[From Castle Rushen, Armitage Rigby, 1927]
LET us then glance shortly at the history of the Island during the five centuries preceding the death of Magnus. Those who have time to study this fascinating subject at length may be recommended to read Mr. A. W. Moore's " History of the Isle of Man."
During the latter part of the eighth century it seems to have become the fashion in Norway and Denmark for gentlemen of position to fit out small fleets wherewith to harry neighbouring countries.
It was no doubt an exciting, and, with luck, a healthy and profitable amusement; but stormy seas, dangerous uncharted rocks or the fortune of war too often terminated, in an unwelcome manner, what might have been a very pleasant cruise. However, in spite of, or because of its risks, the fashion lasted long, and the hardy Norsemen always on the look out for new lands to conquer and new heads to break came across our Island of Man, which from this time for about six hundred years seems to have been the cockpit of the Western seas.
For our present purpose we cannot do better than appropriate the first paragraph of chapter III in Mr. Moore's history. He writes as follows: " The history of the Isle of Man during the Scandinavian domination naturally divides itself into two main epochs-one before its conquest by Godred Crovan in 1079, and the other after it. The general character of the earlier epoch is that of storm and stress and unsettled rule, while that of the latter is decidedly more stable and peaceful.
" The first epoch may be subdivided into three periods. During the first of these, between about 800 and 880 A.D., the Vikings came to Man mainly for plunder; during the second, between about 880 and 990, when they settled in it, the island fell under the rule of the Scandinavian kings of Dublin; while during the greater part of the third, it was subject to the powerful Earls of Orkney."
Leaving the details of the first epoch of " storm and stress" to the more patient student, let us glance shortly at the second period. According to Mr. Moore, Godred Crovan in 1075 collected a number of ships and came to Man, where he gave battle to the natives but was defeated and forced to fly. He then collected another fleet with the same result. Finally, probably in 1079, he made a successful attack which is thus graphically described in the " Chronicon." (The chronicle written by the Monks of Rushen Abbey and called the " Chronicon Manniae "):-
" A third time he collected a numerous body of followers, came by night to the port called Ramsa, and concealed 300 men in a wood on the sloping brow of a hill called Scacafel (Skyhill). At daylight the men of Man drew up in order of battle, and, with a mighty rush, encountered Godred. During the heat of the contest the 300 men, rising from the ambuscade in the rear, threw the Manxmen into disorder and compelled them to fly. When the natives saw that they were overpowered, and had no means of escape (for the tide had filled the bed of the river Ramso, and on the other side the enemy was closely pursuing them), those who remained, with piteous cries, begged of Godred to spare their lives. Godred, yielding to feelings of mercy, and moved with compassion for their misfortune, for he had been brought up amongst them for some time, recalled his army and forbade further pursuit."
This Godred Crovan, a son of Harold the Black of Iceland, whose descendants ruled the Isle of Man almost without interruption for nearly two hundred years, was possibly the " King Orry" famous in Manx tradition. He died in 1095 in the Island of Islay, and after three years of very unsettled rule Magnus, King of Norway, surnamed Barefoot, having subdued the Northern Islands, anchored his fleet of 160 vessels off St. Patrick's Isle (Peel).
We read that he was so pleased with the fertility of the Isle of Man that "he chose it for his abode, erecting forts, which to this day (i.e., circa 1260) bear his name." It is on record that he so overawed the men of Galloway that he compelled them to cut timber and bring it to Man for the construction of forts.
Olaf, who succeeded Magnus (though there is a doubt as to whether he succeeded him directly), maintained " such close alliance with the kings of Ireland and Scotland that no one ventured to disturb the kingdom of the Isles during his time."
Under these circumstances it is probable that he held court either at Peel, near to his allies in Ireland, or at Ramsey, almost in sight of his Scotch friends, or alternately according to circumstances; and we find that when his three nephews came from Dublin, where they had been brought up " and demanded from the King one half of the whole kingdom of the Isles for themselves," that the adjourned meeting which ended so unfortunately for the King took place at the port called Ramsa.*"
Olaf is credited with founding the Cistercian Abbey of Rushen, though some historians put it rather earlier. Sacheverell says that " wisely weighing that religion and good education greatly soften the temper of a brutish and vicious people, he Anno 1134 gave the Abbey of Rushen, some years before begun by Mac Marus, to Evan, Abbott of Furness."
For many years previous to the founding of Rushen Abbey, the South of the Island does not seem to have had much political importance. Except for the statement that in the year 1079 Godred Crovan granted the Southern part of the Island to some of his followers who had helped him to conquer Man (from which we may assume that it was considered the most fertile part), the Southern half of the island is hardly mentioned. But the softening influence of the Monks was bound to tell in time, even if political considerations had not brought this district into prominence at the commencement of the next century, a prominence proudly maintained for nearly 700 years.
