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Tynwald In History

"Our little nation is the only Norse nation now on earth that can shake hands with the days of the Sagas, and the Sea-Kings. Then let him who will laugh at our primitive ceremonial. It is the badge of our ancient liberty, and we need not envy the man who can look on it unmoved".

The observer at St. John's on 5th July, the Manx National Day, watches a ceremony which has continued unchanged, except in detail, for more than 1,000 years. The annual outdoor sittings of Tynwald, the Manx Parliament, date back to the Viking settlements which began in the eighth century of the first millennium AD. No other parliament in the world has such a long unbroken record.

The Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom, but a Crown Dependency. Her Majesty The Queen is acknowledged as Lord of Mann. King George VI was the first British Sovereign ever to preside at St. Johns, in July 1945, and Her Majesty The Queen presided in 1979 when the Millennium of Tynwald was celebrated. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales presided on Tynwald Day 2000 as her representative.

A Viking Landscape


Those energetic enough to climb Slieau Whallian, the steep wooded hill which looms immediately to the south of St. John's, can enjoy this splendid view of the village, the Royal Chapel of St. John the Baptist and the processional way which links it to the four-tiered artificial mound known as Tynwald Hill - Island Photographics

 

 

 

 

This place lies not only at the geographical heart of the Isle of Man, but also at the heart of the Island's sense of nationhood, and its configuration has remained unchanged since Viking times. For well over 1,000 years the inhabitants of the Isle of Man have gathered here at midsummer to hear the laws of their land proclaimed, to seek justice and to air their grievances.

Tynwald, the Manx Parliament, which meets regularly throughout the year but most notably outdoors at St. John's on 5th July, is a direct legacy from our Viking ancestors. Norsemen first came to Mann around the year 800AD, and ruled the Island for four-and-a-half centuries before finally ceding it to the King of Scotland in 1266. By then they had firmly imposed their own administrative system, which continued even while the Island's ownership passed between Scotland and England, to the Stanley family of Lancashire (Lords of Mann from 1405-1736), and to their kin the Dukes of Atholl, who held it until it was re-vested in the British Crown in 1765. A number of accounts have survived of the remarkably unchanging Tynwald Day ceremonies over the centuries.

1237

The following autumn Harald sent Neil's three sons, namely Dougal, Thorkel and Molmore, together with a friend of his called Joseph, to Mann, where they landed at St. Patrick's Isle. On 25th October and three days after their arrival in Mann a convention of all the Manx people took place at Tynwald. Attending this meeting were Neil's three sons with all their supporters, whom they had brought with them from the Isles. Also present was Lauchlan, the custodian of Mann, who had brought to the meeting all his partisans and all whom he had been able to persuade to come along that day, since he feared Neil's sons on account of some hostility still existing between them. After much abuse and vilification from both sides, and as no reconciliation seemed likely, the two factions rushed from the assembly and a pitched battle ensued. Lauchlan's men gained the upper hand, killing on the spot two of Neil's sons, Dougal and Molmore, together with Harald's friend Joseph; the rest fled the issue. After this incident the meeting was dissolved, and they all returned to their respective homes.

From The Chronicles of the Kings of Mann & the Isles, translated from the Latin by George Broderick.


Godred Crovan, depicted in a stained glass window of the Tynwald Chamber in Douglas, is sometimes confused with King Orry - who if he existed at all probably lived about a century earlier. The Chronicles of the Kings of Mann & the Isles tell us that Godred Crovan, born in Islay, fought at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. In 1079 he was successful, at the third attempt, in his invasion of the Isle of Man, and ruled it for 16 years. It is likely that the institution of Tynwald was finally and permanently established during his reign.


  (Photo: P Dougherty)

1691

The following is an account of the Tynwald ceremony of 1691, at which the 9th Earl of Derby presided as Lord of Mann, found amongst the papers of the Kenyon family of Gredington Hall in Lancashire. Roger Kenyon was Governor of the Isle of Man from 1690 - 1693.

About seven of the clock in the morning, all persons who are to attend his Lordshipp from Castle Rushen to the Tinwall, to wit, the Governour, with his staffe of authority, all the officers and Lords Council (except such as are military and except the Deemsters and twenty fower Keys, who are to go before to the Tinwall and attend there the Lord of Man's coming), all knights, gentlemen of quality, strangers and natives.

