[From Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 1 pp245/259]



The whole question of the origin of the House of Keys is very obscure owing to our ignorance of the meaning of the term Key and of the early History of Man.1 All, in fact, we can with confidence assert is that its Constitution is mainly Scandinavian, though tinged by Celtic and even English influences. We will begin with a brief investigation of the probable nature of the pre-Scandinavian popular assembly in the Isle of Man :— Of the popular assemblies of the ancient Celts we know very little, except that, as they, like all other Aryan nations, were governed by kings who, with their nobles, absorbed nearly all the power, there would be but little left for the people. It would seem that a king of this sort usually consulted the chiefs beneath him, and when he had discussed his views with them he declared his plan to a larger assembly, and published his decrees by means of it.2 Such an assembly, consisting of all the freemen, would meet in the open air at the aenach, or fair, and, as Grote remarks with reference to the Greek agora, would "hear and approve, perhaps hear and murmur, but are not understood to exercise an option, or to reject," though at a later date, when the power of the king became less despotic, their assent or dissent may have become a necessary factor. This is, probably, the form of assembly that met in Man in early Celtic days, and the occasions of its meeting would correspond with those of the periodical fairs, to which the people congregated in great numbers. These meetings would probably be held near some mound hallowed by the monuments of an earlier religion, or by being the grave of some departed hero. On this the king’s throne would be placed, and he would sit there surrounded by his chiefs, the whole body of the free people being also present. The functions of this assembly appear to have been mainly judicial, there being, however, no clear distinction between what was judicial and what was legislative, indeed, legislation, in the modern sense of the word, did not exist. Besides the more serious business, rehearsals of pedigrees, recitations of poetry and tales, musical contests, horse racing, wrestling, &c., took place at its meetings. It seems, however, to have played but a small part in the history of the Celts, and especially of the Irish, with whom the Manx were more nearly connected, as their chief need was an arbitrator in their private quarrels. For this purpose they had recourse, not to the assembly, but to a Judge, called Brehon in Irish, and Briw in Manx, whose office was hereditary, and whose jurisdiction only arose by the consent of the parties applying to have it exercised. If his decision was unpalatable to either of them, he had no power of enforcing it. For it must be remembered that the essential principle of Brehon law is that crimes are wrongs committed by individuals against individuals, with which the State has no concern. Such crimes can be compensated by a payment in money or cattle, and the Brehon was called in by the parties interested to settle the amount of thin payment. If his decision suited the defendant he agreed to it, if not he appealed to the arbitrament of arms. 3

When the Norsemen had finally settled in Man, they would probably introduce their form of popular assembly, which was afterwards modified into the House of Keys; and, therefore, the best method of discovering the original Constitution of the Keys is to inquire into the constitution of the Scandinavian popular assemblies in early times, Now, of all the Scandinavian Things, or Parliaments, the one about which we have the most copious and accurate information is that of Iceland, with which country, moreover, it is well-known that Man was intimately connected. It is to Iceland, then, we must go for our information. The Norm chieftains who settled in that island found it uninhabited, and, in order to found a community, they each built a temple in their own district, and called themselves Godes, or Hof-Godes, " Priests " or " Temple-priests."4 This name, Gode, became synonymous with chief, and the temple became the nucleus of the new community, which was called Godord. Many independent Godes sprang up all through the country, until about the year 930, when these petty sovereign chiefs entered into a kind of league, and laid the foundation of a central government for the whole island, by forming the Althing or general assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth, which was invested with the supreme legislative and judicial power. In 964, the constitution was finally settled the number of Godord, and consequently of Godes, being fixed at three in each Thing-district or Shire, which had a popular assembly, called Lögretta composed of all the freemen of the shire, and presided over by the Godes, who were their liege lords. These Godes formed the legislative assembly of the althing, called the Lögretta, and possibly answer to our Keys, though we do not know the Keys early enough to identify them positively with the Godes. And it must be remembered, in comparing the probable political state of the Isle of Man at the end of thirteenth century with this, that, instead of Man being uninhabited, it was peopled by Goidels who had for a long time resisted the encroachments of the viking chiefs, and who, even at this period, certainly formed by far the largest part of the population. This, and probably other dissimilar circumstances, led to differences between the Manx and Icelandic constitutions, though, in the main, they were identical. Thus it is probable that, both from the necessities of military discipline and of keeping order in a conquered country, the Godes in Man, though udallers, or freeholders, were not independent chiefs, but owed military allegiance to a chief, who, however, except in time of war, was probably little more than primus inter pares. If the statement of the Deemsters to Sir John Stanley, in 1422, is to be credited, tradition had preserved the remembrance of an assembly, probably somewhat of the type indicated above, which extended to the other Sodor Islands as well as Man. For ‘they informed him that the Keys were called Taxiaxi (? Taxiarch), and were Free-holders, 24 in number, 8 of whom were in the " Out-Isles," and 16 in Man, " and that was in King Orryes Days"5 It would seem that this statement refers to a period before the latter part of the eleventh century, as, at that time, Man and the isles came under the dominion of Godred Crovan, who, according to the Chronicon Manniae, put an end to all freeholds. As to the extension of the authority of this parliament over the whole of Sodor, when we come to consider how frequently the connexion of Man with the other islands, both before and after Godred Crovan’s days, was severed, we shall be led to doubt even the existence of such a parliament. But, if it existed, it would probably have been put an end to by the conquest of Godred Crovan in 1077, as all the inhabitants of Man became his tenants, he having, according to the Chronicle, " granted to the few Islanders, who had remained with him, the southern part of the Island, and to the surviving Manxmen the northern portion, on condition that none of them should ever presume to claim any of the land by hereditary right. Hence it arises that, up to the present day, the whole Island belongs to the king alone, and that all its revenues are his." In fact, he ousted the udallers, and created thanes. So that we now come to quite a different state of things —to a time when, in the words of the Deemsters, the Keys " were not in certainty," and could not exist "without the Lord’s will" ; and when the division of the Island between Godred Crovan’s islanders and the Manx would have probably led to two distinct Tinwalds for the north and south of the Island, of which there are still traces at Reneurling and Baldwin, as well as in Arbory. From the union of these two Tynwalds, each of which probably consisted of 12 Keys, with their Deemster, corresponding to the Icelandic Lawman or Speaker, the central Tinwald was formed with its 24 Keys and two Deemsters. The Deemsters, whose office was probably hereditary were supposed to have an extensive knowledge of early custom They were the representatives of the law, and their duty was to expound it. The Keys (the meaning of whose name has led to much controversy without any satisfactory result), who were now only freemen, not freeholders, were probably elected by the other freemen of their sheading (perhaps four from each to make up 12 for the northern and 12 for the southern district of the Island), and they were subject to the " Lord’s will." The functions of these bodies were almost certainly of a judicial,. not of a legislative. character, and they were, probably, mainly occupied in adjudicating upon blood feuds and settling. disputes. They were, in fact, grand juries of assessors. When they became united, there would be no change in this respect. It must also be remembered that, as these meetings were held in the open air, the whole body of the freemen could be present, and had the right to express their opinion. That this was the case is confirmed by a statement in the Chronicle that in 1237 " a meeting of all the people of Man" was held " at Tinwald," and from this we also learn, incidentally that the union of the two Tinwalds must have taken place before that date. It is clear, too, from the context, that this Tinwald was identical with St. John’s.

