[From Manx Soc vol 3]

[see later notes for comments on this section]


THE principal national documents of the Isle of Man being connected with the house of Stanley, the influence exerted by the thirteen Stanley Kings could not fail to attract the earliest attention of the Manx Society. For the long period of four centuries, from A.D. 1405 to 1829 the charter of Henry IV. to Sir John Stanley was the helm of the kingdom of Man and the Isles. The sphere of the Stanley dynasty, small in extent, was by them made morally great. The mode in which they steered their ship of state may afford lessons to the largest empires. Much of what is best in British rule the Stanleys exemplified. If under the British empire it be desired that its multitudinous populations be self ruled by their own approved laws; that they be united as one man against foreign domination, ecclesiastical and political; that an aristocratic parliament be freely and truly elected by the entire population; that education be universal; that the disorganisation of popular masses be cured; that canon law be set aside, and that common and statute law be codified and well administered; that all collision and all undue union between church and state be rectified; that all sectarian warfare cease; that there be harmony in modes of worship and Church government; that clerical mediavalism be regulated; that clergy and laity coalesce in doing national work; that Papal aggression be properly met, and that the Priesthood and the Papacy be adjusted for Europe and the world: on all these points practical hints of great value may be learned from the legislation of the Stanley kings of Man. By these, her eldest aristocratic proconsuls, England treated the kingdom of Man and the Isles differently from the other three weaker kingdoms in the British Isles, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. The violence employed to merge these into England has raised religious barriers which to this day prevent the Dissent, Presbytery, and Popery of these provinces from forming with the Prelacy of England an empire well amalgamated spiritually and politically. But in Man the policy of conciliation now happily employed towards all the colonies and dependencies of the empire had its earliest trial and has been followed by the happiest results. The Manx in church and state, by the influence of the Stanley policy, may be said to be more Anglican than the English. Individual rulers have resigned a sceptre, but what dynasty of kings, after discontinuing that name, and gracefully filling the first rank of subjects, have handed over to the sovereign line of monarchs an ancient kingdom, with surplus revenue, with no debt, with no internal taxation, retaining its primitive self government, and without shadow of compulsion moving in its satellite orbit around the imperial centre ?

The problem of railway communication over the globe was solved when Stephenson first ran his rude locomotive on the coal tramway; and it is possible that in the central islet of the British group more than one problem for the progress of humanity, defying the statesmanship and churchmanship of our age, may have received an experimental though unnoticed solution. Given a good monarch, what system in state or church can excel monarchy? Three of the Stanley kings, like David's three mightiest of his 30 mighty men, have left legislative monuments. The Anglican, the Romanist, the Dissenter, the Republican will concede the ability of these patrician kings of the germ of our colonial empire; but the measures of the antiRomanist Sir John Stanley, of the anti-Puritan seventh Earl of Derby, and of the anti-revolutionary tenth Earl, must by some of these parties be disapproved.

In the 17th century the flag of church and king, struck down elsewhere, floated last over Man. At the crisis when Britain, to prevent Papal re-ascendency, had expelled the lineal descendant of her ancient monarchy, the churchmen of England having anointed a Presbyterian king, Ireland fighting to restore and Scotland to repel the Romanist, the heart of the British Isles remained at rest amidst that tempest. Neither Popery nor dissent disquieted the Isle of Man. Well might its prelate extol the unanimity of his diocese. " The religious worship is exactly the same with that of the Church of England. The reformation was begun somewhat later here than in England, but so happily carried on that there has not for many years been one Papist a native in the Island, nor indeed are there dissenters of any denomination except a family or two of Quakers, and even some of these have of late been baptised into the church." The testimony of Governor Sacheverell to the same effect has been given in the first volume of the Manx Society. "The first advantage of the country is a perfect unanimity in matters of religion, strictly conformable to the doctrines and discipline of the Church of England. The next advantage to this is the goodness of their laws, admirably adapted to their constitution. Lord Chief Justice Coke saith that the Isle of Man has such laws, the like whereof are not to be found in any other place."

