[From Land of Home Rule, 1893]
IF Wilson's episcopacy had been solely famous for his ecclesiastical policy, it would be difficult to pronounce a favourable opinion of his career as Bishop. Men might agree in admiring the sanctity of his writings, the purity of his character, the charity of his actions; but they would agree also in deploring the harsh and distressing nature of the discipline which it was his chief object to revive. Happily, however, both for his own name, and for the people over whose Church he presided, his desire to promote their spiritual welfare did not prevent him from taking a wise and discriminating interest in their temporal concerns. His high influence, his keen insight into affairs, made him a powerful champion, and he became consequently the leading agent in securing for the Manx a great measure of reform. Thus, while head and heart are equally unable to follow the Bishop in his great effort to revive discipline, heart and head concur in commending his statesmanship. As a Bishop, Wilson lived some centuries too late; as a statesman, he was a century before his time.
In the Isle of Man, when Wilson was installed, as in Ireland a generation ago, the tenure of real property was the chief domestic question. The policy of Goddard Crovan, after his victory at Sky Hill, had made the people mere tenants at wills but in a disturbed, sparsely populated country this circumstance imposed little disadvantage upon them. The king required tenants for his land, and for many centuries there was more land to till than there were men to till it. Hence, as has already been noticed, no one was allowed to leave the Island without the license of the lord; and a special law was made that the tenants should reside on their farms, and manure and occupy their land to the best of their power.l
While such principles as these regulated legislation, Goddard Crovan's settlement could not have had much significance; and, when the termination of the long struggle between England and Scotland introduced the Manx, for the first time in their history, to a period of peace, the people began to show some signs of the progress which is the result of good government. Sacheverell tells us that they " began to build and make some small improvements, to promote which the better there was an order made which at least allows, if not commands, the enclosing their respective farms; and the Lords, for their further encouragement, complimented them with the kind words of title, descent, inheritance, heirship, that the people might believe their country worth improving and defending; so that by degrees they came to be reputed customary tenants, and paid only a small gratuity, viz., a single rent on the change of every lord, instead of fines 2
Thus, in the course of centuries, a custom had arisen which had entirely altered the whole conditions of land tenure in the Island. The tenant at will had obtained fixity of tenure, but the tenant had still no right to alienate his land without the Lord's permission. On the contrary, a Statute of 1582 declared any such sales and alienations made without license void. 3 But, in defiance of the Statute, such alienations constantly took place. " Occupancy," to quote Sacheverell again, " was given by the delivery of a straw, which was the custom of all bargains of England in those days, from whence our lawyers use the word 'stipulate,' because the contract was verified per traditionem stipulae." 41 This delivery seems to have been recognised by the courts. and to have been confirmed by authority; for in 1607, during the long interval in which the succession to the insular throne was in dispute, James I., by letters patent - in which he claimed the extraordinary right, " as wholly appertaining to us from the fulness of our power, at our free will and royal pleasure, to make, declare, and ordain, in all such territories, countries, and places, which have been acquired by the force of our arms, such ordinances and laws which all our subjects residing in those parts may be obliged to observe " - directed that land should be alienable in the Isle of Man, notwithstanding any law to the contrary.5
The great Earl of Derby never tolerated the order of 1607, and in 1645 procured its abrogation. The people were either persuaded or forced to accept leases of the lands which they held. But the change led to much resentment. The land question became thenceforward the chief political question in the Island. It was the true cause of Christian's rebellion; it increased the difficulties which Lady Derby had to face; it ensured the troops of the Commonwealth a ready reception in the Island; it remained a fruitful source of disaffection after the Restoration.
In fact, the great Lord Derby's legislation had made the position of the tenantry worse than ever. If under Goddard Crovan's settlement they had been, strictly speaking, tenants at will, custom had given them an undisputed right of succession to the acres which their forefathers had enjoyed before them. The utmost that previous Stanleys had done was to deny the right of the landowner to sell his land without the Lord's license; they had assented to or acquiesced in the right of inheritance. But Lord Derby's famous measure had deprived them of this advantage: the people had become mere leaseholders; for twenty-one years, or for a period covered by three lives, they might enjoy the undisturbed possession of their farms. As the lives fell in or the period expired, their security was taken from them.
The new tenure, moreover, was opposed to the traditions and to the customs of the people. However well it may have been adapted to Lord Derby's own tenantry in Lancashire, it was inapplicable to his subjects in Man. The same circumstances, in fact, which made the leaseholder a difficulty in Ireland made the leaseholder a difficulty in Man; for in Man, as in Ireland, the only function which the Lord discharged as a landowner was the receipt of his rent. As a general rule, the land was drained and fenced and the buildings on it erected by the tenantry. It is true that the buildings were miserable, and that the farmer too frequently shared his humble dwelling with his poultry or his sheep. But, as with the Irishman in our own time, the land with the buildings upon it was all that the Manxman had; With him, as with the Irishman, the loss of his land was a sentence of death.
