Chapter 3 — The Rule of the Monks (1275 – 1406)

THE most marked feature of the Church History of Man during nearly the whole period between 1275 and the Reformation, is the supremacy of monkish influence, combined with the increase of papal authority. These influences, however, did not become paramount till after the death of the vigorous Alexander III of Scotland, and even then they were checked for a time by the mighty Edward I of England, who for a brief space held "the land of Man" in his "hands." and, as we learn incidentally, appointed vicars to the parishes of Arbory and Santon.[note 1] But, after this time, till the accession of Sir John Stanley, in 1406, the island fell into the hands of constantly changing rulers who, as far as is known, took no interest in their little dominion. It was, consequently, a time of anarchy, of which the monks of Rushen and Furness took advantage to increase their power to such an extent that they seem to have become practically independent of the civil government. After 1406, though still [64] powerful, they were curbed by the wise legislation of the Stanleys.

We will first trace the progress of this increase of papal and monkish power during the period 1275 to 1406, bearing in mind that much the same process was going on in England simultaneously.

For it was during this fourteenth century that the Church there "had sunk to its lowest point of spiritual decay. The claim of firstfruits and annates from all ecclesiastical preferments, the assumption of a right to dispose of all benefices in ecclesiastical patronage, the imposition of direct taxes on the clergy, the intrusion of foreign priests into English livings and English sees, produced a fierce hatred and contempt of Rome which never slept till the Reformation."[note 3] And while the English clergy were thus severed from the papacy, "their own selfishness severed them from the nation at large. Immense as was their wealth, they bore as little as they could of the common burthens of the realm. The old quarrel over the civil jurisdiction still lingered on, and the mild punishments of the ecclesiastical courts carried little dismay into the mass of disorderly clerks. Privileged as they were against all interference from the world without, the clergy penetrated by their control over wills, contract, divorce, by the dues they exacted, as well as by their directly religious offices, into the very heart of the social life around them."[note 4] Their moral [65] authority was passing away, and they exerted no influence over the vice of the higher classes. The higher prelates were busy with the cares of political office, and were severed from the lower priesthood by the scandalous inequality between their revenues. The older religious orders had sunk into mere landowners, while the enthusiasm of the friars had utterly died away, and left a crowd of impudent mendicants behind it."[note 5]

Let us now see what indications there are of a similar state of affairs in Man. The first step towards the aggrandisement of the Church was to increase her income while making her discipline more severe, and these objects were attained by the enactment of thirty-four canons at a diocesan synod held at Kirk Braddan, under the presidency of Bishop Mark, in 1291. By these canons the various tithes were enumerated with much greater precision than they had been in the canons of Bishop Simon, and several ones were added. Thus a fish tithe is found for the first time, also a tithe upon merchants and traders, smiths and other artificers. The offences to be followed by the penalty of excommunication were set forth, and the duties of the archdeacon in his visitation, together with rules of a very strict character concerning the conduct of priests, and the nature of their vestments, were laid down. An insight into the state of society at the time is shown by the prohibition of laymen and clergy from bearing arms in church and of the holding courts for the pleading of lay [66] cases on the Lord's day in churches or churchyards.[note 6]

Another significant proof of the increasing power of the Church is the fact, that, at about this time, the Manx people were placed under an interdict for three years for disobeying Bishop Mark.[note 7] We may note also, that the great English abbey, already so powerful in Man, increased that power by the acquisition, in 1299, of the churches of' St. Michael and St. Maughold,[note 8] in addition to its already considerable properties, and we find its abbot holding the important office of custodian of the island. In 1334, visitation dues are mentioned for the first time, each church in Man being compelled to pay twenty shillings on such occasions. The herring tithe was in full operation, and strangers were compelled to pay it as well as natives. In 1350, Bishop Russell's synod passed several canons, which, though chiefly relating to the duties of the clergy, contained stringent penalties for being absent from church, and regulations for the repairs of churches by the parishioners, and of chancels by the rectors.[note 9] In 1368, a seemingly clear case of oppression of the parochial clergy by the monks occurred. John Hugh, Vicar of the church of St. Lupus (Malew), complained to Pope Urban V that the revenues of his church, worth 40 a year, had been retained by the abbot and community of the monastery of Rushen for their own use, and that out of this they had only [67] assigned six marks (4) to him, and he stated that, at the time this arrangement was originally made, six marks would go further than twenty did at that time. He further stated, that the population of his parish had greatly increased, and consequently his duties had become more onerous, also that he could not "be properly maintained from the above-named allowance and support."[note 10] The pope referred the case to the Archdeacon of Man, the bishop having declined to interfere, being probably afraid of the monks. The result of the inquiry is unknown.

