British Isle Genealogy
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The Little Kingdom of the Stanleys and Murrays

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     We all know the common phrase, an imperium in irnperio; but it is probably new to most of my readers that down to the end of the last century, and, indeed, to some extent for some years in the present, there was 'a kingdom within this kingdom.' I refer to the sovereignty of the Isle of Man, which was enjoyed for several centuries by the Stanleys, Earls of Derby, and after them by the Murrays, Earls and Dukes of Atholl.
     The reader of English history needs no introduction to the name of Sir John Stanley, K.G., Lord Deputy of Ireland under Henry IV. And Henry V., one of the most distinguished statesmen and commanders of his age. So great was his power and influence at Court that in 1405 he obtained a giant, or rather a commission, in conjunction with one Sir Roger Leke, to 'seize upon' the fair city of 'York and its liberties,' and also on the Isle of Man, of which the Percies of Northumberland lead lately been dispossessed by forfeiture. Apparently he was not slow to take advantage of this 'commission;' for we read that in the seventh year of Henry IV he obtained a grant in fee of the -said Isle, its Castle, and Peel, originally called Holm Tower, and of all the islands adjacent to it, as also of all its 'regalities' ' franchises,' &c., under which were probable included the rights of port dues, tolls, wreckage, flotsam and jetsam, guardianships of wards, and the granting of charters for holding markets, fairs, and so forth.
     This royal or semi-royal fief, we are further told, was to be held under the King of England, his heirs and successors, by personal homage and by the service of two falcons, to be delivered at the royal palace of Westminster on the morning of each king's coronation. It was  the great-grandson of this Sir Thomas who married, firstly, the sister of Warwick, the 'king-maker,' and, secondly, the mother of Henry Earl of Richmond, and who placed the crown of England on his stepson's head upon the blood-stained field of Bosworth. But I must return to my subject.
     The sovereignty of Alan, though feudally subject to the crown of England, would seem to have been a reality. As King of Alan, the earl bad the right of summoning the deputies of the island to a local parliament, the House of Keys, which is still held in the open air, upon a hill called the Tinwald Mount, though now it is convened in the name of Queen Victoria; and down to this day the Isle of Man, like the Channel Islands, is unrepresented in the English Parliament, but enjoys the unquestioned right of 'Home Rule,' having a legislature for its own local purposes under the crown of Great Britain and Ireland.
    The words 'king,' 'prince,' and `lord,' all admit of degrees, and may be used in a sense not excluding a reference to some feudal superior: and therefore it may be supposed that when one of the Earls of Derby voluntarily relinquished the title of `king' for that of 'lord,' the change was rather in the name than in the nature of his rule ; and that, being at a very remote distance from the seat of the imperial legislature, the 'lord' of Alan exercised pretty much the same authority which had belonged to himself and his predecessors when they were nominally 'kings,' and that justice -even to the extent of capital punishment was administered, as before, in his name.
     James, the seventh Earl of Derby, as `lord' of Man, held the island in the cause of Charles I against the Parliamentarians; and his noble wife is almost as celebrated for her defense of it in her husband's name and in his absence, as she had been for her gallant defense of Lathom House in the early part of the Rebellion. She could not, however, save her husband from falling into the hands of the rebels at the battle of Worcester, or from the headsman's axe at Bolton in October, 1651, when Cromwell bestowed the island on his general, Fairfax.
     No sooner, however, was Charles II. seated on his father's throne than be restored the Isle of  Man to the Stanley-s in the Person of Charles, eighth earl, whose two sons in succession held the lordship of it, until the death of the last survivor of them in 1736, when the Earldom of Derby passed to a distant cousin.
     The question now arose, who ought to inherit the feudal dignity of Lord of Man. The last three Earls of Derby had died without leaving a child behind them; but James, the gallant earl who fought and bled for the Stuart cause, had left three daughters, of whom the youngest survived the rest, and became her father's heir; and there were also other females 'whose representatives, it was thought, might put in a claim, namely, the three daughters of Ferdinando, fifth earl-Anne, Lady Chandos; Frances, Countess of Bridgewater; and Elizabeth, Countess of Huntingdon.
     The sequel is curious, and shows how often important matters, even the successions to great estates and high titles, after all are but the freaks of Fortune, and bang on the turns of her wheel. When the coronet of Derby had been assumed without dispute by a younger branch of the Stanleys, the lordship of Man lay for awhile practically in abeyance; no one had claimed it, much less had taken it up; and there were some thoughts that, for want of a successor, it would revert to its feudal superior, the wearer of the British Crown.