Such, in vague outline, was probably the position of the Keys between 1077 and 1270 when Scandinavian rule came to an end, How they fared in the period of confusion which intervened between 1270 and the beginning of Stanley rule, we know not ; but at the latter period we learn that it had become the practice, " if a strange point " arose, for the Deemster, by the Lieutenant. Governor’s leave, to summon some of the best of the Commons to give judgment òn that point. In 1417 6 these advisers were called " the worthiest men’ of the land, and in 1422, " The 24." In the same year it was recorded that, if the Lord’s Lieutenant was in any difficulty as to " great matters and high points" he was to call in the Deemsters and the " Elders " of the land. Soon after this Court was held, a popular riot took place, and it has been conjectured, with some show of reason, that it was caused by the statements of the Deemsters that the Keys had not been " in certainty," and that " without the Lord’s will, none of them be " ; statement s which, possibly, were not in accordance with fact. It is, perhaps, significant in this connection that the next Court, held later in the same year, appears from its title, " A Court of all the Tennants and Commons of Man," to have been a more popular body than its predecessors, and that, when it met, the laws were confirmed by the " best of the Commons." In 1430 a further step in advance was taken by the establishment of a representative body, duly elected by the people. This took place at a " Court of all the Commons of Mann, helden at the Castle of Rushen betwixt the gates," when "6 men of every Shedding of Mann were chosen by the whole Commons of Mann." Out of this body of 36 representatives, 24 were chosen to act as an enquest, and were sworn in accordingly. On this proceeding Sacheverell, who was Governor of the Island at the end of the seventeenth century, comments as follows : " Sir John Stanley, being duly informed of the general neglect of his affairs, and the disorder caused by his own absence, sent over Henry Byron, his lieutenant, a man of great prudence and severity Whether he ( Byron) had observed some discontent in the manner of electing their representatives, or whether he thought it for the real honour and interest of his master to have the ancient legislative power restored, he calls another assembly the year following, 1430, and ordered six men out of every sheading or hundred, to be chosen by the whole body of the Commons, out of whom he elected four . . . and by their entreaty all former laws were confirmed."

"This," continues Sacheverell, " was the last finishing stroke of the settlement of this little state," by which he prays, " the people may be governed, so long as there is force in law." It is, however, doubtful whether the practical advantages which resulted from this change were so great as Sacheverell supposed. For it would appear, from the history of the next 150 years. that the representatives of the people were very seldom called together, and if so called it was only for the settlement of a special question, which done they went home ; and they, or a similar body, did not meet probably for many years. From the instances, toot which will be given below, it will be seen that, though the word " chosen " is used of " the 24," it is never again stated by whom chosen, which lends a colour to the assumption of several who have written upon the Manx history of this period, that the Lords or their Governors had taken the right of naming the Keys upon themselves. In 1499 7 "24 of the land " were sworn, and, in conjunction with the Deemsters, gave the law on various points; and at a Court of General Gaol Delivery, held in 1502, " it was appointed that 24 of the country should be chosen, and they to choose them four merchants, who should be sworn to deal indifferently among the country people, and to agree on their behalf with the merchant stranger." These 24 consisted of four out of every sheading. At an enquest taken at Castle Rushen in 1504, we find the same 24 present. At a similar Court held in 1516, " Will McCraine, Cler." (i.e. Clergyman) was indicted and arraigned for manslaughter. The two Deemsters accordingly desired licence of the "Captain in Court " to have " 24 of the most aged and wisest within the land," according to the Lord’s statutes, sworn to them that by their advice they might answer in this case. The Comptroller replied, " That in cases doubtful which had not been seen before time, the Deemsters may by Lycence of my Lord’s Stydholder have 24 sworn to them and by their advice to order the same for law, that any cause falling out hereafter might be ordered after the same way, but as to Ffelony, Robbery, or Murders, which this Court is sett for, being no doubtful causes, but such as hath often been in times past, the Deemsters ought to give Judgment after the answer from the Barr to the Indictment, or after the verdict in Court." The Deemsters then said that, if they might have 24 sworn to them, they would " make answer as they would abide by." Then 24 men in this Court. i.e., four out of every Sheading, were sworn by the Deemsters. Thus we see that there were on this occasion no 24 Keys " in certainty," but that 24 were sworn out of a large body, probably 36, or six from each Sheading as before, who were summoned to the Court. Whether the 36 were elected by the people, or, as seems more probable, selected by the Governor, does not appear. It will also be noticed that their assistance was only required in doubtful points. In 1532 an indenture was entered into between the Bishop and Clergy on the one part, and two men of each Sheading on the other ; and, on this occasion, there is no mention of the 24, and the 12 seem to represent the whole country. In 1570, " The whole Commons complained to the Capten of Mann and other the Lord’s Head Officers and two Deemsters that the fforester did clip sheep unlawfully within the ffells." The Captain, or Governor, consequently "demanded the law of the Deemsters," who " requested to have the advice of the 24 ancientest men in the Isle, which the Capten and other Officers granted them And then they did impannell a Jury as ensueth, which being sworn by the Holy Evangelists do say as hereafter followeth "—In 1580. the Governor and Council, the Deemsters, the Bishop and Clergy, and 24 Keys, there being one or more from " every parish in the Isle," were summoned by virtue of a commission from the Earl of Derby, " for the Tryal of . . . ." 8 They, " intending to proceed according to the tenor of the commission, the Revd. ffather John Meryk, Bishop, saith for himself that if the 24, &c., be called of a law, to stand in force hereafter, to bind his successors and the whole country, and not to decide a controversy, that then he is of opinion that the said 24 should be elected by the whole consent of the country, that is to say, of every sheading a number to say for the rest.", And " W. Christian and Hu : Holland, Archdeacon, have made challenge as well to some of the spirituality, as to part of the 24 elders." Then " the 24 say, also, that for the establishing of a law, the country ought to give their consent for the chosing of the 24. . . . . Whereupon the commission is stayed by consent of the Court, till my lord’s pleasure be known."

