Chapter 4 — The Dawn of the Reformation (1406 – 1539)

THE title of this chapter will perhaps seem an anachronism, but there can be no doubt that, in Man, as in England, there were attempts at reforming the abuses, as well as the doctrine, of the Church long before the period usually assigned to the Reformation. There is, however, a marked distinction between the inception and progress of this reform in Man and in England. For, in Man, there is no trace of any such upheaval of popular opinion against the abuses of the Church as came about in England, owing to the influence of Wycliffe, towards the end of the fourteenth century. But, early in the following century, this attempt at reform in England was utterly put an end to, and the Church became more degraded than before, exactly at the time when, in Man, a reform of Church abuses began, though seemingly not of doctrine. We will endeavour to trace the progress of this reform, but before doing so, we will briefly point out what seems to us to be the reason of this contrast between the two countries. In England [82] the House of Lancaster, which was raised to the throne by a parliamentary revolution, and which rested its claims on a parliamentary title, had purchased the support of the Church by the promise of persecuting its enemies;[note 1] while Man, on the contrary, was placed under Sir John Stanley, a ruler of strong Lollard sympathies, "a man who gave neither toleration nor termon (sanctuary) to ecclesiastics, laymen, or literary men,"[note 2] and who, whether he visited Man or not,[note 3] would certainly have appointed a governor to carry out his ideas, and, as will be seen, his able son was of the same mind.

Let us, in order that we may clearly under stand the position, give a brief summary of the doctrinal and devotional opinions of these Lollards, or "Babblers," as they were nicknamed by the Church. They were – (1) denial of transubstantiation; (2) objection to celibacy among the clergy; (3) condemnation of clergy who held temporal offices; (4) repudiation of image-worship as idolatrous; (5) non-necessity of auricular confession.

It is not known whether or not Lollard principles penetrated to Man, but, whatever state of affairs prevailed there at the end of the fourteenth century, it is clear that, early in the fifteenth century it was under a rule as favourable to Lollard principles as that in England was adverse to them, although there is no [83] trace of Manxmen having any objection to the doctrine of their spiritual rulers, but only to their exactions.

We have already seen, that, during the fourteenth century, the clerical power in Man, in the absence of its secular rulers, or through their indifference, had become very powerful. There were seven spiritual barons, i.e. the Bishop, the Abbots of Rushen, of Furness, and of "Bangor and Saball," the Priors of Whitherne and of St. Bede's, and the Prioress of Douglas, who, between them, held a large portion of land of the isle, as well as very considerable rights and privileges. No sooner did the second Sir John Stanley arrive in Man, in 1417, than he proceeded to curb the power of these barons. His first step in this direction was to obtain from his deemsters, or judges, assisted by the most experienced men in the isle, a statement of the ancient laws, and among them those which referred to the spiritual barons. One of these laws was to the effect that the barons living out of the island had forty days' notice, within which time, "if wind and weather served them,"[note 4] they should show by what right they held their lands, and then make their fealty. If they failed to do this, they legally forfeited their temporalities. Sir John Stanley seems to have left the island on this occasion without enforcing this law, but shortly after his departure, the commissioners left by him made an indenture with the deemsters and House of Keys on the subject of sanctuary, which these barons had the power of [84] granting to felons and traitors, in the following words: "That the said twenty-four Keys of the Land, with the Deemster of Man, say and adjudge for the law of the land, that whatsoever liege Tenant or Tenants of the Lord of Man shall have committed a crime in any case of Felony or Treason, and shall have fled . . . from the Land of the Lord of Man into the Liberties of the Barons, and shall have been required by the Lord of Man or his ministers to return to the land and to a lawful trial, and if he or she excuse himself or themselves, not consenting to return thence, and if any of these Barons under the Lord of Man shall retain him, her, or them . . . then he shall forfeit to the Lord for every such offence of retention 60s., and shall answer for the body of the aforesaid transgressor at the prison of the Lord of Man, and this under penalty or forfeiture of all his liberties possessed in Man."[note 5] This right of sanctuary was one of the most potent of priestly weapons, and so large and numerous were the spiritual baronies in Man, that, as long as it existed, Sir John Stanley was but the shadow of a king. The law in Man on this subject was thus in advance of that of England, where no steps were taken to stop this abuse till a much later date; and so Sacheverell, writing at the end of the seventeenth century, justly commented, "another law against sanctuary seems very remarkable considering the times."[note 6] In 1422, there was further legislation with a similar object, for in that year it was, "given for law," that "if the bishop or abbot or any other receive an [85] outlaw after he is inlawed, without the Lord's special grace he is to forfeit his temporality"; and, with reference to sanctuary, it was again declared that it did not "avail by the law of Man."[note7] The following regulations passed at the same time also tended to place the Church completely in the power of the State: no baron was to take more than £5 out of the land, except in merchandise, on pain of forfeiture. This, if enforced, would have practically put a stop to the non-resident barons spending their rents out of the island. Neither bishop, nor abbot, nor baron was to receive any stranger or other person within their gate without the knowledge of the governor; the abbot was not to receive any resident monk or priest without the lord's licence, and if the clergy did any wrong to the moar,[note 8] they were to pay six shillings and eightpence, and if to the coroner, three pounds; and finally, in a Tinwald Court held at Reneurling, in August of the same year, the barons, in accordance with the law given in 1418, were summoned to do faith and fealty, and to show by what claims they held their lands. The "Bishop of Mann," the "Abbott of Rushen," and the "Prior (? Prioress) of Douglas" came, but "the Prior of Whithorne[note 9] in Galloway, the Abbott of Furnace, the Abbot of Bangor, the Abbott of [86] Saball, and the Prior of St. Beade, in Copeland, were called and came not; therefore they were deemed, by the Deemsters, that they should come in their proper Persons within forty days, and if they came not, then to loose all their temporalities, to be ceised into the Lord's hands by the same Court."[note 10]