Bad as the tenure was, it tended from its very nature to become worse; every year which passed, every life which fell in, reduced the security of the tenantry. The prospect of obtaining renewals of leases on favourable terms seemed consequently to depend not on the improvement, but on the impoverishment, of the holding; and, like the Irish in our own time, the Manx had a direct inducement to affect a greater poverty than that which they felt. Thus a state of things had arisen which was bad for the people and bad for the Lord; progress and prosperity were im possible while the measure of the seventh Earl remained on the statute-book.
Bishop Wilson had the merit, on reaching the island, to detect at once the cause which was ruining the people, and he had the courage to bring it pointedly to the notice of Lord Derby. No man was higher than the Bishop in the good opinion of the then Earl. He had almost forced Wilson into the bishopric, and the Bishop was in the habit of remonstrating with him on his conduct in not discharging his just duties in Lancashire in terms as plain as they were wise6 He apparently took an early opportunity of drawing his young patron's attention to the condition of his tenantry, and at the end of 1699 Lord Derby was either persuaded or consented to come over to the island and see matters for him-self. Probably on Wilson's advice, he at once issued an important document which he addressed to the coroners of the several sheadings:-
" My will and pleasure is, that, upon receipt of this my order, you signify to all my tenants within your sheading that I am come amongst them on purpose to settle them in their several holdings and tenures; that I am ready to do this, and to receive their several proposals; that I am sensible of the great loss and inconvenience it bath been both to myself and to them to have things left so long under uncertainties; that therefore I now give them liberty to make immediate application; to which purpose I have appointed the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of this isle to receive their several proposals, to whom they may from time to time apply themselves, and who hath my directions to render these proposals to me."
William, Lord Derby, the author of this proposal, is not included among the great men of the Stanley family. He did nothing like the first Earl, who turned the tide at Bosworth; or the seventh Earl, who lost his head at Bolton; or the fourteenth Earl, who became three times Prime Minister. But perhaps no member of the family ever issued a more sensible and statesmanlike document. Unhappily, however, Earl William did not live to carry out his sagacious policy. He died in 1702, and was succeeded by his brother, James. Wilson had some reason for anxiety at the change. He had not the influence with Earl James which he had enjoyed with his brother. But the new Lord fortunately saw the advantage of continuing the negotiations which his brother had commenced, for, as he put it, " ye sooner ye Island can be settled on a good bottom, it will be match better both for ye Island and myself."
Things, therefore, were evidently ripe for settlement, and in the course of 1703 the Keys drew up their formal proposals, committing them to the charge of three members of their own body, landowners of position and influence, whom they authorised to treat with Lord Derby on the whole subject. Lord Derby, on his part, deputed the Governor of the island, the Bishop, and a Mr. Starkie, an English country gentleman, to conduct the negotiations on his side; and finally, in September, consented to the terms on which-the six commissioners had agreed.7
Speaking broadly, there were three kinds of property affected by the settlement: (1) land which had always been the property of the Lord, and which was divided into quarterlands; (2) land which had originally been the property of the Lord, but which at various periods had been granted to the great religious foundations, and had only reverted to the Lord after the suppression of the monasteries; (3) encroachments on the Lord's land, whether quarterland or common land, which had been appropriated by private individuals, and which were known as intacks.
The tenants of quarterlands, of abbey lands, and of intacks appropriated before 1643 were all included in the benefits of the settlement. All of them were given fixity of tenure at their existing rents. All of them were confirmed in their ancient customary estates of inheritance in their respective tenements. All of them were accorded a right of alienating their property. In return for these great privileges, tenants whose leases were expired, by the lapse of all the three lives or of time, were to pay the same fine which had been paid on the original grant of the leases in 1643; 8 tenants whose leases had not expired by the lapse of lives were to pay two thirds of their fines; while on each change of tenancy, either by death or alienation, one-third of the same fine was to be payable.
So far for the general principles of this great settlement. Where intacks had been taken out of the commons since 1643, the tenants were again confirmed in their holdings, though the fines in their cases were to be determined by the Governor, three of the Lord's officers, and three of the Keys. Where intacks had been taken out of the highways (such intacks and cottages being complained of as great nuisances), they were to be given over to the tenant of the adjoining land. But the cottager was to be continued in his tenancy at such reasonable rent as could be agreed upon between him and his new landlord; or in default of agreement, as was fixed, by the Court of Chancery; but, if he resisted the decision of the Court, he was to be ejected from his cottage, receiving such compensation for the improvements he had made as a jury of four sworn men might give him. Where, however, the effect of the intack had been to reduce the width of the highway, the road was to be enlarged out of the said intack to a width of eighteen feet.