What " my lord’s pleasure" was is not recorded ; but it is clear that we have reached an important epoch in Manx history. We have seen that, during the long period which had elapsed since 1430, there seems to have been no legislation, but merely declarations of the customary law, and, more frequently, enquests and trials. For these purposes, the Lords appear to have assumed the right of summoning whom they chose, while giving some regard to the representation of the various districts, and of dismissing them at their pleasure. Now, however,’ the Keys, encouraged by the bold and independent action of the Bishop, who was also Governor, spoke out for the ancient traditional right of election by the people But it seems to have been all in vain, as the Lord, or Governor, continued to nominate as before. Of this there is ample confirmation given by the Bishop (Merick) himself, in his History of the Isle of Man, which was published by Camden in the first edition of the Britannia. In it we find that " In former times the voice of the whole people was necessary to the making of a new law ; but now this custom has been abrogated, and whatever is agreed upon by the Lord of the Island, the two Deemsters and the Keys obtained the force of law," and that "the Keys of the Isle . . . are chosen by the Lord himself, out of the natives, and though they, together with the Deemsters and officers, hold their offices but durante bene placito, yet they are seldom turned out during their lives." The value of this testimony is, however, somewhat vitiated by the extraordinary blunders which he makes in other parts of his accounts, such as the number of the Keys being 12; but, nevertheless, it is probably accurate as regards the above statement, which, as we have seen, bears out the evidence given in the records. It would seem that the Bishop’s protest against the invasion of the ancient right of election was of no avail as we find that in 1585 the Keys were assembled to enact and give for law " in this present cause" only ; also that one of them being " sick " and another in England, two were put in their place, which looks very much as if their status was still that of a jury which could not proceed with its business till the whole number was filled up. But by 1601 it would seem probable that they had attained a more assured position, or, at least, one of greater dignity, as in that year, in consequence of an individual having declared that the Keys " never did good to the Isle," a law was passed which enacted that those who slandered the Keys should suffer the severe punishment of a fine of £10, besides having their ears cut off. In the same year the 24 Keys were ordered " to attend every General Gaole Delivery to assist the Deemsters (if occasion be) in doubtful points of law, and to pass upon and try the jury of life and death if they be found to degress from their evidence and bring in an erroneous verdict. And if the said jury be found guilty by the 24 Keys, the Court is to fine and punish them, and enter a record thereupon to declare them incapable to pass on any jury for ever afterwards." Here the functions of the Keys in criminal trials are clearly stated. In 1610 we find an account 9 of " certain articles objected by John, now Bishop of this Isle, against John Ireland, Esq., Lieve. tennante and Captain of the Isle of Man." Among these is the following :— " That he placed and displaced the 24 Keys at his pleasure. In reply to this, the two Receivers, Deemsters, Vicars Generall, and 24 Keyes do averr, and justify that the Lievetennante hath used no other course and manner in choseing of the 24 Keys than as ever in former times to our remembrance hath been accustomed, which is with the consent of all the officers and the rest of the 24 then present : And for an instance one Dollin Cayne was chosen upon a head Court day to be one of them, the Bishop himself sitting by, who then, likeing well of the man, said to the Lievetennante, ‘ I wonder how your Worship did so well know him to be an honest man.’ " In such an arrangement as the officers and Keys mention, their influence in choosing new members and removing old ones might be considerable, if the Governor was inclined to be guided by their advice, but if his disposition was an arbitrary one, as Governor Ireland’s seems to have been, it would be very small. It is probable, therefore, that there was a good deal of truth in the Bishop’s statement. In the following year, at a Chancery Court, " several persons were sworn to be of the 24 Keys according to the directions of the Right Honble. Lady, the Countess of Derby, and the oath usually given to the 24 Keys was administered to them by Ewan Christian, Deemster, in such form and manner as anciently hath been accustomed." In this case there seems to have been no pretence of consulting either the officers or the Keys. Later on in the same year it is recorded that, as Richard Cowle was absent, Edward Lucas, " who was formerly sworn," was put in his place.

Thus we see that the 24 Keys, though they had undoubtedly become a more permanent body, were still not " in certainty," but were placed and displaced as occasion offered—for instance, Lucas, who was formerly a member, was displaced and replaced again.

