[from Land of Home Rule, 1893]



DURING the many centuries which had passed from the legendary age of Mananan Beg to the final predominance of the English, the rulers of the little Island of Man had frequently played a great part, but its people can have rarely enjoyed any real prosperity. The island was in turns wasted by the attacks of its enemies and the exactions of its own kings. The blood of its people was shed in expeditions to Ireland or to Western Scotland, in which they had no direct concern, or in civil struggles between rival candidates for its throne, who, whether they succeeded or failed, were equally insensible to the true interests of their subjects. In such circumstances the island became a desolate waste. Its inhabitants, lodged in miserable dwellings, gained a precarious livelihood from the imperfect cultivation of its soil, or from an intermittent prosecution of its fisheries. Trade languished, or rather degenerated into piracy, and the island became — as the first Edward described it, "desolata et multis miseriis occupata."

Such a state of things was fatal to the cause of freedom. The traditions of the Tynwald still survived among the people; the Taxiaxi, or Keys, were still remembered ; but it seems probable that for many centuries Tynwalds were held at only distant intervals, and that the Keys were never chosen at all. "Also we give for law" — so the Legislature could declare in 1422, when the Stanleys had already been nearly twenty years in possession — " that there were never twenty-four Keys in certainty, since they were first that were called Taxiaxi; those were twenty-four free-houlders, viz., eight in the out isles and sixteen in your land of Mann ; and that was in King Orrye's days ; but since they have not been in certainty." Centuries of misrule had forced the Legislature itself to acknowledge that its own constitution was a thing of doubt.

But while the land decayed, and government forgot its true functions, one class maintained and increased its superiority. The Manx, before their conversion, had been a superstitious people; and ignorant nations do not easily put off the old superstitions when they put on the dress of a new religion. Priestcraft had been the foundation of the old Druidical power Priestcraft was practised by the Christian missionaries, who scattered their cabbals and keeills through every parish in the island. These were the days, be it recollected, when even in large countries the power of Rome was at its height ; when men, at the preaching of a Roman monk, repaired in thousands to lay down their lives in a crusade against the Mussulman, or sought to purchase happiness in another world by devoting on their deathbeds their property in this world to the Church. These were the days when a dread of the consequences of ecclesiasticism inspired in England the legislation of a second Henry and a first Edward; and in the little island in the Irish Sea, every Bishop was a Becket, and no ruler had hitherto proved himself a Henry. The Church accordingly was able to grasp the property and devour the substance of the people. Bitterly as they suffered from the foreign expeditions and civil warfare of successive sovereigns, they probably laboured more severely under the grasping exactions of their spiritual chiefs.

The Church had succeeded in obtaining a large portion of the land in its own hands. The barons of Man, in the old days, seem to have been exclusively composed of ecclesiastics, resident and non-resident. The Bishop, the Abbot of Rushen, the Prioress of Douglas, the Prior of Whithorne in Galloway, the Abbot of Furnace (Furness), the Abbot of Bangor, the Abbot of Saball, the Prior of St. Beade (St. Bees) are mentioned in a statute 1of 1422 as the Barons of the island.2 The Abbey of Rushen alone is computed to have possessed 99½. quarterlands, sixty-six mills, and seventy-seven Abbey cottages;3 and the Abbot's territorial possessions were small compared with his other powers. "The Abbot, in right of his lands, was authorised to hold 'courts leet and baron,' in which his seneschal or steward sat as chief judge. . . . . If an Abbey tenant committed a capital crime, and was committed for the same in the Lord's court, the steward of the Abbey lands could annul the sentence, and challenge the criminal from thence, to have his trial and confiscation in the Abbey court." 4 But the power of the Abbot was less than that of the Bishop. Even in Tudor times, when he had been shorn of much of his authority, the Bishop had a seat in the Council, in the Court of Chancery, and in the Court of Exchequer. But, in addition to these privileges, he had the right of appointing two judges of his own — Vicars-General — who had jurisdiction in all ecclesiastical affairs, and in all matters relating to wily, the administration of the debts of dead persons, the effects of minors, and alimony. The Vicars-General, though frequently called on to decide the nicest legal questions, were almost always clergymen : they had the power of punishing the slightest offence by imprisonment in the Bishop's or ecclesiastical prison. The Bishop had his own gallows and jurisdiction of life and limb.5

