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Title Page
General Notes
1. Agriculture
2. Famine
3. Hardships
4. Governing
Appendix A
Appendix B
2003 Update
Manx flag (14k) ‘Considering the extraordinary dearth and scarcity of bread…’: Aspects of life on the Isle of Man in the years 1647 to 1651

4. Governing & Managing Food Shortages

The period under consideration here is unique in the history of the Isle of Man because of Derby’s presence throughout. Derby arrived on Man in June 1643 and, except for a few months in 1644, he remained on Man until August 1651. [253] Dickinson states this period was ‘ . . . the only time in more than three centuries of Stanley rule when the Lord actually took part in the government of the island, in person, for any considerable length of time.’ [254] Derby’s presence meant that the government had to work with him in person to administer the Island and there are some hints in the records as to how this arrangement functioned. Many of the regulations put into place to deal with the food shortages were similar to earlier legislation in the books of orders in England. This chapter will discuss how the Island was administered in the period, discussing the roles played by various members of the administration. The second half of the chapter will look at how this administration dealt with the food shortages of the late 1640s.

Governing the Island

The Lord of Man was, effectively, king of the Island. ‘Since the island lay outside the jurisdiction of English royal government and the English courts of law, the Lord of Man possessed and exercised powers which were almost identical to those of the king of England.’ [255] Derby gave his reasons for travelling to Man when writing later for his son.

. . . I was advised to go immediately for the Isle of Man, to secure it for his Majesty's service, as well as in wisdom to preserve my own inheritance. But I gave no heed to that report, but continued my desire to wait upon the Queen . . . Meanwhile I received letters from the Isle of Man, intimating the great danger [of a revolt] there; for that the people had begun the fashion of England in murmuring, and by some damned spirit had been taught the same lessons as I have known in London, to come in tumultuous manner, desiring new laws; a change of the old; that they would have no bishops; pay no tithes to the clergy . . . All these considered it behoved me to prevent the mischief betimes, both for his Majesty's service and mine own good. Her Majesty, and those with her, rightly weighed the danger; . . . all who were of the opinion that my coming hither was necessary; and accordingly I did. [256]

When he arrived on Man, he was facing a discontented populace and his first actions were to deal with threats of rebellion. Derby gives his own account of this period in his History and Antiquities [257] and his account is used in Moore’s retelling of the events. [258] Lack of space here precludes repeating the story. Once the threat of rebellion was past, Derby set about fortifying the Island and strengthening its military. How involved he was in the government of Man on a day-to-day basis is unknown. Dickinson says that ‘The impression that Derby frittered away his time in the Isle of Man playing the host to Royalist refugees, staging elaborate entertainments, and only occasionally devoting himself to the practical matters would . . . be quite misleading.’ [259] Bagley, however, writes that Derby spent his time on Man living ‘ . . . a quiet, almost retired life at Rushen Castle with his wife and children . . . he spent many hours of satisfactory solitude with his books and papers.’ [260]

Certainly the Governor had a great deal of power and responsibility on Man, even if the Lord was present. Blundell stated

Whether the Lord of Man be in person therewith in ye Island, or absent in England, the Governor’s power is the same as is the lord’s over the Manxmen; . . . Yet I find not any of the Kings or Lords of Man yt did personally sit in the seat of justice, of what nature soever the cases were, but yt they always referr’d it to the Governor, as chief, and to his inferior officers as assistants; and this I do observe, at my being there, altho’ the earl of Darby was then resident in ye Island. [261]

It is possible that Derby was more active in daily matters than might appear from the records, Craine tells that:

Instructing his son in the art of managing men he [Derby] wrote, ‘If in anything you are obliged to be harsh, of that let another bear share; and when you deny or afflict let another mouth pronounce it.’ The levies, assessments and other exaction with which he burdened the Manx people during the war were all passed in correct form by Governor, Council and Keys in Tynwald; the Earl keeping in the background and discreetly using persuasion, promises and covert threats to gain his end. [262]

The Keys were the representative body of the people on the Island. By this time their approval was required for passing new laws. According to Blundell ‘. . . their assent is soe necessary as, that without them no new laws can be made nor any custome be introduced or altered.’ [263]

These three components of the government of the day appear most frequently in the extant records. There were many other officials, functioning on a national or local basis, with a wide range of responsibilities. Dickinson provides details of the roles of the various officers in the government at that time, [264] as does Blundell. [265] Here the concern is for evidence that shows how the government and Derby were working together during Derby’s time on Man.

