The First Scandanavian Period (part 2)

The First Scandanavian Period (part 2)

It is during the earlier part of this obscure period (918-947) that tradition has placed the arrival and rule in Man of “King Goree,” or “King Orry.” He is said to have been “a son of the King of Denmark” and the first that was called “King Orrye.” To Orry is attributed the establishment of a legislative body, the committal of the laws to writing, and the formation of an army.

And now, for a short period, Man was to fall into the hands of another Scandinavian colony. For some time past the “Danes” of Limerick had been increasing in power. As early as 973, one of their leaders, Maccus MacHarald, or Haraldson, a grandson of Sitric, King of Dublin, was styled in the Irish Annals “Lord of the Isles.” Three years before this he devastated Anglesey, but did not retain possession of it, and, in 972 or 973, he sailed round Ireland with a numerous fleet. On this occasion he was accompanied by “the Lagmanns of the Islands,” which shows that he, as chief of the Isles, was making his circuit with the “lawmen,” or judges, according to Scandinavian custom, to dispense justice in all parts of his dominions. If the Four Masters are correct in stating that he was slain, in 976, by Brian Boroimhe (Boru), his career was a short one; but it has been conjectured that he may have survived “to have been slain at a battle which Maelseachlainn gained in 978 over the foreigners of Ath Cliath (Dublin) and of the islands.” There is no direct evidence that this Maccus ruled in Man, though it is probable that Man was one of the islands subject to him, and we know that his brother Godred MacHarald, or Haraldson, who succeeded him, was certainly connected with Man. This Godred is called King of the Insi Gall, or “Islands of the Strangers,” by the Irish annalists. In 979, he devastated Anglesey, his services having been “hired” by Constantin, son of Jago, against his cousin Howel. Three years later a new power appeared on the scene in the person of Sigurd, Earl of the Orkneys and Shetlands, who, in 982, attacked Man and extorted a heavy penalty from its inhabitants as the price of his departure.

In 985, Man received a visit from its long-neglected suzerain, Olaf Tryggvasson, King of Norway, who, “to dissipate grief for the loss of his queen,” went on a Viking expedition, in the course of which, after plundering in England, Scotland, and the Hebrides, “he sailed southwards to Man, where he also fought. This battle, according to the Annals of Ulster, was against “MacAralt ” (i.e., Godred). In 987, Godred, King of Man, whom we do not hear of at the time of Sigurd’s first expedition, met Sigurd in Iona and was defeated by hire. In 989, he suffered another defeat at the same hands, and, before the end of the year, he was killed by the Dalriadic Scots in Dalriada. So Sigurd came into possession, not only of Man, but of the other Sudreys, which, shortly before this time, are said to have paid tribute direct to Norway. These islands, including Man, were ruled by him through his brother-in-law, Gilli. Man, therefore, became part of a kingdom, consisting of the Nordreys and Caithness, as well as the Sudreys, which was entirely separated from Ireland, and subject to the suzerainty of Norway, a suzerainty which, however, during the greater part of this period, seems to have been merely nominal.

In 1014 Sigurd was killed at the battle of Clontarf, near Dublin, to which he had come with his isles men and “the foreigners of Manann.” This battle was the culminating effort of Brian Boroimhe (Boru), who, during the whole of his long life, had been struggling against the Scandinavians. Though the Northmen were worsted on this occasion, it does not appear that they were, even temporarily, driven from Ireland, for, soon afterwards, Scandinavian kings are again found in Dublin. As to Sigurd’s dominion in the Sudreys, it is not clear into whose hands it fell at first, but it is certain that his youngest son, Thorfinn, grandson of the King of Scotland, ultimately extended his rule over these islands. He is also said to have acquired territory in Ireland, to have ruled over Dublin, and to have been lord over nine earldoms in Scotland, including Galloway. This change of rulers, then, as regards Man, simply consisted in its becoming part of an even greater kingdom than before, and, probably in consequence of this, its history for fifty years is almost a blank.