In fact, during the frequent absence of the sovereign or his deputy, the Bishop had become the most important personage in the island. Like the other great ecclesiastical dignitaries, he was bound to do homage to the King, and even to hold the King's stirrup when the King mounted at Tynwald.6 But these occasional functions did not detract from his position or influence. So lately as the middle of the eighteenth century, indeed, no one was allowed to approach the Bishop except on his knees; and the parish clerk was subject to severe punishment if he neglected to ring the bells of the parish church when the Bishop happened to pass through the parish.7

The power which Bishop and Church had obtained had been derived from many sovereigns, but was chiefly due to the policy of Olave Kleining and Magnus. The former of these sovereigns had granted the lands on which Rushen Abbey had been built, and with which it had been endowed ; the latter had given the Island of Peel, with all its appurtenances, and the village of Killcrast (the parish of Kirk Christ, Lezayre) to the Bishop. Olave, too, had transferred the appointment of the Bishop to "the Church of the Blessed Mary of Furness," and had thus deprived the secular power of all voice in the election of the spiritual lord of the island. Magnus gave the Bishop " all kinds of mines of lead and iron that may be discovered" in the island; and endowed him with authority of life and limb.8

But, if the Church owed much to the gifts of the sovereign, it owed still more to the exactions of its own rulers. The written laws of the island only date from the fifteenth century, but the written laws of the Manx Church carry us back to a period nearly two centuries earlier. Bishop Simon is usually known as the founder of the Cathedral of St. Germans, and the visitors who flock in their tens of thousands to Peel are all familiar with the memorial-stone which has been placed over the remains supposed to be those of this prelate. But the Bishop deserves much more to be remembered for the Synodal Statutes of 1229, which contain about as an elaborate a scheme of taxation as the wit of prelate or statesman ever devised.

By these statutes a fee of thirty-two pence was payable to the Bishop on the proving of each will ; the effects of an intestate were directed to be administered by the Bishop or the Vicar-General. The best animal of the deceased was payable to the Church as a funeral due; and, in addition, the Church had the choice of the deceased's clothes, or a fee of three shillings and sixpence. If the man's estate was insufficient for these payments, his garments of every sort were to be taken, and every fifth penny from his free goods ; and his executor,9 when in possession of sufficient effects, was to pay the mortuary, or to forfeit one fifth penny of his free goods. The executor also was to satisfy all claims of the priest, the clerk, and the Church. If a man or woman died without effects, the next of kin were to satisfy priest and clerk.

In addition to this taxation on the dead, Bishop Simon's statutes contained minute regulations for the payment of tithes on grain, on dairy produce, on bullocks, calves, swine, geese, and chickens, and for the taxation of weavers for the benefit of the Church. His successor, Mark, improved this fiscal machinery. Driven from the island by the discontent of the people, he succeeded in getting it placed under an interdict, and on his return, in consideration of the interdict being removed, exacted a fine of one penny from every house with a fireplace. The original fine was probably grievous enough, but the Church succeeded in converting a special fine into a customary grant; for the old Manx chronicle adds that this grant is still made to every succeeding Bishop returning from the Isles.10

"From Marcus to Bishop Duncan, who died in 1380," so wrote Mr. Mackenzie,11 "was the triumphant century of the Papacy in Man. Regal and popular opposition suppressed; . . . clerical synods making forty-five new canons to govern themselves and the laity ; tithes extorted from the rectors of parishes, and not only from all natives, but also from aliens at the herring-fishing ; twenty shillings extorted as procuration from the churches of Man.12

