An Overview of Officials and Juries prior to 1700

The Isle of Man had a great many official roles. These were a mixture of salaried appointments by the Lord, Church and Barons (which offices were similar to those outside of the Island) and various traditional Manx roles which generally acted in support of them. These Manx offices were often local to a parish or sheading (and the occupant drawn from that locality), unsalaried (but with certain important officers being paid by the people in the course of doing their business) and short term (of duration no more than a year). They also include various juries, the combined membership of which must have formed a significant proportion of the eligible populace on the Island.


Feudal Lords


The island was ultimately owned by the Crown of England but was held under them by the Stanley family (following a royal grant in 1406).


The Stanley rulers of Man were entitled to style themselves King of Man but prudently only used the designation Lord of Man. The Lord had great powers including the right of life and death over the people of Man. He was usually not present on the island and delegated his authority to his appointed Governor (described below).


The Barons were proprietors of the minority of the Manx lands which were not held directly by the Lord of Man. The Barons had some of the same powers as the Lord, and the baronies had their own administrations and courts. The Lord of Man was the ultimate authority however and appeal could be made to his courts. Prior to the dissolution of the religious houses (circa 1540) the Barons came from these (for example the Abbot of Rushen and the Prioress of Douglas were both Barons). After this event the Baronies were seized by the Crown and most subsequently found their way into private hands.


The Lord's island-wide administrative officers


The officers described below were appointed by the Lord of Man and might not come from the island. They served for a variable number of years.


The Governor was commonly referred to as the Lieutenant or Captain of Man in the early records. He was the representative of the Lord of Man on the Island and acted as the supreme authority for administrative, military and (after the Reformation) church matters. There was typically both a Governor and deputy Governor. The Governor was assisted by four officers named the Lord's Council as follows.


The Comptroller had various responsibilities including auditing the Lord's Accounts and acting as a member of the Lord's Council. His role was typically combined with that of Clerk of the Rolls who was responsible for the Court records and Clerk of the Markets who ensured that accurate weights and measures were used by merchants.


The Receiver was another member of the Lord's Council and his primary responsibility was in collecting the Lord's revenue (such as rents) and in disbursing the Lord's necessary expenditure (such as salaries). There were sometimes two receivers (one for each half of the Island) but this ceased around 1610.


The Water-bailiff had many responsibilities relating to the sea. They included collecting the custom duties (in the modern sense) of imports and exports, and also a tax on herring fishing. He was also a member of the Lord's Council.


The final member of the Lord's Council was the Attorney General who acted on behalf of the Lord in civil and criminal cases.


The Lord's island-wide judiciary


The Lord's officers described above all had powers to act in judges in certain courts. Additionally there was the traditional Manx role of Deemster. There were two Deemsters (one for the North Side and one for the South). Their origin dates back before the Island had a written law and it is supposed that the ancient Laws and Constitution of the island arose from the judgements of the Deemsters. The post required the occupant to be a Manx speaker and was always occupied by a Manxman, apparently for life.


The original role (prior to the late 17th century) of the 24 keys seems to have been to support the Deemster (and Governor) by providing a jury for difficult or important cases. The number of jurors called varies (sometimes 6, 12 or 24).


The Lord's local administrative Officers


Unlike those individuals recorded above, these officials only served for a year (at most) and were (it would appear) always drawn from the appropriate constituency.


The Moar was an ancient role the primary task of which was to collect the Lord's rents from the parish (on behalf of the Receiver). The Moar served for just one year and appears to have been selected out of the parish by an associated parish jury called the Setting Quest.


The Setting Quest was a jury of four men which oversaw the allocation of tenants to the Lord's lands. Its principal purpose was officially to protect the Lord's interests (by ensuring that all lands were let and only to people who would be able to pay the rent) but in practice it often served to guard the tenant's right of tenure. The jury was selected out of the parish (prior to 1704) annually. The moar for the previous year usually served on the setting quest.


The primary task of the Coronor was to keep the peace and he had various powers to enable him to do this. The post covered a sheading. He appointed as assistant called the Lockman.


The Great Enquest was a jury of 12 men which served at the Sheading Court. (This court considered various matters relating to the Sheading including those relating to common law and property.) It called in "4 honest men of every parish" who were required to serve on pain of fining. A new jury was sworn in every six months.




The Bishop was the supreme administrator of the spiritual laws, but was (after the Reformation) appointed by the Lord of Man. He was also a Baron by virtue of the lands owned by the Bishopric and had the same rights as the other Barons. He had patronage of certain church posts (specifically the Vicar-Generals and a minority of vicars).


The Archdeacon shared with the Bishop the task of administering the spiritual laws and both held courts. The Archdeaconry also owned the Rectory of Andreas. He had an lay assistant called the archdeacon's official to substitute for him in Court.


The two vicars-general were appointed by the Bishop from the vicars and acted as judges in his courts. (According to Moore the Bishop did not normally preside in person.)


There was a clergyman for each parish who fulfilled a similar role to that of the vicar today. There were differences between parishes according to what proportion of the church tithes they received and these these also changed over time. The different names applied to the incumbents according to the tithes were: vicar of pension, vicar of third, rector and parson.


Lay Ecclesiastical Officers


The Parish Clerk was an assistant to the priest and became a lay post after the Reformation. He also had a portion of Church land and other benefits by virtue of his position.


The general-sumner was an island wide post. He had appointed a deputy in each parish called a sumner. According to Parr's abstract of laws (c1690) they each had a range of duties including collecting tithes, bringing offenders to prison and standing at the door during a Church service to "whip and beat out the dogs".


Lay Ecclesiastical Juries


The Chapter Quest was a jury of four men per parish which was sworn in each year to "enquire of all offences committed against the spiritual laws" and to present to the spiritual court those acting against the Church's teachings (such as witches, adulterers, fornicators, blasphemers, drunkards, profaners of the Sabbath, non-church-goers). The Chapter Quest was chosen by the Bishop or his delegates.


The Church Wardens were sworn in each year to ensure that the Church and Churchyard were properly maintained and "to make a just and true accompt to their parishioners 4 times a year for all assesses". (I take the latter to mean reporting back to the parish on the business of the Spiritual Court.) According to Moore they were (and are) a group of four men per parish elected by the people. The Church Wardens would also present offenders to the Spiritual Court in the manner of the Chapter Quest.




The Baronies had their own administrations which mirrored those of the Lord.


The Senescal of the Barony of Bangor and Sabal was a senior figure who presided over the Baron's Court.


There was a Sergeant in each parish who collected the rents (as did the Lord's Moars) and also had a rod of office.