An interesting light is also thrown on the influences at work by the records of the methods of electing bishops at this period, which seem to have varied from those in vogue at an earlier epoch. Thus, in 1348, William Russell was elected bishop "of the Sodor diocese by the clergy of the Island of Man in the cathedral church of St. German in Holm of Man."[note 11] And Clement VI, in writing to the bishop-elect with reference to this election, says, "Our beloved sons, the clergy of the Sodor Cathedral, city and diocese, to whom the election of the bishop when required is said to belong, in accordance with an ancient approved custom hitherto peacefully observed, assembling together . . . chose you at that time Abbot of the monastery of Rushen of the Cistercian order in the Sodor Diocese, to be the Bishop of the Sodor Diocese; and this election they caused to be solemnly announced to the people; and you, at [68] the instance of the aforesaid, consented to the election, after having previously asked and obtained permission from your superior, our beloved son, the Abbot of Furness . . . and then you, doubting lest the provision for the said church might not be reserved to the Apostolic See, betook yourself to the said See, and caused the matter of the election to be laid before Us."[note 12] The pope then approved the election and stated it to have been canonically carried out, "even although the provision of the said Sodor Church may have been specially or generally reserved by Ourselves or Our Predecessors." From this bull, it would seem that the position of the electoral parties had changed.[note 13] For there is no mention of the monks of Furness as electors, but merely of the Abbot of Furness as an assenting party; and none, directly, of the monks of Rushen, though it is probable, as their abbot was elected, that, as members of the chapter, they practically determined the election; the people were no longer electors, nor would it seem that the rulers of Man and the Isles had any share in it. The next election, that of John Donkan, was not really an election at all, but merely an appointment by the pope, as Gregory XI, in 1374, wrote to him, stating that, during the time William Russell presided "over the government of the Sodor Church, We, desiring that the said Church when it might happen to fall vacant should be placed through our ministry under a useful and fit person, thought proper to reserve [69] specially Our own ordinance and disposal for the said Church when that occasion should arise; and declared that from the date of the decree any attempt to the contrary should be null and void."[note 14] He then proceeded : "After a careful deliberation had with our brethren," [note 15] "we fixed the eyes of our understanding upon you the Archdeacon of Down. . . . regarding whose literary acquirements, purity of life, goodness of morals, providence in spirituals and circumspection in temporals, and other meritorious virtues We have received commendatory testimony; in favour of whom also our beloved sons of the Sodor Cathedral, city and diocese, by their letters patent, have humbly petitioned Us."[note 16]

We have thus traced the election of the Sodor bishop through the various stages of election by the king, clergy, and people to election by the monks of Rushen, and finally to his appointment by the pope. Among other instances of interference by the pope in the affairs of this diocese, is his setting aside the election of an abbot of Rushen. It would appear that a certain William of Cockerham had become Abbot of Rushen, either by election or, if the bull of Urban V in 1363 is to be relied on, by force. In this bull, the pope declared, in accordance with a decree of Innocent VI, that "abbatial and other dignities and benefices"[note 17] could only be disposed of by the Roman Pontiff. He therefore ordered Roger, a monk of Furness, to [70] be appointed to Rushen in the absence of William. Again, in 1376, during the absence of Bishop Donkan, Gregory XI instructed the Archdeacon of Man, with two others, to decide an ecclesiastical case in Man,[note 18] and, on the archdeacon's ruling being appealed against, the pope appointed the Bishop of Lismore (Argyll) to decide the case;[note 19] and, in 1377, the same pope confirmed an appointment made to the church of St Moliwe (Malew) by "John Lord of Isla,"[note 20] whom he states to be "the true patron of the said parochial church, in peaceful possession (of the right ) or quasi-right of presenting the rector to the said church".

