Papers of the Earls of Derby, Kings and Lords of Mann, relating to the Isle of Man, known as the Derby Papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The content consists of various financial and legal papers relating to the rule of the Earls of Derby on the Isle of Man. Items include correspondence (1661-1781), appointments of officers to take the Manx accounts (1607, 1608), an agreement to divide issues of the Island (1660), agreement relating to the Island’s revenue (1661) and surveys of Manx lands listing tenants, rents, customary payments etc (1506, 1607, 1608, 1660, and 1703); also Manx leases (1569-1648 and 1664-1723), a book of tenant fines (1704) and a books of rates on imports and exports (1677, 1692). Other material includes letters and charters regarding the Isle of Man (1399-1660), the receiver’s accounts (1521-1523, 1622-1698 and 1701-1735), water bailiff’s accounts (1703-1735) and miscellaneous Manx financial accounts (1704-1735).

Other contents consists of a grant of manor of Appyn in Glenfaba (1379), a conveyance of interest in the Isle of Man to the Earl of Derby (1607), bargain and sale of Rectories of St Michael and Maughold (1608), grant of Abbey lands of the Island (1620) and papers relating to Manx tithes and reference to a Manor of Bispham and tithes of Bispham. Legal papers and opinions are present and relate to the Earl’s title to the Isle of Man (1736) and the Earl of Derby versus the Duke of Atholl (1737 and 1746-1751).

Manx Court Rolls (1576), copies of Acts of Parliament settling the Isle of Man to the Earl of Derby after the succession dispute (1609), copies of Manx Statutes (1705-1726) and a book setting out customary laws of the Island (1667) are present. Other items include legal extracts from official Manx courts books (1667-1680), depositions of witnesses regarding the export of salt from Isle of Man (1701), proceedings against Thomas Harley for preaching false doctrine (1720-21) and Manx court proceedings regarding a wine matter (1720). Further material includes a list of Bishops of Sodor and Man to 1376 from Chronicon Manniae and inventories of the Earl of Derby’s arms, goods and stores on the Island (1701-1702).

Administrative / Biographical History

During the medieval period the ownership of the Isle of Man was disputed between the kingdoms of England and Scotland. By the early fifteenth century the Island came into the possession of the English crown and in 1405 Henry IV (1367-1413) made a lifetime grant to Sir John Stanley (c.1350-1414) and his descendants for the Manx feudal and bishopric rights; John Stanley became the King of Mann. In return the Stanley family paid a feudal fee in which they rendered homage and provided two falcons to all future Kings of England on their coronations.

Sir John’s duties to the Crown led him to spend most of his time in Ireland and he never visited the Isle of Man. His son John (c.1386-1437) became King of Mann in 1414 and was recorded to have visited the Island on at least three occasions in 1417, 1422 and 1423; he was known to have presided over two meetings of Tynwald. Sir John was the first King to have the Manx laws written down with the earliest Manx statutes dated from the 1422 Tynwald. Sir John also attempted to reduce the power of the church on the Island and consolidate his rule. For example he stopped canon law taking precedence over civil law, he abolished the right of sanctuary and he made it the clergy’s responsibility to return any sanctuary seekers who were wanted by the law.

Subsequent Kings of Mann Sir Thomas Stanley (c.1405-1459) and Thomas Stanley (1435-1504), 1st Earl of Derby did not visit the Island. Between 1437 and 1507 and beyond the Isle of Man was administered by series of governors and local Manx officials on behalf of the ruler. Thomas Stanley (1485-1521), 2nd Earl of Derby was the first Stanley to adopt the title Lord of Mann; this was most likely a gesture of submission to the newly established Henry VII (1457-1509); despite the downgrade in title his privileges as ruler of Mann did not diminish. Thomas visited the Island in 1507 due to local unrest. By 1572 Henry Stanley (1531-1593), 4th Earl of Derby was Lord of Mann and visited the Island in 1577, 1583 and 1585 for numerous legal and financial matters.

In 1593 Ferdinando Stanley (1559-1594) became Lord of Mann. His premature death in 1594 led to a time of uncertainty for the Stanleys because Ferdinando’s heirs consisted of two daughters and one brother. When his brother William Stanley (1561-1642) became the 6th Earl of Derby, Ferdinando’s daughters felt it was their right to inherit the Isle of Man. The decision was left to Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) and the law lords on the Privy Council. The succession dispute ranged from 1594 until 1609 during which interim Lords of Mann were appointed - Henry Howard (1540-1614), Earl of Northampton in 1607 followed by Robert Cecil (c.1563-1612), Earl of Salisbury in 1608. The Privy Council eventually declared that Ferdinando’s eldest daughter Anne (1580-c.1647) had the right to the Island. Her uncle agreed to purchase the Lordship of Mann and its rights and took his position in 1609. In 1642 James Stanley (1607-1651), 7th Earl of Derby became Lord of Mann but in fact he had represented his father on Island for approximately fifteen years previously (1627). The 7th Earl visited the Island regularly and was known as Yn Stanlagh Mooar ‘The Great Stanley’.

Stanley’s rule was blighted with various issues such as smuggling and the English Civil War (1642-1651). He refused demands that the Isle of Man be surrendered to parliamentary forces after the execution of Charles I (1600-1649) in 1649. In 1651 Stanley was captured in Cheshire and charged with high treason against the Commonwealth of England. He was found guilty and put to death. Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) appointed Thomas Fairfax (1612-1671) as his successor during the English Interregnum (1649-1660).In 1660 the English monarchy was restored and Charles II (1630-1685) confirmed the return of the Earl of Derby’s titles and estates to Charles Stanley (1628-1672), 8th Earl of Derby.

The Stanley family ruled the Island uninterrupted from 1660 until 1736 when James Stanley (1664-1736) 10th Early of Derby died without any male issue. His rights to the Island were passed to his closest living male relative, James Murray (1690-1764) 2nd Duke of Atholl, a Scottish cousin. Murray was the grandson of Lady Amelia Sophia Stanley (1633-c.1702), daughter of the 7th Earl of Derby. The Island was governed by the Murray family until 1765 when they sold their feudal rights for £70,000 and revested them to the British Crown.

Conditions Governing Access

No regulations or restrictions are implemented on this material.

Advance notification of a research visit is advisable by emailing library@mnh.gov.im.

Other Finding Aids

Summary descriptive list available for consultation in the Library & Archive Reading Room.

Archivist's Note

The biographical information was gathered from Sara Goodwins' A Brief History of the Isle of Man (2011: 61-90).

Fonds-level description created by Eleanor Williams (MNH Project Archivist), September 2016.

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