In 1417, Sir John Stanley II, Lord of Man, had the laws of the Isle of Man written down for the first time. First among them was the procedure for Tynwald Day, much of which is followed to this day. Referred to as the ‘Constitution of Old Time’, this customary law describes a practice originally established by the Vikings. The name of Tynwald comes from the Old Norse Thingvöllr, meaning meeting place or assembly field, the place where the Vikings met to uphold the law, settle disputes, and make decisions affecting the community. Over the centuries Tynwald has met at various locations around the Island; today, it continues to meet in the open air once a year, at Tynwald Hill in St John’s, as per the customary law.
At the same time as the 1417 customary law describes an ancient ceremony, it also asserts the authority of the Stanleys as the newly established Lords of Man. The Island had been granted to Sir John Stanley II’s father, who never visited the Island, only twelve years earlier. When Sir John Stanley II visited in 1417 and later in 1422, he had to contend with rebellions against his Governor and the competing power and influence of the Church in the Island. The procedure for Tynwald Day, along with the other customary laws that accompany it, vividly represents the relationship between the Lord of Man and his subjects, and in particular asserts his primacy over the Church Barons.
1417 is also an important date in the history of recordkeeping in the Isle of Man. Although the original written laws from 1417 have not survived, they have had an interesting transmission history via 17th and 18th century manuscripts and 19th century printed editions. Other records that began to be kept from 1417 onwards are names of the Members of the House of Keys and legal precedents or law cases.
2017 is 100 years since the House of Keys became an elected body. In March, an exhibition showing the events that led to the first popular election to the House of Keys was held in the library.
The path to reform was not straight forward and took many years. Learn about the journalists Robert Fargher and James Brown; the role of the Governor at the time, Governor Loch, who was the main negotiator; and of course the election itself.
Before the election act a vacancy only occurred in the House of Keys only upon death, resignation or promotion to a position in the Legislative Council. The Act entitled anyone to be a Member of the House of Keys as long as they were males, aged at least twenty-one who were owners of real estate of the value of £100 and over or who were owners of real estate of the annual value of £50 and had a yearly personal income of £100 and over. Although we may think this is restricted today, up until 1866 when a vacancy occurred the Keys nominated two persons to the Lieutenant Governor for his decision as to which one should then be appointed.
In April 1867, the first elections for the House of Keys were held. The qualifications for voters were that they must be males aged at least twenty-one who were owners of real estate with an annual value of not less than £8. Tenants had to occupy land or tenements with an annual rent of not less than £12.
Women (widows and spinsters who owned property of a set value) would have to wait until 1881 to gain suffrage when the Isle of Man became the first country to give women the right to vote.