At half an hour past seven of the clock, the bell rings for half a quarter of an hour; which done, the Constable of that Castle, with the other officers of that Castle, go forth of the Hall to the gates there, to order the ground, and to doe their obeysance at his Lordshipp's passing by.

When the Governour hath notice that the guards are so sett, and his Lordship's horses and all things in readiness, he acquaints his Lordshipp therewith, who thereupon arises and commands the Governour, with his staffe, to goe, which he doth, walking barehead before him.

Then follows my Lord, and after him all the best gentlemen of quality that are strangers, and alsoe his Lordship's chief servants, etc.

When his Lordship is come out of the gate, the groomes stand ready with their horses, and whilst the Lord, the Governour, the persons of quality, etc. are mounting, the Constable of the Castle, with his guards, march forwards with his Lordship's musick playing before them; and when all are on horseback, then the Comptroller on the right hand, and the Steward of the Household on his left hand, rideing bare before the Governour. Then comes the Governour, allsoe riding bare before his Lordship, thorrow the towne, with his staff in his hand. Then the guards march, the musick playeing before them, thorrow the towne, all the best gentlemen of quality that are strangers, two by two, following next after his Lordship and, in like manner, his Lordship's chiefe servants and after them the meaner persons accordingly.

When his Lordship is about the middle of the town, the great guns from the Castle goe off, five at the least; and haveing marched thorrow the town, those footguards and musick take horse and attend his Lordship, with the rest, to the Tinwall. When in this order they have passed the town the Governour, etc. ride covered till they come to the Tinwall field, where his Lordship's guards, consisting of a thousand firelocks, are posted in great ordre.

His Lordship, after he hath taken a view of them, passeth thorrow them on horseback, and in that passage is decently saluted by all the military officers commanding those guards.

And thus his Lordship, the Governour, and persons of quality etc., with him, ride on till they meet the Bishop and clergy, the Deemsters and the twenty fower Keys of the Island; the Clergy on the right hand, the others on the left.

Then his Lordship alighteth, the Bishop, or in his absence the Archdeacon, or in his absence the Vicar-General, holding the right styrrup, accordeing to the ancient custome. When his Lordship hath saluted them all, they march; that is to say, the fower and twenty, in decent coates, and the Deemsters after them, in gownes, the Clergy in their habitts, and the Bishop after them.

Then the Governour, my Lord, and after him all the gentry, passing thorrow a guard, to witt, of Peel garrison, on one hand, and the garrison of Castle Rushen on the other hand, which make a lane to the church door. My Lord, being thus conducted, goes up into a chaire provided for that day, and then hears a sermon.

The sermon ended, all goe forth of the church but my Lord, the Governour, the Lower Council, the Deemsters and twenty fower Keys, the Secretarys, Clerke of the Rolls, and such as the Lord will comand to stay.

If his Lordshipp have anything to propound to the country, he moves it to the Deemster and fower and twenty, who debateing the matter, do agree therewith, or give his Lordshipp satisfaction, by their sufficient reasons to the contrary.

And if the Deemsters and fower and twenty have any request with his Lordshipp, they move it themselves, in an humble manner. If my Lord approve thereof, he commands it to be inserted in the Statute Book, where it is mentioned as an humble request of the Deemsters and the fower and twenty, on behalf of the country, setting all their names unto the same, as also the Governour and all the Lord's Council subscribe; then my Lord confirms the same with his own subscription, under these words "Be it enacted as it is desired"; but if his Lordshipp like not the motion, then he tells them that he will take it into consideration against another time.

Note - that when his Lordshipp intends to propound something that day, which he conceives may probably find some opposition, or require some long debate, to prevent an inconveniency, his Lordshipp appoints a meeting some day the week before, where all things are well weighed and considered, to the contentment of all parties.

When there is no more for his Lordship and the rest to doe of themselves, his Lordship sends one of the Deemsters forth of the Church into the field, where the said Deemster comands the cryer to proclaim that if anyone have complaint to make, thoe it be against any of the officers, or any request by petition, or difference between party and party, he, or they, whoever they be, may come into the Church and be heard, and his Lordship will take order that right shall be done, according to justice and the lawes of the land.

