[From Proc IoMNHAS vol 1]


(By P. M. C. KERMODE,)

The Hill, called Cronk-y-Keeillown, i.e., Mound of the Church of John, is about 255 feet in circumference at the base, and rises by four circular platforms, of which the lowest is about 42 inches high, and the others rise respectively by 36, 27. and 20 inches. The width of the platform formed by the lowest step is 14 feet, that of the next 8 feet, of the third 6 ft, 6 in., and the diameter of the top over six yards. The whole is surrounded, at a distance from the lowest step of 18 feet, by a sloping bank seven feet wide at base to 3 ft. 6 in. at the top, which is faced on the outside by a wall four feet high. This may be on the site of an ancient ring mound of earth and stones, in which vestiges of two gateways appear to have remained when Robertson visited the Island in 1794.

The modern Church of S. John's was erected about 1849, and is built of Foxdale granite, on the site of an older one. The discovery in its wall of the broken shaft of a cross-slab, now in the porch, implies that there had been a church here in Scandinavian times, no doubt used, as at present, in connection with the ceremony on the Hill.

The cross-slab (81 in " Manx Crosses"), originally about seven feet high, has been carved on one face, which shows the ring-chain design so frequently met with on our Scandinavian pieces. The arms of the cross must have been very compressed, unless, indeed, this design formed a panel with a cross above it. The other face has not been touched with a tool. The inscription, running up one edge, reads: -INOSRUTh : RAIST : RUNAR : ThSAR ; i.e.,

" But Asruth carved their runes." Above this are five strokes, evidently the stems of runes, and they probably formed part of the name of the person who caused the monument to be erected, followed no doubt by that of the person to whose memory it was set up.

Our Manx Tynwald Hill, with its annual ceremony, is well-known and widely celebrated as the only existing survival of a great Scandinavian institution, and a relic of the important part played in the history of the Btitish Isles by the Vikings, who, from the VIII. Century, made excursions (followed in time by settlements), first to the Orkneys and Shetland Isles, then to the Hebrides, and thence gradually, by the western isles of Scotland, to found kingdoms in Waterford, Limerick, Dublin, and Man, and finally to spread eastwards and join forces with their brethren in York. But, centuries before the Scandinavian invasions, this Hill (though not in its present form) was almost certainly the place of assembly of our earlier Celtic inhabitants, a place of installation of the chief or king, and of proclamation of the tanist, or heir apparent ; nor was this the only one in the Island. This was clearly brought out by the Rev. Canon Quine in an address to the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, in October, 1908. That the system had obtained here, and been continued through the period of Scandinavian rule, was to be " inferred from two conspicuous incidents in connection with the Scropes and the Stanleys on their becoming Kings of Man."

" We have a record of a Tynwald held on S. John's Tynwald Hill in 1392, the year Sir William Scrope become King of Man by purchase of the regality from William de Montacute, second Earl of Salisbury. On that occasion, not only was Sir William Scrope proclaimed and accepted as sovereign, but also his brother, Sir Stephen le Scrope, who was his heir, was accepted as heir and successor to his elder brother as King of Man."

" Again in 1408, when the first Sir John Stanley, who never visited the Island, was proclaimed King, his son, the second Sir John appeared, and was here as " heir-apparent"; and this, in its essentials, was the Tanist system - evidently still surviving in the Isle of Man, as it had obtained in Ulster, and still, of course, at that period existed in Ulster, and continued down to the time of Queen Elizabeth."

Mr. Quine might have added that the challenge to titles - made at the Tynwald of 1422, when the Bishop of the Diocese, the heads of two religious houses within the Island, and of five foreign to it, were called to appear before Sir John Stanley and show their titles to property they held here - was in strict accordance with the old Tribal Customs of the Celts on the proclamation of a new Chief, and a survival, no doubt, of the ancient custom in the Island.

Like Iceland. but probably at a rather earlier date, we received our institution from Norway. As in the case of Iceland, too, the far-distant King of Norway was scarcely more than Souzerain in name. Unlike Iceland. we had kings of our own, and we had the strong traditions of earlier uses of the Mound by our Celtic inhabitants, which modified our Scandinavian ceremonies. A formal constitution was brought to Iceland about 920-30, by Ulfliod, " set according to the Gula Things Laws," and the Counsels of Thorleif, the wise. In the Isle of Man there is no hint of the bringing over of a ready-made Constitution, or of a body of laws, and, the probability is, that the Constitution developed on purely local lines, modified, as said above, by the Celtic customs, which were already quite familiar to our half-Celticised Norsemen before their arrival. but founded on their own traditions of the Things of their Fatherland.