We must bear in mind, in estimating the power of the pope and monks in Man, as compared with England, at this period, that in the smaller island there were no "Constitutions of Clarendon" which restricted the privileges of the clergy; no "Statute of Mortmain", by which so much property was prevented from passing into the hands of the Church; no "Statute of Provisors", which ordained that "Kings and all other Lords are to present unto benefices of their own or their ancestors' foundations, and not the Pope of Rome"; and no "Statute of Praemunire", which declared that all who sued for [71] redress in the papal courts should lose the protection of the law of England and forfeit their goods to the State.

Of the actual state of religion in this priest-ridden isle during this period, we have no knowledge, unless the statement of Sacheverell, that, according to "the Scotch writers, Martholine, the king's almoner, who was sent over to take care of the business of religion," found it "wholly degenerate,"[note 21] is to be regarded as historical.

We may now give a brief account of the bishops who held office during this period:- Bishop Richard dies in 1275, the first year in which the Scotch actually took possession of Man, and King Alexander, quietly ignoring the ordinary procedure, set aside the Abbot of Rushen, whom the clergy and people of Man[note 22] had unanimously elected, and appointed Mark, a Galloway man. He then sent him with letters from himself, and with such as he had been able to extort from the clergy of Sodor, to the Archbishop of Drontheim for consecration.[note 23] Mark, who, according to the Chronicle, "governed the Sodor diocese right nobly," seems to have been a man of considerable ability and distinction, being employed in various high and important offices. The first of these was a [72] mission to Norway, probably in 1288.[note 24] In 1289, he was one of the guardians of the kingdom of Scotland,[note 25] and, in 1292, he was an auditor at the parliament held at Berwick in that year.[note 26] Among other events in his life, we may not his having, in 1291, held a diocesan synod;[note 27] his being summoned, in 1296, to make his allegiance to Edward I of England;[note 28] and, in 1299, his appropriation to the abbey of Furness of the churches of St Michael and St Maughold.[note 29] This action of his seems to have been called in question, for he protested that these appropriations were "by consent of out clergy . . . confirmed and ratified without compulsion or exaction . . . or even fear of the said abbot (of Furness), although at the time of the appropriation he had the custody of the Isle of Man."[note 30] But, the very fact of his having considered it necessary to make this protect, renders it probably that "fear" of the abbot had some connexion with the transaction. It was probably in consequence of these appropriations, and of increased ecclesiastical exactions, that Mark was, about this time, expelled from the Island by the Manx, who suffered for their temerity by being placed under interdict for three years. At the end of this time, he was [73] recalled,[note 31] and, in consideration of the interdict being removed, the Manx submitted to a tax of one penny on every house with a fire-place.[note 32] The Chronicle tells us that "Mark was a liberal and courteous man," and that "he died at a good old age, when had become blind; and was buried in the church of St German, in the island of Holm". This proably occurred some time between 1302 and 1305, in which latter year his successor, Alan, also a Galloway man, received a safe-conduct from Edward I to visit "the isles of Inchegal".[note 33] There is no record of Alan's election, but it would appear from the Chronicle that he was consecrated in Norway.[note 34] The same record tells us that he "governed with credit the diocese of Sodor," and that he died in 1321.[note 35] Here, however, we are confronted with a difficulty, as we learn from another source[note 36] that, in 1317, "John, bishop of Sodor, being about to set out for the parts of Man in attendance upon the king and marquis,[note 37] has letters of protection from the marquis,[note 38] so that, unless there is some mistake about the name, [74] there would seem to have been two bishops of Sodor at the same time. Of the next two bishops, Gilbert McLellan and Bernard de Linton, Abbot of Arbroath, little is known in connexion with Man,[note 39] except that they were consecrated in Norway. In 1326, Gilbert sent meal to the king of Scotland,[note 40] and, in 1328, Bernard received a grant for the expenses "attending his election, and for his requirements in case he should be promoted to the said Sodor church."[note 41] He died in 1333, and was buried at Kilwinning.[note 42] Thomas, who is said to have succeeded in 1334,[note 43] was the last bishop appointed by the Scotch, whose rule ceased in that year. In 1341, he was, for some unknown reason, arrested on board ship at Carlisle, and sent to London by order of King Edward III, "to be examined touching matters concerning us."[note 44] Three weeks later, Thomas, who, it would appear, was on his way to Rome, was set free, and all his goods and chattels, which had been seized, ere handed over to him in consideration of the circumstance that "the said bishop and other men of the said land of [75] Man are in allegiance to us, and under our faith and peace."[note 45] On the same day, the king took "the said bishop, his men and servants, and all his goods, under "special protection and defence, both when going to the aforesaid court, and in returning thence to his own country." Thomas died in 1348, and was buried at Scone.[note 46] In the same year, William Russell, "a Manxman", Abbot of Rushen, was elected bishop. He was consecrated at Avignon by Bertrand, Bishop of Ostia, at the command of Pope Clement VI.