     James, then Duke of Atholl in Scotland, had formed no well-grounded hopes of getting any pretensions to the sovereignty of Man acknowledged, though he may have had some hazy idea of his claims; but, having invited Duncan Forties, late president of the Court of Session in Scotland, to stay with him as his guest, he entertained him at Blair Atholl or Dunkeld. After dinner the attention and curiosity of Mr. Forbes was drawn to a fine genealogical tree of the family pedigree, its honors and alliances, which hung in all the colors of blazonry upon the walls of the castle hall. When his experienced eye had examined it a little at leisure, he exclaimed,
     'What is here, my Lord Duke?'
     'Oh, only the Murray pedigree,' was the reply. 'Only! I think that, by the recent death of Lord Derby, your grace has a claim through your grandmother, Amelia Sophia, daughter of the seventh Earl of Derby, to at least some portion of his estates and honors, though not to his earldom.'
     The duke replied that he had never thought seriously of any such good luck accruing to him, and that he had no idea of putting forward pretensions which he could not maintain in a court of law.
     'But I am sure that you could maintain them,' replied Forbes, 'and you ought to lose no time in putting them forward; the law and the right are clearly on your side.'
'You do not really mean so?' replied the duke.
    Yes, indeed I do, and you cannot too soon set about the task in earnest'
     Then make me out, I pray you, a brief statement of the grounds of my claim, and I will call on my solicitor in Edinburgh; then we, will go south and take the advice of English counsel in London.'
This was no sooner done than the first step was taken; the duke went up to town. Solicitors and agents were employed to obtain the proper certificates at the Lyon office in Edinburgh, and in the College of Arms in London, and the case was laid before one of the most eminent lawyers of the day. He took the fee of course, and gave his opinion that the Duke of Atholl had an undoubted right to the lordship of Man and to the barony of Strange which, as a barony by writ, was descendible the female line. The case before long came on for hearing in due course before the House Lords, who decided nem con. that the claim we just and incontrovertible, and the Duke of Atholl holds his seat to-day in the House of Peers Lord Strange. Such was the romantic upshot of a chance country visit.
     Difficulties, however, arose with respect this imperium in imperio in the hands of the Murrays. The duke had too much to do in the management of his own estate in Perthshire to pay any great attention to his distant sovereignty, beyond occasionally nominating its Bishop its 'Deemsters: Added to this, the duties spirits, silks, and other articles being lower than in England or in Ireland, the Isle of Man then became a den of smugglers; and therefore it a resolved by the English Government that would be as well to put an end to this constant source of discomfort and annoyance. As, however, the Murrays had been in possession of their lordship for half-a-century, there was only one way of proceeding, namely, by purchase. Accordingly, just four years after the accession of George III a bargain was struck between the king and the Duke of Atholl, who agreed for the sun of 70,000 to cede to the Crown all his feudal rights and civil patronage in Man, along with the castles of Peel and Rushen, which thenceforward was annexed directly to England. From that date forward the smuggling trade gradually died out, having received its deathblow by the transfer. The duke, however, specially reserved to himself and his successors the nomination of the bishop, and sundry other ecclesiastical rights. The duke, also, by fair means or foul, was able still to keep a pretty tight hold on the revenues of the island, and the British tax-payers in 1828-29 found it necessary to purchase these rights from the then Duke of Atlioll for the sum of 132,044, according to Haydn's 'Dictionary of Dates,' or, if we may trust the statement of Sir Bernard Burke, which is endorsed by the author of 'Our Old Nobility,' for 409,000.
     The Mumays hold in all more than a score of coronets. Besides the Duke of Atholl, the Scottish peerage counts among its members a Lord Elibank, a Lord Dunmore, a Lord Stormont, whoes title is now merged in the Earldom of Mansfield.  Besides these honors, the head of the Murrays, according to the Lodge, is duke of Atholl, Marquis of Tullibardine and Atholl, Earl of Tullibardine, Atholl, Strathey, and Strathardale, Viscount of Balquhidder, Glenalmond, and Glenlyon, Baron Murray of Tullibardine, Lord Balvenie and Gask, Baron Strange of Knockyn, Earl Strange, Baron Percy, Baron Murray of Stanley and Gloucester, and Baron Glenlyon of Glenlyon , in Perthshire  to say nothing of honors which the Dukes once owned, but which are now extinct or dormant.
     Surely the possession of these coronets, with the hereditary sheriffdom of Perthshire, ought to give to the head of the ducal house of Atholl some consolation for the loss of the lordship which was bound to become more and more shadowy at each successive generation, and for which his grandfather, thanks to parliamentary influence, was able to command a price so far above its market value.  The age of such feudal privileges may be said to have now fairly passed away, and there can be no possible excuse for their revival in any shape or form whatever.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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