[From Extracts from pre 1867 House of Key's Journal]

Constitutional Questions,



The third Duke of Atholl and his wife, who were rulers of the Island at the time of the Revestment, did not make any efforts to obtain redress of the grievances which they complained had been inflicted upon them by the Revesting Act. But their son, the fourth Duke, who succeeded them in 1774, immediately gave evidence of his uncompromising determination not to sacrifice the smallest fraction of what he considered to be his rights. The Keys, therefore, soon came into collision with him, and, with the friendly assistance of the Governor, thwarted him in various ways and considerably curtailed his privileges and influence by legislation (a).

One of their earliest complaints was with regard to the removal of the Manorial records from Castletown to Douglas. This was embodied in the following petition, in 1779, to lieutenant-Governor Dawson : —

" The Memorial of the House of Keys, the Representatives of the Commons of the said Isle, humbly sheweth—. That His Majesty’s subjects within the said Isle are seized of their hereditaments and premises as Customary Estates of Inheritance descendable from ancestor to heir, according to the laws and customs thereof. That upon the death of the ancestor or predecessor, the heir is admitted and entered tenant upon the Court Rolls. That each and every such proprietor may, by gift, grant, or assignment, alien such their possessions, which deeds of conveyance are to be approved and confirmed by the Lord (in his jurisdictional capacity), or by the Governor with the concurrence of the chief civil officers at the least, as the Statute Laws of the said Isle specially direct.

That the said Governor and civil officers and magistrates have held Circuit Courts for the several Sheadings of the said Isle in or about the months of May and October annually and granted their confirmations to such deeds and conveyances. And if, upon the usual proclamation thereof, any party offered objections against any such confirmation, the same were argued before the Court and judicially determined thereby. And the party, in all cases whatsoever, when having obtained such confirmation, then produced his deed to the said Sheading or copyhold Court, and being then entered tenant of the premises by virtue of the said deed, he afterwards recorded the same in the Courts of Common Law, Chancery or Exchequer, or retained the same in his own hands at his election.

There being no Law Statute or Ordinance within the said Isle controverting the Party’s property or right of possession of and in such his Title Deed. That after the passing of the Act of Settlement, in 1703, and the compositions made by virtue thereof or comprehended under the same, which Act our most gracious Sovereign, in the seventeenth year of his reign, at the instance of the Legislature within the said Isle, was pleased to re-enact, ratify, and confirm by his Royal sanction and authority, the same being the grand charter of the tenures of the said Isle in general, the landowners, out of their confidence in the Government and security the Castle and Garrison of Castle Rushen afforded, voluntarily brought in all their Title Deeds (which had been formerly confirmed and afterwards kept in their own possession, as aforesaid) to be there recorded and deposited in safe custody and preservation, and therefore, instead of the original, the grantees exhibited their copies of their said deeds to the said Sheading or Manor Courts, and there obtained their entry by virtue thereof. That the jurisdictions of the said Isle being vested in the Crown by an Act passed in the fifth year of His Majesty’s reign, your memorialists are informed that a partial separation was made of the Crown Records and such parts of the said public records as were thought Manorial, in the month of August, 1766, which separation or proceeding was made without the privity, knowledge, or consent of this House. Yet, notwithstanding such several and respective records remained in the care and custody of the Clerk of the Rolls (he being also Seneschal to His Grace the Lord of the Manor), and therefore and as such part of the Records as the said partial separation expressed to be Manorial were kept near the said garrison, properly attended to, and removed into the said Castle in time of danger, the necessity of the restoration of the said Records did not thereupon so readily occur. But, as neither the House of Keys or the proprietors of such Deeds or Records were any wise made parties or privy to the said transaction or separation, or bound thereby, they never meant to acquiesce with such innovation of their rights, and now they cannot be satisfied with any other mode of security for the preservation of their said Title Deeds, Compositions, and Records than the Repository of Records in Castle Rushen, under the protection of the Civil and Military Government of the said Isle, wherein the said Records were originally intrusted or could be secure.

