation of the action of Wesley in his ordinations to the ministry for the United Kingdom and the United States, holding, as the New Testament shows, that Bishop and Presbyter are of the same order in the Christian ministry. But to return.
As honour and as property, the Island would have but a secondary place amid the distinctions and possessions of the House of Derby. The earl refused the ancient title of king, preferring, as he said, to be a great peer rather than a petty king, and the Island was not likely to command much attention from him and his. They had their place, as has been already noted, amid the great affairs of English history, some in the first rank of statesmanship, of government, and of war. Immense English wealth came with honour, in the marriage of Sir John Stanley with the heiress of Lathom; with multiplied gifts of land from royalty; with the Barony of Strange; from Henry VIII., and Edward VI., and Mary; previously, from Henry VI., for services in Wales; from Elizabeth, for six years' government as Lord Deputy in Ireland; from Edward IV., for warlike services against the Scots; and from Richard III. Much wealth in Lancashire and Cheshire thus came to the Stanleys. In the whole there was great personal distinction. In addition to the fame of Bosworth and of other scenes of war, the Stanley history records the conspicuous part taken by Sir John Stanley in the Battle of Poictiers in 1357, and in the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, against the Earl of Northum berland, with Henry IV. The Stanleys lived in the first style of the English peerage. The burial of the Earl in 1572 was with almost royal state.
The position and wealth of the Stanley House will thus in part explain neglect of Manx interests. The Murray's of Athol formed a contrast. The Island was guarded as a source of wealth, and hard bargains with the British Government brought them some hundreds of thousands of pounds.
It may be allowed to add that the favour of royalty seems to have left the seventh Earl, who, notwithstanding his great services to the Stuarts, was treated by them with cold suspicion and ingratitude, the Earl at last losing life and estates in the tragic execution at Bolton in 1651. It is curious to note, collaterally, that another Stanley, not in the direct line of heirship, Sir Edward Stanley, was made Lord Monteagle by Henry VIII. for his services in the battle of Flodden Field, in 1573. Through his grandson came the letter that saved James I. and his Parliament from the Gunpowder Plot; the same was great grandson of the Thomas Stanley, who was once Bishop and Governor of Man.
Among the hindrances to Manx freedom must be ranked the influence of Romanism on the Government. Its power was great in the earlier ages. The priestly jurisdiction was independent of the civil. The lord of the Isle might not intrude within the barriers in affairs civil or criminal, and of course not in affairs ecclesiastical. The Bishop had his court, his officials, and his plison, and also his place in the legislature. In the canon law, the ecclesiastical courts, the penal power; from the Norwegian Archbishop of Drontheim, from Furness Abbey, and the Priories external to the Island, and from the Pope of Rome, and yet later from Canterbury and York, came thus the restraint on Manx liberty. The Canon law, at three separate Synods from 1239 to 1350, and numbering fifty'-three Canons, was supreme in the Diocese, and controlled Manx life personal and social. The octopus had completely enwrapped its prey!. The position of Manx freedom may be imagined from what we know of modern Popish countries, Ireland included. The character of the priesthood is seen in some of the episcopal prohibi tions as to frequenting or keeping public-houses. There are no traditions of religious zeal such as have come from Iona, Lindisfarne, and Whithorne no evidences of the use of the Manx language, rather than the Latin of the Romish service, for worship and instruction. The Latin service was the rule in England until 1517. The monks of Rushen wrote their history in Latin. Nothing sacred is left in early Manx. The result in popular ignorance and in morals, as well as in the true freedom of man, all increased by isolation, may be inferred.