Then such as have any business, present themselves before the table humbly, on their knees, and deliver their petition to the Comptroller, who is there ready to receive the same and to read, when the Lord commands him; which being done, the Lord heares the matter, if he please, or appoints another day.

All this being done, one goeth forth to cause the drums to beat; then the people gather together expecting his Lordshipp's coming forth; the soldiers stand to their arms, and then the Bishop and clergy come into the church; then the fower and twenty march, two in a brest, thorrow the guards up to the Tinwald hill, the Deemsters following them, then the Clergy, Bishop, etc., as before, two and two.

The officers follow his Lordshipp, soe doe the gentlemen strangers and others, the Bishop and clergy on the right hand, the Deemsters and fower and twenty, on the left, standing bare, make a lane for his Lordshipp to goe betwixt them up the degrees to the top of the hill where, when his Lordshipp is arrived, he sits in a chair of state, with his face towards the East, the Governour standing or sitting on my Lord's right and the Bishop on the left, the sword of state holden before his Lordshipp with the point upward, by whom his Lordshipp thinks fit to honour therewith. The gentlemen strangers stand or sit behind his Lordshipp, the Deemsters and officers stand one degree below the Governour; the guards (to witt of the two garrisons) stand at the foot of the hill, with matches lighted, bullets in their mouths, etc. Then the people draw nigh to understand what is said unto them.

The first business on the hill is that the six Coroners or Sheriffs present themselves before his Lordshipp, with white rods in their hands, which were given to them at the late Tinwall, as markes of their office, to continue from that time for one year. They are to come one after another, on their knees before his Lordshipp, presenting their staves, which he receives and (haveing been but lately elected and sworn, and recommended unto him as able and honest men) he returns them their staves, being satisfyed that they are fitt persons for such a place of creditt, advantage and trust. My lord, haveing a note of their names, and haveing commanded the Deemster to call them in order, he restores them their white rods, and each Coroner, as he receives the same on his knees, bowes towards his Lordship's feet, riseth, maketh his reverence as he retires to one side, his face still towards my Lord; and, in like manner, all the rest.

After this, if any new law be made, or old altered, it is proclaimed by the cryer, in Manckes, being read and dictated to him by the eldest Deemster.

In conclusion, the Lord commands the cryer to let the people know (in Manckes) that his Lordshipp continues his love unto them and his care for them, and prayes God to bless them.

So commonly they crye aloud "God bless his Lordshipp and all his", and with a great huzzah and shout, concludes the business of that day.

1736

The first of the Dukes of Atholl to inherit the Lordship of Mann, in 1736, marked the occasion by presiding over the Tynwald Court at St. Johns on Midsummer Day. The event was notable because Lords of Mann had rarely presided over Tynwald in person; in fact it was the last recorded instance of the Lord of Mann being present until King George VI's visit in 1945. An English visitor who wrote an account of the day described the Duke riding from Castletown to St. John's with all his officers "well Mounted, in Fine Cloaths, and Rich Furniture. At this Forum Judiciale or Hill his Grace was Recd by his Deemsters (who are his Temporal Judges) in their Gowns, The Bishop in His Habit and Vicars General in their Surplices, Accompanyed by all the other Clergy.

"The Temporal and Ecclesiastical as well as Military officers being there met together, His Grace walked to a Chapple called St. John's Chappel which Fronted the Said Hill on which was placed a Chair of State, Under a Canopy, both Covered with Crimson Damask.

"A Company of Foot Led the Procession to and from the Chapple, the Musick next - Then the Governour with his White Staff (the Ensign of his Office). Next to him the Sword of State, Carryed by Lord John Murray.

"Then his Grace Accompanyed by the before named Officers, And the People According to their respective Stations in the Island.

"The Bishop preached the Sermon for the Occasion. That being Over, his Grace then returned to the Hill or Forum Judiciale, And Being there Seated in his Chair of State, with his Barons on each Side and his People about him According to their Degrees, Proclamation was made, and the Oath of Fidelity Administered. (First reserving due allegiance to the Kings Majesty) And According to the Custom of the City of London, the Sheriffs were Appointed, and Sworn into their Office for the Ensueing Year. After this Ceremonie was Over, there was a Discharge or Volly of the Company of Foot, who Surrounded the Hill.