There are two instances in the records of appeals to the Countess of Derby while Derby and his family were on Man. The first petition, dated 1644, appeals for her assistance, with a note from Derby attached stating: ‘I am contented for my wifes sake to remitt this fyne.’ [266] The second instance was in 1645 when some men sent a petition to the Countess appealing for her intervention in regards of their large fines. Derby remits all of the fines, except for those of one man who continued to criticise his government. Even that man was granted some relief as his fine was lowered from £20 to 40s, the sum to be given to the poor. [267] In light of the success that these petitions met with, it is, perhaps, surprising that there are no further petitions to the Countess in the records.

A collection of petitions in Lib. Scacc. seems to show Derby’s unwillingness to get involved in Island matters. The petitions are from December 1643 and seem generally to be involved with land matters. They are all addressed to Derby as Lord of Man (he had arrived in June of the same year), and for most of them Derby refers matters to the Keys. [268] While it could be interesting to speculate on why Derby chose not to get involved in these cases, regardless of his reasons, petitions that appear directed to him later seem to receive his personal consideration. However, such petitions are few and far between and tend to cover larger issues rather than individual land disputes. Petitions covering land disputes and other similar issues after this time tend to once again be addressed to the Governor.

Derby added seven pieces of legislation to the Statue Books during his reign as Lord of Man, which are discussed in Mackenzie’s Legislation by Three of the Thirteen Stanleys, Kings of Man. It is interesting here to consider how each piece of legislation came into being. Derby’s first was ‘an enactment “at the Tinwald holden the 24th June, 1629, and confirmed by Lord Strange, . . .”’ [269] Derby, therefore, was confirming something into law that was raised at Tynwald. The second, however, was initiated by Derby. It ‘consists of “Orders and Directions given concerning the Isle of Mann, by the Right Honourable James, Lord Strange, Lord of that Island, the 22nd day of November, Anno Domini 1636.”’ [270]

The third piece is again from Tynwald, ‘headed: -- “At a Court of Tynwald holden in the Isle of Mann, the 24th day of June, in the yeare of our Lord God 1637, it was enacted, established, and confirmed, by the Sovereign Liege Lord of the Island, James, Lord Strange, . . .”’ [271]. The fourth addition, however, was different, and is the first piece passed after Derby took up residence. It details the legislation passed as a result of the complaints made during the threat of rebellion. Derby gathered officers and representatives from around the Island to discuss the ‘Grievances of the Church and Commons’ [272]. The legislation that followed is the result of their discussions. It begins:

And whereas amongst other the complaints of the country, some particular matters concerning the generall good are most considerable of reformation and determination, his Honour was graciously pleased to assemble the Clergy and 24 Keyes of the Island, with the four men of every parish, to meet this day, being the 30th day of October, 1643, as afforesaid, at his Castle of Rushen, where accordingly they did appear, and then and there upon their ensuing business, (agittated and disputed before his Lordship) betwixt the Clergy and Proctors upon the one part, and the said xxiiij Keyes and four men of the parishes in behalfe of the Countrey upon the other part, his Lordship doth order and declare as followeth: [273]

The fifth addition returns again to Tynwald Court, this time with Derby present. ‘”At the Tinwald Court, holden at St. John’s Chappell, . . . the xxiiij day of June, in the year of our Lord 1645, before the Right Honourable James, Earle of Derby, . . .”’ [274] The sixth, however, is again unusual. In this instance, the Keys petition Derby to enact new legislation. Recorded in Lib. Scacc. the 2nd of March 1646, is a petition from the Keys asking Derby to pass an act outlawing the counterfeiting of money on the Island. Four men, who landed on Man while bound for Ireland, had attempted to use counterfeit ‘ducketoones of pewter’ [275]. When meeting to determine a suitable punishment for the men, the officers and Keys discovered that no law existed on the Island to deal with this crime. Derby was petitioned to make an act that might be used in the future and also to dispatch the men out of the country. [276] The document concludes: ‘Which suite of ye s[ai]d 24 Keyes beinge the body of ye Country, his Lor[dshi]p said hee would take it into considerac[i]on & soe did and w[i]thin foure dayes after released ye poore men & sent them to bee shipped for Ireland whither they had intended.’ [277]

The final piece passed during Derby’s reign was again made at Tynwald and approved by Derby. It was ‘ . . . made and published at the Court of Tinwald the xxiiijth of June, 1647, confirmed by the Right Honourable the Lord of the Isle, . . .’ [278] It is not stated that Derby was present, so perhaps he was not.