In 1620 John Stevenson was fined 20 shillings for not attending, and William Qualtrough was sworn in William Christian’s place, he " being sick," and " soe the number of the twenty-four are still compleat, who for answer to certain directions say upon their oath as foll." In 1629 it was ordered that all Coroners should take care in their special prosecutions for felony to impanel the " most sufficient " jurors, and not to trouble any of the 24 Keys for such services unless they were specially commanded by the Governor. This is a decided step towards the later position of the Keys, for from this time they would be excused from serving on juries except, as we learn from an entry in the records in 1639, when any trials for title of land happened at Common Law, the party aggrieved had liberty to traverse the verdict, and have a jury chosen out of the 24 Keys to try the same, " and that is the last traverse," writes Mr Quayle,10 " that was allowed at the Common Law, but," he continues, " of latter times the whole number passes (by special order from the Lord or the Governor) to determine matters of titles, but there lies an appeal from their return or verdict to the Lord which the Governor (the presiding judge over them) accepts and not themselves." In 1637 a Court seems, if the heading of the Act then passed is to be relied on, to have been held in the ancient form, for we find that the laws were " enacted, established, and confirmed by the Sovereign, Liege Lord of the Island, James, Lord Strange, and by the Barrons, 24 Keyes, Commons, and Inhabitants of the said Island, assembled at this Court." In 1643 there was general dissatisfaction both with regard to the attempted change in tenures and to the exactions of the clergy, so that the Earl assembled "the Officers, Spirituall and Temporall, with the 24 Keys . . . And four men of every Parish." And these four men acted, as the Statute tells us, " in the name of themselves and of the whole Commons of the Isle, by whom they were chosen for that purpose. " At last we find the principle of popular election again undoubtedly in action. The body thus assembled does not seem to have initiated any legislation, but merely to have endorsed the Earl’s " order, doome, and decree." After this the Earl ordered that " a select Jury and Grand Enquest of 24 men, newly chosen, whereof 12 of the 24 Keys to be part, and 12 of the four men of the parishes there present should be impannelled and sworn to find out and present all such wrongs and abuses as have been committed." They did so, and returned the same in writing. Many of these wrongs which referred to the exactions of the Clergy, not to the tenure question, were redressed by the Lord, and his decisions were consented to by such of the Keys and men of the Parishes as were present. The Earl of Derby, in writing to his son, gives the following account of the Keys : "There are four-and-twenty, called Keys, who in all matters concerning the country are advised withall; sometimes there be four men of the Parishes joined with them by order of the Lord, when any great matter concerning the land is in hand."

From another source, the account of Man, written by William Blundell, who lived in the Island between 1648 and 1666, we gain the following interesting information with reference to the Keys — These who at this day are called ye Keyes of ye Island are very necessary instrumts and very usefull in ye politique governmt. of ye Island, not only as adjuvants to ye deemsters themselves in cases of judicature, for ye deemsters, sentence is not many times soe satisfactory to some yt plead their grievance before, but wth ye Keyes (being called) ye sentence being pronounced it is then definitive these are alsoe impanelled upon juryes and their verdict is absolutely definitive and setteth an end to ye business. These Keyes being ye representative body of ye whole Island their assent is soe necessary as yt without them no new law can be made nor any custome be introduced or altered . . These Taxiaxes or Keyes of ye Island are elected and chosen by ye lord himselfe out of ye natives of ye Isle as are ye deemsters, but not to continue, but durante bene placito, yet seldome any have been put out during their lives. . . . It is required alsoe yt thye should bee landed men, such as our freeholders in England, having 40 or 50 or more pounds of their owne. . . . They are at this day chosen out of ye 17 parishes." 12

Chaloner who was Governor of the Isle of Man from 1658 to 1660, and a Commissioner under Lord Fairfax for settling the affairs of the Island in 1650, wrote a short treatise on the Isle of Man. which was published in 1656, a little before Blundell completed his history, in which he remarks about the Keys as follows :—" To whose assistance (the Governor’s and Council’s) in cases of doubt, and considerations sometimes taken about the ordering of the affairs of the country, for the defence and safety thereof ; and propositione of good and wholesome l awes and orders, for the Peace and welfare of the People, in matters of right betwixt the Lord and the People, and betwixt party and party ; the said Governor’s and Officer’s do usually call the 24."13

The next notice of the Keys comes from the records, where, in 1658, there is an entry to the effect that, " upon the request of an officer (l e. a member of the Council), a Jury of the 24 Keys, or the whole body, may be required by the Governor’s orders to pass upon and try a scandal given the said officer." (This was afterwards the form of procedure in the case of Receiver-General Christian.) In 1659, the Liber Scaccar contains the following :—" When any of the 24 Keys dye, or are removed, the rest of the number shall recommend some fit persons to supply their places, and shall give their names either to ye Lord or ye Governor ; "and, consequently, in the same year Chaloner, the then Governor, issued the following notice :—" Whereas these are three of the 24 Keys awanting to make up the full body, and forasmuch as the rest of the 24 Keys did nominate and recommend in Court . . . . the said three awanting. Whereupon I have in the Lord’s behalf according to the Statute (1422) accepted of the said three persons for the service and give my approbation thereto." This was the foundation of the Keys’ claim to nominate new members, and that those only whom they nominate should be admitted, though it is clear that their nomination may be either accepted or not by the Governor. But with the Restoration, despotism resumed its sway, as we find that in 1662, seven of the Keys were " removed by the Lord’s order in that behalf and others admitted and sworn in their places, and so the number stood full" This was on the occasion of the trial of William Christian, the Receiver-General. The seven members who were removed were friends of Christian, and as the Earl had determined to secure a majority in the Keys who would convict him, they were promptly " removed." As it happened,’ however, this had no effect on the case, which was a foregone conclusion when Christian refused to plead.

In 1664 the 24 Keys were fined for not appearing to attend the Court of General Gaol Delivery when summoned. In 1668, Charles, Earl of Derby "having too great an evidence of the unquiet and factious humour that rules in several of my 24 Keys, and that more particularly under their own hands in their partial proceeding concerning Lace’s Title to Hango Hill, and they having also refused to join with my officers in their representation of Lace’s case, I do, therefore, require that (unless they conform) they shall be put out of all places of Office and Command in the Island." This was a tolerably despotic proceeding. Our next informant is Bishop Gibson, who, in his edition of Camden’s Britannia, published in 1695, corrects Bishop Merick as to the number of the Keys, and adds, " ‘Tis true, that since the time of the Antient Orrys they have not been constantly this number (24), that depending on the pleasure of the Lord of the Island ; but there is no ground to believe that they were ever so few as twelve, and they have been for the most part twenty-four." He also, after repeating Merick’s statement about the time they held office, gives the following information about them :—" They are always assisting to the Deemsters in the determining cases of great difficulty, and from the sentence of these there is commonly no appeal, No new laws can be made, or custom introduced or abolished, but by the consent of the Deemsters and the twenty-four Keys of the Island. These Keys write down all the customs and statutes of the island for the help óf their memory, that they may be the better enabled to give sentence when called to consult on any of these matters." Sacheverell, who was Governor of the Isle of Man at the end of the 17th century (1692-1696), wrote about the Keys as follows:—.