We do not know whether the recusants came within this period or not, but, as the property of all these barons, except that of Furness, shortly afterwards fell into the hands of the lord, it would seem that the Abbot of Furness was the only one of them who put in an appearance.

The subordination of the spiritual barons to the lord is also shown by the following customary laws : When the abbey fence bounds the lord's property, the abbey tenant is to make up both sides, and "to leave as much earth . . . on the lord's side of the ffence as he can abut joining his heel to the hedge and reaching his spade holding his foot thereon." If the lord's tenants wanted servants, they could take them from the barons. It would seem, too, that the abbey tenants had more privileges than the lord's, as if the abbey tenant removed he could take away the roof of his house and all the doors and windows, " as well those that hang on iron[note 11] hinges or otherwise," but the lord's tenant could not do this.[note 12]

Not only were the spiritual barons subjected to the lord, but they were also placed in the same position as regards the governor, for it was ordained, that [87] "what man offendeth" the Lieutenant "be punished as they that offend to the Lord."[note 13] This, considering that the lord rarely visited his insular realm, was a very necessary enactment. Having thus curbed the power of his spiritual barons, Sir John Stanley graciously confirmed the charter of Magnus to the Church, which, as we have already seen, conferred considerable powers upon it.[note 14]

In 1429, occurs the earliest mention in the insular records of a difficulty between the clergy and laity on the subject of Church dues, a difficulty which was to arise frequently in the future. In that year the bishop, Pully, held a visitation at Peel, when certain persons were prosecuted for refusing to pay their dues to the Church. These persons, however, put in a counter-presentment that certain "particles"[note 15] of land "ordained to the relief of poor Schollers" had been "dealt into other uses by the fault of the Bopp."[note 16] They fortified their case by annexing a copy of the old [88] constitutions, which they said the bishop had broken, and they declared that they would not pay their dues till these abuses were corrected. The case was decided against them by a sworn enquest, set by the authority of the bishop, at the said visitation, but from this verdict they appealed to the lord, or his representative, the governor. The governor then asked the deemster what was the law of Man with regard to such an enquest as that appointed by the bishop which had ''attempted the King's right and inheritance of his Land of Man, and his prerogatives, without his leave or his Lieutenant's." The deemster replied that the action of the enquest was illegal. Upon this, the bishop's commissary pleaded guilty, as did the members of the enquest, while the traversers pleaded not guilty, and said that they would give themselves "to God, and the Countrey".[note 17] Then was "called and sworne" an enquest of twenty-four, who gave as their verdict that the traversers were not guilty. Thus the verdict of the national jury set aside that of the bishop's jury, and vindicated the supremacy of the civil over the canon law. This is all the more remarkable as, in England, the spirit of religious freedom had, temporarily at least, been utterly suppressed.