At the time of the accession of the House of Stanley, the Church had the tithe of all corn, hay, lambs, calves, colts, geese, poultry, eggs, fish — whether caught on the coasts or at sea — wool, honey, butter, cheese, and other commodities. The farmer was not allowed to haul corn or hay without notice to the proctor ; the parson was permitted to stack the tithe corn in the husbandman's haggard. The Church claimed, in lieu of a tithe on ale, certain "pottles" of ale at each brewing. Most of the tithe was easily collected. Some of it, like the tithe on butter and cheese, was more easily evaded. The law required that twenty-four hours' milking should be set apart in every month from May to October. 13 The tithe cheese or butter was to be delivered to the parson in church; and the clergy insisted on its payment on the Sabbath-day, and upon the altar. This "indecent order," as it was called in the seventeenth century, led to "great contentions" between the ministers and proctors on the one part, and the people on the other part, the people being put to their oaths on trivial matters. But there was a still more "indecent and irreverent use by the proctor and clergy when they collect these small tithes and offering money at Easter ; they demand the same at the time when the people are to receive the communion, and sometimes will stop the people from receiving the blessed sacrament because they have not paid these duties." 14

These, however, were some of the more regular exactions of the Church. All men of occupation (except apprentices), " of whatsoever science they be," were required to pay a tithe of twopence a year. When a man married a woman with goods, the clergy claimed that they ought to have certain moneys of such marriage goods in lieu of tithe. When man or woman having property died, the clergy claimed a corse present of twenty shillings. The executors had further to surrender the best beast or horse the deceased possessed, or to pay a fine of six shillings, The clergy had the option of taking the dead person's best clothes, or three shillings and fourpence in money. When a child died, unable from its years to make a will, his property could not pass to his brothers and sisters without a fine of three shillings and fourpence to the Church. No one was allowed to make a will without the help of a clergyman. The clergy commonly charged a shilling for writing it. No one could prove a will without paying two shillings and eightpence to the Bishop. 15

So much for the clergy. The parish clerk, in his turn, had his right to his wages, fourpence on every plough, or, when the parishioner had no plough, one penny on his chimney. He was entitled to a corse present of twenty-one pence on the death of every man, and of seventeen pence on the death of every woman. His silver on the south side of the island was twelve pence, and on the north side fifteen pence. And if man or woman died, and the estate was insufficient to pay the clerk's silver, the next of kin were liable, "because if the party which departed were wealthy and made no will, they should be his executors." 16

Ecclesiastical discipline was enforced with the utmost rigour, and the clergy had a pecuniary interest in enforcing it. " It hath been accustomed the ordinary to take for every citation sixpence, for every suspension one and sixpence, and for excommunication two and sixpence; and, if the excommunicated will not appear, it hath been used to send for a soldier to bring the offender to the Bishop's prison ; also, when any great offence is worthy excommunication, then the ordinary hath been used to take for the excommunication, absolution, and receiving all such persons into the Church again, ten shillings."17

These powers were not nugatory. In every parish there were four wardens, whose duty it was to keep order in church and to keep the church fences in repair. In addition to the wardens, there were sumners, with a sumner-general at their head, who were the officers of the Consistorial Courts, who collected the tithes, and who were required on Sundays to stand at the church doors during divine service and whip away the dogs. More than three centuries afterwards, when many of these gross abuses had been reformed, Lord Chancellor King declared that, if the ancient discipline of the Church was lost, it might be found in all its purity in the Isle of Man. 18 It may be charitably hoped that Lord Chancellor King had only a superficial acquaintance with the discipline which he was pleased to mark with his approval.

Thus, when the House of Stanley succeeded to the throne of their little kingdom of Man, the striking feature in the island was the weakness of the civil and the strength of the ecclesiastical government. The Church had its written laws; the State could not show a written document. The Church had its synods; the State had suffered its Tynwald to drop into disuse. The Church levied its regular exactions; the State in all probability had no revenue except the rents which the Lord received from his tenants. It was evident that the first functions of any good government were to restore the institutions of the State, and at the same time to curb the intolerable pretensions of the Church.