The Lord claimed, in addition to the surface of the soil, quarries of slate and stone. His tenantry were thenceforward given free liberty of "digging, raising, and disposing of all sorts of stone and slates upon their respective tenements," for their own use and for the use of their neighbours. And similarly the proprietors of quarries of limestone were compelled to allow their neighbours to dig limestone, paying only " such moderate and reasonable satisfaction as the Governor shall think fit to order and allow."
Such were the chief provisions passed in the interests of the tenantry by this remarkable statute. The importance which was ascribed to it at the time is visible in its title, for it is called the Act of Settlement; and the Act which bore that name in the United Kingdom was the great measure which secured the succession of the throne to the House of Hanover. The benefits which later generations have experienced from it may be inferred from the name which has since been regularly but more familiarly applied to it, for it is now known as the Magna Charta, the great charter of the Manx people.
One other proof may be deduced of the importance which was attached to it; for, after the sale of the Island to the Crown, the Tynwald court seems to have felt some apprehension about the validity of some Acts which had merely received the assent of Lord Derby, and, as a measure of precaution, decided on their re-enactment. Foremost among these measures was the Act of Settlement; and, in sending this Act to London for the royal assent, the Legislature prefixed to it a remarkable prefatory memorandum.
"The ancient feudatory tenures of the Isle between the Lord and his tenants having in the year 1643, by undue means, been changed into leasehold estates, the regular course of descent, which before had flowed in an easy uninterrupted stream was thereby clogged with difficulties not to be born, (sic), the tenants grew dissatisfied, and much litigation ensued, which tended to dissolve all harmony and subordination between them and their chief, so essential to their mutual interest and happiness; for remedy whereof the Act of Tynwald, commonly called the Act of Settlement . . . passed at a Tvnwald court holden at St. John's Chapel within the said Isle, the fourth day of February, in the year of our Lord 1703.98.
The joy with which this Act was received at the time, the care with which it was re-enacted by the grandchildren of the men who first obtained it, the approval which has won for it the name of the Great Charter, are not surprising. Such a piece of legislation was perhaps never accomplished in any other nation of the world. The conversion of a whole nation of leaseholders into perpetual tenants at a low quit-rent is a measure from which even the Parliaments of 1868 and 1880 would have recoiled. What the boon was may be partially understood by figures. The rateable value of the island outside the towns amounts now to about £180,000 a year. Excluding mines, buildings, and other properties, the purely agricultural rental may perhaps be placed at £100,000
The Lord's rent, in other words the rent secured to the Lord under the Act of Settlement, does not reach £1500. The whole of this difference, that unearned increment which the landlord almost everywhere appropriates, has remained with the tenants under the provisions of this great measure.
Such was the Act of the tenth Earl of Derby, the last Earl of Derby who reigned in Man. More than a hundred and forty years afterwards one of his successors was the spokesman of a Government which attempted to remedy a similar grievance in another country. Ireland, in this matter, as in other respects, furnished an exact parallel to the Isle of Man. Much of the land was held on leases for lives. The uncertainty of the tenure was admitted to paralyse all exertion and to place a fatal impediment on improvement. In Ireland in 1845, just as in Man in 1703, a commission had been inquiring into the system, and had suggested a remedy. 'the recommendations which the Devon Commission suggested, bold as they were considered at the time, were far less drastic than those which Wilson and his colleagues persuaded the tenth Earl of Derby to adopt. The remedy which the fourteenth Earl of Derby asked the House of Lords to apply in 1845 was far less efficacious than that to which the tenth Earl had voluntarily agreed, or even that which Lord Devon and his colleagues had recommended. Yet the House of Lords would not even listen to the proposal which was made to them, and Irish tenants remained at the mercy of their landlords till another Minister, more earnest and more resolute than Lord Derby, obtained for them some remedy for their grievances in 1870.
It is, indeed, difficult to Imagine what the condition of Ireland would have been today if the grievances of Irish tenants had been redressed in 1845, or even in 1869, on the broad lines on which the Act of Settlement was drawn. Tenant wrong would have been turned into tenant right. Outrage might have ceased when the chief cause for it was removed, and the Irish, like their Manx neighbours, might have become a loyal, contented, and conservative people.
1 Ante p 120.
2 Manx Soc. Pub., vol, 1. p. 66
3 Statutes, Isle of Man vol. i. p. 58.
4 Manx soc. Pub., vol i, p 66. Trench Study of Words p. 170, gives the same derivation to the words but Skeat (Etymological Dict.) denies this origin of it.
5. Manx soc Pub., vol xii p. 44.
6. Keble's Wilson p 63 -73.
7. Keble's Wilson, p. 137,
8 Tenants of the abbey lands were dealt with on the same principle,-though their fines were assessed on a composition made in 1666, and not on that made in 1643.
9 The Act was passed on what would now be called the 4th February 1704, but on the day which, at that time, would, strictly speaking, have been described as the 4th February 1703.