The name of the Island, Man, has long been a puzzle to philologists, and it cannot be said with confidence that the right solution has been found. The present local name is Ellan Vannin, or, more affectionately, Ellan Vannin Veg Veen, “The Dear Little Isle of Man” Caesar in 54 B.C. called it Mona. Nennius in A.D. 858 referred to it by the name of Eubonia, while the Welsh Annals of A.D. 1154 call it Manaw and the Scandinavian Sagas use Mon or Maon.
Broadly speaking all of these appear to be derived from a root meaning mountainous or hilly land.
It has been suggested that the Island took its name from Mannanan, the Celtic Neptune, but the reverse is more probably the case.
The Islands story could almost be guessed from its situation. The lot of the grain between the millstones is rarely a happy one. Overrun from time to time by its powerful neighbours, the Island has been successively Irish, Scandinavian, Scottish and English, and yet today is politically independent of them all. Quocunque jeceris stabit is its motto: Whichever way you throw me I shall stand.
Up to the fifth century all accounts agree that the Island was the abode of a necromancer with the holy name of Mannanan-Beg-Mac-y-Leir who kept strangers away by covering the Island with mist. People who approached closely were made by his magic to see a hundred times the number actually opposing their landing.
Upon the arrival of missionaries from Ireland in the fifth or sixth century, the Island was gradually Christianized. Although his name survives in several places, it is doubtful if St Patrick ever set foot in Man. He is said to have established the Bishopric, and to have cleared the Island of venomous reptiles and toads, a task he had already accomplished for the sister Isles. The old Manx Keills, or cells, were of a similar type to the Irish oratories of the sixth and seventh centuries.
The Celtic Period lasted until the first part of the ninth century. The came the Norsemen, riding and plundering at first, and later settling and making the Island an important base in connection with their settlements in Dublin, North West England and the Western Isles.
Of the many Viking leaders of whom the sagas speak, the one most frequently mentioned in Man is the famous King Orry. It is said that on his landing on a clear starlit night the astonished natives asked him “where is your country?” where upon Orry drew himself up to his full height and pointed to the Milky Way: “That,” he said “is the road to my country.” In the Manx language it is still called King Orry’s Road.
The King Orry of whom the legends tell was in fact Godred Crovan who ruled from 1079 to 1095. The Gaelic form of Godred was Gorry, and this, losing its initial ‘G’ after the title, King, produced the familiar Orry. He is said to have got his nickname of Crovan from the fact that he always wore white gauntlets when going to war.
The Norse Vikings who had carved out for themselves a kingdom in Man and the surrounding districts owed nominal allegiance to the King of Norway, but in practice they paid him but slight regard.
The descendants of Godred ruled in Man and the Western Isles with varying fortunes until 1252 when Magnus, the younger son of King Olaf II came to the throne. In 1263 King Alexander III of Scotland having decided that it was time the Western Isles became part of his kingdom and having tried in vain to obtain them by bargaining, made an attack upon the Hebrides. King Haakon of Norway arrived off the Scottish coast with a large fleet to defend them and was joined by Magnus with the Manx ships. The Norwegians were defeated at the battle of Largs and Magnus was allowed to retain Man only on the condition of doing homage to King Alexander. In 1265 Magnus died, and a year later a treaty was signed between Norway and Scotland which handed the Isle of Man over to the Scots.
This marked the beginning of a troubled era in Manx history since it then became a pawn in the long struggle between Scotland and England, being alternately held and raided by both nations as well as by the Irish.
In 1313 Robert the Bruce, being King of Scotland, landed at Ramsey, and, marching via Douglas, laid siege to Castle Rushen. In due course Castle Rushen was captured.
In 1334 Edward III of England granted the Island to William de Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, who enlarged Castle Rushen. In 1392 Montacute’s son sold the Island to Sir William le Scrope (who later became the Earl of Wiltshire) but who eventually lost his head for treason a few years later. Then the Earl of Northumberland had a short innings of four years. In 1405 Henry IV bestowed the Island upon his staunch adherent, Sir John Stanley, and his heirs forever, “with all the regalities, franchises and rights belonging thereto, with the patronage of the bishopric, under the title of King of Man”. The only acknowledgement of the suzerainty of England consisted in the presentation of a cast of falcons every coronation day. The line of the Stanleys lasted for three and a half centuries, long after the decay of the feudal power in England, but few fembers of the house of Stanley seem to have considered it worth while to reside in, or even to visit their domain. They were generally represented by governors responsible only to them. The second, Sir John Stanley (1414-32) caused the ancient laws and constitutions to be committed to writing and succeeded in subordinating the ecclesiastical power to the civil. His grandson, Sir Thomas Stanley, who placed the crown on Richmonds head after the battle of Bosworth, was created Earl of Derby in 1485. This accession of family dignity seems to have made the second Earl somewhat nervous of sooner or later exciting in the jealousy of his leige lord, and, in 1505 he diplomatically dropped his regal title, on the ground that he would rather be a great Lord than a petty King. Nine Earls of Derby succeeded in the direct line, the most important being the seventh, or great Earl (1627 – 51), whose espoused the Royal cause during the Civil War and was beheaded at Bolton in 1651. His Countess, Charlotte de la Tremouille, tried to defend the Isle of Man, as she had defended Latham House in 1644, but her intentions were frustrated by the surrender of William Christian, Illiam Dhone, the commander of the Manx militia.
With the tenth Earl the direct line failed, and the Lordship of Man passed in 1736 to James Murray, second Duke of Athol, a descendant on the female side of the seventh Earl of Derby. At this period the Island was not very popular with the British Government on account of the facilities its position and virtual independence afforded for the prosecution of smugglers. The trade was openly connived at by the authorities, indeed, it was said that two thirds of the population lived on the proceeds of smuggling. Furthermore, the Island had become a place of refuge for the worst sort of debtors, a local law meant that debts in England and Ireland could not be recovered in the Isle of Man. This meant that for nearly one hundred years the Isle of Man provided sanctuary for the unfortunate and profligate of the surrounding nations who flocked here in great numbers. After much haggling the third Duke was induced in 1765 to surrender the regality and customs duties to the Crown for £70,000 and an annuity of £2,000. A verse well expresses the disgust of Manxmen at the bargain –
The babes unborn will rue the day
That the Isle of Man was sold away;
For there’s ne’er an old wife that loves a dram
But what will lament for the Isle of Man
The fourth Duke was made Governor General of the Island in 1793, and held the dignity for a third of a century. He and his nephew, the then Bishop of Sodor and Man, incurred great unpopularity by asserting certain claims to manorial rights and tithes. The Duke also contended that the compensation accepted by his predecessors had been inadequate. Eventually, in 1829, the British Government acquired his remaining privileges by a lump sum payment of £417,114. This may seem like a large sum, but the British Government made what ultimately turned out to be a good bargain, as they gained from the surplus revenues of the Island before 1866 more than they paid to the Duke. Since that date a Lieutenant Governor has been appointed by the Crown.
During the twentieth century the Island has achieved a large measure of self-government as a Crown dependency. The Crown retains responsibility for ensuring the good government of the Island and for its external affairs, but the Island’s democratically elected government exercises full control of its internal affairs and territorial waters