That his Grace the Duke of Atholl, now judging it expedient to remove such of the Records as were, by the said separation, deemed manorial to Douglas, which is a town the most exposed to the Ravages and Insults of the enemy. In the discharge of our duty, and in the application of the Landowners on such alarming occasion to us their representatives, to assert their rights to the several and respective Title Deeds and Compositions, and to procure the same to be re-instated in the Crown or public Records, where only the people had, or now would entrust them for either security or convenience. We make this application unto your Honor for that purpose. Your Memorialists further show unto your Honor that the possession of the said Title Deeds and Compositions is a matter of the highest trust, value, and importance of any within this Isle, and too considerable a charge to be committed to any private hands. That copies of His Majesty’s Records are received as authentic evidences in any Court of Record and by and before any Magistrate of this Isle. But copies from any Seneschal are not admissible or legal evidences Therefore, upon any litigation, the subject (while the said deeds and compositions remain in the possession of the Lord of the Manor or his Seneschal) will be necessarily exposed to the unnecessary and illegal expenses of paying the Seneschal for producing the said original Records upon trial, which would render the same subject to detriment or accident, with many other injuries or inconveniences to the public. Your Memorialists, therefore, humbly pray that your Honor will be pleased to order the restoration of the said Title Deeds and Compositions into the public or Crown Repository of Records in Castle Rushen—there to remain under the protection of the civil and military Government of the said isle ; and also that the Clerk of the Rolls for the time being may be ordered to give out true also authentic Copies of the said Deeds, Compositions, and Records, in the same manner as hath been practised from the Act of Settlement unto the passing of the Vesting Act." .

A copy of this Memorial, with an explanatory letter, was sent to the Duke of Atholl by the Speaker. The Lieutenant-Governor, on receipt of it ordered the Clerk of the Rolls, " not to deliver up the possession or custody of the Composition Books and the original Title Deeds and other Records claimed by the Memorialists on behalf of themselves and the comnninity," and he summoned the Clerk of the Rolls and the Deputy Seneschal, Robert Heywood, to appear before him. Robert Heywood did not appear, for "which contempt a presentment" was awarded against him, and when he come to a subsequent Court he alleged that he had had no instructions. The matter was shortly afterwards settled by a preemptory order from the Secretary of State to hand over the Records in question to the duke’s seneschal. Early in the following year (1780) the House resolved that there be an appeal from this order to the King in Council.

Irritated by their action in this, as in other cases, the duke brought a Bill into Parliament, the main objects of which were to restrain the alienation of lands without his consent ; to compel the deposits of all title-deeds with his seneschal, and to retransfer to himself certain services and rights of which he considered he had been unjustly deprived by the Crown. The Keys were informed of this by Lieutenant-Governor Dawson, and, in writing to thank him, they remarked that this Bill " is of the most alarming and dangerous tendency to this Isle, whilst, as it manifestly invades the right and authority of His Majesty, it at once strikes at the Laws, Liberties, and properties of the people, that they are justly filled with apprehension of the most in tolerable tyranny and oppression, and they conclude with assuring the Governor that their most vigorous endeavours shall be exerted to oppose the Bill.

With that object they passed a resolution declaiming against the steps intended to be taken by the duke ‘ not only to encroach upon and invade the rights of the inhabitants, but also to annihilate the constitution of the said Isle by altering the ancient mode of forming one of the estates or branches of the Legislative Body thereof " (b), and they appointed a Committee, consisting of John Taubman, James Oates, W.Callow, John Cosnahan, and Daniel Callow, " to digest and form the proceedings necessary to support and preserve the laws and constitutions of this Isle and the rights and liberties of this community under the same against every attempt or invasion whatsoever." It was further resolved that " a sum of money not exceeding £2,000 be raised by the said Committee " by way of loan or otherwise, as occasion may require, for carrying on and making the same defence," and " that John Cosnahan, Esq., MHK., do forthwith proceed to London as the agent and commissioner in behalf of the House and the Isle, and to watch over and preserve the rights and interests of the said Isle in this critical state of affairs in Parliament and elsewhere by all proper means as to him may appear eligible and be by Counsel advised." John Taubman, James Oates, William Quayle, and William Cubbon were appointed as a Committee to correspond with him.

