The Stanley family, later known as the Earls of Derby, ruled as Lords of Man for over 300 years. Their long rule is considered to represent a period of relative stability for the Isle of Man. Apart from some notable exceptions, they did not routinely visit the Island, instead appointing a Governor to look after their affairs.
Fall of the Kingdom of Man and the Isles
From Godred Crovan’s takeover of the Island in 1079 until the mid-13th century, the Isle of Man had been at the centre of the Norse Kingdom of Man and the Isles. Following the death in 1266 of the last King of Man, Magnus Olafsson, the islands were ceded to Scotland as part of the Treaty of Perth, bringing Scottish and Norwegian military conflict over the islands to an end. For the Isle of Man, however, this was the beginning of a period of instability, during which the Island passed between English and Scottish hands.
The Rise of English Dominance
From the 1330s onwards, the Island came under increasing English influence. In around 1333 King Edward III of England gave the Isle of Man to William de Montacute, 3rd Baron Montacute and later 1st Earl of Salisbury. His son sold the Island to Sir William le Scrope in 1392, who was beheaded in 1399 for his alleged involvement in a rebellion against Richard II; shortly afterwards, the Island was granted to Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland by the newly crowned Henry IV. However, Henry Percy soon turned against the new King, and in 1405, after a series of unsuccessful rebellions, he fled to Scotland and his estates were confiscated.
In 1405, Henry IV granted the Isle of Man to Sir John Stanley, a favourite of the King. In 1406, the grant was extended to Sir John’s heirs on a feudatory basis. Their fee for possession of the Island was to render homage and send two falcons to all future Kings of England on their coronations.
Earls of Derby
In 1485, Sir John’s grandson, Sir Thomas, was given the title of Earl of Derby. The Earls of Derby ruled as Lords of Man until 1736, when the 10th Earl of Derby died without any male heirs. The Island passed to his first cousin once removed, James Murray 2nd Duke of Atholl. In 1765, at the height of the smuggling trade known as the Manx Mischief, the Atholls were persuaded to sell their rights as Lords of Man back to the Crown.
From Kings to Lords
During the Viking period, the ruler of the Isle of Man was known as rex manniae et insularum, King of Man and the Isles. The title of rex manniae was still in use when the Island passed to the Stanleys, although their status as vassals of the King of England meant that the title of Lord of Man was increasingly prominent.
In the records from 1417, there are references to both the King and Lord of Man, demonstrating the ambivalence of the title at that time. The procedure for Tynwald Day opens with an address to ‘our doughtful and gracious Lord’, and then moves on to discuss what ‘a King ought to do’ on his Tynwald Day.
Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby (c.1509-1572) took the title of Lord of Man, likely in deference to King Henry VIII. His descendants were usually known as Lords of Man, though the title of rex manniae was occasionally used until the 17th century. A result of the succession dispute between the daughters of the 6th Earl of Derby and their uncle was that the title of Lord of Man became established in law, under ‘An Act for assuring and establishing the Isle of Man in the name and blood of William, Earl of Derby’.
When the Island was sold in 1765, there technically ceased to be a Lord of Man, since the rights of the Duke of Atholl as Lord Proprietor had been revested into the Crown. Nevertheless, the title has continued to be used, perhaps to emphasise the British Monarch’s unique relationship to the Isle of Man. Today, Queen Elizabeth II as the Island’s head of state is titled The Queen, Lord of Man.