From 1429, till nearly the end of the century, Manx ecclesiastical history is almost a blank. The greater part of this period in England was occupied by the miserable wars of York and Lancaster during which papal usurpation reached its culminating point, and [89] the national character of the English Church became almost extinct. It is impossible to discover what was the state of affairs in Man in this respect. For, though Pope Calixtus IV, in his bull of 1458,[note 18] by which "the cathedral church of Sodor in Man" was made "suffragan to the church of York,"[note 19] stated that the appointment of the bishop of that see had been "hitherto reserved" for the "apostolic appointment," yet this was no innovation, as it resembled the appointments of Bishops Russell and Donkan in the previous century; and, moreover, there is no record of any further attempt on the part of the popes to interfere with the internal affairs of the see, which, protected by its poverty and obscurity, seems, on the whole, to have enjoyed much greater liberty than its neighbours. There is, however, a curious but pleasant account of papal interest in the island recorded in 1459, when, in answer to a petition from "Thomas Stanley, Lord of the Isle of Man," we find a rescript from Pope Pius II, granting that all those who shall dare to molest the said island shall be excommunicated."[note 20] In his letter to the pope, Lord Stanley mentioned that Man "had from the remotest times been honoured by the relics of certain saints, and that it had been commonly called the Holy Island (Insula Sancta)."

[90] The next glimpse of Manx church history is in 1499, and it is a significant one, because it shows both that the struggle between the laity, and the spiritual barons and monks, still continued, and that the former strove to protect the poor and oppressed parochial clergy from the exactions of the latter. The point at issue was a tax which pressed heavily on the parochial clergy as well as on the laity, viz. the payment of corbes, or death-bed presents,[note 21] which they were compelled to pay to the bishop. The question of the legality of these impositions was laid before the deemsters, who consequently summoned two juries, one of six clergymen and six laymen to fix the corbes, if any, to be paid by the clergy, and the other of twenty-four laymen to fix the corbes to be paid by the laity. The first jury found that the "Vicars of Pencion" ought not to pay any corbes, and that the "Vicars of Thirds" were only to pay them, "if they have them free".[note 22] The verdict of the second jury was, in effect, that the children of the deceased, whether men or women, were to have their best effects, leaving therefore only the inferior chattels to the clergy. It was also decided, at the same time, that the lord, not the barons, had the first right to the services of any stranger coming into the country; and, in 1501, a decision was given by the [91] deemsters to the effect that,"no baron can take an enquest of the lord's tenants (except they bear barons' rent), or commit any of them within his liberties, or indict any without the governor's privity, upon pain of life and limb, it being against the lord's prerogatives".[note 23]

But still, notwithstanding these arrangements, it seems probable that the power of the Church, in the absence of the Lords of the Isle, none of whom visited Man between 1422 and 1517, was not greatly diminished during this period. It is significant of this, that, in 1504, the Abbot of Rushen, John Farker, was also deputy-governor, and that, in 1505, Thomas, Earl of Derby, granted "all liberties of every kind anciently conceded to the same church", together with increased possessions.[note 24] On the other hand, the following dictum given, in 1514, by the deemsters with reference to appeals from the spiritual court, about which there were frequent disputes later, shows that the civil authorities were determined to maintain what they considered their rights — "If the lord take the case to himself, or commission his prime officers here to determine it, then it is called the Lord's Prerogative royal, for the spiritual court is not only to surcease in their proceedings, but also deliver up the party and cause to the lord";[note 25] and, in 1520, it was decided by them that "noe Barron can take an enquest of the Lo. tenants nor covict any of them within his Libertys, or arraigne them in his Court, upon paine of forfeiting [92] his Body and Goods to the Lord's mercy, being agt the Lord's prerogative, as appears by an ancient Record in this behalfe".[note 26] By 1531, clerical exactions had again become a source of lay complaints, and consequently a commission had been appointed to inquire into the whole question, and to receive evidence. It would appear that, as the result of these inquiries, the bishop and clergy had made certain claims with regard to the corpse presents, tithe ale, marriage money, and bishop's fees, which were controverted by the laity, who denied that the amounts of these taxes were as large as had been represented. In 1532, a compromise was arrived at on this subject, which was recorded in an indenture entered into by the clergy on one side, and two men from each sheading, as representing the people, on the other. Each party argued their case before a Commission appointed by Edward, Earl of Derby, and consisting of the governor, receiver-general, auditor, captain, water-bailiff, deemster, and the receivers of Peel and Rushen Castle. By them it was decided: (1) that the executors of those who had free goods (i.e. the property after paying all debts) to the value of twenty shillings, should pay to the Church eight shillings for mortuaries, and a fee of one shilling to the bishop for probate, and that the executors of those whose goods were worth less than twenty shillings, were to pay "the first part of the same goods", and for probate four pence; (2) that the tithe for brewing ale and on marriage presents should be abolished; (3) that the corpse payment for the recently deceased should be at the rate of this agreement; (4) that "the Commonalty shall reasonably agree with the Priest or Clerk doing divine service at Burialls or Weddings, . . . according to the old customs used in the said Isle".[note 27] This indenture greatly reduced the claims of the spirituality, and, a few years later, the existence of the monks, who, in Man, formed its most powerful section, was brought to an end. This did not result from the English Act, passed in 1539,[note 28] for the generall dissolution of monasteries and other religious houses, which did not apply to the Isle of Man, but simply by the arbitrary action of Henry VIII, by which the monastery of Rushen, the nunnery of Douglas, and the friary of Bymaken were vested in the Crown.[note 29] Their property was at first granted to various persons, but, in 1610, came into the hands of the earls of Derby. Thus was one third of the tithes which belonged to the abbey of Rushen diverted from its presumable use, i.e. the education of youth and the relief of the poor.[note 30] Nothing is known of the result of the dissolution of the religious houses in Man. We are ignorant whether they had been well or ill conducted, and whether their influence on the Church in Man had [93] been good or bad. It is certain, however, that their removal must have been a loss to the poor, while it is probable that the parochial clergy went on much as before, and that the bishop, being deprived of the support of the pope and of the abbeys of Furness and Rushen, would be more under the influence of the civil power. Of the doctrinal changes, as we have seen, there is no evidence, the probability being that they were very gradual. On this point we will endeavour to give some evidence in our next chapter.