The Bill was reported against by the Attorney and Solicitor-General of England and by Sir W.Busk the Attorney-General of the Island, and was consequently withdrawn. We find the House passing a resolution that ‘ John Christian, of Vurigg, Esq., one of the members of this House, be " desired to wait upon the Right Hon. Lord Loughborough (late his Majesty’s Attorney-General) with the thanks of this House for his particular attention to the affairs of the Isle of Mann upon a late important occasion. A similar vote was passed with reference to the ‘ Right Hon. James Wallace, Esq His Majesty’s Attorney-General."

Undaunted by this repulse, the duke again petitioned Parliament, asking for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the " Revesting Act," and he caused a petition to be got up in the Island in his favour.

The House complained to Lieut.-Governor Dawson about this petition, which, they said, had been sent to the duke " by a few men in this country possessed of some property," and then stated that the " tendency " of the petition " is to insult the existing Legislature, and to effect a revolution in the Legal Government and Constitution " of the Island. They furthermore stated that it is well-known that some of " the factious persons at the head of this petition have, as a principal motive for their conduct disappointment in not being elected members of the House of Keys," and that " the vilest practices have been made use of by them to seduce and delude the ignorant, illiterate mob, whose names and marks are the disgrace of their petition, and which were obtained to blank sheets of paper." They remarked that " it is stated in that absurd petition that the inhabitants of this country have laboured under intolerable oppression and difficulties since the Revestment, that the Keys take upon themselves the representation of the people, contrary to their voice and inclination, as if," said the House, an illiterate, lawless rabble of five or six hundred persons composed the people." The House denied that it met, as alleged, privately, for improper purposes," and it pointed out the absurdity of the petitioners’ objections to " the late law’s imposing the necessity of public labour for the making and completing of highways," to the Keys’ consenting to the " raising and forming a corps of Fencibles," and of their complaint that they had not been consulted about these matters. They then continued :" In the close of their absurd and disloyal petition it is prayed that the Keys may be dissolved and that his Grace will take the affairs of the Island into his consideration . . . your memorialists beg leave to observe that the proceedings of the petitioners are to the last degree disloyal, unconstitutional, and seditious, and are certainly calculated to answer some improper purposes." This is followed by a request that the following memorial be laid before His Majesty, "in order to obviate any inconvenience which might arise to this country from the aforesaid factious petition": To the Honorable Richard Dawson, Esq., Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle Mann, etc. Your Memorialists at this time assembled beg leave to address your Honor with the sincerest professions of attachment and loyalty to His Majesty’s royal person and the Government of the said Isle, and to express their heartfelt sense of the blessings they enjoy under the benign administration of the best of Princes.

From high, very high, antiquity the Legislative body of the said Isle hath been composed of its King, the Governor with his Council, and the Keys, and since the auspicious era of 1765, when His Majesty became entire Sovereign of the said Isle, your memorialists, in conjunction with His Majesty and the Governor with his Council, have continued to enact wise and salutary laws for the interior good government thereof agreeable to the ancient and established constitution of the said Isle That in all real and many personal suits or actions at law within the said Isle the Keys are, by the Laws and Constitution thereof, the highest Court of Appeal within the same, and they also, with the Governor and Deemsters, compose the Court of General Gaol Delivery of the said Isle, and are, by their oaths, bound to give their Council to the Governor, explain the Law and give their best assistance to the Deemsters in all doubtful and difficult cases, from whence, the earliest times, they have been " styled ‘ Claves Legum Insulae,’ and, by " the Constitution, have ever been acknowledged the Guardians of the Public Rights of the said Isle: That it is well known that the House " of Keys hath ever consisted of men of the first abilities, landed property, and" consequence in the said Isle, and they have, therefore, been termed ‘Taxiaxi’ in the most ancient records thereof. That upon any vacancy arising in the said House by the death of a member, or from resignation in case of indisposition, or other just cause made known to and approved by the Governor, two proper persons are nominated by the House and returned to the Governor for his election of one of them to fill the vacant seat. And the person so elected by the Governor is immediately thereupon publicly sworn to maintain and support the Laws and Constitution of the said Isle, and duly to discharge the duty of a Key agreeably to the same, by means whereof the lights and liberties of the community are preserved and all the evils of a popular election avoided

