Viking - 29: The Saga of Man, Manx Crosses and the Kings of Man
"He is lucky who is looked up to for good counsel. That given unasked by others is often not so wise".
Ballaquayle Hoard, Douglas
At its height in AD1095 the Norse kingdom of Man held sway over the Hebridean islands to the west of Scotland.
The graves say it all, with pagan memorials pointing to Norse settlement from the later 9th Century. The Christian Erse-Gaelic population was ruled and not wiped out by the newcomers. The Norsemen were eventually converted in the 10th Century, as indicated by a fine array of carved memorial crosses that demonstrate a crossing-over of Norse and Gaelic art-forms.
Nineteen silver hoards that date from between AD960-1070 show Manx prosperity rested on its links with the Dublin Danes. From the 1030's coins were minted, modelled on the Dublin style. Although the names of a few earlier kings are identifiable, the chronicled history of Man begins with the reign of Godred 'Crovan'. King Godred won control of the island from the time of the battle of Skyhill in AD1079. He welded Man and the Hebrides into a single entity, ruled Dublin for a short time and received tribute from Galloway on the mainland of Scotland.
The administration of the kingdom of Man and the isles was broken down into five districts, which altogether sent thirty-two delegates to the annual assembly, the Tynwald. After Godred's death in Ad1095 fighting broke out within the kingdom and the Norwegian king Magnus 'Barelegs' Olafsson wrested control of Man from its rulers in AD1098. Godred's son Olaf I ruled from AD1113 to 1153, but he was forced to acknowledge Norway's right over the islands. Godred II ruled from AD1153 but lost his hold on the Southern Hebrides to the Scots-Gaelic chieftain Sumarlidi (also known as Somerled). The kingdom was weakened from then on and the rest of the Hebrides were taken into direct Scottish rule by AD1263. Man itself was yielded up to Scotland by Norway after the death of Magnus Olafsson in AD1266. The Treaty of Perth was agreed with Alexander III. In return for the cessation of sovereignty over the Hebrides and Man a lump sum of four thousand marks of refined silver was agreed, in four yearly payments. Furthermore, a yearly tribute of one hundred marks was to be paid in perpetuity. Norway's sovereignty over Orkney and Sheltand was to be respected and they remained a Scandinavian dominion (under Danish rule at the time they were given over by King Frederik II as his daughter Anne's dowry to James VI of Scotland [James I of England] in the mid-16th Century because his coffers had been cleaned out fighting the Swedes and Prussians).
Almost fifty carved stone memorial crosses were erected from the mid-10th to early-11th Centuries by its Norse rulers on the Isle of Man following their conversion to Christianity. Many take the form of rectangular slabs of local slate on which wheel-headed crosses were laid. These wheel-headed crosses were carved in low-relief. A few free-standing Celtic-styled crosses are also known. Ornament of the earliest crosses reveals strong Celtic and Anglian influence, yet Scandinavian decorative styling - after the Danish Jellinge and Mammen pattern - dominated later examples. Several crosses show scenes from the legend of Sigurd 'Fafnisbane'. Others, like Thorvald's cross at Andreas, show images of Ragnaroek and other Norse mythology. Purely Christian scenes are rare. Although memorial inscriptions are in Norse or carved runes, a number celebrate community members with Celtic names, showing inter-marriage between the Norsemen and Gaelic women to be commonplace. The crosses are likely to have been made by Norse sculptors, one being Gaut Bjoernsson around AD950 identified by name from inscriptions on two of his crosses.
Chronicles of the kings of Man and the Isles
[Cronica regum Manniae et insularum].
The one most important source for the lives of the Norse kings of Man and the Hebrides from AD1016 until the kingdom was ceded to Scotland in AD1266; the chronicles - written in Latin - also cover events on Man up to AD1377. Being the work of various authors the earlier entries were set down from Manx oral tradition, eye-witness telling as well as Scots and English chronicles. There are serious errors in their chronology but these accounts are seen as broadly reilable for their coverage of events.
Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles ed. and transl. G Broderick (Douglas, IOM 1995)
Norse kings of Man
Harald (d.AD940) King of Limerick, a shadowy figure about whom several conflicting stories have been told, none substantiated
Godfred (d.AD989) King of the Isles
Ragnald/Ragnall (d.AD1004/5) King of the Isles
Lagmann (ruled.around AD1014) King of the Isles
Olaf (killed Clontarf April 23, 1014)
Ragnald/Ragnall - ?
Norse-Gaelic kings of Man
Echmarcach mac Ragnaill (d.AD1065) King of Dublin, Galloway and Man
(mor md.) Tadg Ua Briain (d.AD1086) King of Munster
This king had several sons, one being Amlaib (Olaf) mac Taidg (d.1096)
Not as straightforward as it might seem. Norse settlement here was not as on Orkney or Shetland, for example, in the lee of Scandinavia. [The Isle of] Man has a strong Celtic heritage. Many of Norsemen 'went native', their women being of Irish descent their offspring were given Gaelic names. Culturally Man is at a crossroads between the Gaelic Irish and Scots culture and that of the Norse. Government was of a strongly Norse character, the place of assembly being the Tynwald, related to the 'Thing', the three-legged emblem symbolising the Manxmen's ability to land on their feet despite all drawbacks or setbacks.
Commemorating the Manx Norse connection
© 2012 Alan R Lancaster