With reference to the bishops of this period, out information is of a somewhat uncertain character.[note 31] In 1410, Richard Payl[note 32] is said to have been translated from Dromore to Sodor.[note 33] He may possibly be identified with the bishop, Richard Pully, who is, in 1429, mentioned in the statute book as having defrauded "poor Schollers," and as having been, at the time of his visitation at "Halland Towne" (Peel) in the same year, signally worsted by the civil magistrates in his attempt to grasp undue authority.[note 34] In 1449, John Green was bishop, having obtained leave to hold his living of Dunchurch, in Warwickshire, in commendam on February 9 in that year. [95] "He acted as suffragan in Lichfield in 1452 . . . and soon after must have resigned his see".[note 35]

His successor, Thomas Burton, a Franciscan, became bishop on September 25, 1455, and made his will on February 18, 1458. It would seem that he must have resigned before that date as, according to the bull of Pope Calixtus, uniting the Church of Sodor to that of York, "Thomas"[note 36] was on the same day (February 18) "bishop elect of the Church of Sodor",[note 37] and this Thomas must have been the Abbot of Vale Royal, also called Thomas of Kirkham. He was bishop on June 21, 1458, and was alive in 1472.[note 38] According to Le Neve (Hardy), he died in 1480, but Dugdale places his death in 1475.[note 39] In 1487, Huan or Hugh Hesketh, or Blackleach, was consecrated bishop. In 1505, he received a charter from Thomas, Earl of Derby, confirming all the lands and possessions of the bishopric, together with many important rights and privileges.

Bishop Huan or Hugh must have died some time between Nov. 13, 1520, when he proved the will of his brother Richard, and the date of the appointment of his successor, John Howden, i.e. June 18, 1523.[note 41] [96] This John Howden is almost certainly the "John, Bisshop of Sodorensis" mentioned as signing the agreement between the clergy and laity in 1532. It is not known when he died but it was probably some time before the appointment of Henry Man in 1546.[note 43[


1. This promise was speedily fulfilled, by passing the infamous statute De heretico comburendo, by means of which all obdurate sectaries could be brought to the stake.

2. Annals of the Four Masters, A.D. 1414, p.213.

3. This is not known.

4. Statutes, vol. i, p.4.

5. Statutes, p.3.

6. Manx Soc., vol. i., p.68.

7. Statutes, p.8, &c.

8. The collector of the lord's rates.

9. It is curious to note that, in 1604, the Provost of Whitherne made a claim to have his barony, that of St. Trinian's, restored, but in vain. [From loose paper in civil records.]