"The twenty-four Keys are the representatives of the country, and in some Cases serve as the Grand Inquest of the nation. They are the Last traverse in all cases of common law, are present at all trials for and, in conjunction with the Governor and officers, make the legislative power of the nation." 14 In 1701 the following notice is found in the records :—" Whereas T * *; W* * Captain of Kk. German, and one of the 24 Keys of this Isle, was commanded by me to take to his assistance so many of his company as he conveniently could to save and secure what goods (wrecked from the Lucy, of London, near Peel) were thrown by the seas, or any ways found, &c., and forasmuch as the said P * * W * *, contrary to his duty and the trust. reposed in him, did scandalously and very dishonestly conceal several wrecked goods of value taken up by him and others, therefore, conformably to an order from our Honble. Lord to me in this behalf, I do hereby dismiss and discharge the said T * * W * * from being of the body and number of the Keys of this Isle." Signed, " J. Cranstoun, Governor." This letter of Governor Cranstoun’s shows that the right which the Keys afterwards claimed, that none of their members could be discharged, unless he had committed some crime for which he had been tried and convicted by them--selves, had not yet been admitted. But, nevertheless, the Keys had, during the last sixty years, considerably grown in importance. Since 1615 they had been called " the Representative Body of the Isle," though, strictly speaking, they did not become so for more than two centuries from that date ; and after the " Act of Settlement," in 1704, they do not seem to have been interfered with in any way, their election being as described by Bishop Wilson below. In 1706 their dignity was further augmented by their obtaining a suitable room, by arrangement with the Trustees of the Academic Fund, which was used for their meetings, they having had previously " no place " but our Honourable Lord’s Castle or Houses, which is equally inconvenient as well to his Lordship as the said Body of 24 keyes." 15

Shortly after this, between 1720 and 1730, we have the evidence of three contemporary writers as to the constitution of the Keys as follows Cox, in his Magna Britannia, published in 1720, wrote :—" The 24 Keys are the representatives of the country, and in some cases serve as the Grand Inquest of the nation." Bishop Wilson, in his History of the Isle of Man, published in the edition of Camden’s Britannia, which appeared in 1722, gives the following :—" The 24 Keys . . . represent the commons of the land, and join with the Council in making all new laws, and with the Deemsters in settling and determining the meaning of the ancient laws and customs in all difficult cases The manner of choosing them at present is this : When a ‘member dies or is discharged either on account, of age, or for any great crime, which, upon a trial by his brethren he is found guilty of, the rest of the body present two persons to the Governor, out of whom be makes choice of one, who is immediately sworn to fill up the body. A majority determines any ‘case of common law that comes before them ; for besides that they are a part of the Legislature, they frequently determine causes touching titles of inheritance, where inferior juries have given their verdicts before." Thus we see that the method of election initiated in 1658 was then in undisputed operation. Waldron, writing a little later, in speaking of the entrance to Castle Rushen, says :—" The extremity of it brings you to a room where the keys sit ; they call them the Parliament ; but in my opinion they more resemble our juries in England, because the business of their meetings is to adjust differences between the common people, and are locked in till they have given their verdict. They may be said in this sense, indeed, to be supreme judges, because from them there is no appeal but to the Lord himself." 16 ‘The Keys, as we have seen, met at the Castle until 1706, and, as Waldron’s account was not written till 1726, they must have occasionally sat ‘in the Castle, instead of in their own house, in his time. Probably they sat in their own house for legislative and in the Castle for judicial purposes.

In 1723, the Keys presented "a summary of the Grievances of this Isle, in Church and State," to Lord Derby. Among the 26 clauses of this document, which was directed against the Governor and his Council. are the following, relating to their own position :—.(1) The arraignment and censure, by the Governor and officers, of John Stevenson, one of their body, who was by them "found to have merited thanks rather than reproach." This proceeding they declare to be " an invasion, tending to the subversion of the Constitution." (9) " By . . both fining and imprisoning the 24 Keys themselves, until they made such returns as should please the said Governor and officers."

(15) "By the Governor’s polling, the 24 Keys after the Chairman has, in the House, taken their votes, and thereupon declared or produced their opinion or judgment, and by writing his acceptance of the same at the foot t~hereof, as in the verdict of a common jury; and also taking upon him to set guards, and confine the said Keys till they have delivered their judgment, and arbitrarily excluding and imprisoning same from giving their votes, before they were convicted of any crime, or dismissed by the consent of the body, without which they cannot legally be excluded or expelled, to the great diminution of the rights and privileges of the 24 Keys, and the freedom of their consultations and debates."