"Then His Grace and the Company went to Dinner where every thing was provided in Great Plenty. The Musick and Guard Attending: At his Graces return to his Castle a Ball was provided for the Ladys and a very grand Supper for the Occasion.

"NB - The Sword of State is carryed before his Grace every Sunday to Chapple And he is Generally well attended there being a bountifull Table for Gentlemen. His Guards that Attend him Carry battle-Axes and Resemble our Beefe Eaters".

1893 - A Novelist's Tynwald Day

The writer Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine, who gained world fame for his popular novels and was also MHL for Ramsey, described his day at St John's on 5th July 1893.

The ceremonial is well worth seeing. You may go to the ends of Europe and see nothing of the kind that is half so interesting. I was present at the Tynwald of last year. Let me describe it. The day was bright, brilliant, even dazzling, and at an early hour the streets of Douglas were thronged with vehicles. Brakes, wagonettes, omnibuses, private carriages and cadgers' carts, all loaded to their utmost capacity, were climbing out of the town by way of the road going towards Peel.

Visitors, boarding-house keepers, shop-keepers, boatmen, members of the Legislature and officials of every class, were driving in thousands to Tynwald Hill. They looked as cheerful as the weather was beautiful. The town seemed to shout; the old island rock itself seemed to laugh.

Hall Caine pictured on Tynwald Day walking near the
Royal Chapel - Manx National Heritage

 

It was a drive of eight miles, and we were driving in a line of some hundreds of carriages. By the time we got to the breast of the steep hill going up to Crosby the road ahead was like a funnel of dust, and the road behind was like the tail of a comet. Out of the dense cloud, in front and at the back, came sounds of singing and laughter. At one moment there came wild whooping behind, and presently the line of carriages swirled like a long serpent half a yard nearer to the left-hand hedge. Then through the grey dust a carriage shot past at a rapid pace. It was the carriage of the Governor.

When we came within a mile of Tynwald, we could see the flags, the tents and the crowd as of a vast encampment, and hear the deep hum of a multitude like the murmur of a distant sea.

Tynwald Hill is an open green in the very midst of the island, with hills on three of its sides, and on the fourth a broad plain dipping down to the sea. The shape of the green is that of the frame of a guitar. Down the middle of the guitar there is a walled enclosure, which may be said to be of the shape of a banjo. At the key end, the east end, stands a church. The round drum is the mount, which is built in four circles, the topmost being some six paces across.

The open part of the green was covered with booths, barrows, stands and show tents. There were cheap-jacks selling shoddy watches, phrenologists with two chairs, fat women, dwarfs, wandering minstrels and itinerant hawkers of tin hat-boxes containing sticks of toffee - these and other shiny, slimy creatures, with the air and grease of the towns. At one corner there were a few oxen and horses, tethered and lanketed, and kicking up the dust under the dry sod.

The crowd was dense already and increasing at every moment. As the brakes arrived they drove up with a whoop and a swing that sent the people surging on either side. Some brought well-behaved visitors, others brought an eruption of ruffians blowing tin whistles and jews' harps, and yet others brought farmers and fishermen disguised, out of all recognition, as lodging-house keepers, and pretending not to understand the salutations of old comrades when addressed by them in the Manx.

Down the neck of the enclosure, and round the circular end of it, a regiment of soldiers was ranged with rifles and bayonets. Inside their lines there was a company of marines with drawn swords. The steps to the mount were covered with rushes from the Curragh. Two arm-chairs were on the top under a canopy hung from a flagstaff that stood in the centre. These chairs were still empty; the mount and its approaches were being kept clear.

The sun was hot, the heat was great, the odour was sometimes oppressive. Now and again, sounds of singing within the church mingled with the crack of the toy rifle-ranges and the jabber of the cheap-jacks. It is usual to begin the proceedings of Tynwald Day with Divine Service, and the Governor and Legislature were at prayers.