10. Statutes, pp.20-1.

11. This shows that the value of iron was then considerable.

12. MS. in Douglas Free Library.

13. Statutes, p.5.

14. See p.61.

15. The following order, in 1403, is an instance of these grants of particles. "The King to all to whom, etc., greeting. Know that we have conceded of our especial grace, to Luke Macquyn, of the Island of Man, Scholar, certain alms called particles, in the island aforesaid, vacant, as said, and in our gift, and which alms are appropriated to the support of certain poor scholars of the island aforesaid, and which were given, confirmed, and conceded perpetually to the scholars by our predecessors, former kings of England; to have and to hold to the said Luke the alms aforesaid, as long as he shall remain a scholar for the benefit of the Church, and shall not be promoted." ["Rot. Pat.", Manx Soc., vol. vii, pp.225-6.] This looks as if there was some educational foundation in Man for the benefit of the sons of the clergy.

16. Statutes, p.24.

17. Ibid.

18. It is curious that Polydore Vergil, writing in 1470, states that, the see of "Sodorne" was subject to the primate of St. Andrews, and that "This bysshops see was placed in thile (sic) of Man which ys thowght to be of the diocese of York," but then Vergil was notoriously inaccurate. (Manx Soc., vol. iv., p.78.)

19. Reg. York, Manx Soc., vol. ix., pp.20-3.

20. Theiner's " Vetera Monumenta," Manx Soc., vol. xxiii., pp.414-21.

21. It is clear from the name that these were originally voluntary bequests to the Church, though, according to the statutes of Bishop Simon (see p.48), they were to be levied as a tax "justly due".

22. Statutes, pp.6-8. The date is wrongly given as 1419.

23. Rotul. 1501.

24. Manx Soc., vol. ix pp.27-31.

25. Lib. Scaccar.

26. Rotul.

27. Statutes, pp.28-31.

28. See ch. v p.97. Furness Abbey was dissolved in 1537 (Manx Soc., vol. ix pp.36, 220-3), and Rushen soon followed (see p.98).

29. For full particulars about dissolution of these houses, see Sir James Gell's notes, Manx Soc., vol. xii pp 54-64.

30. See p.35.

31. See note 5, p.76.

32. At this period Brady places "Michael 1422"; "Nicolas Episcopus Insulanus, 1428"; "Andrew Episcopus Sodorensis", but they are probably bishops of the Scotch isles. John Burgherlin, 1425, recorded both by him and Stubbs, who quotes Wadding, Ann. Minor., must be regarded as doubtful.

33. Brady, Episcopal Succession, i. 106.

34. Statutes, p.24.

35. Reg. Sac. Ang.

36. Wadding, Annales Minorum, Rome 1731.

37. "Reg. York.", Manx Soc., vol. ix p.20.

38. Reg. Sac. Ang.

39. Stubbs, on the authority of the Monasticon, puts a Bishop Richard Oldham, Abbot of Chester, after Thomas of Kirkham; as does Browne (Manx Soc., vol. xviii p.137), but he must be regarded as uncertain.

40. Monasticon Anglicanum, Manx Soc., vol. ix pp.29-31.

41. "1523, June 18, John Howden providit Ecclesiae Sudoren, in insula Man sub domine Regis Angliae Vacanti per obitum Hugonis Episcopi. extra R. curiam defuncti, de persona fratris Johannis Howden, od. fratrum Predicatorum" (LXXX Vatican, Barberini and Chigi, quoted by Brady).

42. Statutes, p.28. According to Le Neve, Thomas Stanley succeeded Huan as Bishop of Man in 1510, but this statement is sufficiently disposed of by the fact that Huan was bishop of Man in 1520, while Bishop Kennett (Landsowne Diptycha MS) and Wood say that he succeeded Richard Mabbott in the Thorngate prebend at Lincoln, in 1528, and that he resigned it, in 1530, on his appointment to the Bishopric of Man in succession to Huan; but these statements are also disposed of by the facts, that a careful search through the chapter acts at Lincoln between 1520 and 1530, (kindly made by Archdeacon Venables at the writer's request) shows that his name does not occur as holding any prebend at Lincoln, and we know that Bishop Huan was dead in 1523.
It may therefore be reasonably concluded, that, though there was a Thomas Stanley who was Rector of Badsworth from 1513 to 1549 (York Diocesan Registry), he was not Bishop of Man at the dates mentioned, and it does not seem probable that this Thomas Stanley, Rector of Badsworth, was the same who was bishop between 1558 and 1568, though he may have been (see p.138).

43. See ch. v p.137.