[From Castle Rushen, Armitage Rigby, 1927]
RECORD of the building of the Castle has as yet been discovered. The natural consequence is that the public has readily adopted the wholly improbable date offered by historians, who wrote before the study of Mediaeval Architecture had developed. Unfortunately, any attempt to shew that the accepted date is incorrect is rather a thankless task, in view of the fact that there is little probability of being able to substitute a definite date in its place. For the present one must be content to submit the most probable half-century.
Perhaps the best way of approaching this task is to give the chief authorities for the accepted date 947.
" Brittanica Curiosa," published in 1776, gives the date as about 960 on the authority of the Manks' tradition.
Train's history (1845) has the following entry:-" 947 Gorree was succeeded as King of Man by his son Guthred, who commenced building the Castle of Rushen which was finished A.D. 960, and in which he lies buried."
Cumming's History of Castle Rushen (1857) states: "947 Guthred or Godrod founded Castle Rushen."
Other authors have followed suit, and though some of the later writers suggest that the architecture does not bear out this date, there has been no serious attempt to fix a more probable date.
Even Cumming had some qualms about the date he adopted, for on another page we read: " and of its great antiquity there is no doubt, even should the date 947 fixed upon for its commencement be incorrect."
Now what are the reasons for the faith of these historians? The author of " Brittanica Curiosa" relies on the authority of the Manks' tradition, and though tradition is most useful in many respects, it is generally very weak in dates.
Train contents himself with the statement of the years of commencement and completion, embellished by the assertion that the builder was buried there. Apart from the improbability of Guthred being buried in the Castle, Train's chronology of the Kings of Man is not supported by later historians, and there is no reason to place any confidence in his dates.
But Cumming is not content with bare statements. He produces proof in the shape of an old oak beam. He says: " This date was found on an old oak beam, along with some apparently Maeso-Gothic characters, in making some repairs in the Governor's house a few years ago." But after triumphantly bringing out his proof he at once throws cold-or at all events tepid water-on it, as quoted above.
Without for a moment suggesting that it is impossible for a beam to bear an inscription for 900 years, it is sufficiently unlikely, in this climate, to require strong corroborative evidence. But such evidence is entirely wanting, while there are strong reasons for refusing the inscription as a date at all.
Firstly, he says the beam was found in the " Governor's house," a building known to have been erected in 1644.
Secondly, the figures are Arabic numerals which are believed not to have been used in Western Europe for three centuries after 947.
Thirdly, the letters are not Maeso-Gothic characters, but quite usual 16th or 17th century letters.
Then there is no reason for supposing that the inscription represents a date at all. It is much more probably a builder's or timber merchant's mark. This is a somewhat mournful conclusion, because the beam was cut up and made into several boxes. The original inscription still exists on the lid of one of them, which is, or was recently, in the possession of the Duke of Athol.
Perhaps this beam throws some light on the methods of making history. It appears to have been found in 1815. Before its discovery, the accepted date of the Castle was 960. But Train, who wrote after the discovery, had two dates to deal with, namely, the accepted 960 and the 947 on the beam. No doubt the coincidence of the figures on the beam representing a date so near to that already accepted was the reason for the enthusiastic welcome accorded to the discovery. All that Train had to do was to solve the reason of the very slight difference. This was so simple that the result is entered without remark, and we learn that the building was commenced in 947 and finished in 960.
In order to thoroughly clear the ground, another date ( ?) which has been quite recently discovered on the stone head of the doorway leading from the open court of the keep or inner ward to the North spiral staircase, may be considered.
This at all events has the advantage of being on stone. It is difficult to imagine that in a building where an unusually small amount of timber was used, a buried beam should have been used for the record of the date of commencement. But here we have marks cut into hard limestone, and that they have been there for many years is clear from the number of coats of whitewash with which they were covered, amounting to about threequarters of an inch in thickness. According to the light, the marks look like 1011 or IOM or IOH. They are worth further study, but the idea that they genuinely represent the date 1011 may be dismissed. In the first place, the Arabic numerals again appear before their time, and secondly, appear on a 14th century door head. Also it was, to say the least, very unusual to date buildings in the British Islands in the 11th century.
Whatever may be urged in favour of these supposed dates, we may dismiss them as having reference to any portion of the existing buildings. There may have been an earthwork fort on the same site at an early period, but probably the immediate predecessor of Castle Rushen was the Norman matte, the remains of which may be seen on the Halsall Trust land about a mile from the present Castle.
Having freed our minds of two very improbable dates, the field is clear for constructive study. The guides one would naturally choose, in the absence of reliable documentary evidence, are:-
1. The general history of Castle building in Great Britain.
2. The history of the Isle of Man.
3. The architectural character of the building in question.