Although the institutions and laws are nearly the same now as then in Bishop Wilson's days, this being the only spot in the British Isles not depending for these on the Imperial Parliament, religious division is now amply developed. According to statistics published by the present Bishop of Sodor and Man, the 52,116 inhabitants have sittings in church or chapel for almost every individual; there being 17,210 sittings in the 31 licensed places of worship connected with the establishment, and 33,985 sittings, in the 91 non-conformist chapels. The sources of former unity and present division deserve investigation as a social and historical question, the answer to which may indicate a clue to guide out of the sectarian Babel of modern Christendom.

The religion and constitution of the Isle of Man have been greatly influenced by the national documents of three Stanley kings, printed in this volume.

1.–The acts of Sir John Stanley, the second king of that family, and who first reduced the laws and institutions of the Island to writing.

2.–The acts of James, the seventh Earl of Derby and tenth Stanley King; a summary of his legislation is given in this publication and the letter to his son, reprinted from Peck's Desiderate Curiosa, is a curious commentary on the intention of his legislation.

3.–The two principal acts of Tynwald under the tenth Earl of Derby, the last Stanley king.

The first of these kings broke the domination of the Papacy in this Isle a century earlier than Henry VIII. and Luther, while as yet its sway over the rest of the British Isles was irresistible. It was he that first constitutionally delivered a British Isle from the Papal yoke. By feudal authority he superseded papal power without fraud or violence. The statesmanship of Sir John Stanley and the successive steps by which at the head of the least kingdom in Europe, he checkmated the overwhelming power of Rome may convey a lesson in the present day, when the territorial sway of the British Isles exceeds that of Papal and Pagan Rome.

The ninth descendant from the anti-Papal Leader may be termed the anti-Puritan King, having been successful against that opposite extreme. Strafford's scheme of " thorough " which cost Charles I. his crown, prevailed under the seventh Earl of Derby, for he in his own realm repressed the Puritan and popular movement of the 17th century, and effected for his own crown and legislature what Louis Napoleon has accomplished in France.

The revolution of 1688 in England had its counterpart in Man. It restored to the freeholders their Norwegian charters, so that the Manx, rooted in their native soil, have not had an exodus to America like their Celtic brethren of Ireland and the highlands of Scotland. Its ecclesiastical constitutions opened to Bishop Wilson a patriarchate of 50 years such as Calvin swayed over Geneva. The national education first brought to all by Knox, was first made compulsory by Wilson. But " the constitution of old time" of Sir John Stanley and the ecclesiastical constitutions of Bishop Wilson grew from different roots and were at heart antagonistic. Sir Robert Walpole let the zealous Bishop out of the Manx state dungeon, but to reconcile the antagonism between Wycliffe and Laud, surpassed the wisdom of the unprincipled 18th century.

A kindred genius and high churchman wrested the :Manx patriarchate from the incapable hands of Wilson's successors. The revestment of the insular sovereignty in the British crown in 1765 had rendered the inhabitants more liable to English influences, and the evangelical revival in England under Whitfield and Wesley flowed freely over the Isle of Mam Carrying away from more recent structures their popular support this influence has tended towards a revival of Sir John Stanley's constitution. The Methodized evangelical hierarchy, born in the Church of England and expelled from it, has not undermined the deep unity of the Manx nation. Papal and Puritan extremes repelled, so strong is the hold which Anglicanism accepted as the golden mean, has upon the Manx nationality, that to this day the multitudes of the chapel retain their occasional and sacramental connection with the Church. The great patriarch of Methodism, John Wesley, who twice visited Man, wrote in his journal of 8th June, 1786: " Having now visited the Island round, East, South, North, and West, I was thoroughly convinced that we have no such circuit as this either in England, Scotland, or Ireland. Here are no Papists, nor Dissenters of any kind, no Calvinists, no disputers. Here is no opposition either from the Governor, a mild and humane man, from the Bishop, a good man, or from the bulk of the clergy. The Isle is supposed to have 30,000 inhabitants. Allowing half of them to be adults, and our societies to contain one or two and twenty hundred members, what a fair proportion is this! What has been seen like this in any part either of Great Britain or Ireland ?" Man yielded allegiance to Wesley in the 19th century as to Wycliffe in the 15th, and these two apostle Englishmen have had their national triumph in the home foreign diocese, which is and is not of the Church of England.