That the House of Keys, as the Guardians of the Public Rights, have, according to their oaths, from time to time, as occasions required, withstood the attacks and encroachments of the Lords of the said Isle upon the Constitution and the rights and liberties of the inhabitants thereof with success, and to the great satisfaction and happiness of the community in general That his Grace, John, Duke of Atholl, in the last session of Parliament, brought in a Bill under pretence of settling and ascertaining certain rights in the said Isle between His Majesty and the said Duke of Atholl: That your memorialists, being justly alarmed at the evil tendency of the said Bill, as the same had for its main object the enabling the said Duke of Atholl and his Seneschals or Stewards to exercise certain pretended rights, powers, and authorities in the said Isle unknown to the Constitution destructive of the rights and liberties of the Inhabitants and subversive of the ancient and established Government thereof, gave an opposition to the said Bill by means whereof and of the attention of the Right Honorable the lords Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury the said Bill did not pass into a law: That your memorialists, finding that the said Duke of Atholl hath prepared the draught of a Bill to be brought into Parliament the next session for the same pretended purposes as the said former Bill, and without any material alteration so far as relates to the rights and liberties of the Inhabitants of the said Isle, took the earliest opportunity to signify their disapprobation thereof, and avowed their intention to oppose the same in Parliament: That in order to remove and defeat the opposition of your memorialists to the said last mentioned Bill a scheme hath been set on foot by the Agent or Agents of the said Duke of Atholl to dissolve and abolish the present House of Keys, and in order thereto the said Agent or Agents have, by every species of artifice, endeavoured to inflame the minds of the ignorant part of the inhabitants of the said Isle with ideas of hardships and oppressions suffered by them as well from all the Laws enacted in the said Isle since the sovereignty thereof became vested in His Majesty as from the Government thereof in general since that period, and, under color of remedying the said pretended grievances, a petition hath been prepared by the Agent of the said Duke of Atholl, addressed to the Commons of Great Britain, purporting to be the petition of the Clergy and Inhabitants of the said Isle, setting forth many falsities, complaining of intolerable grievances in general terms, and stating that the dissolution of the said House of Keys would be conducive to the happiness of the said Isle, and, therefore, praying that the present House of Keys may be dissolved and a Law passed by the Parliament of Great Britain to elect a new assembly in their place and stead:

That the purport of the said petition being manifestly destructive of the Constitution of the said Isle, and so ill- suited to the Laws thereof, and the nature of the tenure of the inhabitants, and in all respects so dangerous in its tendency, the same alarmed all the intelligent people and persons of property and consequence in the said Isle insomuch that none of them would subscribe the said petition, and it was with difficulty that any of the ignorant persons whose minds had, by the aforesaid means, been inflamed and ripened for a Revolution, could be prevailed on to sign the same, and no person had subscribed the said petition on whose knowledge they might or could have any dependance:

That the nomination to the Bishoprick of Sodor and Man, as well as the presentation to nearly all the Church livings " livings within the same appertain to the Lord of the Manor of the said Isle, and the Bishop is, from his dignity and situation, considered next in rank and consequence to the Governor thereof, and is, before his installation, obliged by Law to take an oath and that he will, to the utmost of his abilities, maintain and defend the Law and Constitution of the said Isle and His Majesty’s prerogative within the same:

That George, the present Lord Bishop of the said Diocese, was lately nominated to the said See by the Atholl Family, and in the month of July last, accompanied by the Agent or Steward of the said Duke, came to the said Isle in order to be installed, and, previous to such his Installation, took the Oath herein before mentioned to support and maintain the Laws and Constitution of the said Isle, and His Majesty’s prerogative within the same

That from the said Lord Bishop’s rank and consequence in the said Isle he was considered a proper person to give a sanction to the said Petition by his signature, in order to lead on the ignorant and deluded part of the inhabitants to sign the same ; and, accordingly, he, the said Lord Bishop, notwithstanding his said Oath, and before he had been many days in the said Isle or could possibly have obtained a knowledge of the Laws and Constitution thereof, or the good or evil arising therefrom, signed his name as a leading subscriber to the said petition