The three nephews of Olaf having disposed of their uncle, divided the Isles and set out to conquer Galloway. It is interesting to note that having had a bad time in Galloway they returned to Man and vented their rage by massacreing the Scotch settlers in the island.*
Fortunately at this juncture Olaf's son Godred II, who had been on a mission to Norway, arrived, and hearing of his father's murder promptly killed his three turbulent cousins. Besides assuming the kingship of the Isles he was elected king of Dublin, which he ruled for a short period from the Isle of Man, for which purpose Peel would make convenient headquarters, and though we do not know that he lived much at Peel, it is recorded that he died there.
In 1164 Godred was again absent in Norway, and his brother Reginald landed with a force at Ramsey, where he fought a battle against the Manx and began a reign which was unexpectedly ended in four days by the return of Godred, who mutilated him and deprived him of his sight.
Godred lived till 1187, when he " died in the island of St. Patrick in Man" (Peel), and was succeeded by Reginald, his eldest son, a man of war from his youth.
So far we have found that, during Scandinavian rule, all main events in Man took place at Peel and Ramsey, or at all events in the Northern part of the Island. We shall soon find that Rushen comes to the fore and resumes the important position she is said to have held some centuries previously.
Sir Spencer Walpole, in his " Land of Home Rule," tells us that the twelve Welsh princes who governed the Island from 517 to 913 resided, when in Man, " at Rushen, which from that early period became consequently the seat of government." It is quite natural that Rushen would be the seat of government during the rule of these Welsh kings, if such kings existed, because it contained the port most contiguous to their own country, but we have good grounds for supposing that it did not remain so continuously from that time, for we have seen that for considerable periods Peel and Ramsey apparently had that honour, and the court was probably moved from place to place according to the terms obtaining between the king and his neighbours over the sea; indeed, supposing Sir Spencer Walpole to be correct about the Welsh kings, the consideration which made Rushen the seat of government from 517 to 913-that is, contiguity with the country politically connected-operated in Scandinavian times in removing it to the North and West, and again in the 13th century in moving it back to the South owing to the rise of English influence.
We must remember that removing the Capital would be a comparatively simple matter in those days. A fortified enclosure with all necessary buildings could be erected in a few weeks, or even days.
The members of the Keys, or Taxiaxi, did not require a sumptuous chamber for their deliberations, but were no doubt well content with a bank of dry heather. The Tynwald Court was held in the open. A Rolls Office was unnecessary, for the laws of the Island were not reduced to writing until 1422. The contents of the armoury would probably be the most important Crown effects, and would easily be removed by sea.
In our own day we have seen the seat of government moved from Castletown to Douglas without much difficulty, and who shall say that a future generation will not see it moved back again.
It is not argued that the reason for the Northern ports being more important during the Scandinavian period was because they were nearer to Norway, for the difference of a few miles would not be considered in a voyage of such length, but because, during that period, Man was only part of the kingdom of the Isles, which consisted, besides Man, of the Western Hebrides and sometimes of portions of the North of Ireland and the South of Scotland, the coasts of which are plainly seen from the Northern parts of the Island. In those days of small and not very seaworthy boats, a sea voyage consisted where possible of a series of dashes from one island or port to the next resting place which lay approximately in the desired direction. Therefore unless some very decided reason, such as a bad landing place, existed, we should not expect them to unnecessarily double the length of sail from Galloway, for instance, to Man. With the exception of Dublin, Man was the most Southerly portion of the kingdom, so that the traffic lines from the Island would be chiefly northward and westward. Also the North and North-west coasts were far more suitable for landing purposes in the days when ships were run aground.
From Ramsey nearly to Peel there is a continuous stretch of rockless sandy beach, far more inviting in those days than the rock-bound coasts of the South. There was also on the North-west coast at that time a deep estuary where excellent shelter might be obtained.
But to return to Reginald, we find that, after some years of successful rule, he was led into an affair that roused the interest of England, a power which until this period seems to have taken little notice of the island lying so near to her shores. John de Courcy, Lord of Ulster, married Reginald's sister Aufrica. Also, according to Train, he probably used his influence in obtaining the crown of the Isles for Reginald. Reginald was therefore considerably indebted to him, and when in 1204 trouble arose between King John of England and de Courcy, it was to Reginald that the latter looked for assistance. This assistance, handsomely granted, entangled the Isle of Man in the mesh of English affairs. Reginald was sent for to do homage, and his obedience was rewarded by grants of land in Lancashire, and money.