To our Scandinavian ancestors we owe the name of THING-VOLLR, i e., Court, or Parliament-field. "1 he Hill itself would be known to the Scandinavians a : the THING-BREKKR, or Berg, as in Iceland the LOG-BERG, hill of laws, being the mound from which laws, dooms. and proclamations were announced.

The modern ceremony seems still to show slight traces of that of early Celtic times, as well as a survival of the Scandinavian proceedings, which, allowing for the altered conditions and the natural evolution of seven centuries, since the end of the Scandinavian rule is wonderfully close to the original,

Every year, on July 5th (Midsummer Day, O.S.), the twenty-four Keys, with the Governor as representative of the Sovereign, and members of his Council, assemble at S. John's to promulgate the Statutes passed during the preceding session of the Legislature, which have received the Royal Assent. Until this is done, the " Act of Tynwald" has no force as law.

The proceedings follow the order founded on tradition, and first reduced to writing and prescribed at a Tynwald held in the early years of the XV. Century.

Having attended morning service in the chapel (which takes the place of the Pagan Temple of old), a procession is formed, answering to the Icelandic Logbergis-ganga on the first Saturday of every session, " the distance," as we are told by Vigfusson (Origines Islandicae, Vol. 1.), "between the hill and the court being about 140 yards in each case." "The path," he adds, " being fenced like the court and hill, and used for this solemn procession, when the judges and officers go to and fro between them," would answer to the Icelandic Thingvallar-tradther. In the Isle of Man, the approach to the hill is strewn with green rushes. On arrival, the King's representative takes his seat in a chair on the top, "his vissage unto ye east," his sword before him, " houlden with the pointe upwards." On his left hand sits the Bishop of Sodor and Man, sole representative of the "barones sittinge in their degree beside" him. Before them sit the members of the Council, the " beneficed men," and the Deemsters, dom-stiorer, answering to the Icelandic Law-man, or Law-speaker. There are two Deemsters in the Isle of Man, as Vigfusson surmises, because its central Tynwald is a union of two older separate Tynwalds, each of which kept its Law-speaker when the two were united in one central Moot. On the next platform now stand the twenty-four members of the House of Keys (a word probably derived from the Norse Kjosa, to choose, elect) representing the bench of Godes--" the worthiest men in ye lande," originally elected from the Godar, or chief landowners in a Godord, which, in the Isle of Man, seems to be identical with the division which came to be the Parish-possibly the Clan of older times. There were two benches of twelve Godes, just as in Iceland at the great Al-thing, there were four benches each of twelve Godes. On the platform below these are the clergy, and guarding the approach to the summit, the Captains of the Parishes, i.e., " the Clarkes, Knights, Esquires, and Yeomen " Mr. R. D. Farrant has lately made the likely suggestion (The Constitution of the Isle of Man. Law Quarterly Review, July, 1909), that the Vicars and Captains represent "the old-time assessors of the sixteen Keys."

Sixteen, because at one time eight of the Thing-men, or as now called the Keys, were returned from the Out-isles, the Sudr-evjar, which formed a part of the Norse Kingdom of "Man and the Isles"; this accounts for the present day representatives of the Assessors numbering only 32 (actually 34), instead of the 48 which we must suppose to have been the original number. At what particular period, or for how long, members were returned from the Out-isles, which were frequently separated from Man, or how they were elected, we have neither record nor tradition to show, but it is easy to understand that after their final severance, while the number of Keys reverted to the traditional one of 24, of the Assessors those who were resident alone continued to be summoned, and there would not be the same reason for increase of their number. In the Icelandic Constitution, introduced by Ulf-liod, about 920, we read : "That is also (law) as to all them that have seats in the law-court . . . that each of them ought to take two men into the law-court from among his moot-men, to take counsel with him, the one before him and the other at his back," This explains their presence from time immemorial as nothing else can do, and, if correct, shows that their original and proper places on the Hill were on the lowest dais, or platform, and on the third the Keys, the twelves of Godes originally occupying the middle bench. This tallies also with the Icelandic Al-thing. There remain "the comones to stand without, in a circle in the folde, and the three reliques of Man there to be before you in yr presence, and three Clarkes bearing them in theire surplesses." The three Clarkes are represented by the Crown Chaplains, who alone wear surplices, the other clergy being robed in their black academical gowns. But the " reliques" have long since dis-appeared. Cumming surmises that the gone hand and one byshoppe hede," mentioned in one of the rolls, 32, Henry VIII., as among the property of Rushen Abbey prior to its dissolution, were two of these "reliques." It seems more likely to suppose that the Staff of S. Patrick and the Staff of S. Maughold, greatly more ancient relics, the only trace of which is now to be found in the two estates called " Staff-land" in the respective parishes of Maughold and Patrick, were two of the original reliquaries, whatever the third may have been. All the Commons of Man are, of course, represented by the people on the flat Fair Ground outside the mound, pathway, and chapel, who, as Mr. Farrant says "stand and listen to the promulgation of the laws and indulge in feasting and fairing in the numerous booths erected all around."