There does not seem to be a great change in the way that legislation was being passed during the time Derby was present. The majority of the legislation continued to arise from Tynwald Court with Derby approving it, whether he was present or not. One piece did come directly from Derby, but that was before he arrived on Man. Another arose from meetings held by Derby to settle the complaints of the people, and a third more unusual case came about by the Keys petitioning Derby for action. Presumably the law was needed quickly to deal with the problem so that it was not possible to wait for the next Tynwald Court meeting.

It appears, therefore, that Derby did not play a very active role in administering the Island while he was resident. Chapter Three detailed the demands that he made on the people for money and provisions for the garrisons, and that must have been the area where his presence was most felt. His own writings confirm that he was willing to remain in the background, particularly when his actions could be expected to be unpopular. However, he does not seem to have played an active role in the regulations for the relief of the food shortages either. The final section of this dissertation will discuss some of this legislation and similar legislation used earlier in England to deal with food shortages there.

Managing the Food Shortages

The earlier section on harvests discussed legislation that was passed in other years of shortage; it appears, however, that the response to the shortages from 1647 to 1649 was more comprehensive. Possible reasons for this additional involvement include Derby’s presence on Man, a more active Governor, or that the shortages in this period were the most severe that the Island faced in the Stanley period. Another possible explanation for more central government involvement could be the absence of a bishop on the Island in the period. A bishop might have co-ordinated assistance through the church and parish system. Further research into other periods of shortage might help to clarify some of the reasons. Documents from Lib. Scacc. and elsewhere give a picture of the worsening crisis and the government’s attempts to deal with it.

As discussed above, people were being assessed for extra monies over and above their rents. The first bad harvest occurred in 1647 and the petition in December that year from the residents of Castletown was mentioned in Chapter Two. In it, the petitioners claim that the high price of corn is due ‘ . . . not (thanks bee to god) out of any scarcitie of grayne in the Island but by the spyte and avarice of the tennants, . . .’ [279] They state that they ‘ . . . are not able to manteyne themselves children & servants, . . .’ [280] and blame ‘ingrossers’ and ‘. . . the Richer sort of ffarmors who come to the Markett to buy corne and spare there owne thereby indevouringe to raise the Markett . . .’ [281] The petition ends: ‘In this misery and constrayned dearth, yo[u]r petic[i]on[e]rs fearinge least ffamyne might ensue.’ [282] No immediate action appears to follow this petition, but it is the first hint that food shortages were beginning.

As discussed earlier, grain exports were restricted in 1646 and appear to have remained so throughout the shortage period. Court orders dated 10th July 1648 and signed by the Governor, officers and Keys put into place a number of regulations about grain. First, maximum prices were set for selling grains on the Island, ‘ . . . wheate rye and barly (and barly malt) shall not bee solde in any markett house or other place within this Isle above the pryce of 16s the boule the beste soarte and 14s the boule the worser soarte . . .’. [283] It was additionally ordered that no one would sell beer or ale for more than a penny a quart, and that four men be appointed in every market town to view the corn and set the prices as well as present anyone who sold beer or ale contrary to order. Further, anyone buying corn at a market was to swear that they were buying it ‘ . . . ffor their owne p[ro]vision and necessarie sustenance.’ [284] Lastly, whipping or other punishment at the Governor’s discretion was ordered for anyone who cut grass or brought horses or other goods unto another man’s land without consent. [285]

An order from the Governor was sent to the coroners of every sheading on the 1st of June 1649. It identified that shortages were a problem,

fforasmuch as it is greatly complained of not only by ye poorer sort of people but also by ye garrisons & divers of ye inhabitants of this Country yt in this tyme of greate dearth & scarctie, they can in noe wise bee supplyed w[i]th any maner of corne or graine att any ye marketts of this Isle otherwise for theire monyes . . . [286]

It maintained, however, that ‘ . . . it is . . . reported yt divers ffarmors have & may spare such corne & graine whereby the poore & needie are likely by meanes thereof to starve . . . for want of such releefe & sustenance . . .’ [287] It was ordered that four men were to be appointed in every parish who, along with two soldiers, would visit every farmer in that parish to examine their store of corn. The men were to determine what the farmer and his family needed to survive until the next harvest and identify any surplus found. [288]

Pages in Lib. Scacc. on either side of this order contain reports from five parishes of the surplus found during the searches. As discussed in Chapter Two, very little was found. ‘Only five parishes responded, and even they could only offer amounts which were unlikely to improve the position significantly.’ [289] A further order directs the spare, as determined by the inspectors, to be brought to the towns as specified in the order. It names men to take charge of the corn and see to its distribution to those in greatest need. [290]

Court cases from the period show that failure to comply with the new regulations could lead to action in the courts. For example,

William Cowle of Bride was one of nearly a dozen people presented in August 1648 for failing to supply the markets. When his house was searched, it was found that he had ‘three boules of meale to spare,’ besides some hidden in a bed, which he refused to bring to the markets. Another of those presented, John Skillicorn of Lezayre, brought no corn to sell in the market, despite efforts to persuade him to do so made by ‘severall persons that came out of Kirk Lonnan for that purpose. [291]

Other cases are concerned with people selling grain above the legal price, as discussed in Chapter Two.

