[From Manx Soc vols 25+28 - Blundell's History]
THE Lord Cooke hath but one only chapter concerning ye Isle of Man, and yt conteyning but one leafe and a halfe of paper; yet therein he hath one sentence seemeth to preposses mens expectations concerning ye lawes, customes, and jurisdictions of yt Island, as would almost deterr any man to write of them, for, saith he, they are such the like whereof wee finde not in any place. I cordially wish yt he had employed more time and paper (if he could) to have set downe wt those lawes and customes were, and thereby he should have much obliged posterity, and merited of the Manksmen. For my part I leave it to ye judicious reader to judge of this encomium. I hold myselfe much obliged to shew, and not to censure, their lawes and customes (and yt but soe far as I have been enabled by ye curtsey of one of their keys), yet not only ye like, but even ye same, are found to be practised in divers other places, as I shall demonstrate before I make an end of this second booke. It is soe facile a business to satisfye all, in all pticulars wch concerne this Islands governmt as many may imagine, for to demonstrate how difficult an undertaking it is for any to intrude himselfe to pry into their arcana imperii, yt is to make any discovery of ye secrets of this (though little) State, I will here informe you of a strange truth, ye like whereof (to make use of ye L.
1 Instit. part 4, cli. 69.
Cooks words to my purpose) I doe not finde in any other place, that for more than 1200 years (as I have before demonstrated) ye Island of Man was a kingdome, and therefore therein was a settled governrnt, yet there never was (nor at this day is as yet) any one treatise extant, written or printed, or any way published, either in ye Manks, British, English, Latin, or any other language whatsoever, to informe ye Mariksmen (or us yt are strangers) of any pticulars concerning this Island wch conteyneth any entire catalogue of their laws and customes or jurisdictions, whereby ye inhabitants might know and bear in memory wch their duty is to God and their lord; what they are commanded to doe and not to doe, etc.
If any demand how were they governed in those times, I answr after ye jus innatum (yt is ye common law of all ye world) they had a jus non scriptum, wch was cofflitted to ye fidelity of ye deemsters, as a thing holy and sacred, and by ym delivered to posterity by orall tradition only, wch custome no question they received from ye Druides, who, as Cesar saith, would not by writing prostitute anything to ye vulgar; to ye end they might still rely, and repaire to (and have use of) them in all litigious and difficult businesses ; wtsoever these Druides of old time, or deemsters, their successors, either said or sentenced, was and must stand, and be held for law ( as I shewed you before), but all others were kept in ignorance ; and, therefore, from all antiquity, and even to this day, ye Manksmen doe call their lawes breast lawes, as being deposited and locked up in ye breasts of their deemsters only.
Wee find ye Lacedemonians had in like manner a jus non scriptum, but yet they per præconem promulgabant quotidea. (or rather, as I thinke it should bee, quotannis), for Desiarchus afterwards writt them downe, and all the youth of the city were commanded to be present at ye promulgation thereof every year. This thus continued, even ab origine, untill this Island of Man was given to sr John Stanley and his heires by King Henry ye Fourth. At his comeing thither to be invested and made king of ye Island, he brought over with him, out of Lancashire, a very understanding active gentleman, whose name was Michael Blondell ; him he made governor of ye Island. This wise and politick English lawyer observing ye inconveniency of these breast laws, and ye mañer of ye manageing of ye same in past, he prescribed a remedy ; for he first brought in ye custome, and commanded it for ye future, yt all law cases decided either in their courts or by ye deemsters should be written downe by ye clerke of ye rolles as a record against another time yt ye same or ye like case) falleth out againe, and those they registred and kept for precedents. This mans memory (for this fact) is worthily recorded in ye bookes of ye 24 keyes ; but these bookes of presidents are lockt up, and none are admitted to puse or make use of them but ye lords officers only, nor any of them alone can have any access to them. For these books are kept there wth as great caution, care, and curiosity, as were ye bookes of ye sibills by ye Romans, for ye note of my key informed me that these bookes of presidents are kept and put into ye treasury, are there locked up wth three locks and keyes, ye first is kept by ye governor, ye second by ye receiver-generall, ye third by ye comptrowler of ye Island ; but wt may follow hereof may easily be con-jectured, for in future times (not ye Manksmen only), but any Englishman, or any other, may hereby be adopted to become capable to be made a deemster, and to decide cases and controversies, and yt not any longer by their ancient breast laws,by these chest lawes ; neither will there be any necessity to call ye keyes of ye Island to consult, as now, in cases of difficulty.
1 Anno 1406.
It is very remarkable yt in soe divers alterations of their lords and governors (British, Danes, Norwegians, Scotts, and English) (diverse governing tiranically), yt their lawes and customs were never changed, but, like ye Spartans, they have continued in and ye same forme of governmt for many revolutions wthout any mutation. Some shew of a reason for this is rendered by Sr Robert Collon, discoursing of our common law, for he truly observeth yt ancient customes, wherein ye people have been long trained up, are more readily and willingly obeyed then late statutes of wt worth soever ; this wee may aptly apply to ye natives of ye Isle of Man, who, haveing been long accustomed to their ancient customes, they neither easily nor willingly could be drawne to any innovation or alteration of ye same.
It is strange yt no King or Lord of Man hath hitherto been advised by any of their governors to imitate our King Henry ye Second, who caused all ye anitæ (the ancient customes belonging unto our Island of England) to be sought out and collected togeather. And enacted at ye Councell of Clarendon, in Wiltshire (and not in Normandy, as John Speed well observeth Mathew Paris is to be mistaken), wch afterwards were thence called anitall customes, and were soe called (as I suppose) because they descended unto us abavis et altavis.
Wee have another more ancient prsident put in practise by our King William ye First, commonly called ye Conqueror, although Mr. Samuel Daniell is of opinion 1 yt he is in yt title not a little disparaged, for ye lawes (saith John Speed) by wch he (King William ye First) meant to governe he held one excellent rule and purpose, a people ought to be ruled by laws written and certaine, for otherwise new judges still will bring new judgmts, and therefore he caused 12 to be chosen out of every county, which should, on their oaths, wthout inclining one way or other, neither adding nor detracting, open unto him all their ancient customes and lawes, etc.
1 In his Treatise of ye reigne of K. Henry 3.
Now though these lawes of ye Island of Man neither were nor are written wth inke, yet there never was in any age any one Democles yt could justly say of these lawes as he did of those of ye Athenians made by Draco, yt they were writt in blood, for they are acknowledged, both in themselves and in their practice, to be executed with the greatest mildness, ease, and plausibility yt can bee desired, neither did ye Manksmen ever soe much as murmure against them, as I have before intimated.
But these lawes in ye Isle of Man, though for ye major part of them they are very ancient, even above 1000 years, yet yt wch hath soe famed them is their equity, and not antiquity, for it is yt which maketh lawes laudible and customes venerable.