The first stroke was already prepared. In the fourteenth century the Bishops had been elected by the Abbey of Rushen. In the grants to the Percys and the Stanleys they were expressly given the patronage of the bishopric. This gift was very noteworthy. Selden, writing two centuries later, says that the patronage of a bishopric is such a special mark of royalty in a subject as hath not at this day, nor for divers ages hath had, any [other] example in any territory of the crown of England.19

But the transfer of the patronage of the See had a deeper significance. The new rulers could take care that men should be chosen subservient to their authority. It was indispensable for the State, in the contest which it was about to enter upon, that the Church should not be represented by prelates expressly chosen to resist the civil power.

And it so happened that the family to whom the crown had been granted was one identified with the cause of Government and opposed to the pretensions of Rome. Sir John Stanley was one of the foremost persons in the court of Henry IV. His marriage with the heiress of Lathorn had increased his influence and wealth, and few men stood higher in their sovereign's estimation. His reputation was so high, however, that he was required for more important work than the government of Man, and, as a matter of fact, he was forced to pass much of his time in Ireland, of which he was three times made Lord Lieutenant. In these circumstances it cannot positively be affirmed that he ever came to the island ; but he seems to have chosen as his deputy one Michael Blundell, a man apparently of some originality, since lie was the first to reduce the laws which were made to writing.20

It was not, however, till after the death of Sir John Stanley in 1413 or 1414, and the accession of his son, another Sir John, that serious steps were taken to remedy the gross evils which resulted from the predominance of the Church and the decay of the civil powers. In 1417 Sir John crossed over to the island, and on his departure left two commissioners — Thurstan de Tyldesley and Roger Haysnap — to whom he delegated his full powers, constituting them auditors to examine all the accounts of "all myn officers, mynestres, and servants," authorising them "to here and to determyn" all manner of treasons, felonyes, and offences, "as well at myn awne sute as at the sute of parties;" and declaring "firm and stabull" whatever they might order or do ; and he further commanded his lieutenant, the bishop, the abbots, the deemsters, barons, and all other loyall and true men, to be attendant and obedient to the foresaid Thurstan and Roger, upon the payne that hereto falls. Armed with this commission, Thurstan and Roger summoned the Deemsters and the twenty-four Keys, and made an indenture with them abolishing at one stroke the right of sanctuary. Thenceforward, if any one committed treason, felony, or other offence, and fled from the land of the Lord to the liberties of the barons, he rnight be required to return to take his trial; and if any of the barons retained the offender on pretext of his or her liberty, or from any other cause whatever, "he shall forfeit to the Lord for every such offence of retention, sixty shillings, and shall answer for the body of the aforesaid transgressor at the prison of the Lord of Man, and this under penalty of forfeiture of all his liberties possessed in Man."21

This indenture 22 effectually asserted the superiority of the civil power. The great ecclesiastical barons were deprived by it of the privilege of sheltering transgressors against the Lord. Sir John Stanley, however, thought that he would effect his purpose still better if he did something to impress the people, and he accordingly asked the Deemsters and Keys to lay down minute regulations for the conduct of the Lord at Tynwald. Their answer is memorable. The Lord was to come thither in royal array, as a king ought to do. He was to sit upon the Hill of Tynwald on a chair covered with a royal cloth and cushions, with his visage to the east, his sword before him, holden with the point upward. And " the Chief Coroner shall make affence upon paine of life and lyme that noe man shall make any disturbance in the time of Tynwald, or any murmur or rising in the King's presence upon paine of hanging and drawing." The barons who had not already done so were to make their "faith and fealtie;" the commoners were to show their charters how they hold of you ; and if any of the barons were out of the land, they were to have the space of forty days, "and to make faith and fealtie, if wind and weather served them, or else to cease their temporalities into your hands."

