1417: A Year of Records

1417 is an important year in the history of recordkeeping in the Isle of Man.  In addition to the written laws, records of the names of members of the House of Keys, the Governors, and other officials began to be kept from this year, along with law cases. They have been preserved to this day, in the original or as a copy.

Indenture of 1417

An indenture is a medieval style of legal contract that was written in duplicate on the same sheet. The two copies were then separated by cutting along a jagged line, so that the ‘teeth’ of the two parts could later be put back together to confirm authenticity. 

On 18th January 1417 a contract of this type was made between representatives of Sir John Stanley and the 24 Members of the House of Keys.  The contract binds both parties to an agreement that there can be no sanctuary in baronial lands in the Isle of Man, meaning that the barons must produce any offenders on their land to the King. At this time, all the baronial lands in the Island were owned by the Church which, partly due to the uncertainty that had prevailed in the centuries prior to the Stanleys’ lordship, had become very powerful.   The indenture therefore reflects certain provisions codified in the customary laws of 1417 to assert the primacy of the Lord of Man over the Barons, which are later put to use at the meeting of Tynwald in 1422. 

The indenture is also significant because it provides the earliest extant record of members of the Keys, whose names are listed in the document. The Keys are referred to in Latin, the language of the document, as the Claves Mann and the Claves Legis, the Keys of Man and the Keys of the Law. This suggests that either the English name of the Keys was already well established or that the clerk, mishearing the Manx kiare-as-feed, unwittingly introduced the term with this document. 

One half of the original indenture has been preserved and is kept in the Manx Museum. A facsimile of the indenture was made in the 19th century and reproduced in William MacKenzie’s Legislation by three Stanley Kings of Man (1860).


THIS Indenture made between Thurstan de Tyldesley and Roger de Haysnap, commissioners of Lord John de Stanley, Lord of Man and the Isles, on the one part, and John Clerk, judge of Mann, William Skerf, Reginald Stevenson, William de Yvennowe, John Rede. Gilbert McWanty, Patrick McIon, Andrew John Mc euyn, Gilbert McHanghan, Patrick McKane, William McAlisandre, Patrick Tomelynson, Gilbert Mc Isak, Gilbert McAndras, Mark McOtter, Donald McCroyne, Donald Mc Brewe, William McCrystyn, William Abelson, Doncan Abelson, John Mcffergus, Hugh McKnalytt, John McSealy, Patrick McHelly, and Andrew Raynesson, the xxiiii keys of Mann, on the other part, witnesseth that the aforesaid xxiiii keys of the law, with the judge of Mann, say, and for the public law declare, that whatever liege tenant or liege tenants of the Lord of Mann shall do or cause to be done any case of felony, and fly or withdraw the Lordship, or remove from the territory of the Lord of Mann into the liberties of the Barons, and he or they shall be required by the Lord of Mann or his ministers, to return to the land to the administration of the law, and if he or they excuse themselves, not consenting to return thence, and if any of their Barons within the Lordship of Mann shall retain him, or her, or them, or they shall retain under the pretexts of their liberty or his liberty, or any other manifest cause, that then he shall forfeit to the Lord, for such offence of retention, in every case above mentioned, lx.s., and he or they shall answer for the body of the before said transgressor, in every case above mentioned, at the jail or prison of the Lord of Mann, and this under the penalty of forfeiting all their liberties into the hands [of the Lord]. Likewise they are to declare and deliver as the common law, that no liege tenant of the Lord, nor any serving within the lordship of Mann, shall depart, remove, nor withdraw from the land of the lord to the land of any of the Barons, for the purpose of delay, without licence of the lord, under the penalty aforesaid for felonies. In testimony of which things both the said xxiiii keys of the law, and also the judge before said, the commissioners have respectively appended their seals. Attested at the castle of Russhen, Tuesday, the 18th day of January, in the year of our Lord 1417, and the fifth of the reign of the lord of Mann.

Indenture (1417)-Cropped.jpg

Commission of 1417

On 27th November 1417, Sir John Stanley declared Thurstan of Tildesley and Roger Haysnap to be his representatives in the Isle of Man and described their powers in a commission. Unlike the indenture, the commission was written in English. The original commission has been preserved and is kept in the Manx Museum. The text of it was reproduced in Mills’ Laws of the Isle of Man (1821).