Can " the golden mean of Anglicanism" be cultivated here to perfection as in a nursery garden ? Is there no way to graft on the stock of Wycliffe the best buds of St. Andrews' and Canterbury, and to get some Wesley or Wellesley as leader in-chief of the comprehension ? While by all the available wealth and energy of the empire, weapons of war are being brought to perfection, is there no Napoleon of peace to turn effete weapons of political and ecclesiastical warfare into plough'shares and pruning hooks for the work of millenial peace ? If the Christian sects would by love and good works cease their warfare, the nations at their united call would embrace each other. Let the experiment be but fairly tried, and the success will be the jubilee trumpet to mankind.

If the future be the growth of the past, why should we despair of reaping in the future the mature crop of those seeds which the past has sown? Seven goodly national seeds have been sown, and have already sprung up in this Island. First, the seed of unity, civil and ecclesiastical, has been developed from the physical root up through its several stages to the purely mental; for the paternal power as a feudal despotism was by the Solon and Numa of the Isle, under the influence of Wycliffe, put in train for development through the physical and spiritual power of Wilson up to the spiritual power of Wesley. Secondly, the anti-Papal seed has covered the Island, for by first putting down Papal power, the paternal insular power had no difficulty afterwards in dealing with priestly rites and dogmas. There is thirdly, the seed of self government, sown in the annual national assemblies of the Celts, cultivated by Scandinavian sea kings in their Tynwald Courts, not rooted up by Roman usurpation, and now under the shelter of England's faith and law. There is, fourthly, the seed of personal freedom, a Scandinavian importation indigenous to the hardy north; growing under the shelter of charter freeholds, revived by living christianity, and prepared for higher growth by clustering round a centre and striking its roots into the national constitution of old time and the court of all the commons of Man. There is, fifthly, the seed of national education. Bishop Wilson's compulsory system is yielding fruit. For while his clerical policy is effete and the small incomes of his clergy for which he was so zealous have been stereotyped by the Tithe Commutation Act, and are ever growing comparatively smaller, the mental power he evolved is ever growing greater; and the Manx schools receive a higher proportion of the Imperial funds than any diocese in England. There is, sixthly, a seed of good national law. The primary law written by the Creator on the conscience, is under the denomination of Breast Law, the central principle of Manx national law. This is still the regale replans–the regulating rule of all ordinances, customs, decisions, precedents, statutes, and Acts of Tynwald. The Deemsters, with their Council of the twenty-four eldest and worthiest of all the land of Man, to this day hold the right to deem, declare, and decide according to this catholic and primeval law of creation. The Puritan movement was powerless to reform the English laws, and the hand that seized the mace of the House of Commons was paralysed in the Court of Chancery. Oliver Cromwell acknowledged that the lawyers, those " sons of Zeruiah, be too hard for me." But in Man one English statesman, at the head of the national assembly, having re-arranged the laws and courts, and by means of reformed law and courts having subdued the Papal power of his day, has opened the way now for a national reformation of the laws and their administration in the heart of the British Isles. And lastly, the principle of transition–of peacefully developing the future from the roots of the past, has shown itself strong in this Island. Druidical has been converted into Christian government,– Norse feudalism has expanded into Anglican Wycliffism,–High Church has branched out into Methodism. And in each transition the old'has remained as the root and protection of the new, each furnishing a deposit of national good, which centuries of neglect and bad culture have not eradicated. Let imperial policy follow the leadings of nature and providence in choosing its experimental farm. Experiments for imperial progress in legislation, education, and government–moral, religious, and secular–maybe here conducted safely, without expense, on a corpore Cargo rather than vile, and all good generated here at the empire's heart will radiate to the utmost extremities. The seeds of the past wait only for wise culture, as the trees of Paradise needed Adam to dress and keep them.

Let it not be objected that the surface of Man is too small an experimental farm for cultivating these seven national seeds. Are Geneva, Attica, Judea, and the patrimony of St. Peter much larger; and have they not furnished model seeds of good and evil that are sown over the surface of the globe? The third planet of our sytem is not the largest, any more than the third island of our own group, and yet this earth may be morally far greater than the gigantic Saturn. The heart of the British Isles may be more instructive in its past, and more morally influential in its future than empires like China and Russia, and continents like Africa and South America. " Go to the ant; consider her ways, and be wise." What industrial community is so well regulated as an ant's nest?. What monarchy so well governed as the hive of bees ? The little events of home affect us more than greatest affairs abroad. What imperial or universal history equals in interest or importance the Book of Genesis, which is chiefly made up of details of home ? Man seems to have been placed by his Creator half way between the two infinities, the vast and the minute; and worlds of the microscope are nearer to us, more our own, and more instructive than those of the telescope.

