History of the Isle of Man

History of the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man became separated from Britain and Ireland by about 8000 BC. It appears that colonisation took place by sea sometime before 6500 BC.[1] The island has been visited by various raiders and trading peoples over the years. After being settled by people from Ireland in the first millennium, the Isle of Man was converted to Christianity and then suffered raids by Vikings from Norway. After becoming subject to suzerainty to Norway as part of the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, the Isle of Man later became a possession of the Scottish and then English crowns.

Since 1866, the Isle of Man has been a Crown Dependency and has democratic self-government.

Old House of Keys, Castletown



Cross-section of the Irish Sea through Man, showing sea levels.
Ogham stone from the Isle of Man showing the droim in centre. Text reads BIVAIDONAS MAQI MUCOI CUNAVA[LI]; in English: Of Bivaidonas, son of the tribe Cunava[li].


The Isle of Mann effectively became an island around 8,500 years ago when rising sea levels caused by the melting glaciers cut Mesolithic Britain off from continental Europe for the last time. A land bridge had existed between the Isle of Man and Cumbria prior to this date, although the location and opening of the land-bridge remains poorly understood.[2]

The earliest traces of people on the Isle of Man date back to the Mesolithic Period, also known as the Middle Stone Age. The first residents lived in small natural shelters, hunting, gathering and fishing for their food. They used small tools made of flint or bone, examples of which have been found near the coast. Representatives of these artifacts are kept at the Manx National Heritage museum.

Neolithic to Bronze Age

The Neolithic Period marked the coming of knowledge of farming, improved stone tools and pottery. It was during this period that megalithic monuments began to appear around the island. Examples are found at Cashtal yn Ard near Maughold, King Orry's Grave in Laxey, Meayll Circle near Cregneash, and Ballaharra Stones in St John's. The Megaliths were not the only culture during this time; there were also the local Ronaldsway and Bann cultures.

During the Bronze Age, the large communal tombs of the Megaliths were replaced with smaller burial mounds. Bodies were put in stone lined graves along with ornamental containers. The Bronze Age burial mounds created long lasting markers about the countryside.

Iron Age

The Iron Age marked the beginning of Celtic cultural influence. Large hill forts appeared on hill summits and smaller promontory forts along the coastal cliffs, whilst large timber-framed roundhouses were built.

It is likely that the first Celts to inhabit the Island were Brythonic tribes from mainland Britain. The secular history of the Isle of Man during the Brythonic period remains mysterious. It is not known if the Romans ever made a landing on the island; if they did they certainly never conquered it. It has been speculated that the island may have become a haven for Druids and other refugees from Anglesey after the Sacking of Mona in AD60. The best record of any event before the incursions of the Northmen is attributed to Báetán mac Cairill, king of Ulster, at the end of the 6th century (though some have thought this event may refer to Manau Gododdin between the Firths of Clyde and Forth). Even if the supposed conquest of the Menavian islands - Mann and Anglesey - by Edwin of Northumbria, in 616, did take place, it could not have led to any permanent results, for when the English were driven from the coasts of Cumberland and Lancashire, soon afterwards, they could not well have retained their hold on the island to the west of these coasts. One can speculate, however, that when Ecfrid's Northumbrians laid Ireland waste from Dublin to Drogheda in 684, they temporarily occupied Mann.

It is generally assumed that Irish invasion or immigration formed the basis of the modern Manx language; Irish migration to the island probably began in the 5th century AD. This is evident in the change in language used in Ogham inscriptions. The transition between Manx Brythonic (like Welsh) and Manx Gaelic (a Goidelic language which remains closely related to Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic) may have been gradual. One question is whether present-day Manx language survives from pre-Norse days or reflects a linguistic reintroduction after the Norse invasion.

Tradition attributes the island's conversion to Christianity to St Maughold (Maccul), an Irish missionary who gives his name to a parish. The island's name derives from Manannán, the Brythonic and Gaelic sea god.

Middle Ages

Viking Age and Norse kingdom

During the period of Scandinavian domination there are two main epochs – one before the conquest of Mann by Godred Crovan in 1079, and the other after it. Warfare and unsettled rule characterize the earlier epoch; the later saw comparatively more peace.

Between about A.D. 800 and 815 the Vikings came to Mann chiefly for plunder; between about 850 and 990, when they settled in it, the island fell under the rule of the Scandinavian Kings of Dublin; and between 990 and 1079, it became subject to the powerful Earls of Orkney.

There was a mint producing coins on Mann between c.1025 and c.1065. These Manx coins were minted from an imported type 2 Hiberno-Norse penny die from Dublin. Hiberno-Norse coins were first minted under Sihtric, King of Dublin. This illustrates that Mann may have in fact been under the thumb of Dublin at this time.

