Offices of the Manx Civil and Church Establishments

Please note: this page concentrates on the 15th through to early 20th Centuries - many significant changes have occurred since then, with many of these offices becoming more decorative than functional.

Civil Government

This section covers the period from the consolidation of English control with the 'gift' of the Island to the Stanleys until modern times.

Lord of Man

The Lord of Man was the feudal ruler of the Island from whom all title to land was supposed to descend.

A list of Lords of Man gives the names, dates and reference to a brief biography. From the Act of Revestment of 1765 in which the English Crown bought back the regalities of the Island from the Atholl heirs of the title, the Lordship of Man has been held by the British monarch.


Baronies were effectively different civil jurisdictions each having their own civil courts. Originally there were eight Barons, interestingly all were ecclesiastical:

(see Map of original lands within Diocese of Sodor and Man for location of these off-island establishments.)


Executive Branch of Government


Sometimes referred to as Lieutenant Governor to emphasise that the power was delegated from the Lord. In much of the Stanley era styled Captain or Lieutenant.
Present day 'Governors' are strictly Lieutenant Governors.

He was the Lord's representative on the Island and held the office at the Lord's pleasure. His warrant was needed for the main civil courts and it was normal practice for the Governor to preside over all court sessions - a practice that remained until the reforms of the late 19th century.

Until the 1860's he would have lived in Castletown though not generally in Castle Rushen which would have been the Lord's residence when he was on the Island.

A list of the Governors gives the names, dates and reference to a brief biography.

Lord' Council

An appointed council, comprising the four principal 'household' officers:

According to Dickenson these comprised the permanent members to which may be summoned

Blundell in his history gives a good summary of the job functions and responsibility of each officer in the mid 17th century. A list of the holders of these (and other jobs) from 1437-1570 is available


He was in charge of the Lord's revenue, auditing accounts of the receiver and water-bailiff and rendering such accounts, annually, to the Lord. Had a joint responsibility with the receiver to ensure that garrisons were properly victualled, castles kept in good repair etc. He was also Clerk of the Rolls, though a deputy was appointed to help him in this office.


Responsible for the collection of the Lord's revenue as well as paymaster, producing quarterly accounts for scrutiny by the comptroller. Most of the actual collection was done by the Moars and the receiver had considerable powers of oversight over them. Until 1610 there were two receivers - that for the Northside based at Peel Castle and that for Southside at Castle Rushen. After Countess Elizabeth's reforms the posts were merged into a single receiver general.


Effectively in charge of customs duties (the 'Ingates' and 'Outgates'), recorded any import and export trade and took charge of arrangements for the Herring fishery. Sat as judge in the Admiralty Court which handled any maritime disputes (except felonies).

Attorney General

Acted on behalf of the Lord in any civil and criminal cases; especial duty was to prevent any infringements of the Lord's prerogative rights. Generally attended all courts, both civil and ecclesiastical to record fines and ensure their collection for the Lord. Provided advice on questions of jurisdiction; also represented any incapable of defending themselves at law (e.g. widows, minors). Set rents for newly enclosed land etc. at the annual Sheading courts.

These four offices were generally non-Manx, being appointed from various Lancashire families known to be loyal to the Stanleys.


These offices were generally filled by Manxmen as one requirement was to speak Manx. They presided as judges over the courts both civil and criminal in both the Lord's and any Baronial courts. Although they had power over the whole island, in practice one sat in Northside courts and the other in Southside courts. They usually held office for life, though legally it was at the Lord's pleasure. For list of Deemsters see under Law.

Local Government Officials

These were appointed by the Governor and exercised local control in the parishes.

Captain of the Parish - C.P.

Role originated in the Norse period with the establishment of "Watch and Ward" in which each parish had to arrange for continuous watch, both day and night, for any danger coming from the sea. The Captain was in overall command of this watch as well as any necessary mustering of men, though the individual day and night watches might be delegated to the Warden of the Watch - each watch probably comprising 4 men drawn from the whole adult population (16-60).

Although their last active militia role was in the "Potato Riots" of 1825 the Captains continued to play an official role in civil life until recent times - at the start of the 1900's they still had a role in the Preservation of the Peace and various other local matters. Their role is now ceremonial, reflecting their standing in the parish, though they are still required to attend at the Hill on Tynwald day.

