[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]



SIR JOHN STANLEY does not seem to have ever set foot on the island, but the son, who bore the same name, hastened here in 1417, and again in 1422, to settle serious manifestations of unrest. To this latter sovereign, who proved himself a wise but autocratic ruler, we are indebted for the first serious effort to record the ancient laws and customs.

Neither did the first Baron Stanley come to Man, and interest in his successor lies in the fact that at Bosworth he (or it may have been his brother) took the crown of the dead Richard, and, putting it on the victor's head, proclaimed him King as Henry VII. The King created him Earl of Derby.

The second Earl was a grandson of the preceding holder of the title, and he figures in Manx history in connection with one interesting fact. He discontinued the title of ` King of Man and the Isles,' substituting therefor the title of ' Lord.'

' A great Lord,' he said ' is more honourable than a petty King.' But there is more than a suspicion that the change was not made without a plain hint that the continued use of the royal title would be an offence.

For a while the succession was in dispute. The island was in the control of nominees of Queen Elizabeth and of James 1. during the first part of this period. The suzerainty of the Earl of Northampton and the Earl of Salisbury, acting in conjunction, followed.

Then we come to the rule of James, seventh Earl of Derby, called in Manx history ' the Great Stanley '-not for any ` greatness' he ever displayed in the administration or development of the island, but because he was the most considerable figure that had thus far taken any lot or part in our story.

He aped the manners of his own monarch, and quenched opposition by securing his opponents in gaol. . . . His land laws ... left a legacy of hate, which explains the revolt of the island after his death. . . . His defects were perhaps the defects of his age; his virtues were his own.' So writes Sir Spencer Walpole.

He had a genuine interest in the island that had fallen to his charge, and, with his wife, Charlotte de la Tremoille, daughter of the Duke of Thouars, he made a home among those subject to his rule. The lady was destined to prove one of the most striking and picturesque figures of a great epoch of national history.

When Charles II. marched from Scotland, the Earl and 300 Manxmen set out to join their force to his. They met the Parliament men at Wigan, and were defeated and scattered. At Worcester the Earl was captured, and though he petitioned Parliament and openly recommended the Countess to surrender the Isle of Man, his execution at Bolton followed on October 15, 1651. Authorities leave us in doubt as to whether Cromwell was resolved on ` Darbie's ' destruction or disposed to forgive.

The Countess took refuge in Castle Rushen, and the presumption was that she was preparing for a stubborn defence, though the ultimate result was in no doubt. Rumour, however, said that her ladyship was secretly arranging with Parliament terms favourable only to herself. A body of Manxmen, with William Christian, who held the office of Receiver, at their head, anticipated any such bargain, if any existed, by themselves negotiating the surrender on the condition that the Manx people should not be disturbed in their ancient laws and liberties, many of which the Countess's own husband had ruthlessly cast aside.

The Commonwealth gave the island to Lord Fairfax, and William Christian (who must not be confused with Edward Christian, another sterling champion of the people's heritage) was promoted to the office of Governor. At the Restoration the tables were turned, and William Christian, despite the Act of Indemnity, was brought to trial for rebellion-not against the King of England, but technically against the Countess.

In a court shamefully packed with his enemies, Christian was declared guilty and sentenced to be shot. Two days later the sentence was carried out at Hango Hill, near Castletown. Thus perished Illiam Dhone (Brown William), as he was affectionately called by his fellow-countrymen, one of the most patriotic Manxmen who ever lived.

Christian, from his prison-cell, had appealed to the King, and a week after the execution of sentence Lord Derby was ordered to produce his prisoner. His sons claimed redress. The Privy Council declared the Act of Indemnity applied to the island, and ordered entire restitution of Christian's estate, while the Deemsters were to remain in prison as ' condign punishment' for their offences. But we may search the records in vain to find any adequate humiliation upon the high and dignified authors of the atrocity.

The reign of the House of Stanley did not close, however, without the passage of one Act which does much to redeem their memory. The Act of Settlement of 1704 is sometimes called the Manxman's Magna Charta. It converted tenants at the will of the Lord into the virtual owners of the soil. The Lord's rent became fixed and unalterable, and with the appreciation in land values the rent payable to the Lord became merely nominal.

Bishop Wilson, who took a leading part in effecting this beneficent settlement, presided over the diocese for fifty-seven years (1698 - 1755). His character has been to some extent idealized, chiefly because no other Bishop has approached him in simple piety, goodness of heart, and real attachment to the island and the people.

The bishopric has in modern days unfortunately developed a reputation as ' a jumping-off' board, each new-comer regarding Bishopscourt as a house from which he must escape at the first opportunity.

Bishop Wilson declined further preferment. He shared with nearly all Bishops the conviction that the people were made for the Church, and not the Church for the people. His jealousy of the encroachment of the State upon the ecclesiastical domain, at a time when the Church was legally entitled to meddle and muddle with purely State affairs, was an uncontrolled obsession.

In the Isle of Man the Ecclesiastical Courts, with all the powers of terror behind them, survived long after they had been swept to the dust-heap in England. We remember how the Druids, drawing, it is presumed, upon rites and ceremonies belonging to the Far East, introduced with deadly force the power of excommunication. The Church of Rome, following upon the era of our Scandinavian conquerors, did not allow so keen a weapon to fall into disuse.

The Reformation, which with us was a gradual rather than a violent process, did not obliterate this flagrant iniquity; and Bishop Wilson, despite his human qualities, as ecclesiastic saw nothing in discipline' that corresponded with the rack and the thumb-screw, that was not 'commendable.'

What is it that obliterates in a Bishop the simple instincts of justice and humanity? What is it that leads him to condone-nay, to bless-the prisonhouse and the torture-chamber? What qualifies him to judge, though he may not be judged? What kind of vindictive God has he created out of his own imaginings ? Is it not all the result of that strange arrogance and blind intolerance, bred of some obscure process of reasoning, which leads him to regard himself as the physical embodiment of the will of the Most High and the humble instrument of God's holy purpose?

On no other hypothesis can one read Bishop Wilson's own words: ' People are never excommunicated but for crimes that will shut them out of heaven.' The mercy of God had well-defined limits in those days; yet certain of his ' crimes' would pass without remark to-day.

Offenders of all conditions, without distinction, are obliged to submit to the censures appointed by the Church, whether for correction or example [commutation of penances being abolished by a late law], and they generally do it patiently.'

The Bishop is not conscious of a single touch of sardonic irony, though the ' patience' was born of the knowledge that if the offender did not submit he was ' delivered over to the Lord of the Isle, both body and goods.'

Black as is the record of the Church in Man, presenting such a story of cruelty, exaction, and intolerance that one is left wondering that at Bishopscourt one stone has been left standing upon another, Bishop Wilson is largely, very largely, a grateful memory. It would be still more so if we could but forget the pious thanksgiving for the fidelity of a wife to her marriage vows or blot out the savage lust of revenge which the Church, under the guidance of Bishop Wilson, took upon one poor woman, Katharine Kinrade, who was dragged after a boat in the sea at Peel, at full tide, for an offence which leaves all men dumb.


back index next


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