The final government action during the shortage period, to deal with the needs of the people, is the document where this research began. It ordered that all the farmers and householders of the Island, along with their families and servants, should fast for one meal twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays. The food that would have been eaten was to be given to the poor, either those that came to the house to ask for it or to those that the farmer knew of that could not come. [292] It ends by stating that Derby has sent to France and elsewhere for provisions, but there is no evidence in the records that any provisions arrived on Man and things did not seem to improve until after the harvest.

As discussed earlier, a later petition from the beer and ale brewers refers to the previous difficulties and the current situation of plenty.

It did please yo[u]r Lo[rdshi]p the last yeare (w[hi]ch was so unseasonable) to make knowne unto us that Beere & Ale brew’[e]d for Sale should be at the Rate of a penny a quart by which meanes there was not such store of Brewing as heretofore, & ye little wast[cutoff] then made of drinke was of great use to many even to the saving if their lives. . . [293]

They continue by pointing out the current plenty and conclude by requesting permission to sell at 2d a quart, promising to pay to the Lord, ‘especially in theise Tymes that yo[u]r Lo[rdshi]p is so necesaitated, as kept from the Benefit of yo[u]r Estate in England’, a shilling for every Barrell that is sold. [294] Derby’s reply is dated the 18th of December, 1649 and he grants their petition, which ‘not onely mentions their desire in their own behalfe, But hath also therein an Expression of their good Affecsions unto me . . .’ [295] He insists that he is acting ‘ . . . for the generall good of the whole countrie, which was the onely Reason this induced me heretofore to make the former ordere.’ [296] But that does not keep him from accepting their offer of a percentage of their profits. [297]

By December 1649, therefore, food seems to have been in more plentiful supply. There are scattered regulations in the following years related to furnishing the markets and the brewing and selling of ale, [298] but nothing like the orders discussed above that seem to be dealing with a crisis situation.

Similar Legislation in England

Legislation passed in England to deal with similar food shortages appears much earlier, but is reflected in the government actions on Man in the period considered here. The earliest books of orders were put into place to deal with those keeping supplies from the markets.

The first proclamation of 1527 accordingly set the pattern for its successors when it alleged that regrators, forestallers and engrossers had kept corn from the market and so created the illusion that there was ‘more scarcity of wheat and other grain within this realm than (God be thanked) there is indeed.’ [299]

This looks similar to the petition that the residents of Castletown sent to the Governor in 1647; the wording is nearly identical and the complaint is the same.

The books of orders were a complicated set of regulations for dealing with food shortages. Outhwaite provides a summary of their content.

It is difficult to provide a concise summary of the contents of these books. That of 1595 comprised nearly 60 paragraphs of detailed instruction and exhortation running over 22 printed pages. Rigorous searches were to be made for stocks of grain that were surplus to the holder's domestic requirements. The justices were then to order those with such stocks to bring every week to named places in the locality specified quantities, there to be sold in open market to ordinary consumers in small measures or to licensed dealers. The latter were to be strictly regulated and watched, as also were the numbers, credentials, and activities of such as maltsters, brewers, alehouse-keepers, bakers and millers. The poor were to be looked after in various ways: they were to be given rights to pre-emption in the markets; rich farmers were exhorted to sell to them at ‘charitable prices’ (either in the markets or to the local poor at the farm gate); the unemployed were to be set to work, and vagabonds punished. Alternative uses for bread grains were to be curbed. [300]

Much of this is similar to what took place on Man in the period under consideration here. Other legislation was also similar to what was enacted on Man in the late 1640s.

. . . there were special prayers against bad weather on several occasions . . . and the books or orders of 1587 and 1595 were accompanied by orders for public prayers every Wednesday and Friday, to be accompanied by fasting, . . . People should abstain from supper on those days, and give the money saved to the poor. [301]

This is like the order from which this research began, though on Man the food was to be given directly to the poor rather than any money saved. In the English example the fasting was bound up with public prayer and a religious element that is less obvious in the Manx legislation, though it does speak of Christian charity.

