In the middle of the seventeenth century the Isle of Man was under the control of a powerful English noble. As such, it could be assumed that there were many similarities between life in England and on the Island. The experiences of the residents of Man from 1647 to 1651, however, were different in a number of ways from those of the English, perhaps more so in the years considered here than might normally be the case.
Agriculture was advancing, both on Man and in England. However it appears that the Island was behind England in putting new ideas that would extend food supplies into place. A lack of information about both agricultural and herring harvests precludes any definite conclusions about harvest shortfalls in any given year. It does appear, however, that the years 1647 to 1649 saw food shortages. Poverty was also a serious issue in both countries. England again took the lead in instituting central government assistance for the poorest people. The poor on Man were more reliant on the generosity of their parish, neighbours and family for support.
The severity of the food shortages has been discussed in detail, and evidence suggests that there might have been starvation in the lowest ranks of society, though that cannot be definitely proven due to the limited nature of the evidence. No attempt has been made here to assess the seriousness of the shortages in terms of loss of life because of the insufficient number of parish registers available for consideration.
The presence on Man in this period of military personnel and Royalist refugees also had an impact on the lives of the Manx. Funding for Derby and the garrisons came from the pockets of the average residents and this was presumably more difficult to provide in the shortage years. Other evidence seems to show a general instability developing on the Island as the period progressed. In spite of the additional taxation and other demands, however, when compared with England, the Island suffered little in terms of financial demands as well as in loss of life and property in the civil wars.
Derby, the governor and the Keys worked together during Derby’s residence on Man. However, Derby does not appear to have taken an active role in the day to day governing of the Island. He was active behind the scenes in raising funds and provisions for the garrisons but it is unknown how much he worked in the background in other areas. The government seems to taken a more active role in managing the food shortages in this period than in other times of shortage. Whether this was due to Derby in some way or to the severity of this particular crisis is unknown. Much of the legislation used on Man in this period reflects legislation issued earlier in England, and perhaps Derby or some part of his entourage encouraged its use when the shortages began.
It could be argued that Derby’s presence on Man protected the Island from the civil wars and saved the Manx from greater suffering that might have included battles fought on Man and loss of lives and property. Some of the devastating effects the war had on England have been discussed and for the most part the Island was preserved from them. But the Manx still faced additional taxation and demands for provisions at a time when shortages were making it difficult for the poorest residents to find enough food to support themselves. It is impossible to say what might have happened to Man had Derby not sought refuge there during the wars. It is unlikely that it would have escaped notice from both sides because of its important strategic position in the Irish Sea. That Derby arrived to quell rebellion suggests that if he had not come the Island residents might have attempted to overthrow the Governor, but what they might have done had they succeeded can only be discussed as interesting speculation.
Overall, the residents of Man seem to have suffered a great deal during the period 1647 to 1651. The better off residents were faced with demands for money and provisions at a time when they appear to have been in short supply. The poorest families appear to have reached near to starvation level, with court orders demanding that the better off provide food for them at least twice a week. Evidence from other sources seems to indicate that the Island was subject to some degree of instability at the time and violence seems to have been a more accepted part of life on the Island as well.
Study of all of the sources over a longer period of time would help to clarify the significance of the changes noted above. As a whole this dissertation suffers from being both too broad and too narrow in focus. Too many sources were considered over too short of a period of time for any definitive conclusions to be made. A more in-depth study of one or two of the sources over a longer period would provide a chance to discuss any changes in a more meaningful manner. The dissertation’s starting point may also be a hindrance. The dramatic account of serious suffering in the Lib. Scacc. document made it difficult to consider the evidence without bias. Approaching the subject from a different perspective might have led to conclusions that the Island survived the period with little or no suffering whatsoever.
Areas for further research include looking at other food shortages on Man and trying to discover their effects. If other shortages after this date resulted in deaths from famine it would lend more strength to the argument that some people died of starvation in 1649. Earlier shortages would be difficult to research because of the lack of parish register evidence, but some work could be done using court records and government papers to attempt to determine the severity and/or effects of earlier ones as well. Because of the few registers available, a discussion of the agricultural regions of the Island is of little use here. However, it might make an interesting study for future research, particularly if used in conjunction with research into later shortages where more evidence is present. Further study into poverty and its management on Man could also be interesting, especially in light of the absence of formal poor laws.
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22 February 2008
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