Aspects of the Isle of Man in the seventeenth century.
The Isle of Man has been ignored by the historians of the early modem period. This is as much
the result of the perspective of traditional national histories which focus on one of the countries of
the British Isles as of the more recent trend towards local studies - of counties, towns or villages.
Few historians have attempted to view the British Isles as a whole or to integrate the smaller islands
into the history of the Atlantic archipelago.
The aim of this study is to attempt to set the Isle of Man in the wider context of the British
Isles by analysing its government and economy and seeking the differences and similarities between
Man and the countries bordering the Irish Sea. The constitutional status of the island in relation to
the English Crown is examined and the prerogative rights of the Lord of Man and the king of
England are compared. The distinctive administrative system of the island, which was mainly the
product of the Norse settlement of Man in the medieval period, is then examined.
The cornerstone of the Manx economy, as of all pre-industrialised economies, was agriculture,
which was essentially pastoral in nature, although cereals were grown in sufficient quantity for most
of the island's needs. The herring fishery also played a vital role in the island's economy and was
carefully regulated. The sensitivity of the Manx economy to failure of either the harvest or the
fishery meant that dealings in the markets and fairs of the island were strictly controlled.
Overseas trade served two vital functions for the island. It was the means by which the farmers
were able to sell their produce - cattle, skins, wool and other primary products - and thus obtain
money to pay their Lord's rent and it was, in addition, the medium through which the island acquired
the raw materials in which it was deficient, including timber, salt and coal, and the manufactured
goods which could only be provided by more industrially advanced regions, such as south Lancashire.
After the Cattle Acts of the 1660s reduced the number of Manx animals which could be imported
into England, the export trade in cattle from the island declined. The increases in duty on tobacco and
the embargo and high duties imposed on French goods in the 1690s stimulated the smuggling trade
in tobacco, which grew to large proportions by the end of the seventeenth century.
The Isle of Man was differentiated from the rest of the British Isles particularly by its
constitutional status. As a comparatively isolated island, it can be viewed as a 'community' of sorts.
On a different level, however, it is also part of the larger economic 'community' of the Irish Sea.