As we read, in 1417, " the More of Glanfaba shall call in the Crownars of Man, and theire yards in theire hands wth theire weapons over them, sword or axe, and the (Mears), that be of every sheading. Then the Cheefe, that is the More of Glanfaba, shall make proclamacon upon lyfe and lyme that no man make any, disturbance or stirringe in the time of the Tynwald, moreover no risinge make in the King's presence, upon paine of hanging and drawinge." The place of the Moar is now taken by the Coroner of Glanfaba, who, having thus "fenced the court," the six Coroners, one for each Sheading, no longer in these days, however, armed with " sword or axe," in turn deliver up their wands, which are handed to their successors on taking the oath of office.

This ceremonial "fencing," in a reduced and simple form, is still in use in the opening of all our Courts of Law. In Iceland, a lengthy formula, handed down from Pagan days, is recorded, as well as one for the closing of the Court, of which we have no record or tradition here.

After this, abstracts of the Laws newly enacted are proclaimed by the Deemster, and, given in Manx as well as English. The Deemster then calls for three cheers for the King, the procession is re-formed, and the return made to the Chapel. Here, the Keys, sitting between the transepts, and the Governor and Council in the chancel, hold a sitting of the " Tynwald Court," when purely formal business is transacted.

In the position of the King's representative, on the top of the Hill, surrounded by his household officers, in the strewn rushes on the approach to the Hill, in the Midsummer Fair, and in the call for cheers in recognition of the Sovereign, we may see survivals from the old Celtic ceremonies of twelve, and fifteen hundred or more years ago. The presence of the Keys with their Assessors, of the Deemsters, and of all the Commons of Man, the Fencing of the Court, and the Proclamation of the Laws-though our idea of Laws differs greatly from their mere dooms or decisions in individual cases-the Court held within the Church, and, of course, the word "Tynwald" itself, are all living survivals of the customs, uses, and ceremonies of the Scandinavian settlers during their four centuries of rule in our Island.

The earliest reference to S. John's in its use as a Norse Tynwald, is contained in the "Manx Chronicle," under date 1237" On the 25th day of the month of October . . . a meeting was held of all the people of Man at Tynwald." The place is mentioned under date 14th February, 1228-9, as the site of a great battle between the two Manx Kings, Olaf and Reginald, who laid claim to Man, and fought, one with forces from the northside, and the other from the southside, when Reginald was slain. And in 1238, there was a battle between Laughlin Regent under Harold, and Dugal, Thorkel, and Malmore, deputies of Harold, when the latter were slain.*

Other Tynwalds recorded as having been held in Man, are Cronk Urleigh -the "Hill of Reneurling," Midsummer, 1422, when there was a rising of the Manx, who drove the Lieutenant, John Walton, and his men from the Hill to Michael Churchyard, which they defended, till forced to retreat into the Church. Another was held about two months later, when Sir John Stanley, King of Man, was present ; the former insurgents were then ordered to be drawn and quartered ! At one held at Cronk Keeill Abban, in Baldwin Valley, a few years later, " prowesse," or Trial by combat, was put down. In 143o, a Court of all the Commons was held at Castle Rushen, betwixt the gates, under Henry Byron, lieutenant to Sir John Stanley, when " all former laws were confirmed "