From this time onward, though we find the Manx kings doing homage to Norway, when circumstances seemed to point that way, the influence of England was felt and had become a force to be reckoned with.
The East of Ireland had recently been conquered by England, and it was now impossible that an island, which had become a half-way house to one of England's most important possessions, should longer escape her constant attention.
Just 20 years after England's attention became seriously occupied with the affairs of Man, we find the first record of a fleet landing at Rannesway or Ronaldsway, and from this time we find that the Southern port usurps the important place hitherto held by those of the North and West.
It is at this period that we may expect to find the idea of a Castle in the South taking shape, and there is nothing architecturally impossible in assigning the original square tower of Rushen to this date.
On the strength of the foregoing facts it is submitted that the erection of the Castle took place in the period of 40 years between 1225 and 1265.
But perhaps the probable period may be still further reduced, for it seems likely that in 1228 the South was unprotected by a Castle, as it was the portion selected for a raid by Alan, Lord of Galloway, Thomas, Earl of Atholl, and Reginald the deposed King of Man, when they reduced the South of Man almost to a wilderness.
Again in the same year Reginald carried out another raid when he succeeded in burning all the ships of his brother, King Olaf II, and those of all the chiefs of Man, who were wintering at Peel. After this feat he sailed round to Ronaldsway, where he remained nearly 40 days. Though he was there on pretence of trying to make terms with Olaf, we may be sure that, after the little affair of the ships, he would hardly dare to anchor so near to a castle. Indeed he was spending his time there sowing sedition among the Islanders of the Southern parishes, and with their help he eventually attacked his brother, who had gathered the Northern inhabitants near Peel. Reginald and most of his followers were slain, and to add to the sorrows of the Southern port it was soon after raided by pirates and scarcely a single inhabitant left.
These happenings suggest that up to 1230 there was no important Castle in the South, and still later when King Olaf returned to his kingdom to die in 1237, he chose Peel for the purpose.
Harold, who succeeded him at the age of 14, was drowned at the age of 25. During his short life, however, he established solid peace with England and Scotland, and was knighted and laden with presents by King Henry.
Possibly this honour induced Sir Harold to begin the erection of a castle near the port at which further presents from his friend King Henry would arrive.
However this may be, there is some suggestion that Rushen was of importance in 1250, in the fact that Magnus, son of Olaf, landed there to prosecute his claim to the kingdom. Historically then, it seems probable that the Castle of Rushen was founded either by Harold or Magnus.
But the Norman matte on the outskirts of Castletown, previously mentioned, must be reckoned with. It has already been submitted that such castles were in use as late, at all events, as 1225 in England. It would seem then quite within the bounds of probability that young Harold, recognising the advisability of having a castle in the South, erected the matte, of which the outline may be plainly traced on the Halsall Trust land, and that Magnus commenced the erection of the stone castle about 1250.
[The following chapter or chapters, in which the author would have discussed the date of the Castle from architectural evidence, unfortunately remained unwritten. - But the following extract from his memoir on Castle Rushen, written for the visit to the Island of the R.S.A.I., July 1910, gives in a few words his conclusions on the question of date:-
" In studying the building, it should be carefully borne in mind that it now represents four main periods.
1. The old square tower, probably built about the middle of the 13th century, and partly destroyed by Robert Bruce in 1313. The remains of this tower formed the nucleus of the Castle of the next period.
2. The 14th century Castle, incorporating the old tower, probably built by Sir William de Monacute about 1344.
3. The Castle, as further fortified for protection against cannon, said to have been done by Cardinal Wolsey early in the 16th century.
4. The Castle domesticated by the erection of the Derby House in the main ward and alterations to the sally port, etc. Since the fourth period the Castle has been used as a prison and lunatic asylum, and was considerably altered for these purposes. The restoration consisted largely in removing recent additions and restoring parts altered to fit the buildings for the above uses, so that the effects of this period being practically obliterated, it need not be taken into consideration."]
* This meeting was so characteristic of the times that its description in the "Chronicle" is worth repeating:-" When the day and place for holding a meeting had been agreed upon, these most wicked men spent the interval in planning the death of the King. On the appointed day both parties met at the port called Ramsa and sat down in order, the king and his followers on one side, and they with theirs on the other; Reginald the second brother, who was to give the fatal blow, stood apart, speaking to one of the chiefs for the country. On being summoned to approach the King, he, turning to him, as if in the act of saluting raised his gleaming battle-axe on high, and at a blow cut off the King's head."
* See " Chronicon Manniae" (Munch), pp. 66-67.
Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society Proceedings, New Series, Vol. 1, No. 7, p. 342.