That the said Lord Bishop was not satisfied only with becoming a subscriber to the said petition, but also used every possible influence with his several clergy in the said Isle to induce them to subscribe the same, solemnly declaring that such of them as refused to sign the said petition were not to expect any promotion in the Church from the Lord of the Manor or the Bishop of Man:

That the Vicars General of the said Isle, who are of the Bishop’s nomination, are Magistrates of great trust and importance within the said Isle, and, in many instances, exercise a mixture of Spiritual and Temporal jurisdiction, and from such their offices have it in their power greatly to influence the minds of the ignorant part of the inhabitants: That the two persons who had filled the offices of Vicar’s General. in the said Isle at the time the said Lord Bishop succeeded to the said See, had been in the discharge of the said office for several years and were well versed in the Constitution. and Laws of the said Isle, and " had given great satisfaction to the public in general in their judicial determinations, but, being known to disapprove of the doctrine of subverting the Constitution under the said petition, were, in an unprecedented manner, forthwith dismissed or discharged from their said offices by His Lordship, without any impeachment whatsoever, or other cause assigned by the said Bishop save that previous to his installation he had been directed by the Atholl family so to do, and two other persons were immediately appointed Vicars General, who, there-upon, signed the said petition, along with his Lordship:

That public notice having been given by the said Agent or Steward at the several parish churches within the said Isle that the said Duke’s Manorial Courts were to be holden at particular places appointed for that purpose, the public were, in a particular manner, requested to give their attendance at such places, as matters of great importance for the benefit of the said Isle would be proposed by the said Agent or Steward at such Courts That in consequence thereof many of the lower class of people attended at the said Courts, where the said Agent caused houses of public entertainment to be opened for the reception and accommodation of subscribers to the said petition, and certain persons disaffected to the Government of the said Isle were employed to intermix with the populace and to inflame their minds with a detail of grievances and oppressions which it was pretended the said Isle sustained under the present Government. And also to hold forth to the said populace many advantages from a restoration of their older former trade and otherwise from the said Duke’s interference in the affairs of the said Isle in case they would sign a petition prepared by the said Agent and which the Bishop and VicarsGeneral had signed for the dissolution of the Keys, which would produce a reformation in the whole system of Government within the said Isle:

That immediately upon the business of the said Court being closed on each of such days the public were called forth to appear before the said Agent or Steward, who, thereupon, rose and addressed himself, as in a public capacity, to the said populace, and in long and seditious harangues and declamations had the impudence to malign the present Government in the most. unbecoming terms, and repeatedly to assert that the Laws passed in the said Isle since His Majesty became invested with the sovereignty thereof were injurious and oppressive to the Community, and that the people of the said Isle sustained, under the present Government, numberless hardships which your memorialists are happy to observe never did really exist:

That when the minds of several of the populace had been thus inflamed with the impression of the pretended grievances aforesaid, the said petition, with the sanction of the said Bishop and Vicar Generals subscriptions thereto, was then produced and read to the said populace, and their signatures earnestly solicited thereto. Whereupon many of the most ignorant and lower class, upon the faith and credit of the assertions made by the said Steward, were prevailed on to sign the said petition, and your memorialists are well informed that the names of several others were added as subscribers thereon, who, in fact, never subscribed the same, and that afterwards many persons signed the said petition who never heard the same read: That, not resting satisfied with the unwarrantable proceedings afore mentioned to procure subscribers to the said petition, the said Steward, Agent, or Agents waited upon several private gentlemen at their respective houses, and holding forth the said delusive arguments, solicited their signatures thereto, and not succeeding by these means, had recourse to insinuations that the signing the said petition would confer an obligation on the said Duke, the same being his Grace’s favourite plan, and that a refusal to join therein would be considered as an opposition to the said Duke’s scheme of forwarding his interest in the said Isle, and would certainly not tend to the advantage of the persons so refusing, accompanied with other persuasions of a private consideration: That, in order to give the said seditious harangues the greater weight and influence, the said Steward or Agent hath also taken upon him to publish, or cause to be published, as well at the several parish Churches as at the said Courts, that the public were not to apply to His Majesty’s Deemster or Chief Justice within the said Isle, for certain loyal processes heretofore issued by him, but to the said Steward or his Deputy, who would in future issue the same:

