[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]



THE Norsemen, having destroyed every Christian temple and put the priests to flight, soon proceeded to evolve order out of chaos. The land was divided into sheadings, or ship districts, each with its own authority. Justice was established, and customs of the homeland were introduced.

They met in worship of the great All-Father Odin, in whose great hall, Valhalla, the noble dead were guests at one glorious and eternal feast ; while in the thunder they heard Thor the Strongest rattling past on his cart or beating heavy blows with his great hammer on a mighty anvil.

When the need arose, such an assembly was made the occasion of a court, or Thing, at which every freeman had a right of speech. Disputes were settled by this roughly constituted tribunal, games forming thereafter the pleasure of the people.

Matters of graver moment, questions affecting the whole community, slaying with provocation, etc., were referred to a court of all, or Al-thing. This court was seemingly assembled twice every year, but the important celebration was that of Midsummer Day.

The elders met within the temple, and aided the King in determining the cause. Thereafter the king proceeded to the summit of the adjoining mound, and there, with his face to the sun, proclaimed judgement and law. All the freemen stood around, and their assent, given or implied, was an integral part of the proceedings.

In an earlier age the people stood around and listened like serfs, in 'awful silence,' to the proclamations of their Prince. Under Scandinavian rule, sane and enlightened, and an enormous advance upon anything existing elsewhere, the Norse-Celtic-Manxman had made an immense stride in the direction of popular government.

We have to this hour the most direct survival of this treasured emblem of our liberties in Tynwald Tyn, Tin, or Ting, court, forum or parliament; Wald (as in all cognate Teutonic languages German, Dutch and English), wood or forest. The philologist may suggest vallam, rampart or mound; and in Dano-Norwegian, whence the word came to us, vold is mound or dyke. Thing-vold is therefore Court-mound. And further, as confirming this interpretation, we must remember that the Vikings held their solemn assemblies among trees, not on any bare plain or field as represented.

Whether our Norse ancestors ever possessed in Man a venerated mound or tree-clad hill enclosing sacred ashes we have no knowledge, but we know that St. John's has been the meeting-place as far back as we have any history, while the Tyn-wald symbolizes the island as a whole, the tradition being that the earth and sods of which it is constituted were brought in equal proportions from each sheading.

The old-time temple is now St. John's Chapel, standing, according to ancient usage, to the east of the mound. The order to be observed at the great meeting and fair is set out for the particular benefit of Sir John Stanley the second, and appears in the first volume of the ancient ' Ordinances and Statutes.'

OUR DOUGHTFULL AND GRATIOUS LORD, this is the Constitution of old Time, the which we have given in our Days, how yee should be governed on your Tinwald Day. First, you shall come thither in your Royal Array, as a King ought to do, by the Prerogatives and Royalties of the Land of Mann.

And upon the Hill of Tynwald sitt on a Chaire, covered with a Royall Cloath and Cushions, and your Visage into the East, and your Sword before you, with the Point upward; your Barrons in the third degree sitting beside you, and your beneficed Men and your Deemsters before you sitting; and your Clarke, your Knights, Esquires and Yeomen about you in the third Degree; and the worthiest Men in your Land to be called in ; before your Deemsters, if you will ask any Thing of them, and to hear the Government of your Land, and your Will; and the Commons to stand without the Circle of the Hill, with three Clearkes in their Surplisses,' etc.

For centuries there was no recorded law and no schedule of fine or punishment. Consistency and uniformity were secured by the King requiring the Domesman or Deemster to call in the aid of the elders and worthies of the land.

The Deemer or Doomer, Doomsman, Doomster or Deemster (the local pronunciation is Demp-ster), originally held on office of quasi-priestly, legal and penal significance. His functions included those of Court Crier, Clerk of the Arraigns, Spokesman, and Executioner. He was the Scandinavian creation of Teutonic freedom, not of Celtic serfdom, and was chosen of the people. The awful solemnity of his principal duties enabled the Deemster to magnify his office. He became qualified to tender opinion and offer advice, and thus shape the judgement of the court, a privilege that belonged to freemen of the soil. Amid warfare and social confusion the people lost their powers of selection, but the judgeship that was evolved never actually became hereditary, though it often passed from father to son. (Deemsteerer is a mere straining after philological effect.) The Deemster, therefore, by a not unnatural process of evolution, became the recognized depository of learning and procedure. The elders of the land became ' the xxiiij 'out of which emerged the Keys- Claves Manniae et Claves Legis, Keys of Man and Keys of the Law.

The Council, consisting of salaried officials of State or Church, which has now entrenched itself as part of the Constitution, has no known history prior to the fifteenth century, and its existence-a legacy of the Stanley regime-is a violation of the whole spirit of the enlightened form of government handed down to us by our Viking ancestors.

Our servants have become our masters to an extent that has hardly any parallel out of the realm of comic opera.


back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2018