[From Manx Soc vol 5, 1860]
THE accounts of the Isle of Man we find on record are, generally speaking, meagre and of a personal character; at every step we meet with inadequacy of information. We are supplied with a narrative of a few superficial events only. National history appears to have been held in little or no esteem. by the historian. Even those narrations which are indubitably authentic have not been well understood, and, of course, not well. discussed; although, during our connection with the ancient kingdom of the Isles of Scotland, Manx history was full of stirring incidents, which, even at the present day, are fraught with much ethnological interest, in reference to the surrounding nations, as well as to the great Celtic tribes of Europe.
The multitude of authors who have, from time to time, undertaken the task of giving accounts of the Island, have done so cursorily and without adequate study, or under the influence of feudal supremacy, and therefore have produced works not to inform the public, but to suit their own convenience or to serve the interests of their patrons for the time being. This deficiency of recorded facts is the greatest desideratum I have encountered in compiling this paper. Failing direct evidence therefore, I have endeavoured to arrive at some conclusions by reasoning from analogy ; but in endeavouring to give a record of all the facts in reference to the armorial bearings of the Isle of Man which I have met with, I hope I am not blind to the foregoing difficulties; for, perhaps, in tracing the bearings from modern times into remote antiquity, I run the risk of becoming tedious to the reader, and in reasoning on the feudal rights and prerogatives of the Kings of Man, or the constitutional privileges and usages of the people, their subjects, my anological disquisitions may not be devoid of anomalies. For I am well aware that an attempt to open up some abstruse points of Celtic ethnology will be incomplete. But I think the subject worthy of an attempt; and having once drawn the attention of the public to it, let me hope that the clew will be taken up by others more competent to perform the task, and the skein unravelled throughout its ramifications.
To some it may appear that the quaintness of the device of the three legs, and the insignificance of the territory occupied by the Manx people are such that a particular treatise is uncalled for; I believe that these opinions, and others similar to them, are the principal reasons why some particular questions of much interest to the Island have never been investigated, and why our history remains only a meagre record of the bloody and daring exploits of a few stirring men, or of the local enactments which law and usage have established in the country, without any attempt to explain their motives of action or their consequences : but every thinking mind must feel that however valuable the example of such persons may be, the history of a people or nation comprises more than these.
The device of the three legs "armed" is doubtless a chimera, and the Manx territory is certainly small, but it will be found in the sequel that the three armed legs, conjoined in fesse, is one of the first of those inventions, in times antecedent to history, which led the forlorn hope of progress in the earliest ages, although it deviates in appearance from what is strictly natural. Its simplicity and quaintness of appearance is a proof of its great antiquity and its originality : in the progress of invention, at all events, it has stood, the emblem of royalty and dominion in this small state, from times before all history; and there can be little doubt that having preserved the enjoyment of our immemorial rights, as an independent nation, compensate in a great degree for the deficiency in extent of territory and magnificence. The central and maritime position of the Island, and its being in all ages exposed to hostile invasion and aggressive colonization, give its limited territory an importance and an interest in reference to civilization, beyond that which arises from the mere possession.: of extent of territory and national power. Moreover, these arms of dominion assist us materially in making out the nationality of the Manx people. They involve the existence of facts which imply political and social existence of a tribe of Celts, feeble indeed numerically, but who must have frequently, in the first ages, stood in prominent positions among their neighbours and taken part in national complications, which a more powerful people might be justly proud of. Triumphs in civilization are implied here equal, if not greater, in an intellectual point of view, than triumphs in war. Amidst many events in history, which have taken place from the time the ancient Phoenicians flourished to the golden age of Queen Victoria, a period of about three thousand years, we have good reasons to conclude the Manx have maintained their nationality and the material of their civilization, domestic as well as social, against every foreign yoke and every intrigue hostile to their constitutional privileges that has hitherto made its appearance among them. This domestic civilization, having been established upon certain fixed principles of human intercourse, has never become abrogated or even much altered by subjugation in war or by any system of colonization in peace. Therefore it becomes very interesting to find out how this came about, - to trace out the races and principles from which Manx legislation sprang, and the sound usages and customs on which it is founded,- to lay open the spring of human affairs in Man, and of its laws so aged and unchanged.