(24) " By denying. contrary to an express statute, to call the Deemsters and 24 Keys to explain the law in high and doubtful points."17 Here we find the Keys complaining distinctly of being treated as a jury—not as a legislative. body. There is no direct answer of the Governor and officers to these allegations ; but, in 1728, when the Keys, getting no relief from Lord Derby, appealed to the King in Council, recapitulating their former grievances, there is a " Plea, defence, and answer,?’ made by them, in which they give their View of the Constitution, and of the position of the Keys, as follows :— " As to the legislative power of the ad island and the power of the 24 Keys therein, these Respondents say that, so far as they have heard or been able to inform themselves with records and other antiquities relating to the ad Isle., there was not before ye year 1714, or is not at least to be found any Statute or other Law in writing concerning the affairs of the sd Isle. From 1417 the Lordship, &c., of the Isle has been in the House of Derby and that by the Antient Constitution of Government obtained time out of mind within the ad Island there has been and is held continually at a place called ye Tynwald Hill on Midsummer Day in every year the Supreme Court of Judicature in the sd Island . . . , at which Court all or such of ye inhabitants as thought fit have always convened and met together in the~ -~presence of the said Lord or his Lieutenant, who always have presided, and that the said inhabitants being so convened till the time of ye Rebellion in the Reign of King Charles let, always or usually chose such persons from amongst them as they thought fit, sometimes two and sometimes more out of each Sheading or Liberty to represent them in the meaning?in~ of new and cancelling or altering former Laws. That during this time the Lord or his Lieutenant used to call the assistance of the Deemsters in the said Island for the determination of any doubtful or knotty point of Law, 24 of the most discreet inhabitants of the sd Isle as they thought fit, who being assembled were called the Keys from the purpose for which the were called, viz., to open and unfold the difficult points of law, and, being convened, they enquired and gave their verdict as now they do in cases regularly brought in judgment before them, and this appears by a statute made in the ad Isle in the year 1430. And the said Earl’s noble ancesters and his family, being reduced by . . . . * loyalty and adherence to the Crown, to great difficulties and distress in the time of the ad rebellion, the ad Keys, taking advantage ‘thereof, first began to assume the title of representatives of the people, but have always, notwithstanding, from time to time ever since been called together and dis. missed, placed and displaced, by the Lord of the Isle or his Lieutenant as they saw cause. And none of the ad Keys have since the sd rebellion been chosen by the inhabitants, but have been chosen or appointed by one another, without any power or foundation of law, . . . And, therefore, . . . . it is impossible the sd 24 Keys should be the representatives of ye people, and that it is an absurdity to call themselves so, neither have they, till the time of the ad rebellion, ever presumed to look upon themselves as affsd." 19

About the time (1765) that the direct authority of the English King was S re-established in the Island, or at the Revestment, as it was called, the Keys seem to have assumed that their office was for life, as so long a period had elapsed since any of them had been turned out. The old practice of summoning four men from each parish, in addition to the Keys, when any new laws were to be passed, had been discontinued for many years, and so this prerogative fell in the hands of the Keys alone. It would appear, too, that their debates, had been carried on in public were private after that date They had in fact become a close corporation which was recruited solely from a few of the principal Insular families and though called the Representatives of the people they really represented no one but themselves They were largely occupied during the period between 1765 and 1825 when the Athol family ceased to have any connection with the Island in disputes with the thikes and in these disputes but little regard was paid to the interests Of the people by either party though perhaps on the whole the Athols were more on the popular side than the Keys who however at a later date became more liberal in their views and passed much useful legislation In 1777 their appellate jurisdiction, except in cases where titles to land came in questions was taken away by Act of Tynwald, but it was fully restored by the Act of 1793 In 1791 partly in consequence of the above mentioned disputes three Commissioners were appointed by the British Government to investigate and report upon certain claims made by the Duke of Athol respecting the Sovereign and Manorial rights which had belonged to his family in the Island, and, inquire into its legal system and constitution. Among the questions considered by them was the position of the Keys ; and, after perusing the Statute Book they justly came to the conclusion that there was no legislation, properly called, before the seventeenth century, that, in fact, " the laws and ordinances that were enacted in the Island during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, appear by the Manx Statute Book, to have been prescribed by such different powers, or combinations of power, that, as precedents or the exercise of Legislative authority, they can have but little weight." They were, in fact, when not ordinances of the Lord’s, for the most part statements of ancient customary law by the Deemsters, with the approbation of the Keys. " Subsequent to this period," continue the Commissioners (or, as we have seen, after 1637), "was established the more regular mode of legislation which subsisted at the e of the Revestment : and from the beginning of the last century, with few exceptions (in which the commands of the Lord Proprietor have been obtruded laws on the people), the legislative authority of the country has been vested the Lord Proprietor, the Governor and Council, and the Twenty-four Keys," The Commissioners also reported on the following points with reference to the Keys:—

(1.) As to their election : When a vacancy had to be filled up, the Keys proceeded to the election and nomination of two persons to be presented to the Governor by their Speaker. The Governor having made choice of one of them, directed the Clerk of the Rolls to administer the following oath

You shall be aiding and assisting to the Deemsters of this Isle in all doubtful matters; His Majesty’s Council, your fellows, and your own, you shall use your best endeavours maintain the ancient laws and customs of this Isle. You shall justly and truly deliver your opinion, and do right in all matters which shall be put unto you, without your or affection, affinity or consanguinity, love or fear, reward or gain, or for any hope thereof ; but in all things you shall deal uprightly and justly, and do wrong to no man.

The oath before the Revestment was similar to this, except that it began, Your allegiance to the King’s Majesty of England reserved ; you shall true faith and fidelity bear to . . . Lord of this Isle, and his heyrs, during our life," and the words " Lord’s Council " occurred instead of " His Majesty’s Council." No provision seems to have been made in the event~the Governor declining to accept either candidate, which, however, never seems to have happened since 1765. In fact, as it was intimated to the Governor which of the candidates had obtained the greater number of votes, he almost invariably chose him, so that it was practically a nomination by the Keys. The only qualification known to be necessary to entitle a person to become a member of the Keys was having attained the age of 21 years.

(2) Tenure of office was for life, unless the member chose to resign, or was expelled, or accepted a seat on the Council.

(3) Their meetings were as frequent as the Governor thought proper to appoint, but they adjourned when they chose. Their ability to continue their session during their pleasure, and the Governor’s authority to prorogue them before they chose to separate, was not clearly settled, and it still remains in dispute, as will be seen from the following account :—Prior to the final purchase of the rights of the Athol family in the island, disputes existed, as we have already seen, for a number of years between the Keys and the Duke. The keys not being able legally to assemble to form a House, unless convened by the Governor’s precept, and the members knowing that if they once departed without keeping their sitting alive by adjournment, they would not be convened again, exercised their power, which does not then seem to have been disputed, of keeping the House in session by adjourning from time to time, and place to place, for several years. In 1871, some difficulty arose ‘the the Governor on this point, when the Keys claimed " the indubitable right, when once assembled, to regulate their own sittings." Similar disputes occurred in 1874 and 1880—on the latter occasion the Keys made a long statement of their case, the pith of which is contained in the following sentence —" Whenever the Keys are called together under precept, whether especially for a Tynwald Court, or otherwise, they claim it as an undisputable right to adjourn their sittings from day to day, and from place to place, as may it their own convenience ; and this right the members of the old House, as well as those of the elected House, have not only always maintained, but have constantly exercised"—No answer was given to this on behalf of the Governor and so the matter rests.