The conqueror Godred Crovan was evidently a remarkable man, though little information about him is attainable. According to the Chronicon Manniae he subdued Dublin, and a great part of Leinster, and held the Scots in such subjection that no one who built a vessel dared to insert more than three bolts. The memory of such a ruler would be likely to survive in tradition, and it seems probable therefore that he is the person commemorated in Manx legend under the name of King Gorse or Orry. He created the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles in around 1079; it included the south-western islands of Scotland (Sodor) until 1164, when two separate kingdoms were formed from it.

The islands which were under his rule were called the Suðr-eyjar (Sudreys or the south isles, in contradistinction to the Norðr-eyjar, or the "north isles," i.e. Orkney and Shetland), and they consisted of the Hebrides, and of all the smaller western islands of Scotland, with Mann. At a later date his successors took the title of Rex Manniae et Insularum (King of Mann and the Isles). The kingdom's capital was on St Patrick's Isle, where Peel Castle was built on the site of a Celtic monastery.

Olaf, Godred's son, exercised considerable power, and according to the Chronicle, maintained such close alliance with the kings of Ireland and Scotland that no one ventured to disturb the Isles during his time (1113–1152). In 1156, his son, Godred (reigned 1153–1158), who for a short period ruled over Dublin also, lost the smaller islands off the coast of Argyll as a result of a quarrel with Somerled (the ruler of Argyll). An independent sovereignty thus appeared between the two divisions of his kingdom.

In the 1130s the Church sent a small mission to establish the first bishopric on the Isle of Man, and appointed Wimund as the first bishop. He soon after embarked with a band of followers on a career of murder and looting throughout Scotland and the surrounding islands.

During the whole of the Scandinavian period the isles remained nominally under the suzerainty of the kings of Norway, but the Norwegians only occasionally asserted it with any vigour. Harold Haarfager did so first about 885, then came Magnus Barfod about 1100: both of these conquered the isles.

Decline of Norse rule

From the middle of the 12th century till 1217 the suzerainty, because Norway had become a prey to civil dissensions, had remained of a very shadowy character. But after that date it became a reality and Norway consequently came into collision with the growing power of the kingdom of Scotland.

Early in the 13th century, when Ragnald (reigned 1187–1229) paid homage to King John of England (reigned 1199–1216), we hear for the first time of English intervention in the affairs of Mann. But a period of Scots domination would precede the establishment of full English control.

Finally, in 1261, Alexander III of Scotland sent envoys to Norway to negotiate for the cession of the isles, but their efforts led to no result. He therefore initiated hostilities which terminated in the indecisive Battle of Largs against the Norwegian fleet in 1263. However, the Norwegian king Haakon Haakonsson died the following winter, and this allowed King Alexander to bring the war to a successful conclusion. Magnus, King of Mann and the Isles (reigned 1252–1265), who had fought on the Norwegian side, had to surrender all the islands over which he had ruled, except Mann, for which he did homage. Two years later Magnus died and in 1266 King Magnus VI of Norway ceded the islands, including Mann, to Scotland in the Treaty of Perth in consideration of the sum of 4,000 marks (known as merks in Scotland) and an annuity of 100 marks. But Scotland's rule over Mann did not become firmly established till 1275, when the Manx suffered defeat in the decisive Battle of Ronaldsway, near Castletown.

English dominance

In 1290 King Edward I of England was in possession of Mann, and it remained in English hands until 1313, when Robert Bruce took it after besieging Castle Rushen for five weeks. Then, until 1346, when the Battle of Neville's Cross decided the long struggle between England and Scotland in England's favour, there followed a confused period when Mann sometimes experienced English rule and sometimes Scottish.

About 1333 King Edward III of England granted Mann to William de Montacute, 3rd Baron Montacute, (later the 1st Earl of Salisbury), as his absolute possession, without reserving any service to be rendered to him. In 1388 the Island was "ravaged" by Sir William Douglas of Nithsdale on his way home from the destruction of the town of Carlingford[3]. In 1392 his son sold the island including sovereignty to Sir William le Scrope. In 1399 King Henry IV brought about the beheading of Le Scrope, who had taken the side of Richard II. The island then came into the possession of the Crown, which granted it to Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, but following his attainder, Henry IV, in 1405, made a lifetime grant of it, with the patronage of the bishopric, to Sir John Stanley. In 1406 this grant was extended – on a feudatory basis under the English Crown – to Sir John's heirs and assigns, the feudal fee being the service of rendering homage and two falcons to all future Kings of England on their coronations.

Early Modern period

With the accession of the Stanleys to the throne there begins a more settled epoch in Manx history. Though the island's new rulers rarely visited its shores, they placed it under governors, who, in the main, seem to have treated it with the justice of the time. Of the thirteen members of the family who ruled in Mann, the second Sir John Stanley (1414–1432), James, the 7th Earl (1627–1651), and the 10th Earl of the same name (1702–1736) had the most important influence on it. The first curbed the power of the spiritual barons, introduced trial by jury, instead of trial by battle, and ordered the laws to be written. The second, known as the Great Stanley, and his wife, Charlotte de la Tremoille (or Tremouille), are probably the most striking figures in Manx history.

