[From The Runic and other Remains, 1857]
WE have distinct evidence from the Chronicon Manniae, the Irish Annals and the Norse Sagas, that the Danes and Norwegians occupied the Isle of Man from the end of the ninth to the latter part of the thirteenth century, or nearly four hundred years.
Harald Haarfager (the fair haired) having made himself supreme in Norway, extended his power to the Orkneys and the Sudoer, Sodor or Sudreyjar (i. e. Southern Islands); and in the year A. D. 888, having seized on the Isle of Man, left as his Viceroy or Jarl one Ketil Bjornson (sunr-bjarnar), with a body of Northmen. Ketil shortly after declared himself independent, and for a few years ruled in Man and a portion of the Sudreyjar.
He was succeeded by his son Helgi and grandson Thorstein; but the native chiefs rising in rebellion, Thorstein was expelled A. D. 894, and in his place was appointed one Nial or Niel, to whom succeeded in A. D. 914 his nephew Anlaf or Olave.
But about six years after, Gorrey or Orrey (Erik ?), a Dane, having conquered the Orcades and Hebrides, arrived on the shores of Man " with a fleet of strong ships," and landed at the Lhane in the north of the island. To him the Manx are indebted for the Scandinavian character of their legal institutions. He (it is said) established the Insular Parliament of the lower house, or, as it is at present called, the House of Keys, so named (I believe) from the Manx words Keare-as-feed, i. e. four and twenty, King Orrey having appointed that this should be the number of Taxiaxi or members: viz. " eight for the out isles and sixteen for the land of Man ;" the island perhaps originally being divided into sixteen parishes. He also divided the island into six sheadings or shires, which division still exists, and a coroner is appointed for each. He established also the Meeting of Tynwald (Thingavoller), continued to the present day; indeed, it is one of the strongest proofs of the influence of the Northmen in this territory, and the permanence and excellence of their institutions, that, as Professor Worsaae remarks, " The last remains of the old Scandinavian Thing, which for the protection of public liberty was held in the open air in presence of the assembled people, and conducted by the people's chiefs and representatives, are to be met with not in the North itself, but in a little island far towards the west, and in the midst of the British kingdom." See " The Danes and Northmen,"" &c.
Guttred, the son of Orrey, is named as the founder of Castle Rushen, the likeness of which to the Danish Castle of Elsinore has been noticed by some authors; the only other buildings of note upon the island (Peel Castle and Rushen Abbey) are also the work of the Northmen.
The battle of Largs (Oct. 3, 1263), in which Alexander the Third of Scotland so completely broke up the expedition of Haco, placed the Isle of Man at the mercy of the Scottish monarch; and Magnus, the then King of Man, despairing of help from Norway, met Alexander at Dumfries, did homage to him, and obtained a charter to hold the island from the crown of Scotland. He died on the 24th of Nov. 1265, being the ninth and last of the Norwegian race of Godard Crovan, which for nearly three hundred years had held the sceptre of the Isle as viceroys to the monarch of Norway. The following year Magnus VI. of Norway ceded to the King of Scotland and his heirs the Isle of Man and the Hebrides, the composition to be paid by the King of Scotland being fixed at 4000 marks sterling, in four yearly payments of 1000 marks each, and an annual pension (called by the Norwegians a tribute) of 100 marks per annum.
After so long an occupation by the Northmen, we shall not be surprised to find a very large number of the monumental remains on the island bearing distinct evidence of Scandinavian workmanship. In point of fact the number far exceeds, relatively to the area occupied by them, those found in any other portion of the British isles. There are at least forty crosses, whole or fragmentary, the greater portion of them, if not the whole, bearing the true Scandinavian type, and nearly half that number containing Scandinavian inscriptions in the ancient Norse language and in Runic characters.
