1703 Act of Settlement

This Act (enacted in 1704) is generally seen as fundamental in changing the nature of land ownership in the Isle of Man, and of resolving conflicts between the Lord and his tenants. The purpose of this section is to consider what fundamental changes it actually made, beyond clarifying their customary tenure to the relief of the tenants.




Circa 1643 and 1651 the then Lord of Man (James Stanley 7th Earl of Derby) wrote in letters to his son (see p447 of Peck's Desiderata Curiosa or the reprint from this in Manx Soc Pub III) "There comes at this very instant an occasion to me to acquaint you with a special matter, which if by reason of these troublesome and dangerous times, I cannot bring to pass my intents therein, you may, in your better leisure, consider thereof, and make some use hereafter of my present labours, in the matter of a certain holding in this country, called "The tenure of the straw" whereby men think their dwellings are their own ancient inheritances, and [that they] may pass the same to any, and dispose thereof without license of the Lord, but paying him a bare small rent, like unto a fee-farm in England: wherein they are much deceived. Which you may plainly see by such collections as I have already caused to be framed, at this time in custody of the comptroller. Sufficient, I persuade myself, to satisfy any reasonable body. But it is not always reason can prevail with a multitude. Therefore is it fit in this, as in all things, to have of the dove and the serpent according to the occasion.


Another of the 7th Earl's letters (also recorded in the same document) alludes to a commendation written by Stow about an earlier Lord of Man (Edward Stanley 3rd Earl of Derby) following his 1572 decease. Stow writes of "his godly disposition to his tenants, never forcing any service at their hands but due payment of their rents". (The 7th Earl was highlighting a different comment by Stow regarding the 3rd Earl's loyalty to the Crown.)


The 7th Earl was clearly protecting his prerogatives here, and was writing at a time when he was desparately in need of money (due to the Civil War). The reference to collections in the custody of the comptroller may relate to leases imposed on the tenants in 1643-5.


Effects of the Act


The tenant farmers were now obliged to obliged to pay a double rent for their quarterland. On the other hand their payment of a double rent in lieu of provisioning the castles ended [note: this needs checking by an examination of the Charge/Pension books] meaning that they were simply paying the same as before. Furthermore the base rent wasn't increased between c1500 and 1900 meaning that inflation gradually reduced its significance.


Moore (History of the Isle of Man) stresses the significance of several statutes from 1580 which obliged the landowner to obtain the Lord's permission before selling on his land. On the other hand it would appear that this permission (when sought in a timely manner) was never refused and the Act of 1704 did not clearly remove the requirement [although Sherwood on page 32 of his Manx Law Tenure cites a 19th century judicial ruling which finally resolved that it did]. In any case there is plenty of evidence from throughout the seventeenth century that the parties to a land sale both wished their contract to be officially recorded as protection against any future litigation. [A number of copies of deeds in the Libri Cancellarii are inscribed to this effect.]


The landowners now had to pay alienation fines when transferring lands, but they were freed of paying entry fines (at the commencement or renewal of leases) and of gratuities (for example following the ascent of a new Lord. It is not clear that they were greatly better or worse off. Of course the times of such payments were now largely under their own control.


The Lord had given up by the Act the ability to throw out tenants in order to seek better rents (or fines) elsewhere. It isn't clear to me however that there had ever been much (if any) practice of this for a century or more. (There are some indications of such conflicts between the Barons and their tenants - but Baronies were not covered by the Act in any case.)