In 1040, the death of “Harald, King of Man,” who was probably tributary to Thorfinn, is recorded. It is not known who was his successor in Man; it may have been Godred Mac Ragnall, who was its ruler in 1060, when his brother Eachmarcach, who had been King of Dublin, took refuge there. It would appear that Eachmarcach “went beyond the seas” in 1052, when he was succeeded by Diarmid on the throne of Dublin, and that, on his return, in 1060, he vainly attempted to oust the latter, whose son, Murchadh, followed him to Man, defeated him there, and “carried tribute from thence.” This carrying of tribute from Man shows that Diarmid had thrown off the supremacy of Thorfinn, who had probably been despoiled of his more southern possessions about this time, and died soon afterwards. Thus it appears that Man was, for another brief period, under Dublin rule.

According to the Chroncon Manniæ, or Chronicle of Man, which now begins, Godred Mac Sytric was ruling in Man in 1066 and there he received “Godred called Crovan, son of Harold the Black, of Island [Iceland],” of whom we shall hear more later. The appearance of this Godred Mac Sytric, as King of Man, may be accounted for on the supposition that Godred Mac Ragnall was driven from Man in 1060 when Murchadh defeated Eachmarcach there, and that Godred MacSytric had been then substituted for him as a tributary king.

In 1070, Godred died and was succeeded by his son Fingall. In 1072, Diarmid was slain in battle, and “Godfrey son of Raghnall,” apparently the Godred, or Godfrey of that name who had been king of Man, took possession of the throne of Dublin, as well as Man, while the isles are said to have fallen into the hands of Malcolm, King of Scotland.

Godred was banished beyond the seas by Turlogh O’Brien, but speedily returned with a great fleet, and re-established himself. In 1074, we find Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury writing to him as king of Ireland, with reference to the consecration of Patrick, Archbishop of Dublin, and the reform of abuses in the Church. He died in 1075, and, in the course of the same year, Godred Crovan “collected a number of ships and came to Man,” where “he gave battle to the natives but was defeated and forced to fly.” Undaunted by this he assembled another army and fleet, and was again defeated and “put to flight.” Finally, in 1079, he made a successful attack, which is thus graphically described by the Chronicle:

“A third time he collected a numerous body of followers, came by night to the port called Ramsey, and concealed 300 men in a wood on the sloping brow of a hill called Scacafel [Skyehill].

At daylight the men of Man drew up in order of battle, and, with a mighty rush, encountered Godred. During the heat of the contest the 300 men, rising from the ambuscade in the rear, threw the Manxmen into disorder, and compelled them to fly. When the natives saw that they were overpowered, and had no means of escape (for the tide had filled the bed of the river Sulby, and on the other side the enemy was closely pursuing them), those who remained, with piteous cries, begged of Godred to spare their lives. Godred, yielding to feelings of mercy, and moved with compassion for their misfortune, for he had been brought up amongst them for some time, recalled his army, and forbade further pursuit.”

On the day following his victory “Godred gave his army the option of having the country divided amongst them if they preferred to remain and inhabit it, or of taking everything it contained worth having, and returning to their homes.” The soldiers, like true Vikings, “preferred plundering the whole island, and returning home enriched by its wealth.” Godred, probably well pleased to have got rid of the most unruly of his followers, granted to the few islanders (i.e., the men from the two Sudreys) “who had remained with him the southern portion of the island, and to the surviving Manxmen the northern portion.” The southern was, at that time, clearly the most fertile part of Man, a large portion of the northern part being occupied by the then undrained Curragh.

From this time, for nearly two hundred years, the Isle of Man was ruled, almost without interruption, by Godred’s descendants. A more settled state of affairs obtained and a period of comparative law and order began.


(source: A History of the Isle of Man by AW Moore (1900); photograph of Viking man http://bit.ly/1NBYXSj; photograph of White Strand courtesy of Peter Killey Manxscenes Photography and http://manxscenes.com/01&2/Oct/2.jpg)

Bernadette Weyde

Bernadette Weyde

I'm a web designer, amateur historian and keen gardener and I enjoy bringing Manx history, folklore and poetry to a modern audience.


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