(4) Their privileges were to elect their Speaker, who, before 1866, had to be approved of by the Governor, and generally held the office for life, without any emoluments annexed to it ; a right to kill game, which hag since been done away with ; and an exemption from all services whatever. They had no exclusive privilege with regard to money bills.

(5) Any Bill might originate in either Council or Keys. If the Keys returned a Bill originating in the Council with amendments, both branches met to settle them, and after being signed by a majority of both branches assented to by the Lord Proprietor, or, after 1766, by the English Sovereign and promulgated from the Tynwald Hill, became law. The Council had similar powers with regard to a bill originating in the Keys. ,

(6) The Keys had power to reject any Bill. .

(7) Thirteen Keys are necessary to constitute a House, and to concur to render any act in their legislative capacity valid. ‘

In their executive capacity, the Keys were a Court of Appeal. This executive authority was done away with by the Act of 1866, but it was especially stated in that Act that nothing contained in it " shall affect, or in any manner be construed to affect, the inherent powers heretofore exercised by the House of Keys as a legislative body." Among the more important Standing Orders of the Keys are the following, which, though given in the phraseology of 1867, are practically identical with those of the early part of the eighteenth century : " The Keys shall not sign or pass any Law, Ordinance, or other Act or Acts whatsoever, which they have not previously had an opportunity of debating upon separate from the rest of the Legislative Body ; " and " Whenever any such Law, Ordinance, or other Act, is proposed by any person or persons whomsoever, the Speaker . . . shall ex officio (without any other or further directions from the Keys) acquaint the proposer or proposers of such Law or Ordinance, that such method of procedure is contrary to the rules of the House of Keys, and subversive of the rights of free debate which that House ought to enjoy, and shall desire to have an opportunity of debating with the rest of the Keys, separate, and apart from the Governor, Council, and Deemsters, upon the matters proposed. And when any resolution is passed in the Tynwald Court, it shall be competent for any member of the House of Keys to require the same to be debated in their own House, before a decision is come to by the House thereon. Their rights under these two orders were jealously guarded by the Keys, the right of separate discussion having been exercised on several occasions since 1866, thus, in 1879, the Governor demanded the attendance of the Keys, who were in session, at a Tynwald Court as a matter of right. The Keys denied that the Governor had a right to compel them to attend a Tynwald Court in the absence of a summons under precept. This question, like that of the right of the Keys to regulate their own sittings, was left undecided ; but practically it is not probable that any attempt will be made to combat the decision of the Keys in either of them.

It should be remembered that, in 1825, it was decided by Privy Council that the Keys did not, by law, form part of the Court of General Gaol Delivery, and since then they have never been summoned to that Court.

It now remains to trace the progress of popular dissatisfaction with the non-elective character of the Keys, together with its ultimate result.

In the year 1792 nearly 1,000 proprietors of lands in the Island signed a petition to the Commissioners stating that Acts of Tynwald had been passed since the Revestment affecting their rights and interests without their having it in their power to state their objections to such Acts, and they prayed that the House of Keys might either be chosen in a manner more consistent with the title they assumed—that of the representatives of the people—or that their legislative Acts might be prevented from passing without the knowledge of the memorialists. In 1833, emboldened no doubt by the passage of the Reform Act, a very largely signed petition stating similar grievances to the above, and asking for the right of choosing their own representatives, was presented to King William IV. In 1834 two petitions were presented to Governor Ready asking him to convene the legislature for the purpose of taking into consideration the election of the House of Keys by the voice of the people. Nothing having come of this, as of its predecesor, a further appeal was, in 1838, made to the Governor, to " form a constituency of the inhabitants of this Island, for the purpose of electing the members of the House of Keys," which elicited the following answer : " Such a change in the Constitution of the Isle of Man cannot be agreed to ; and I have further to inform you that, if reform in the House of Keys is found to be really wanted, that presentation from the island in Parliament may be the measure of reform adopted." Notwithstanding this reply, a similar petition was sent to her Majesty in the same year, and again in 1845. But the desired change was finally brought about in quite a different way. In 1864, the Douglas Town Commissioners applied to the House of Keys to grant them increased powers, to enable them the better to discharge their municipal duties; but the Keys, by a large majority, threw out the Town Commissioners’ Bill, which had been passed by the Governor and Council, for this purpose. The conduct of the Keys was, in consequence, very severely commented upon by two of the Manx newspapers, Mona’s Herald and The Isle of Man Times, the proprietors of which were Messrs. J. C. Fargher and James Brown respectively. At the next meeting of the Keys it was resolved that the comments in these newspapers were "a contempt of the House and a breach of its privileges," and the two proprietors above mentioned were summoned to the bar of the House to answer to their conduct. Mr Fargher, acting by his advocate’s advice, apologised, and was pardoned, but Mr Brown stated that he considered his comments quite justifiable. He was, consequently, condemned to six months’ imprisonment, but, having appealed to the Court of Queen’s Bench, he was soon set free, and afterwards awarded heavy damages for illegal imprisonment in an action at law, which he brought against the Keys. Two years afterwards, mainly doubtless on account of this agitation, was passed, "The House of Keys Election Act," the preamble of which stated that it was " expedient that the present system of electing persons to serve as members in the House of Keys should cease," and at it was desirable " to provide for the election by people of property and intelligence in this Isle of members to serve in such House, and to abolish the judicial powers of the said House of Keys." The Island was consequently divided into ten electoral districts, consisting of the towns of Peel, Ramsey, and Castletown, having one member each; the town of Douglas, three members ; and the sheadings of Glanfaba, Michael, Ayre, Garff, Middle, and Rushen, three members each. The qualification of voters in the sheadings was that they must be males of full age, who shall be owner of real estate of the value of not less than eight pounds, or tenants paying a net annual rent of not less than twelve pounds. By the Act of 1881 the qualifications of voters were fixed as follows : —(1.) Every person who, being a male, or a spinster, or widow, is the owner of real estate within the district of the annual value of not less than £4 ; or being male, is the occupier of real estate within the district of the annual value of [not] less than £4 ; or (3) being a male, occupies lodgings of the annual rental of not less than £10. By this Act female owners, not being married, were admitted the franchise, the Manx Legislature thus taking the lead of all others in this important reform. Only those were qualified as members who were males of full age, and owners of real estate of the value of £100, or of real estate to the annual value of £50, together with personal property of £100. In 1881 these qualifications were altered as follows :—Owners of real estate of the annual value £50, " and together therewith be also possessed of personal estate . actually producing the yearly income of £100, or personal estate producing the early income of £150." No person in holy orders, beneficed or licensed to officiate within this Isle, could be a member. The powers of the Keys were defined to be those of electing their Speaker ; of punishing contempt committed fore it by fine and imprisonment ; and of punishing libel, by the Act of 876, by a fine not exceeding £50, or by imprisonment not exceeding six months. It was also stated under this head that " nothing in this Act contained shall affect, or in any manner be construed to affect, the inherent powers heretofore exercised by the House of Keys as a legislative body; and after the promulgation hereof the House of Keys, and the several members thereof . , . shall... be entitled to and enjoy the same rights and privileges, in as full and ample a manner as the House of Keys, and the several members thereof for the time being, and persons elected to be members thereof heretofore had, exercised and performed, and was or were entitled to enjoyed. "