One of the most popular writers of our century, speaks of this age as being the dawn of a new era, which is represented by two leading nations, France and Britain, neither of which can take the exclusive lead; and says that the religious distinctions between England, Scotland and Ireland, stop the progress of Britain:–" Theology being the basis upon which all christendom is founded, it becomes of necessity the tropical or turning point, before we come to which all policy, however hopeful and apparently changeful, is only old policy mended by expediency. The great obstacle to all improvement in this or any other country is the religious question. The whole system of education at home and abroad is hampered by it: moral and sanitary reforms are rendered impossible by it: union and communion in great moral and philanthropic achievements of high character are forbidden by it: and there is no possibility of escaping from this into a unitary state of things but by the solution of it. This is the mountain; beyond it is Ultramontanism; on this side of it is Cismontanism. There is a passage, possible and preordained on purpose, and it is a very Simplon." The three religious systems of Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy have taken separate possession of Ireland, England, and Scotland, but the vital principles of these three systems coalesce in the Isle that constitutes the British Geographical centre. Might not an Adams or Leverrier, who anticipated and discovered the new planet, anticipate here the Simplon pass to religious unity? The energy by which Napoleon completed the Simplon pass through the Alps might found a new Rome–a universal patriarchate. The world wide influence of Britain demands a suitable centre to its circumference; and in the centre of the British Isles there is a 1mitary nation, a nucleus to unite the west with the east, a boulder stone or fragment of the eastern world transported to the northwest, whose internal structure has less of the binary Romish characteristic of church and state, than of the Constantinopolitan idea of church and state unity.

The Editor begs to express his obligations to Mr. Burman for his examination of MSS. in Castle Rushen; to Mr. Sim, of the British Museum; to Dr. Oliver for the use of several documents; to Mr. Adamson, Her Majesty's Seneschal, for valuable information; and to Mr. William Bell, of Mount Vernon, for the fac-simile of the important Indenture of Sir John De Stanley.

Strathallan Villa, Isle of Man, 5th June, 1860.

Notes by FPC

The volume included this disclaimer

The Council of the Manx Society beg to intimate to the Members (in accordance with a resolution inserted in their Minute Book) that whilst exercising due supervision over the Works delivered, they do not hold themselves responsible for any opinions put forth by the Editors.

The somewhat strong! anti-papal views were rather typical of the time for a Scottish Presbyterian and drew critical comment in the press of the time. His reading of Sir John Stanley II as a proto reformer is not a view shared by any other historian. Anne Ashley [AA1955] looks in a little more detail at the basis for the claim in the denial of sanctuary in the various Baronies of the Island. These Baronies were then all held by ecclesiastical foundations but acted as civil jurisdictions separate from that of the Lord's and thus the 1417 prohibition should be read as claiming precedence over all other courts and not as an attack on the church. The second Sir John led a much quieter life than his father to whom the Island had been awarded in recognition of his military prowess in subduing Ireland. He served in the first two parliaments of Henry V which voted money for the suppression of the Lollards as well as for better public order. Most of his time he spent administering his estates and suppressing rebellion in the Isle of Man where it is unlikely that his father had even set foot. As to the moral nature of the Stanley dynasty, views differ considerably - certainly they appeared less grasping than the Atholls that followed them but the 'Great Stanley' attempted to impose a full feudal interpretation of land inheritance which certainly was a prime cause of the intense disaffection towards the Stanleys which allowed the Parliamentary forces to obtain an easy victory. It was only the Act of Settlement of 1703/4 that restored confidence to the Islanders. The Stanleys mostly viewed the Island (which provided around 20% of their revenues) as a source of cheap food for their Lancashire estates.


A. Ashley Historic Relations of Church and State in the Isle of Man... Proc IoM Nat History & Antiquarian Soc Vol V No. V pp 513/523 1956


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