English Civil War and Interregnum

In 1643 Charles I ordered James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby to go to Mann, where the people, who were no doubt influenced by what was taking place in England, threatened to revolt.

Stanley's arrival, with English soldiers, soon put a stop to anything of this kind. He conciliated the people by his affability, brought in Englishmen to teach various handicrafts and tried to help the farmers by improving the breed of Manx horses, and, at the same time, he restricted the exactions of the Church, but the Manx people never had less liberty than under his rule. They were heavily taxed; troops were quartered upon them; and they also had the more lasting grievance of being compelled to accept leases for three lives instead of holding their land by the straw tenure which they considered to be equivalent to a customary inheritance.

Six months after the death of Charles (30 January 1649), Stanley received a summons from General Ireton to surrender the island, which he haughtily declined. In August 1651 he went to England with some of his troops, among whom were 300 Manxmen, to join King Charles II, and he and they shared in the decisive defeat of the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester. He was captured, imprisoned in Chester Castle and then tried by court-martial and executed at Bolton.


Soon after Stanley's death, the Manx Militia, under the command of William Christian (known by his Manx name of Illiam Dhone), rose against the Countess and captured all the insular forts except Rushen and Peel. They were then joined by a Parliamentary force under Colonel Duckenfield, to whom the Countess surrendered after a brief resistance.

Oliver Cromwell had appointed Thomas Fairfax Lord of Mann and the Isles in September, so that Mann continued under a monarchical government and remained in the same relation to England as before.

Restoration of the Stanleys

The restoration of Stanley government in 1660 therefore caused as little friction and alteration as its temporary cessation had. One of the first acts of the new Lord, Charles Stanley, 8th Earl of Derby, was to order Christian to be tried. He was found guilty and executed. Of the other persons implicated in the rebellion only three were excepted from the general amnesty. But by Order in Council, Charles II pardoned them, and the judges responsible for the sentence on Christian were punished.

Charles Stanley's next act was to dispute the permanency of the tenants' holdings, which they had not at first regarded as being affected by the acceptance of leases, a proceeding which led to an almost open rebellion against his authority and to the neglect of agriculture, in lieu of which the people devoted themselves to the fisheries and to contraband trade.

Charles Stanley, who died in 1672, was succeeded firstly by his son William Richard George Stanley, 9th Earl of Derby until his death in 1702.

The agrarian question subsided only in 1704, when James, William's brother and successor, largely through the influence of Bishop Wilson, entered into a compact with his tenants, which became embodied in an act, called the Act of Settlement. Their compact secured the tenants in the possession of their estates in perpetuity on condition of a fixed rent, and a small fine on succession or alienation. From the great importance of this act to the Manx people it has been called their Magna Carta. As time went on, and the value of the estates increased, the rent payable to the Lord became so small in proportion as to be almost nominal, being extinguished by purchase in 1916.


James died in 1736, and the suzerainty of the isle passed to James Murray, 2nd Duke of Atholl, his first cousin and heir-male. In 1764 he was succeeded by his only surviving child Charlotte, Baroness Strange, and her husband, John Murray, who (in right of his wife) became Lord of Mann. About 1720 the contraband trade greatly increased. In 1726 Parliament checked it somewhat for a time, but during the last ten years of the Atholl regime (1756–1765) it assumed such proportions that, in the interests of the Imperial revenue, it became necessary to suppress it. With a view to so doing, Parliament passed the Isle of Man Purchase Act 1765 (commonly called the Revestment Act by the Manx), under which it purchased the rights of the Atholls as Lords of Mann including the customs revenues of the Island for the sum of £70,000 sterling, and granted an annuity to the Duke and Duchess. The Atholls still retained their manorial rights, the patronage of the bishopric, and certain other perquisites, until they sold them for the sum of £417,144 in 1828.

Up to the time of the revestment, Tynwald had passed laws concerning the government of the island in all respects and had control over its finances, subject to the approval of the Lord of Mann. After the revestment, or rather after the passage of the Smuggling Act 1765 (commonly called the Mischief Act by the Manx), the Parliament at Westminster legislated with respect to customs, harbours and merchant shipping, and, in measures of a general character, it occasionally inserted clauses permitting the enforcement in the island of penalties in contravention of the acts of which they formed part. It also assumed the control of the insular customs duties. Such changes, rather than the transference of the full suzerainty to the King of Great Britain and Ireland, modified the (unwritten) constitution of the Isle of Man. Its ancient laws and tenures remained untouched, but in many ways the revestment affected it adversely. The hereditary Lords of Mann seldom, if ever, functioned as model rulers, but most of them had taken some personal share in its government, and had interested themselves in the well-being of its inhabitants. But now the whole direction of its affairs became the work of officials who regarded the island as a pestilent nest of smugglers, from which it seemed their duty to extract as much revenue as possible.