As discussed earlier, such legislation was falling into disuse by the middle of the seventeenth century in England. In the late 1640s the books of orders were not reissued in England. [302] It is possible that instability in England because of the civil wars meant that the central government was unable to deal with the crisis and left things to be handled on a local level. However, the evidence seems to suggest that England was more able to deal with such a crisis without extraordinary central government action. Slack is of the opinion that ‘Agricultural improvement and formal transfer payments through the poor-relief machine rendered granaries and market regulation superfluous.’ [303]

In addition to the books of orders, England’s government, like Man’s could restrict the export of grain. ‘In periods of dearth . . . It was common in the second half of the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth century for governments to suspend exports, usually via a royal proclamation to this effect.’ [304] Grain exports were suspended in England in the late 1640s. [305] But this appears to be the only central government action taken to deal with the shortages at that time.


Derby, the Governor and the Keys seem to have established a working relationship, or perhaps more accurately, retained the former one, with little interference from Derby during his presence on Man. Regulations often similar to, and presumably modelled on, earlier regulations from England, were passed during the food shortage years. Derby does not seem to have played an active role in enacting these regulations, but may have been acting behind the scenes. Certainly he was acting in the background in attempting to raise money and provisions for the garrisons, as discussed in Chapter Three. But this area was perhaps where his presence on Man had the greatest impact.

Lack of sufficient evidence makes it impossible to evaluate the success or failure of the government intervention during the shortage years. Presumably it would have had some small effect at least and perhaps without it the evidence of starvation from the parish registers would be more dramatic. None of the measures put into place seem to have been sufficient to significantly alter the situation, however. The small amounts of surplus grain found in the Island-wide search seems to indicate that food supplies were stretched to their limits.

253Dickinson, 1992, The Earl of Derby and the Isle of Man, 39.
254Dickinson, LMUS, 24.
255Ibid., 19.
256Stanley, J., ‘History and Antiquities of the Isle of Man’, in W. Mackenzie, (ed.), 1860, Legislation by Three of the Thirteen Stanleys, Kings of Man, Manx Society Volume III, Douglas, 12-13.
257Ibid., 25-36.
258See Moore, History, vol. i, 236-244 for a full retelling.
259Dickinson, 1992, The Earl of Derby and the Isle of Man, 53.
260Bagley, J.J., 1985, The Earls of Derby 1485-1985, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 94.
261Blundell, History, vol. ii, 63.
262Craine, 1955, Manannan’s Isle, 69.
263Blundell, History, vol. ii, 76.
264For more information see Dickinson, LMUS, Chapter One.
265For more information see Blundell, History, vol. ii.
266Lib. Scacc. 1644, inter 88-89 (1) (MF/RB444).
267Lib. Scacc. 1645, 10 (MF/RB444).
268Lib. Scacc. 1643, 34 to 49 (MF/RB444).
269Mackenzie, W., (ed.), 1860, Legislation by Three of the Thirteen Stanleys, Kings of Man, Manx Society Volume III, Douglas, 105.
270Ibid., 106.
271Ibid., 108.
272Ibid., 109.
273Ibid., 111.
274Ibid., 116.
275Lib. Scacc. 1647, 27 (MF/RB444).
278Mackenzie, 1860, Legislation by Three of the Thirteen Stanleys, 118.
279Lib. Scacc. 1647 inter 82-83 (3) (MF/RB444)
283Lib. Scacc. 1648, 65 (MF/RB444).
286Lib. Scacc. 1649, inter 69-72 (4) (MF/RB444).
289Dickinson, LMUS, 101.
290Lib. Scacc. 1649, inter 69-72 (5) (MF/RB444).
291Dickinson, LMUS, 98-99.
292Lib. Scacc. 1649, 74 (MF/RB444).
293Lib. Scacc. 1650, inter 40-41 (5) (MF/RB445).
295Lib. Scacc. 1650, inter 40-41 (8) (MF/RB445).
298See for example Lib. Scacc. 1652 ante 1 (MF/RB445) or Lib. Scacc. 1653, 11 (MF/RB445).
299Slack, 1992, Dearth and Social Policy in Early Modern England, 6.
300Outhwaite, R.B., 1991, Dearth, Public Policy and Social Disturbance in England, 1550-1800, Macmillan Education Ltd., London, 40.
301Slack, 1992, Dearth and Social Policy in Early Modern England, 6.
302Ibid., 15.
303Ibid., 17.
304Ibid., 36.
305Ibid., 36-37.

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