It is highly probable that as the first Danish invaders were heathen worshippers of Odin and Thor, or people only just emerging from heathenism into Christianity, they would for some time continue the mode of sepulture common to their fore fathers, and the stone circle and " bauta stene" would mark their burying grounds We have, in fact, many such memorials in the Isle of Man: I could name at least a dozen stone circles still existing in the three southern parishes of the Island, which have come under my more immediate notice. Yet, as the aboriginal inhabitants, prior to their conversion to Christianity by St. Patrick in A. D. 444, had also used nearly the same modes of burial, it would not be safe to attribute these remains altogether to the Northmen. Hence, though Professor Munch has conjectured some of the Runic crosses to be of the ninth century, I hardly feel disposed to allow to them a much earlier date than the middle of the tenth century, or about the reign of Guttred, the founder of Castle Rushen, at which time we find from the Chronicles of Rushen, Rolwer or Rolf (an evident Norwegian) Bishop of the Isle. That they had, however, at least respected Christianity, appears from the statement of the same chronicle, which, though giving Rolwer as the first name in the catalogue of bishops, adds, that previously " there was doubtless a true succession.
Of the very early date of these crosses there can be no doubt, when we take into consideration the date at which the Northmen were expelled the Isle, the form of the crosses which then were introduced, as instanced at Kirk Maughold and Rushen Abbey, the different styles of the Scandinavian crosses themselves, and the change in language and Runic writing' which is also found on them. The fact, also, that many of these monuments have been found built in the walls of old churches, and even of Peel Cathedral, which was finished in the thirteenth century, points to the same conclusion.
It is somewhat singular that of the twenty-six crosses etched by Kinnebrook, twenty-five are from eleven of the more northerly parishes of the Island, and only one is from the six more southerly parishes. Professor Worsaae has hence concluded that at the time these stones were erected the Scandinavian language and influence was the most prevalent in the northern part of the Island. This is not strictly correct; for, in reality, the northern district of the Island, whether taken naturally or civilly, contains only eight parishes; and the nine southerly parishes afford, even according to Kinnebrook, thirteen examples of these Scandinavian monuments, i. e. one half of those which he has drawn, to which I have been enabled to add six.
The fact is, that about thirty years ago several of the old parish churches in the northern portion of the Island were pulled down and new ones erected, and some of these monuments were then discovered built into the walls of the old churches. About six years ago, when the Church of St. John the Baptist was pulled down, three, if not four, of these monuments, were found in the old walls, of which only one has been preserved; and it is not unlikely that in the other parish churches of the south of the Island (German, Braddan, Santon, Malew, Arbory and Rushen) there may be several of these Runic monuments concealed in the buildings.
The influence also of the Abbey of Rushen in the south of the Island, connected as it was with Furness Abbey, in Lancashire, and always exerting (and in the end successfully) a Roman against the Scandinavian supremacy, must be taken into consideration.
The chief object of the monks of Rushen, from the earliest times, appears to have been to get the Manx bishops consecrated at York instead of Trondhjem.
Drawings of two of the Manx crosses have been given in the fourth volume of the Archaeological Journal; one from Braddan and the other from Kirk Michael, but without any distinct and particular account of them. Mr. Kinnebrook etched the greater portion of those scattered throughout the Island, but he has only given one face of them, and much of the intricate ornamentation is very indistinctly drawn; nor were the runes at that time clearly made out. His work is now out of print.
There is no doubt that had earlier attention been paid to these remains, we should now be in possession of a much larger series. Many have been destroyed, and others carried off the Island. Mr. Townley in his journal records as a wonderful and praiseworthy feat, that he rescued one of them from its ignominious position by the way-side, and bore it off in his carriage. Two have been taken to the Museum at Distington, near Whitehaven, and I have not been able to discover anywhere the Leif cross, a cast of the inscription of which, made by Mr. Balley, is in the possession of Sir Henry Dryden, at Canons Ashly. Another cast of the same inscription is in the Museum of the Archaeological Society, London, and another, I believe, in Edinburgh.
With regard to these crosses generally, I would observe that they appear to have been solely sepulchral memorials. There are none of them to which we can refer any political event. There are no representations of battle scenes, or the making of treaties. The inscriptions, of which we have eighteen, simply state that A. B. erected this cross to C. D. his father, mother, wife, brother,&c. In one or two instances the maker of the cross has also recorded his name. On one the cause of death is mentioned, and on another it is said, that A. B. erected it to C. D. for the good of his soul, or as a meritorious act. We do not, however, find on any of them the request so common on the Irish monuments, for a prayer for the repose of the soul of the departed. It will, perhaps, be a matter of dispute whether the strange figures of animals carved upon these monuments (animals for the most part of domestic use or the chase) were intended as mere ornaments, or as indicating the trade or occupation of the deceased. In some instances these animals are used distinctly as terminal ornaments to knot work, or are mixed up with and form part of it. In others, again, we have the representation of hunting scenes, of men and women on horseback, and assemblages of animals, such as would be found in any ordinary farm yard. We have also musical instruments and weapons of war.