Presently the crowd gathered thick down the neck of the enclosure and dense round the mount. Then to the strains of the National Anthem played by the band of the regiment, the Governor, his Council, his Clergy, and his Keys, came out of the church. His Excellency wore cocked hat and Court dress, and the Sword of State was carried upright before him. He walked through the lines of soldiers and marines and stepped to the hill top. There he took one of the two chairs under the canopy; the other was taken by the Bishop, who was wearing his lawn. Their followers came behind, and broke up on the mount (I am bound to confess it) in an irregular and indiscriminate mass. A number of ladies were admitted to the space on the topmost round. They stood behind the two chairs of the Governor and the Bishop, with parasols still open. From the Governor's seat the scene was a splendid and even magnificent one. Fifteen thousand people in holiday dress, with brakes and wagonettes, a company of soldiers and a company of marines, stood closely packed in the brilliant sunshine on the green below. To the east was the church spire against the green background of Greeba Mountain, to the south the strong outline of Slieau Whallian, to the west the broad plain going down to the sea. Not, perhaps, a spectacle such as Thingvallir must have been, with its craggy hill of laws, surrounded by its natural moat and encircled by the snow-clad Jokuls. But a beautiful and wonderful scene, nevertheless, revitalised and ennobled, too, by a real national sentiment.

One of the earliest known photographs of the Tynwald Day gathering - Manx National Heritage

The business of the Court began. It was that of promulgating the laws. Reluctantly I admit that the proceedings were, in themselves, long, tiresome, ineffectual, formless, unimpressive and unpicturesque. The senior Deemster, the amiable and venerable Sir William Drinkwater, read the titles of the new laws in English. Then the Coroner of the premier sheading, Glenfaba Sheding, recited the same titles in Manx. Hardly anybody heard them; hardly anybody listened.

When the Coroner had finished the Governor rose, the band struck up "God Save the Queen", and Governor, Clergy and Legislature filed back to the church, now transformed into a Court House, to sign the Acts of Tynwald which had just been promulgated. The scene had not been well stage-managed. Nevertheless I should be sorry to see the old custom of Tynwald abandoned. Some day some Manxman may have it in him to breathe life into these dry bones. Meanwhile, the open-air Parliament of Man is unique if not overpowering, and beautiful if not solemn and stirring. Remember that if you wish to see it, you must come to the Island no later than the first days of July....         From The Little Man Island.

1916 - A Reformer's Tynwald Day

Journalist Samuel Norris, later an MHK, was amongst the demonstrators against Lord Raglan in July 1916 - and afterwards.

Tynwald Day in 1916 dawned in all the glory of a mid-summer holiday. Only once during the last 25 years had rain fallen during the annual ceremony of promulgation; this day was no exception to the rule, but in most other respects July 5th 1916, the 'Manx Day of Independence' was memorable for scenes and incidents which have probably had no parallel in the Island's history and are, perhaps, never to be seen again...

 

From each of the three platforms large cards were displayed... bearing the following words in large type and red ink:

WE WANT A NEW GOVERNOR
TAXATION OF WEALTH
NO FOOD TAXES
REVENUE FROM THE CAMPS FOR WAR DISTRESS
REDRESS, RETRENCHMENT AND REFORM!

"As the Legislature marched to Tynwald Hill", said the Isle of Man Times, "there was a hostile demonstration. The Governor was greeted with shouts of 'Resign!', the Council with cries of 'Reform!', and the House of Keys with cries of 'Dissolve!' Intermingled with these cries were demands for 'A New Governor', 'No Food Taxes', 'Direct Taxation', 'Old Age Pensions', 'Redress, Retrenchment and Reform'. There was also a considerable amount of booing, hooting and cheering.

Manx Memories and Movements by Samuel Norris MHK, first published in 1938

Lord Raglan confronting the Tynwald day crowds; it was on this occasion in 1916 that he was "sodded' by a clump of grass thrown from the crowd. He had considerable social graces but was deeply unpopular amongst ordinary people on the Island because of his resistance to reform. The demonstrations on Tynwald Day 1916 were followed by the presentation of more peaceful resolutions in 1917, but in 1918 he had to cancel the Tynwald Day ceremony altogether after a General Strike was called by union leaders. Hall Caine, speaking after him at an Armistice Day ceremony in Douglas later that year, said of the war that "Liberty has nearly been wrecked during the last four years. We have seen it as we see a ship sometimes outside - beset with tumultuous seas, with the black cormorants of autocracy screeching and squirming above it". The allusion was taken at least by some of his audience to refer to the Lieutenant Governor.