[note 47] With regard to this, the Chronicle remarks that "he was the first Sodor bishop-elect consecrated and confirmed by the apostolic see; for all his predecessors had been wont to be confirmed and consecrated by the Archbishop of Drontheim, that is the Metropolitan." This, however, as we have seen, had not been invariably the case. But Pope Clement wrote at the same time to the Archbishop of Drontheim, stating that no prejudice to his metropolitan rights was intended by this election.[note 48] The first act of the new bishop was to obtain leave from the pope to encumber his church and see with a mortgage to pay the "great and burdensome outlay . . . for the successful carrying on of the affairs of the Sodor Church,"[note 49] and, at the same time, he obtained leave from the same authority to permit some religious persons, who were forbidden, in accordance [76] with the statutes of their order, to eat meat, to do so.[note 50] In 1350,[note51] he held a synod. It is satisfactory to learn, from receipts for the payments to the Apostolic Chamber given to him by Stephen, Archbishop of Toulouse, that the bishop was able to pay off the mortgage on his see in a few years.[note 52] In 1374, Bishop Russell died, and was buried at Furness,[note53] and John Donkan, who had previously been Archdeacon of Down, Nuncio and collecter of papal revenues, was appointed in his place. He went to Rome for consecration. On his way home, he was taken prisoner, and kept in confinement at Boulogne till the end of 1376, when he was released on payment of a ransom. It is with a mention of the ceremony of his installation in St German's cathedral, when he received "many very great offerings . . . at his first pontifical mass," that the Chronicle terminates.[note 54] Doubtless a record [77] was continued at Rushen till the dissolution of the abbey, more than a century and a half after this, but it has not been preserved to us. Bare and unsatisfactory as the Chronicle is, we are still worse off without it, as the information obtainable for many years after it ceases is of the most meagre description. Six years after his accession, Bishop Donkan seems to have got into some trouble with the pope, for, in 1380, a commission was appointed by Urban VI to inquire into the allegation that he had kept back and gave no account of "rents, incomes and revenues"[note 55] belonging to the Apostolic Chamber. The result of this inquiry is unknown, but it seems probable that John Donkan was acting the part of the patriot in resisting papal greed and aggression; and judging from the important trusts confided to him, it is clear that, whatever his conduct in this case, he was a man of considerable ability.[note 56] [78] We nowhere, however, learn how he administered his diocese. He was translated to a see described as Cathadensis in 1392, and John Sprotton was provided to succeed him.[note 57] This is probably the "John, by divine permission, bishop of Sodor,"[note 58] who, with the Abbot of Rushen and the clergy, signed a declaration against the claim of Sir Stephen Lescrop to Man, in 1408. Towards the end of this period, in 1373, there is an event, viz. the foundation of an oratory of Franciscan Friars Minor in Man, which seems a curious one, when we remember that the Earl of Salisbury, then King of Man, was described by Walsingham as a despiser of canons, as one who laughed at the sacrament, and as a "fautor" (favourer) of the Lollards during his whole life. Possible, however, he may have thought that the introduction of their bitter foe would tend to counteract the influence of the Cistercians at Rushen. This scheme is first mentioned in a letter of Pope Urban to Bishop William in 1367,[note 59] informing him that the Earl of Salisbury had assigned a site in the village of St Columba (Arbory), and that, if it were suitable [79] he had granted the provincial prior and brethren of the order of Minors [of] the Province of Ireland permission to erect buildings there. They did so at a place variously called Bymaken, Beemaken, or Bowmaken, near the present parish church of Arbory. These buildings consisted of "a church or oratory, together with a bell-tower, cemtery, houses, and other necessary offices";[note 60] but they were only to be built provided that twelve brethren of the said order can be fittingly and properly maintained at the place; without infringing, however, on the rights of the parochial church, or of any other in any respect. We hear but little of these monks; their property was a small one, and their influence was, therefore, probably equally small.[note 61] Such a foundation and such a preponderance of monkish power in Man at a time when Wycliffe was exercising great influence in England is very remarkable, and shows how isolated Man was.[note 62] Of other ecclesiastical buildings at this period, there are still in existence the nave of the cathedral and the church of St Trinian.[note 63] This church "is of the same type as all the Manx churches, having chancel and nave only, without architectural distinction between them, and western campanile . . . It is clearly of early Middle Pointed date; and was [80] probably built during the Scotch dominion. The east window of two lights, and very acutely pointed, must have been pretty. On each side of the chancel was a non-light window. The priest's door is on the north. The nave is more ruinous, but appears to have had two one-light windows on the north, and one, besides the door, on the south. The west window was an ogee-headed lancet; and the whole west end, with its double campanile, would do very well for a small simple church. The mass of rubble that supported the mensa of the altar still remains."[note 64]