Celtic Christianity had been of a purer type in the ages of Ninian, St. Patrick, and Columba, and on to 560 and beyond. The intimate relations of Man to the outer ecclesiastical bodies, may have at first sprung from the purer ages of faith. Organised Romanism, as we have seen, had no place in these kingdoms before 597, when Augustine came from Rome. The resistance of the British Churches to his mission is historic. Not until 664 did England yield to the Papal claims, nor Ireland, which had closer relations to Man, until 1164. The first Romish Bishop in Man must have been long after the time of Augustine, and centuries after the age of St. Patrick. It was about 595 that the Priory of Bangor sent Columbanus on his great European mission, just before the attack of Rome on British Christianity. The ages of cor ruption came quickly on, as seen around the great monas teries of Wearmouth, Ripon, and Furness, to mention no others; relics, the added Sacraments, the assertion ot superhuman power in the priesthood, all the essential elements of the Papal system gained ascendency'. The Isle of Man would share in this tendency, with its loss of truth and liberty. The midnight of the darkness was 1219, when the Island became a fief of Rome. The Manx Monastery became an organic part of the Romish sy'stem, so that in 1044, at the Synod of London, one of the monks of Rushen became Abbot of Evesham. The restraint on Manx freedom remained long after 1537, when Henry VIII. claimed the resources of Rushen Abbey.
The course of legislation did not much help the interests of the people. It was more to the advantage and power of the Lord of the Isle. For many ages, there had been no trial by jury; sheep stealing, and even petty dishon esty were made liable to capital punishment. It was felony to leave the Island without permission from the government. The authorities claimed labour at reduced wages, arbitrarily fixed. At last came the crowning injustice in the change of the tenure of the land, turning freehold into leasehold, with three lives, and, in effect, making men tenants of what had been their own. It was a revival, in 1643, by the Earl of Derby, of the injustice of Godred Crovan in the eleventh century, after the battle of Sky Hill; the result was a feeling of rebellion which compelled the Earl to hasten to the Island, and which was suppressed by measures of crafty policy mingled with secret arrangements for defence. After holding two courts of Tynwald, he found a basis for peace with the people, and thus ended the threatening commotion.
With unjust laws, there was an administration uncertain in its justice. From 1533 to 1569, eight of the Governors were of the Stanley family, and several after that time. A self-elect House of Keys was subordinate to the ruling power, which had no liking for popular rights. The administration seems to have disposed the people to accept the rule of the Commonwealth, and to refuse hopeless resistance in the interest of the Earl. Just as the action of 1643 was the consummation and evidence of unjust legislation, the treatment of William Christian, the " Iliam Dhone" of Manx history', who was executed at Hango Hill in 1662, under the charge of treason to the Earl, was the supreme evidence of unjust administration long continued. The history is a long one, and has been much debated, but we may give a summary' of the ruling facts : The alleged treason was the surrender of the Island, in 1651, to the Parliamentary forces in Ramsey Bay'. Christian was Receiver-General, and had the insular forces under his command. In judging of the final sentence, it is not necessary to asstime that Christian was faultless. It may be admitted that in 1658 his administration of insular funds had not been honest, and that two opinions might be held of the surrender, that of the Countess of Derby at Castletown, negotiating for the life of the Earl, then a prisoner of war in Chester Castle, and urging resistance to the utmost by force; and that of Christian, with leading men of the Island, who were left alone to contend with the ten ships of war with a fleet of forty-four other vessels, having on board military' forces to compel surrender. There was no treason; the Earl was not king ; the submission was to the power supreme in the United Kingdom at the time. The case between the imprisoned Earl and the Parliamentary power was entirely independent of the action of Christian at Ramsey. The execution of the Earl at Bolton, was for having fought against Parliament at Wigan and at Worcester in the interest of the Stuarts. At Ramsey, resistance meant useless bloodshed, and the Governor, Musgrave, choosing to remain away at Castletown, a responsibility fell upon Christian which did not entirely belong to his position. The Earl, by his action eight years previously as to the land) seems to have lost the affection of the Manx people, who now, indeed, were helpless before the Parliamentary forces. The surrender was not by Christian alone; with him were members of the legislature and chief persons of the Island. Perhaps they feared the sacrifice by the Derby family at Castletown of Manx rights in the peculiar circumstances of the Earl as a prisoner of war. Christian, after the Island hab deen handed to Lord Fairfax, and placed under Chaloner as Governor, was treated by the House of Stanley as if the past was blameless as to treason or any thing of the kind. Nine years after the submission to the Parlia mentary forces, the name of Christian