The duration of the House was to be for seven years. It was also enacted that " It shall be lawful for the Governor, from time to time, by precept under his hand, to summon the House of Keys when not in session, or when the said, house stands adjourned, or prorogued to a more distant day or for a longer period, to meet for the transaction and despatch of business, and from time toe time to prorogue the same and also from time to time and whenever he shall deem it expedient to dissolve the said House of Keys by proclamation, and to-issue fresh writs for the election of new members to serve in the said House of Keys."

A brief summary of this somewhat lengthy and involved account of the Keys will perhaps be of some use in elucidating the main facts with reference to their constitution. Before 1417 we practically know nothing about the Keys, and it is difficult to harmonise the explanation of their origin suggested by the Deemsters in 1422 with their actual position at a later date ; the only possible explanation, in fact, being that the Keys of the fifteenth century and later were an altogether differently constituted body to their predecessors. During the above mentioned epoch a system of popular representation seems to have been established, but it gradually fell into disuse, and, instead of it, the Governors. arrogated to themselves the right of nominating the members of a body which was only summoned for special occasions, and whose members constantly varied within very brief periods. Towards the end of the sixteenth century the Keys. declared that " for the establishing of a law the country ought to give their assents," - thus demonstrating an important distinction between an elective-legislative body and a nominated judicial body. But there is no sign that this declaration was acted upon, as the Governors seem to have continued to nominate the Keys, whether for legislative or judicial functions, just as before. And so it continued, except for the addition to the Keys of certain men from the parishes, for legislative purposes only, in the seventh earl’s time, till the period of the Commonwealth in England,* when the Keys quietly assumed the right. of nominating their own members, subject to the approval of the Governor. After the Restoration, however, they were again appointed or removed at the lord’s pleasure. But, in spite of this, the Keys seem never to have sunk to their former low estate, and early in the following century they had regained the power of nomination. After the Revestment they became a close corporation —a state of things which thankfully was put an end to in 1866, when they, after an interval of more than 400 years again, became in fact, as well as in name,. the representatives of the people.

On the very day (January 13th) that the foregoing paper was presented to the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, a new chapter in the history of the House of Keys has been opened. During the whole of the present century the population of the towns of Douglas, Ramsey, and Peel, especially the first, has been increasing, and that of the country proportionately decreasing. This process up to 1866, when the first representative House was elected, was not very marked, but, since then, it has gone on with such accelerated speed that the towns now probably contain rather more than half the population of the whole Island, while their representatives continue to be one fourth only of the House of Keys. This state of affairs had led to some discontent, and consequently, during the last six years, various schemes to remedy it, more or less comprehensive, had been discussed by the House. Of these schemes, that giving a town representation of eleven members and a country representation of thirteen never obtained the support of more than a small section of the House,. and the scheme adopted on the 13th of this month, which is identical with that offered by the majority of the country members nearly five years ago, but then obtained by the representatives of Douglas, gives a town representation of one third of the whole number. When, therefore, the Redistribution Bill of the 13th of January passes into law, the twenty-four members will be divided between the various constituencies as follows :—The sheadings of Glenfaba, Rushen, Middle, and Ayre, three members each ; the sheadings of Garff and-Michael,21 two members each ; the town of Douglas,22 five members and the towns of Castletown Peel and Ramsey one member each


1 The thanks of the writer are due to Mr. F. York-Powell, Oxford, for some suggestions.

2 Rhys, Celtic Britain.

3 This system was simply the old Roman and Teutonic fashion of poena and weregild retained by the conservative Celts.

4 The name, but not the priestly function, was continued after the introduction of Christianity.

5 Statute Law Book, p. 1l.

6 In the indenture made in the same year they were designated as Claves Mann, " Keys of Man," and Claves Legis, " Keys of the Law."

7 This date is given as 1419 in the Statute Book, but this is clearly an error as Jenkin Moore and John Christian did not become Deemsters till 1498, as per record. — For this extract from the Records, and for many of those which follow till 1760, the writer is indebted to notes by John Quayle, C.R.., made about 1760, which have been kindly lent him by Mrs Quayle, of Bridge House, Castletown,

8 Illegible,

9 Episcopal Records.

10 In some cases it Is difficult to tell whether we are quoting an actual copy of the original Record, or Mr Quayle’s rendering of it, but in this case it is clearly a comment of his.

11 Statute Law Book, p. 9.

12 Manx Society, vol. 27, pp. 76 and 78.

13 Manx Society, vol 10, p.29

14 Manx Society, vol. ii., p. 78

15 Statute Law Book, p. 180.

16 Manx Society, vol xi., p.

17 Keble, Life of Bishop Wilson pp. 596-99

18 Illegible

19 Copied by the writer from the Ecclesiastical Records.

20 See statement of the officers, in 1728.:

21 Formerly three each

22 Formerly three



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