From the end of this period also probably date the remaining buildings of Rushen Abbey.


1. "Rot. Scot.," Manx Soc., vol. vii., p.113.

2. It will be noticed that we speak of the power of the monks, not of that of the secular clergy, for it is clear that the latter were a poor and powerless body.

3. Green, History of the English People, p.229.

4. Ibid., p.230.

5. Ibid., p.231.

6. See Manx Soc., vol. ix., pp.182-201, for these canons.

7. See p.72.

8. "Chart. Furn." Manx Soc., vol. vii., pp.133-4.

9. Manx Soc., vol. ix. pp.202-10.

10. "Vat. Arch.", Manx Soc., vol. xxiii., pp.387-8.

11. "Chronicon Manniae", Manx Soc., vol. xxii., p.119.

12. "Vat. Arch.", Manx Soc., vol. xxiii., pp.337-9.

13. See chap.ii. pp.59-61.

14. "Vat. Arch.", Manx Soc., vol. xxiii., p.394.

15. Ibid., p.395.

16. Ibid., pp.395-6.

17. Ibid., pp.370-3.

18. Ibid., pp.387-9.

19. Ibid., pp.401-3.

20. Ibid., pp.404-6.

21. Manx Soc., vol. i, p.59.

22. This would, probably, include Sodor also, though not specially mentioned.

23. We know that he was accompanied by several envoys, as their expenses are entered in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland.

24. We find his expenses charged in the Exchequer Rolls, Scotland, 1289.

25. Foedera, Manx Soc., vol. vii, pp.106-7.

26. Palgrave, Manx Soc., vol. vii, pp.118-20.

27. See p.65.

28. "Rot. Scot." Manx Soc., vol. vii, p.132.

29. See p.66.

30. "Chart. Furn.", Manx Soc., vol. vii, pp.133-4.

31. It does not appear by whom.

32. This tax, called "the smoke-penny," has only recently been done away with.

33. Or more correctly, Insegal (Sodor), "Rot. Hib." (Not in Manx Soc.)

34. Stubbs, Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum, says that he was consecrated by Jorund of Drontheim, and that he was buried at Rothsay.

35. February, 1320-1. Throughout this book the year is considered as beginning in January as at present.

36. "Rot. Hib.", Manx Soc., vol. vii, p.168. See also ibid., pp.162-5.

37. Thomas Randolph, Earl of Murray.

38. "Rot. Pat. Hib.", Manx Soc., vol. vii, p.168.