From the times when the ancient British dressed themselves in the skins of wild beasts and painted their half-naked bodies with savage symbols; when the Phoenicians of Tyre and Carthage* traded with them for the metal tin; when tbeir country was subdued by the legions of Rome ; when the Anglo-Saxon and the Teutonic races colonized England; when the primitive converts to Christianity in England underwent persecutions from their invaders and took shelter in the western isles, introducing their religious precepts and habits of Christian civilization into the Isles of Man and Iona, under the Culdees ; when the narrow seas of Europe were everywhere scoured by the warlike Danes and Northmen, and this Island and the Hebrides became the rendezvous of aggressive vikingr and freebooters of every nation; during all these ages of aggression, the Isle of Man was in the vortex and Uncertainty of predatory warfare, or oppressed by the changes of progress, such as it then was; but it was permitted, notwithstanding, to preserve its individuality as a nation, and persevered in consolidating its customary usages into constitutional laws.
If we exclude lyrical poems and legends of tradition, the first specimen of Manx literature which has been handed down to us is the Chronicon Manniae, by the monks of Rushen, commencing about the year 1065. Before that period short notices of the Island and its inhabitants had been made by authors foreign to the country, most of which, with many insular charters never before published, have been lately printed by the Manx Society, edited by their learned secretary Dr. Oliver, to which and others, in order to avoid repetitions, I beg leave to refer henceforth for all historical details, instead of copying extracts.
According to the Chronicon Manniae, a Norwegian dynasty of kings, issuing with their Northmen from the Hebrides, established themselves on the Manx throne in 1066, and ruled it above two hundred years; but Manx civilization and nationality have passed through all the events of that era less changed than could have been imagined, the natives having adhered to their language and their ancient forms of government pertinaciously. Upon enquiry it will be, found that even their conquerors and foreign rulers ultimately conformed to the laws and usages they found domesticated in the Island, and judging from existing circumstances, the Norwegians met with no success in introducing their language amongst the Manx, nor did their forms of government supplant the Manx usages, but only improved them, which is a conclusive evidence that a civilized code existed antecedent to their arrival. There is every reason to believe that this Island was well inhabited antecedent to history, although in some accounts it is averred that it was visited by hostile invaders who found it desolate. Doubtless it is true that the natives were sometimes so hard pressed by danger that they abandoned their homes for a time, but as the Celtic race of Manx has never changed its ebaracter or its language, it is evident they returned or were succeeded by identical races. The Venerable Bede, who wrote in the middle of the eighth century, informs us that Man contained three hundred families, and during the invasion of the eountry of the Dalraed Scots by the ancient Romans, the Manx people materially assisted the inhabitants of Galloway and Strathclyde in the defence of their country.
It is interesting for us to trace the origin of our inheritance of the Tingvalla,-the original national assembly of the Celtic and Gothic tribes of Europe,-and especially interesting to find that although, in modern times, the legislative and judicial courts of the freest nations of the ancient Celts have disappeared before arbitrary power, and the Valhalla in Iceland and Scandinavia, and the Witenagemotts of Britain, have changed their form and aspect in modern England, that the primitive forms of Celtic legislation and their language still remains identical among a race of modern Celts in the Isle of Man, in the middle of Great Britain, at the present moment. And it is curious and important to the ethnology of the British Isles, that the change of dynasties which ensued from the conquest of England by William of Normandy, and of the Isle of Man by Godred Crovan, was effected at the same epoch, and that the accession of the Scots to the regalities of the whole of Scotland, by their amalgamation with the Picts in the reign of Donald Bane and Malcolm Caen More, only preceded those events a few years. Truly the eleventh century was a stirring and eventful one for these countries. A general movement took. place among them at that time ; and it would appear that predatory warfare and colonization became, under the inscrutable wisdom of Almighty God, one of the appointed means of rousing the people of Britain and its islands, when sunk tinder despotic and debasing superstitions, to enquire after a better knowledge of their rights as men, by an intercourse with the free and predatory vikingr of the sea. Stirring and generous minds take freedom by force and command men to be free, which, once made progressive individually, under wholesome control, advances more and more into constitutional liberty. Thus nations in the early stages of civilization become raised from helotism, and owe more to rulers and teachers of bold, generous, and benevolent minds than they are aware of. There is more of the vikingr' spirit and love of freedom and enterprize throughout the country now than is generally imagined.
*Vide Appendix A.
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