appears as a witness in the Commission issued by Earl Charles to settle some ecclesiastical affairs in the Island. By the Commonwealth Christian was made Receiver-General. In the Journal of the House of Commons under date of December, 1651, two months after the execution of the Earl at Bolton, and, of course, subsequent to the decisive scene at Ramsey, Christian is named as "an able and honest man" worthy of being consulted in the crisis. After an interval of eleven years or so the new Earl and his mother take action against Christian for his yielding to the forces of the Commonwealth in 1651. In 1660, that is, two years before these proceed ings of vengeance for the past, there had been a general Act of Indemnity by Charles II. on his restoration to the throne, and when the Island was given back to the Stanleys, covering all political offences from 1637 to 1660. This, of course, included 1651. The insular judicial proceedings on the case, dictated by the Earl, were illegal, and in defiance of the King in Council, by which Court the case had been adjudged in 1662. Imperial orders had been sent to the insular authorities that the case brought by the Earl against Christian did not belong to insular jurisdiction, and that Christian must be given up to the English power. Trusting to the King's Act of Indemnity, he had ventured to return to the Island in 1662, and was then seized and imprisoned. Seven members of the House of Keys, on their refusal to take part in the trial, were arbitrarily dismissed by the Earl from their places in the legislature and replaced by seven others more pliable. For refusing the concurrence in the sentence of death, one of the Deemsters was also deposed and another substituted. Meanwhile, the action taken in the Island was disallowed by the King in Council, the appeal of Christian for protection under the Act of Indemnity allowed, and Earl Charles ordered to send Christian to London to be heard by the supreme authority. The royal order from the English Government was concealed by the Governor, and the proceedings hurried on, with the result of the immediate execution of Christian at Hango Hill. The judicial sentence from England immediately followed, holding that the blood of Christian had been shed unjustly, commanding the Governor and Deemsters to appear before the King in Council, requiring them to pay the costs of the prosecution, the two Deemsters to be imprisoned for further proceedings, the Governor repri manded for keeping secret the royal order to suspend the sentence of death to give time for further consideration, the deposed Deemster to be restored to his office, and the estates and other property of Christian to be given back to his widow and family. The action of the Earl Charles was in the old spirit of the Stanley administration, but in this instance stained by blood shed unjustly. In that seventeenth century, Manx rights were but slightly regarded.
Thus far for civil freedom. Let us turn to religious liberty. The appointment of Bishops as Governors - "sword bishops" as they were termed - was a hindrance to religious liberty. The powers of the Bishop had around them the pres tige and terrors of the civil authority. The Ecclesiastical Constitutions of Bishop Wilson, enacted at the the of the Act of Settlement in 1703, though without the "sword," were a sufficient terror to the Nonconformist con science. It placed the Manx people under the Canon law with its searching powers over religious convictions, and family and social life. For conduct imply'ing no violation of civil law - not attending church, not observing church forms, it had its penance and its prison enforced by' the civil power, under the orders of the Bishop's Court, and without appeal to the law of the land. Persons could thus be fined, sent from parish to parish in the white sheet of penance, and in the public market, thrown into prison, dragged through the sea at the tail of a boat manned by the Governor's authority, outlawed to a great degree, and "left severely alone." None neglecting confirmation could be married. In the absence of other evidence on religious matters, the individual could be questioned on oath for self-accusation. Poor Kate Kinrade was dragged through the sea in Peel Bay; the Clerk of the Rolls was sentenced to prison by the Bishop, who refused even the right of self-defence under the charge. At last the case of a Mary Henricks made the cup overflow so as to call forth the Earl of Derby himself to interfere, and reverse the Bishop's sentence. In the final issue came the conflict between the Church Courts and the civil government, the closing scenes being Bishop and his two Vicars-General being thrown into the prison at Castle Rushen, by the authority of the Governor; though, on appeal to the English Government, the action of the Governor was not sustained. - It is not surprising that, amid modern enlightenment, these " Constitutions" should have become obsolete; though one wonders that they should still have a place in the laws of the Manx people. The boast that there were no Manx Nonconformists in those day's - as the case of the persecuted Manx Quakers proves - was explained by the rigour by which Canon law denied the rights of conscience. On the whole, then, during the 330 years of Stanley' ascendency', from 1406 to 1736, when the Murrays of Athol succeeded, with no advantage, to freedom, the advance in liberty was but slight. During the interval the House of Key's had been seldom convened.