Knowsley Hall Papers


Knowsley Hall and the Isle of Man


Knowsley Hall is the current seat of the Earls of Derby, who come from the same Stanley family which ruled the Isle of Man for over three centuries. They could therefore be reasonably expected to hold extensive records of the Island. Unfortunately much was undoubtably lost in the English Civil War as a result of the siege and subsequent destruction of the then seat of the Earl at Lathom House. Some records survived however, and the bulk of these are currently deposited at Manx National Heritage Library in Douglas under the title Derby Papers. A small collection of miscellaneous documents remain in the private library of Knowsley Hall however. Further details of these are given below.


Knowsley Hall Library in the 19th century


During the late 19th century, Manx material in the Library was examined by historians. The best record of this is an Article titled A list of the Principal MSS at Knowsley in Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 3 pp297/303. This article describes the material viewed by P. M. C. Kermode and A. W. Moore in visits of 1896 and 1897. They divided the documents into two sections, to which I have added a third below:


  • Manuscipts in the Muniment Room
  • Miscellaneous MSS in the Library, held in seven boxes
  • Bound volumes in the Library

    The first category above was calendared and was described in some detail. This group became the Derby Papers (as now deposited with the Manx National Heritage Library) and is described separately. It retains the same calendared references today.


    The second category above, appears now to primarily correspond to the contents of five box files (refs C52.1 to C52.5). These files date almost entirely from the period 1700-1760. Many relate to a handful of legal disputes which (after presumably passing through Manx Courts) had reached the Lord of Man. These are not of any obvious historical significance. There are also some eighteenth century copies of earlier documents, and several miscellaneous letters and assorted other manuscripts.


    The third category contains a number of bound volumes. At least some of these were known to 19th century Manx historians, since a couple are mentioned in a Manx Society bibliography (Volume XXIV). The manuscripts which I've examined are detailed below.


    Books in the Library


    Leases in the Isle of Man (ref C24) contains unique and (prior to the transcription on this website) unpublished information about leases agreed between the Lord and his Manx tenants up until 1630. It is described in more detail in the Leases section of this website.


    A brief historie .. of the Isle of Man ... collected translated and faithfullie framed by Samuel Stanley (ref C26.1) is an original treatise dating from circa 1650. To the best of my knowledge it is unpublished and no other copy exists. Thoresby's name is inscribed inside it and a loose page (apparently from a auction catalogue) contains a matching entry for an MS formerly in the "famous libraries of Ralph Thoresby and the Duke of Roxboroughe". Ralph Thoresby was a Leeds merchant and antiquarian who served under Lord Fairfax in the Civil War. [Fairfax was Lord of Man between 1651 and 1660 which would account for the Manx connection.] According to Manx Society Publication XXIV (a bibliography) "Samuel Stanley's Description of the Isle of Man" was in Thoresby's possession. His collection was later broken up and sold, a catalogue of it being recorded in "Museum Thoresbyanum". This has an entry for three (unspecified) treatises on the Isle of Man.


    There are two manuscript volumes called the Chronicles of Man (refs C25.1, C25.2). They contain a miscellany of extracts and notes relating to Manx history, laws and antiquities. Their titles presumably reflect the fact that both include short transcriptions of the True Chronicles of Man. The latter volume includes a number of references to Thoresby's museum and might perhaps have come from his collection (see above).


    Laws of Man (ref C25.3) is a large volume containing copies of the three sets of laws applicable to the Isle of Man (the statutes, customary and spiritual laws) up until 1705. It also has a short introduction containing an explanation of some unusual terms as well as the "True Chronicle of the Isle of Man". Almost all of these elements exist in multiple copies elsewhere, although I am not aware of any other manuscript bringing the three legal frameworks together. Also the customary laws were reputedly never written down until (sometime in) the late 17th century. It seems likely that this volume was intended to be a definitative legal summary drawn up around the time of the 1703 Act of Settlement (the fundamental agreement between the Lord and his tenants which resolved their long running dispute over tenure).


    History of the Isle of Man by Blundell (ref C26.2) is a 1648 treatise supposedly written whilst the author (reputedly a Welsh Justice) was sheltering from the Civil War on the Isle of Man. Several versions exist, but according to Manx Society Volume XXIV, this Knowsley manuscript is the original. (From my examination it certainly appeared to have been written around this time.) The transcribed manuscript was published in Manx Society Publications XXV and XXVII.


    James Stanley - A Discourse concerning the Government of the Isle of Man (ref C31) appears to be a fair copy made in (or before) 1702 of a letter sent by the 7th Earl (whilst residing on the IOM circa 1643) to his son Charles Lord Strange. A transcription of the account (together with added footnotes) was published in Manx Society Publication III ("Legislation of three of the thirteen Stanleys" pub 1858). It states that the transcription was taken from Peck's Desiderata Curiosa and the foreword indicates that the original (in his lordship's own handwriting) was then in the hands of the Hon Roger Gale. It was also printed in vol iii of the Stanley papers (1867, Cheetham Society). In addition to describing aspects of the IOM and events there, the account also contains much advice to his son. Some of these passages are underlined in the Knowsley MS.