The material of which the crosses are made is, generally speaking, the ordinary clay schist of the Island. There are one or two of a metamorphic rock, approaching to gneiss, and there is one at Kirk Bride (of doubtful age) of red sandstone, probably a block found in the northern drift. The tools with which the workmen wrought appear to have been of the rudest character. In only two instances is the stone fashioned into the form of a cross. What should be straight lines are very far from straight; those which should be parallel are divergent, and the circles are far from round. The knot-work is ill finished, and not to be compared with that on English, Irish, or Scotch examples.
With two exceptions, they all contain a glory about the cross, or its place is represented by holes; even in the two exceptions there is still a circle. In two cases a cross forms the termination of knot-work at the junction of the arms.
We are indebted to Professor Munch for the determination of the Manx Runic alphabets (for there are two, regarded by him as older and later) used in the inscriptions The difficulty of interpretation is in a great measure owing to the varieties in the spelling of words. Even the common word " aftir" is written efter, aftir, aft, and af, and they appear to have been deficient in the runes representing ordinarily h and y or final r. The runes are, generally speaking, inscribed on the edge of the stone, from the bottom upward. In one case the inscription is at the back of the cross, and in five others on the face. In the Thurith cross at Kirk Onchan we have inscriptions on the back and front, written up and down, and one of them containing the name Jesu Christ. I have before observed that the age of these crosses must lie between A. D. 888 and 1266. They are probably of the latter part of the tenth, the eleventh, and twelfth centuries. They are thus, generally speaking, older than the Irish crosses to which any date can be distinctly assigned. There is a mixture in them of Scottish and Irish types, and so they belong to what is called the Hiberno-Scottish School. When we consider the close connection existing for so long a time between the Danes in Ireland and those in the Isle of Man, we might readily anticipate such a resemblance, but it would not be safe to infer that the Manx cross-makers had borrowed from the Irish, as there is no evidence to establish the priority in point of time of the Irish crosses. The beautiful knot-work for which they are remarkable is no doubt found in Irish MSS. to which a much earlier date is assigned; but it is a kind of ornament which would suggest itself readily to any seafaring people such as the Danes and Norwegians, and in the Manx crosses there are some forms of ornament which have never been found in Irish crosses or MSS. or on the beautiful Scotch monuments which approach more closely to the Manx type.
In reference to the scale-covered animals on three, if not four, of the Manx crosses, they seem to me a development of the knot-work or cable. In the Harper cross of Kirk Michael (Plate XI. fig. 28) we find the cable running round the edge finished off at one end with a head, and at the other sharpened off into a pointed tail. In several of the crosses we find the intertwisted ribbon or cable studded with pellets, sometimes round, at others lozenge-shaped. The pelletted ribbon on the Ballaugh cross (Plate I. fig. 2) only requires a head and tail to become the scale-covered snake or sea-serpent of the edge of the large Dragon cross of Braddan (Plate VIII. fig. 22). The figures generally presumed to represent dragons, appear to me rather as monstrous fish entangled in the meshes of a net.
On a general review of these monumental remains, we may say that they are truly "sui generic;" they have their exact counterparts nowhere else. If any existed in Iona, they have altogether disappeared; those which do exist there, as far as they can be made out, are of a later date, if we except two which have been presumed to be Irish. See Graham's Iona, plates xx. and xxv.
This at least is evident from these remains, that amongst those sons of the North, whose chief delight seems to have been in war and rapine, there existed also some of the finer feelings of human nature and an appreciation of what was elegant in art. They had a taste for music and sculpture, and the arts of peace were not altogether neglected by them. Along with representations of the deer and the hunting dogs found on their monuments we meet with rude attempts at portraying oxen, goats and sheep, swine and poultry, and the harp is placed alongside of the sword. They seem to have embraced Christianity sincerely, and to have practised it earnestly, though, as far as we have any evidence, they must have received it in the Isle of Man from a conquered race.