That, although the presentations to the whole of the Church livings within the said Isle are in the gift of the said Duke and the Bishop, yet the signatures of a very small number, and those only of the inferior and junior clergy of little or no landed property, could be procured to the said petition, the Archdeacon and the rest of the principal clergy having laudably refused to sign the same, and that notwithstanding the lay subscribers to the said petition are also very inconsiderable, as well in number as property in comparison to the rest of the inhabitants of the said Isle, yet your memoriahsts perceive with concern, and it is, too, notorious to your Honor, that the inflammatory and other the seditious proceedings aforesaid involve in them consequences the most serious and alarming, as having already sown the seeds of sedition and discord throughout the said Isle, and greatly disturbed the peace and tranquility of His Majesty’s subjects within the same: That from your Honor’s frequent residence in the said Isle, and intercourse with the inhabitants thereof from the year 1765, and particularly since the happy period when the same became subject to your Honor’s equal, just, and mild administration, your Honor hath been well acquainted with the general disposition of all ranks of people therein, and cannot but have observed the greatest satisfaction to prevail throughout the same towards the present Government, and that the several inhabitants were, to a man, loyally attached to His Majesty’s person, and it is now equally notorious to your Honor that disaffection, sedition, and dissatisfaction have, of late, filled the minds of several of His Majesty’s subjects within the said Isle, and that the proceedings and judgments of the several Courts have, by means thereof, been frequently held in the greatest disrespect, evils which your memorialists fear cannot now be remedied without the utmost exertion of the united powers of the Constitution

That your memorialists submit it to your Honor that the said several proceedings, and the obtaining the signatures of the inhabitants of the said Isle to the said petition, are not only calculated eventually to injure the Constitutional rights of the Inhabitants, but also to weaken and cause a confusion and difficulty in the execution and exercise of His Majesty’s Government and interest in the said Isle In tender consideration of the premises your memorialists most humbly pray that your Honor may be pleased to lay this memorial before the King, and to assure His Majesty of the concurrence of your Memorialists in the exertion of every constitutional measure for the support and furtherance of His Majesty’s Government, and the securing the same as well to the public rights of the said Isle against every invasion whatever, and your Mernorialists, from your Honor’s vigilance, known abilities, and knowledge of the Constitution, are persuaded that you will not omit to signify your abhorrence of the measures aforesaid, and the dangerous tendency the same evidently have to affect the rights and prerogatives of the Crown within the said Isle, as well as the rights of the Inhabitants thereof. That His Majesty’s Ministers may not be surprised under any special or delusive ideas to give countenance to such a measure in Parliament. October 20th, 1780."

A similar memorial, dated a month later, is found in the. Journals, but it concludes with a request to the Governor to transmit the letter to the Secretary of State, instead of to the King direct, which was, no doubt, considered irregular.


 [many pages tbd]


On the 4th head what has been already submitted renders further observation unnecessary The inestimable benefit of his Majesty’s direct and individual protection is pre-eminently stated in the Petition, and, as I hope and believe, would be duly appreciated. The Petitioners have, by adverse circumstances and a conscientious sense of duty, been driven into a position which a slight aid from representation may easily have perverted into a spirit of opposition to his Majesty’s Government. . . . The obvious interest, and, as I believe, the earnest desire of the Petitioners indicate the favour, the protection, and the confidence of his Majesty’s Government as the objects of attainment most essential to the happiness and prosperity of the Island, and if they should be honored with that confidence I persuade myself that they will endeavour to deserve it.—I have, etc. , M WILKES."


8th July 1825.

Sir,—I hasten to correct an error which I have discovered in my letter addressed to you on the 27th of June. In the flag mentioned the armorial bearings of the former Lords of Man were not combined with the Royal Union, but were exhibited alone



And so the long duel between the Duke and the Keys at last came to an end.



(a) For details see "History of the Isle of Man’ A. W. Moore), pp. 259, 30,

(b) See pp. 44-5.


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