Captain of the Parish C.Radcliffe Douglas:(pp) 1997 covers the history and gives names/dates for the recorded holders of this office.


Originally associated with the military commanders of Peel and Castle Rushen, the positions became approximately equivalent to chief constable, magistrate and town mayor though really the powers were quite limited - the posts were abolished in the 1777 reforms which saw the creation of High Bailiff in each of the four towns and who took over the functions of town management as well as magistrate in the lowest court.


According to Craine initially the Mooar performed most of the functions that the Coroner came to do and the Coroner was subordinate to the Mooar. In 1422 the fine imposed for 'any offence to the King's Officers' was 6s 8d for offences against the Mooar and £3 if to the coroner.
The Mooars were the Lord's bailiffs in each parish whose main duties was to collect the Lord's rents and other revenues or 'fines'. The office fell in turn upon the proprietor of each quarterland - the rotation being certified by the Setting Quest at a Court Baron each year.
The office was abolished, along with Lord's rent, in 1908.


Coroner has, for a long time past, been the officer of the law who serves and enforces the precepts and judgements of the Courts as well as performing certain other duties. Appointed to a sheading and often held by a leading landholder (who could abuse this powerful position) however as their fees and emoluments failed to keep pace with inflation, the posts by early 19C failed to attract suitable candidates. Post reformed in 1855.


He was the Coroner's assistant in each parish, collected some fines and administered various punishments. Craine surmises that the name may arise from the Norse 'lokus-veinn' - jailer - as the Manx name is 'guilley-glass' which reflects this role.


The structure of the legislature has been significantly changed since the 1980's - please see the official Manx Government pages for the current status; these pages concentrate on the situation in the 16C through to early 20C. For an authoritative version of changes in the 20th century see the article by Deemster T.W.Cain Constitutional Reform in the Twentieth Century in Proc IoM Natural History and Antiquarian Soc Vol X No. 3 pp201/224 March 1995.

A good summary of the position prior to and immediately after the 1765 Act of Revestment was given as appendix C:1 of the 1792 Commissioners' Report.

Prior to the Act of Revestment of 1765

The Lord's Council had legislative as well as executive powers though few records exist - most laws up to 1586 being judicial decisions or statements of customary law made by the Deemsters in the presence of the Keys. Towards the end of the 17th century it became the practice for the Governor, Council and Keys to agree on any new laws.

The Keys

Although much publicity has been made that the Keys are the oldest parliament in the British Isles it is not at all clear that they existed as a permanent body during the first two centuries of the Stanley era. During that time they appeared to have only a judicial function, apparently selected by the Deemsters, with the approval of the council, from the 'worthiest Men' in the Island. The name possibly arises from an English approximation to Yn Kiare as feed - 'the four and twenty' - their origin is in the period of Norse rule, originally 8 were chosen from the outer isles and 16 from Mann (probably one from each of the original 16 parishes). When the outer Isles were lost to Scotland in 1266 the lost eight representatives were filled by Manx thus allowing four to be chosen from each sheading.

There would appear to have been more stability in the Keys from the late 16th century - many appeared to hold office for life or until being appointed to higher office. Members appeared to be chosen as representatives of leading families irrespective of residence. Sometimes the Lord exercised his prerogative to remove members.

From their apparently purely judicial role in the 16th century and before, they became, in the 17th century, to be a necessary part of the legislative whose approval was needed for enacting new laws.

Situation post revestment

When London finally obtained control with the Act of Revestment it appointed the key officials (Governor, Attorney General...), collected the revenues and generally ignored the Island once it had succeeded in its main desire to kill off the smuggling trade, treating the Island Legislature as a local body with limited but undefined powers.

Tynwald consisted of two bodies the Legislative Council and the House of Keys - the former being appointed officials whilst the later, after 1867 were elected, though before this time they were self-appointed, filling any vacancy with their own nominees. When the two met together they became known as Tynwald Court (after Court of Westminster) though several depreciated this name.

The Legislative Council comprised 9 members:
the Governor
the Clerk of the Rolls
the two Deemsters
the Attorney General
the Receiver-General
the Lord Bishop
the Archdeacon and
the Vicar General.

 Though the Bishop, Archdeacon and Vicar General were effectively excluded from the council.

Member of the House of Keys - M.H.K.