To all Men yat this Letter heren, John of Stanley, Knight, Lord of Manne and Isles, Latham, Knowsley, & Baron of Weston, Gretying in our Lord everlasting.
Know Ye we have ordeyned & constitute Thurstan of Tildesley & Roger Haysnap, having my playne power to discharge & charge on & all myn Officers, men, & servants within my Lordship of Manne dwelling, of all offices & occupacions else playnely as I myself were there in proper person. And also I ordeyne & constitute the foresaid Thurstan Roger of the same my general auditours to take, to here, to determine, to enquire, examine, to prove, to charge & discharge all the accumptes of on & all myn Officers, Mynestres, & Servants, within my foresaid Lordship of Manne at such certayne dayes & places as the foresaid auditours lymytyn.
And also I ordayne & constitute the foresaid Thurstan & Roger my general Commyssioners to here and to determyn all manner of Treasons, Felonyes, Offences, Concealments, Trespas, Kherells, & all other demands partenying to the Law & Custome of my foresaid Lordship of Manne as well at myn aune sute as at the sute of parties. And whatsoever the foresaid Thurstan & Roger done & ordeyne in all poyntes before rehersed, I hold firm & stabull, & therefore I charge & I command my Lewtenant, the Byshop, the Abbott, all Deemsters, Barons, Reseveyors, Coroners, Cunstabulls, Saudiours, Graives, Bailleves, & all other loyall & true men within my foresaid Lordship of Manne, being present at the bene to the foresaid Thurstan & Roger in all things attendant & obedyant, upon the payne that hereto falls.
In Wyttnes of the which thing I have sett to my Seall me wyttness and at my Castell of Rysshen, the 27th day of Novembre the year of Oure Lord, a Thousand four hundred and Seventeen.
Law cases also began to be recorded in 1417.  Extracts from the Sheading Court Rolls of 1417 have been preserved in the 18th century Book of Precedents, compiled around 1725 by John Quayle, then Clerk of the Rolls. The introduction to the compilation gives the following account of the history of writing down the law in the Isle of Man: 

I find mention made in some of our old Records that our first written Laws were in King Orryes Days but what became of those Manuscripts is not certaine: Our Mancks Chronicle tells us that Mary the Daughter of Reginald (who was of the sd King Orryes Line) being Queene of Mann and Countess of Straherne in Scotland was disturbed in the possession of the Isle of Mann by Alexander King of Scotts and that she fled to the King of England Edward the first in the Twenty’th yeare of his Reigne being then at Sct Johns Town in Scotland to Complaine agt the said King of Scotts, and brought with her (as is said) All her Charters & Deeds of the Land of MANN, and in a short time afterwards she dyed, so that it is not improbable, but that what Records or other writeings were then Extant relateing to the Governmt of the Island might at that time be taken away by her & never restored again, for we have no written Laws or any Records now remaining but what have been since Sr John Stanleys time, to whom this Island was given by King Henry the fourth, Anno Dni 1403.

And because all Judgements and Determinations given and made in matters of Law before that time (as we may well believe) were only delivered orally by the Magistrates to the people, and no Memorial or Record made of them, the same there-fore antiently called BREAST-LAWS, But the sd Sr John Stanley and his Successrs Lords of this Isle (to the end that those antient Customary Laws wch before were continued & preserved by way of Tradition from one age to another might the better be made known to the people) took special Care and gave strict Comands from time to time That all such points of Law as were given and delivered by the Deemsters upon the transaction of all Cases of Moment should be Registered in the Court Rolls to remain as a Rule or precedent to future ages, and by that means our said antient Customary Laws have in process of time crept by degrees into writeing, So that from those Books or Court Rolls, We may gather a Summary Accompt of the said Laws.​​​


The first Records Extant in this Isle (Besides those in the Book of Statutes) are in certaine sheetes of parchment, and begin thus:

1. ISLE OF MAN A.D. 1417 Lord John Stanley Lord of Man and the Isles.

At a Head Court holden there at the Castle on the 4th day of October in the year of Our Lord 1417 and the fourth of the Royalty of the Lord of Man, before John Litherland, Lieutenant, then in that place.

3. The Moar presents a Bloodwipe, said to be proved by him

John McCray (12d) [presented] because, against the peace, he drew blood on Bryan Bullock as was proved by the Moar of the parish of [Holy] Trinity, &c.

4. An Accon for the said Bloodwipe. The party is fined xijS and to make satisfaccon to the other

John McCray complains concerning Bryan Bullock for satisfaction on the grounds that the same man against the peace of the Lord King did make a leap upon the same John and then struck him with a staff, &c., who came and confessed; therefore 12s in fine and to make satisfaction to the other, &c.

5. The like Accon brought by the other party for takeing him by the neck or throat

Also Bryan complains concerning the said John for satisfaction on the grounds that against the peace of our Lord the King he violently took Bryan by the neck and used him evilly, who came and placed himself upon the Enquest through which he was found guilty, therefore 12s in fine and to make satisfaction to the other, &c.

7. A presentment for trespasses in the Calfe Isle

An Inquisition was taken at the same Court concerning trespasses made in le Calfe, upon oath, &c., who say that Thomas de Yvenhow (20d) and Gilbert McWaddy keep 4 pigs, against the order, in le Calfe ; and that Michael Shirlock has two horses, and that John Shirlock cut down a wood in the same place, therefore these men in fine.

10. ANNO 1417 At a Court held as before at the Castle on the tenth day of January of the aforesaid year in the presence of Thurstan de Tyldesley and Rodger Hasnap, commissioners to the Lord of Man and the Isles.

One arraigned for Comitting Robbery on the Highway

To the judgment of the same court it was presented that Brother John Proker had stolen thread and wool worth 14d of the goods and chattels of a certain mendicant from Ireland, and robbed the same man in the highway.