And these provisions were no empty form. In 122 Sir John Stanley was again in the island, and held a Tynwald on the Vigil of our Lady St. Mary (24th March) at Castle Rushen, and at Kirk Michael, upon the Hill of Reneurling, in November. The legislation adopted at the first court will be immediately considered. The second court was held in special circumstances. A few weeks before, John Walton, the Lieutenant of the island, had been sitting in court at Kirk Michael, when one Hawley M 'Issacke, with others, rose upon Walton to kill him, and "did beat and misuse the Lieutenant's men." Some of M'Issacke's accomplices seem to have declared that they would put down the Lieutenant and the laws of the land ; and it may be inferred, therefore, that the rebellion, if the word is not too large for the theatre, was prompted by a dislike of the new rule, that the men who were charged with it had fled for sanctuary to the heart of the Bishop's liberty ; and that they were probably sheltered by the Bishop. At any rate, Stanley decided on proving once for all the strength of the new civil power which he had virtually created. In summoning a Tynwald upon the Hill of Reneurling, he ventured into the neighbourhood of the rising and the territory of the Bishop. He opened the proceedings by compelling the Bishop himself, the Abbot of Rushen, and the Prioress of Douglas, to do him fealty, and by calling on the absentee barons to come in their proper persons within forty days, and, if they come not, to lose all their temporalities; and he then, with the aid of the Deemster, proceeded to try M'Issacke and his accomplices, and adjudged them to be drawn, hanged, beheaded, and quartered ; one quarter to be set upon the Castle Tower over the Burne, another quarter at Halland Towee (Holme Town or Peel), the third quarter to be set at Ramsey, and the fourth at Douglas.23

These prompt and strong measures proved that the civil power had regained its superiority, and that it was prepared to repress and punish any revolt against its authority. And the same thing was plain from the code of laws which were enacted during the same year. Some of these merely amplified the indenture which had already been concluded abolishing the right of sanctuary; others of them specified the offences which constituted an act of treason ; others of them defined the form of out-lawry, forbade the return of the outlaw to the island, and prevented the Bishop, Abbot, or other baron from sheltering the outlaw. Others, again, made violence on the King's highway a capital offence; others regulated the payment of rents, and prescribed the duties of the King's tenants in providing his garrisons or carrying his turf; others directed watch and ward to be kept through the island, prescribed the arms that the soldier should carry, and forbade the introduction of women into the Lord's castles at Castletown and Peel. But the laws of most significance were those which regulated the government on the one hand, and those which curbed the power of the Church on the other.

On the first point it was now declared that "without the Lord's will none of the twenty-four Keys to be."25 In other words, the Lord was given a veto on the choice of each Key ; and for 440 years after this law was enacted this veto was exercised. On a vacancy occurring in the House, the Keys nominated two men to the Lord or the Lieutenant, and the Lord or the Governor selected one of the two. The Lord thus obtained and exercised authority in the constitution of the lower branch of the Legislature. At the same time the Lieutenant was invested, as the Lord's representative, with the full authority of the Lord. The Council and Deemsters were to aid the Lieutenant in all cases of difficulty. Sworn officers were made liable to a penalty of £3 for revealing the Lord's counsel. They were to " be true principally to the Lord and the laws of the land, to be governed duely and truely betwixt the Lord and his commons, and betwixt party and party, without rigour, fraud, or colour." And the Deemsters were to "give their judgments at their perills, saving ever the Lord's prerogatives." 26 And, in order to settle the law, proceedings were in future to be reduced to writing by the " Clearke of the Rowles," who was to write all things plain in full letters, that if any like cause come another time, it may be of remembrance in the Treasury. 27 By a subsequent statute, in 1429, trial by combat was abolished, and it was directed that matters be determined by God and the country instead of by prowess. 28

Still more striking were the restrictions on the Church. By abolishing the right of sanctuary, civil offenders had already been brought under the civil power. By the 31st article of the Code of 1422 clerical offenders were made liable to heavy penalties for offences against the Lord's officers. The sumner, the chief officer of the Church, was to levy the fines; but, if he failed to do so, the Lord's officers were authorised to "goe in and take distresse." At the same time the Bishop and Abbot were forbidden to receive any stranger within their houses without the knowledge of the Lieutenant, and the Abbot from sheltering monk or priest without license from the Lord.