Some alleviation of this state of things happened between 1793 and 1826 when John Murray, 4th Duke of Atholl served as Governor, since, though he quarrelled with the House of Keys and unduly cared for his own pecuniary interests, he did occasionally exert himself to promote the welfare of the island. After his departure the English officials resumed their sway, but they showed more consideration than before. Moreover, since smuggling, which the Isle of Man Purchase Act had only checked – not suppressed – had by that time almost disappeared, and since the Manx revenue had started to produce a large and increasing surplus, the authorities looked more favourably on the Isle of Man, and, thanks to this fact and to the representations of the Manx people to British ministers in 1837, 1844 and 1853, it obtained a somewhat less stringent customs tariff and an occasional dole towards erecting its much neglected public works.

Modern period

After 1866, when the Isle of Man obtained a nominal measure of Home Rule, the Manx people have made remarkable progress, and currently form a prosperous community, with a thriving offshore financial centre, a tourist industry (albeit smaller than in the past) and a variety of other industries.

The Isle of Man was a base for alien civilian internment camps in both the First World War (1914–18) and the Second World War (1939–45). During the First World War there were two camps, one a requisitioned holiday camp in Douglas and the other a purpose built camp at Knockaloe near Peel in the parish of Patrick. During the Second World War there were a number of smaller camps in Douglas, Peel, Port Erin and Ramsey. The (now disbanded) Manx Regiment was raised in 1938 and saw action during the Second World War.

On 2 August 1973, a flash fire killed 51 people at the Summerland amusement centre in Douglas.[4]

Greater autonomy

The early 20th century saw a revival of music, dance, and a limited revival of the Manx language, although the last "native" speaker of Manx Gaelic died in the 1970s. In the middle of the 20th century, the Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, visited, and was so dissatisfied with the lack of support for Manx that he immediately had two recording vans sent over. During the 20th century the Manx tourist economy declined, as the English and Irish started flying to Spain for package holidays. The Manx Government responded to this by successfully promoting the island, with its low tax rates, as an offshore financial centre, although it has avoided being placed on a recent UK black list of tax havens.[5] The financial centre has had its detractors who have pointed to the potential for money laundering.[6]

In 1949 an Executive Council, chaired by the Lieutenant-Governor and including members of Tynwald, was created. This was the start of a transfer of executive power from the unelected Lieutenant Governor to democratically elected Manx politicians. Finance and the police passed to Manx control between 1958 and 1976.[7] In 1980 the Lieutenant Governor was replaced as Chairman of the Executive Council by a chairman elected by Tynwald.[8] Following legislation in 1984, the Executive Council was reconstituted in 1985 to include the chairmen of the eight principal Boards[9]; in 1986 they were given the title of Minister and the chairman was retitled Chief Minister.[10] In 1986 Sir Miles Walker CBE became the first Chief Minister of the Isle of Man. In 1990 the Executive Council was renamed the Council of Ministers.[11]

The 1960s also saw a rise in Manx nationalism, spawning the parties Mec Vannin and the Manx National Party, as well as the now defunct Fo Halloo (literally "Underground"), which mounted a direct-action campaign of spray-painting and attempted house-burning.

On 5 July 1973, control of the postal service passed from the UK General Post Office to the new Isle of Man Post, which began to issue its own postage stamps.

The 1990s and early 21st century have seen a greater recognition of indigenous Manx culture, including the opening of the first Manx language primary school, as well as a general re-evaluation of the island's economy.

See also



  1. ^ p8, Richard Bradley The prehistory of Britain and Ireland, Cambridge University Press, 2007, ISBN 0521848113
  2. ^ A New History of the Isle of Man Volume 1 - The Evolution of the Natural Landscape. edited by Richard Hiverrell and Geoffrey Thomas pp295-296 (1st Edition)(2006) Liverpool University Press ISBN 0-85323-587-2
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ 1973: Dozens die in resort fire, BBC News item
  5. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/isle_of_man/8030546.stm
  6. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/1999/09/24/business/international-business-undercurrents-safe-harbor-isle-man-corporations-enclave.html?sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all
  7. ^ Finance Act 1958, Finance Act 1962, Police (Isle of Man) Act 1962, Governor's Financial and Judicial Functions (Transfer) Act 1976: Statutes of the Isle of Man
  8. ^ Constitution (Executive Council) (Amendment) Act 1980
  9. ^ Constitution (Executive Council) Act 1984
  10. ^ Constitution (Executive Council) (Amendment) Act 1986
  11. ^ Council of Ministers Act 1990

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