Heroes and villains

EVIDENCE: A coin featuring Henry III. BELOW: St Michael's Isle.

EVIDENCE: A coin featuring Henry III. BELOW: St Michael's Isle.

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The Chronicles of Man are full of references to heroic acts and acts of villainy.

The heroes are the mighty kings who defeated their enemies and paid their respects to God, whilst the villains are those who had treacherous ambitions to take the kingdom for themselves.



Reginald’s son Godred made an attempt on Olaf II’s life in 1223 AD.

Although it failed, Godred was ordered to be “both blinded and castrated”. Such brutal punishment is recorded a number of times.

Godred Olafson took revenge for the murder of his father by blinding two of the men responsible.

Blinding was an act intended to physically debilitate an enemy permanently.

Castration was the literal interpretation of removing a male rival’s power and it insured no further offspring who could carry on a threat.

The living but mutilated enemy served as a reminder to others not to behave in a similar way and as they were now “imperfect”, they were no good to be a king.

During this time, knights were fighting members of the nobility, their titles being rewards for services to their king.

A knight called Ivar is mentioned in the Chronicles, but far from being of service to his king, he killed King Reginald Olafson on May 30, 1249, less than four weeks after he had inherited the crown.

An indication of how allegiances could change is the statement that ‘In the year 1256 Magnus King of Man and the Isles went to the court of the Lord King of England...(who) made him a knight’. This was an attempt by the English king Henry III to win over the King of Man to his cause and so deter him from making any deals with the Scots. But eventually King Magnus had little choice but to pay homage to the King of Scotland.

Robert the Bruce is a villain in the story of the Isle of Man.

He landed at Ramsey on May 18 1313 and besieged Castle Rushen for three weeks until it finally fell into his hands.

A much more brutal enemy landed on the Isle of Man three years later. The Chronicles record that ‘Richard le Mandvil…and evildoers from Ireland landed at…Ronaldsway’.

Le Mandvil and his troops ‘plundered the land of all its more valuable goods…they came to Rushen Abbey and plundered…furnishings…cattle…sheep…and when they had spent a month...they loaded up their ships…and…returned home’. This is the last dated entry in the Chronicles.

The Isle of Man was still a prize to be fought over, but it was no longer at the centre of a powerful Kingdom of Man and the Isles. The Island was merely caught between the two warring nations of England and Scotland, leaving the Manx and their lands open to attack.

The early 1100s were relatively peaceful for the Isle of Man under the rule of Olaf I, Godred Crovan’s son. He was a devout man, granting lands to build Rushen Abbey, and by the end of his 40 year reign, the Kingdom of Man and the Isles had been firmly established.

Olaf I’s violent death at the hands of his own nephew on June 29, 1152 sparked the return of bloodshed to the kingdom.

Olaf I’s son, Godred, attempted to take over Ireland in 1156.

Although he was met, as the Chronicles record, by ‘three thousand horsemen’, Godred along with ‘all the citizens of Dublin’ fired ‘such a thick shower of javelins’ that the horsemen fled. Later that same year, Godred faced the King of Kintyre, Somerled

in a naval battle that resulted in the Kingdom of Man and the Isles being split between them both. Only six years later, Godred faced a challenge from his own brother, Reginald. In 1164, the Chronicles record that ‘there was a battle at Ramsey between Reginald…and the Manxmen, and by the stratagem of a certain sheriff the Manxmen were put to flight and Reginald began to rule’. Godred’s revenge was swift and Reginald’s reign was short.

By 1250, the Kingdom of Man and the Isles was facing more threats. The Chronicles record that Magnus, son of Olaf II, came with ‘John, son of Dougal, with some Norwegians’ and landed at Ronaldsway.

John was a descendant of Somerled, King of Kintyre and he declared himself King of the Isles, to the anger of the Manxmen who refused to hear anything further from him.

The Manx faced John’s army and killed some on St Michael’s Isle whilst others were driven back to their ships, many drowning on the way. This was, according to the Chronicles, ‘their deserts because of their pride and haughtiness’.

The Kingdom of Man and the Isles ended not with a great battle, but with the death of a king. In 1263 the Scots had defeated the Norse at the Battle of Largs and the kings of mainland Scotland had extended their territory into the Western Isles.

The death of King Magnus at Castle Rushen on November 24, 1265, left an opportunity for the Scots to take control. When peace terms were agreed between the Norse and the Scots at the Treaty of Perth in 1266, the Kingdom of Man and the Isles was, as the Chronicles record, ‘transferred to Alexander, king of the Scots’.

A rebellion in support of Magnus’ son, Godred was quelled by Alexander in October 1275. The two sides met at Ronaldsway and the Chronicles record that ‘the Scots were victorious and they cut down 537 of the Manxmen’.

The great sea kingdom was no more and the Isle of Man became a pawn in the game of power between Scotland and England for the next one hundred years.

Follow our next feature on ‘Medieval Church in Man’ in next week’s Examiner and visit the ‘Forgotten Kingdom Exhibition at the Manx Museum, sponsored by Lloyds TSB. Open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Admission free.

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