Clerk of the Rolls

 As mentioned earlier the comptroller was responsible for keeping the records (court, financial etc.). These records were originally written on rolls of parchment - hence the title. Later developed into the legal officer who kept court records.


 For a list of Deemsters see under Law.

Attorney General

 Senior legal officer on Island - both prosecuted/defended cases on behalf of the government and also helped draft new legislation.


An officer of the Ecclesiastical courts - best expressed as 'Summoner' as one function was to summon a jury of four to inspect and value the goods of those who died intestate as well as to summon witnesses to the courts that dealt with wills.



 An officer appointed by the Duke of Athol post Revestment (1765) to handle those financial and legal affairs remaining to the family. Removed post 1828 when all remaining feudal rights of the Atholl's were bought out (for £400,000) by the English government.



The Bishop played, and continues to play though in a somewhat reduced role, a key part in both church and civil governance.

The diocese is one of the oldest in the Anglican communion - the name Sodor and Man reflects the 12C geopolitical situation when the King of Man and the Isles controlled the Islands along the west coast of Scotland.

A list of Bishops of Sodor and Man gives the names, dates and reference to a brief biography.


 Senior clergyman under Bishop and often acted as his deputy. A major function of the ecclesiastical courts was the proving of wills - the court under the Archdeacon's jurisdiction handled those dying between 28th October and 25th April, that under the Vicar-general the other halfyear. The Archdeacon was generally the Rector of Andreas (the best paid on the Island)


The Rector (from the latin 'Agent') - a Parson or Vicar of a parish whose tithes were not impropriate (i.e. not assigned to other purposes). However on the Island a third of all tithes were granted to the Bishop from the time of Bishop Reginald in the 12C. There are three rectories on the Island - Kirks Andreas (generally reserved for the Archdeacon), Ballaugh and Bride. These rectories were thus seen as the posts to aspire to.


From Latin 'Vicarius' or substitute. When some religious body obtained control of a parish it would assume the functions of a Rector and appoint a Vicar to manage the parish i.e. it had the patronage). The tithes were split threeways between the Bishop, Religious House and the Vicar (hence 'Vicar of Thirds'). After the reformation these patronages fell into lay hands - generally the Lord of Man (post 1826 the Crown). In two parishes - Kirks Jurby and Lezayre the stipend was not fixed in this way but was at the discretion of the patron.

A list of Rector and Vicars gives the names, dates and reference to a brief biography.


A clergyman appointed to some post other than that of a parish church - until the reforms of the 19th century most town churches were strictly chapels of ease to a more distant parish church; chaplains were appointed to administer these chapels.


 A person having cure (or care) of souls - generally appointed by a vicar or rector to do the more tedious parochial work; often done by a newly ordained member of clergy (possibly a Deacon rather than Priest). The job had no guarantee of any permanency.

Vicar General

 Effectively the senior law officer under the Bishop - although filled by a member of clergy until the appointment of Roper by Bishop Murray, the job has no religious functions and is now filled by a lay lawyer.

Parish Clerk

The tasks of the Parish Clerk are well set out in the following job description dating from early 19th century.

Church Warden


Judicial Courts


Setting Quest

To quote Moore:

a jury of four men in every parish, called a " Setting Quest." These men, according to Chopper's report (Lab. Sac., 1608), were sworn " to aid and assist the Court in entering the said tenants' names; and that none be put upon the said rentals or Court Rolls, but such as have a good title to the same, either by tenant-right, purchase, will, or otherwise; and such entries, so made by the Court and Setting Quest, to be reputed and taken of such force and validity, as that, in case any tenant's bill of sale should happen to be lost or miscarry, the record being fairly and fully expressed, the same is sufficient to make good the sale as well as the title."



(those online and linked to, are not included here).

D. Craine Manna's Isle Douglas:Manx Museum and National Trust 1955 - especially chap X 'Church and Clergy 1600-1800'

A collection of extremely readable essays mostly drawn from earlier articles in Proc. IoM Natural History and Antiquarian Society. Be warned however, as Rex Kissack has pointed out elsewhere, that though David Craine was extremely well read in the archives he did not believe in boring the reader with any details as to where the information may be found.

J.R.Dickinson The Lordship of Man under the Stanleys Manchester: Chetham Soc CS41 1996

Chapter 1 has been used as the base for much of the material about government and judiciary

 Manx Note Book  [People]

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2000