The legislation which has thus shortly been described is remarkable for the courage which inspired it in the age in which it was promulgated, for in 1422 the Church of Rome was still at the height of its power. In England sanctuary still existed; clerical offenders were not liable to be tried by the civil power ; monasteries were unreformed; and no one had ventured to interfere with their right to shelter strangers. And yet, in his little kingdom of Man, which had not been vested in his family for a generation, and in which the Church had hitherto exercised a predominant sway, Stanley anticipated the legislation which was only carried in England in later centuries. His laws afford striking evidence that he was both wise and bold, and that he left an enduring mark on the island of which he was the autocratic sovereign.


1 In addition to the Religious Orders, whose superiors were barons, the Friary of Bymaken had been founded in Kirk Arbory by William, de Montacute in 1367. The lands given to the Order did not form a separate manor, but were part of the lands of the manor of Man, which was held by the Lord, and to him was payable in respect of them am annual quit-rent of twenty shillings (Sir J, Gell, in Manx Society Publications, vol. xii. p. 54), The Friary still give; its name to a farm at Arbory, and the ruins of the old building may still he seen there.

2 Manx Statutes, vol. i. p. 20

3 Feltham, Tour in Man, p. 272.

4 Train, vol. ii. Pp. 2, 3.

5 Train, pp. 12, 13

6 Ibid., vol. ii. p. 15.

7 Ibid., p. 16.

8 Manx Soc. Pub., vol. iii. pp. 141-143.

9 The Gilbogus, or the Gillie Bogus, the servant or representative of the deceased,

10 Manx Soc. Pub., vol. ix. pp. 176-201, and vol. xxii. P. 117

11 Ibid., vol. iii. p. 144.

12 The Manx Chronicle says that Thomas, a Scotchman, who died in 1348, was the first Bishop who " exacted from the churches of 'Man twenty shillings (solidos) for visitation clues ; " and " also the first who exacted from the parochial rectors tithes received by them from strangers engaged in the herring-fishing" (Manx Soc. Pub., vol, xxii. p. 119).

13 Where the farmer made neither butter nor cheese, he was to pay twopence for every milk cow, one penny for every fallow cow, twopence for every eight sheep, and twopence for every four goats (Statutes of the Isle of Man, vol. i. p. 42).

14 Ibid., p. 97

15 Statutes of the Isle of Man, vol, i. pp. 29, 30, 45, 94

16 Ibid., vol. i. p. 45-3

17 Ibid,, p. 46.

18 Feltham, Tour in Man, Manx Soc. Pub., vii. 95.

19 Selden's Titles of Honour, quoted in Manx Soc. Pub., vol. iv. p. 110.

20 " And as to the writing of laws, there was never any written since King Orrye's days, but in the time of Michael Blundell, that we have knowledge of." Statutes, Isle of Man, vol, i. p. ii.

21 Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i. p. 3. The indenture is dated 18th January 1417. In modern style it should plainly be 1418. The date of the old year was commonly carried on in official documents till the following Lady Day.

22 The form which this law takes is remarkable. It is not a statute, but an indenture, The Legislature had so far declined that Roger and Thurstan could hardly appeal to it to declare the law. Instead of doing so, they made an indenture (an agreement) with the heads of the Church,

23 There is some reason for thinking that the barony of St. Trinians, belonging to the Abbey of Whithorn, was actually forfeited in this year in consequence of the failure of the Abbot to do fealty. Manx. Soc. Pub., vol. iii. p, 176

24 Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i. pp. 6, 21.

25 Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i. p. 11. In 1430, however, six men were chosen by all the commons from each of the six sheadings (ibid., P. 23) ; and Train assumes that the twenty-four were selected by the Governor out of the thirty six (vol, i. p. 164). This is the nearest recorded approach to a popular election till 1867.

26 Ibid., p, 13.

27 Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i. p. 18.

28 The Clerk of the Rolls does not seem to have written this word "full in plain letters," for in 1645 Tynwald declared, "Whereas by the Statute Book, vol. 4, the word Proves is used, which is not understood by many, it is now declared that the true meaning thereof is that the said word Proves is meant Prowesse or Combate."


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