39. There was probably a vacancy between Alan's death and Gilbert's appointment, as it is noted in the Scotch Exchequer Rolls, in 1328, that no tax had been received from the Manx clergy during the whole time of the vacancy of the bishopric, and, according to the Chronicle, he ruled only two and a half years.

40. "Rot. Scot." In the same records, in 1328, there is mention of a payment to Cuthbert, brother of domini Gilberti quondam episcopi Sodorensis, on account of funeral expenses. Keith quotes his signature in 1327.

41. Reg. of Arbroath, Manx Soc., vol. xxiii, p.334.

42. Chronicon Manniae, notes, pp.252-3.

43. Manx Soc., vol. xxii, p.253 (? authority for date).

44. "Rot. Litt. Claus.", Manx Soc., vol. vii, pp.185-6 and pp.187-9.

45. "Rot. Scot.", Manx Soc., vol. vii, p.190.

46. Chronicon Manniae, notes, p.253.

47. Manx Soc., vol. xxiii, pp.349-50.

48. "Vat. Arch.", Manx Soc., vol. xxiii, pp.344-7.

49. Ibid., pp.351-4.

50. "Vat. Arch"., Manx Soc., vol. xxiii, p.355.

51. See p.66.

52. Ibid., pp.360-2 and 363-4.

53. Chronicon Manniae, p.121.

54. After the Chronicle ceases, till 1546 there is, in many cases, very considerable difficulty in deciding the succession of the bishops, and this difficulty is increased by the occasional impossibility of distinguishing between the bishops appointed to Man and to the Scotch Isles. Among the numerous writers who have compiled lists of bishops, we have selected the following, are clearly the most critical and have made most use of original authorities. No bishop has been entered in our list who is not either approved by all of them, or whose existence is not certified by what would appear to be satisfactory evidence.
(1) Le Neve, John. London, 1716. "Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae; or a Calendar of the Principal Ecclesiastical Dignitaries in England and Wales, &c., from the Earliest Times to 1715. Corrected and Continued to the Present time by Sir T Duffus Hardy, Assistant Keeper of the Public Records, 3 vols., 1854, Oxon." This seems to be a careful and painstaking account, in which early authorities are sometimes quoted.
(2) Stubbs, Wm., M.A. Oxon, 1858. "Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum: course of Episcopal Succession in England from the Records and Chronicles of the Church." Bishop Stubbs may be considered as one of the most critical and exact of living English historical writers.
(3) Brady, W. Maziere. Episcopal Succession, 3 vols. 1876, Rome. In his preface he mentions having resided in Italy for a considerable period, and that he enjoyed unusual facilities for examination of books and MSS. in the Vatican and other public and private collections.

55. "Vat. Arch.", Manx Soc., vol. xxiii, pp.407-8.

56. In 1388, he was asked by the Council of Richard II, King of England, to treat with the sons of John de Islay, late Lord of the Isles, regarding a treaty of alliance and commerce between them and England ("Vat. Arch.", Manx Soc., vol. xxiii, pp.409-11); in 1393, he received payment from the royal treasury for charges and labour incurred by him in prosecuting certain affairs for the same king in the Isles (Issue Rolls, Manx Soc., vol. vii, p.211), and, in 1405, he was deputed to negotiate peace and alliance between England and Ireland on the one side, and Donald, Lord of the Isles, and John his brother on the other (Foedera, Manx Soc., vol. xxiii, pp.412-3).

57. Bullariium Ord. Praedic. (3o Boniface IX) (quoted in a MS. letter from Bishop Stubbs).

58. "Add. Chart.", Manx Soc., vol. vii, pp.248-50.

59. "Vat. Arch.", Manx Soc., vol. xxiii, pp.382-4.

60. Ibid.

61. This order of monks had arrived in England a century and a half before, when they were called the begging friars, and subsisted on the alms of the poor, not being allowed to possess either money or lands. But we hear nothing of them in Man till their status in these respects had changed. We may note that the prior of this foundation was not a Baron of the Isle, as its lands were part of the lord's manor.

62. See chapter i., p.13.

63. Built perhaps about 1300.

64. Neale, p.10.