*In digging the foundations for the present north wall of the path from the Church to the mound. lintel graves were found along the whole length of it ; many now have been met with to the north-east of it. and some at the end of the plateau to the west. Though their contents so far have given no certain indication of their period, it is likely that they contain many fallen in their 13th Century battles,



i.-The first mention of Tynwald in the Chronicon Manniae is found under date 1228, when a battle was fought there between Olaf ij. of Man and his brother Reginald, the Usurper, ending in Reginald's death. Olaf's stronghold was on Peel islet, and he was supported by the northern clans ; it would seem, then, that on this occasion Tynwald, by its situation, offered itself as the most con-venient rendezvous ; while Reginald, who was supported by the southern clans, seemed to have advanced to attack Olaf, that is to say, Tynwald was not on that day the rendezvous of a mote, thing, or assembly-though, doubtless for centuries prior to that time, it had been a mote hill ; and was already even then the common meeting place in affairs concerning the whole Island.

ij.-The second mention of Tynwald in the Chronicon is under date 1237. In that year Harold, son and successor of Olaf ij., became King. He immediately set out with an expedition to impose his authority in the Isles. O'Loughlin, his kinsman, and the guardian of his young brother Olaf, was made Keeper of Man in the King's absence. O'Loughlin attempted, by the aid of the southern clans, to set up young Olaf as King. Harold sent back three chiefs of the O'Nele clan to deal with the trouble. They landed at Peel islet, and sent out the cross summoning an assembly at Tynwald, to which O'Loughlin and his faction also came. The disputation became a fray ; and two of the three O'Nele chiefs were killed, This affair is almost certainly the affair referred to it) the Annals of the Four Masters under date 1237. and there called the Battle of Carn Siadail ; the details in both accounts being so wonderfully alike as to preclude the probability of mere coincidence.

iiij.-We have no allusion to Tynwald Hill for a long period, viz., not till 1408, when considerable light is thrown upon the subject by a document which is in effect an Act of Tynwald of that year. It is evidently an acknowledgment, not only of the authority of Sir John Stanley, the elder, as Lord or King of Man ; but also an acknowledgment o£ Sir John Stanley, the younger, as heir-apparent. Thus the purpose of Tynwald in that year was evidently as a place of proclamation of the new Sovereign - the exact purpose for which a Court was held by Lord Raglan, Lieutenant-Governor, in May, 1910. on the occasion of the accession of King George V.

iv.-Moreover, in the Tynwald Court of 1408, when there were present the Barons of Man, the Deemsters, the twenty-four Keys, and the clergy of the Isle-in acknowledging the Stanley King and the Stanley Heir-Apparent-reference is made to a similar Tynwald Court held at Tynwald in 1393, on the occasion of the proclamation of Sir William le Scrope, who had become King of Man by purchase from Sir William Montacute, second Earl of Salisbury ; and there is a recital of the fact that, on that occasion, not only had Sir William le Scrope been proclaimed and accepted, but also his brother Sir Stephen le Scrope - who, in the absence of a son, was his elder brother's heir-was proclaimed and accepted as Heir-Apparent. We see then that Tynwald Hill, at the end of the XIV. Century was really for the Manx people the Place of Inauguration of their Sovereigns, and of the Heir-Apparent in his predecessor's lifetime ; that is to say, what Tulloghoge, the Place of Inauguration of the O'Neill's was, at Ulster, or the Rock of Doune, the Place of Inauguration of the O'Donnell's was in Donegal, Tynwald Hill was in Man.

v.-The system of choosing the King's successor, during the King's lifetime, may be said to be the Tanist system. At Tulloghoge, in Ulster, there was a Tanist stone-destroyed in the XVI. Century by the soldiers of Queen Elizabeth. Not improbably there was a Tanist stone at Tynwald ; but if so, all tradition of it has been lost.

vi.-The Irish distinction between the Heir-Apparent and Heir-Presumptive was a most important distinction. Every man within a definite degree of blood relationship was an Heir-Presumptive ; that is to say he might be chosen successor ; but the Heir-Apparent, or Tanist, was the man out of all this number actually chosen, proclaimed in an assembly at the Place of Inauguration.

The idea was not peculiarly Irish, it was equally Danish. But it would seem that about A.D. 1400, the Scropes and Stanleys, on becoming Lords of Man, gave strict attention to the form and procedure, as still at that time obligatory,

vij.-When the Stanleys were firmly established in Man, we find numbers of Tynwald Courts held by the Lieutenant-Governors, and by Sir John Stanley, the younger, at different local (or, possibly, sheading) Tynwalds. Cronk Urleigh, in Kirk Michael ; Keeill Abban, in Braddan ; and "within the Buttes" of Castle Rushen, were places where such Courts were held. At Keeill Abban, a point almost exactly in the centre of the Island, " provesse," or trial by combat was abolished in 1422; and, in its place, probably, trial by jury made to be law.


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received MNB Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2002