SODOR AND MAN: Introduction

Pages 135-137

Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 11, Carlisle, Chester, Durham, Manchester, Ripon, and Sodor and Man Dioceses. Originally published by Institute of Historical Research, London, 2004.

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The diocese of Sodor and Man was for much of the period 1541–1857 an anomaly among English and Welsh dioceses. It consisted of the small island of Man, with its own language (spoken by most of the population until the nineteenth century), its own coinage and its own system of government. 'Sodor' in the title was no longer a specific place: it derived from the time of the Viking kings of Man who also ruled the Scottish Hebrides and referred to this area as 'sud[..]re øyar' (southern islands) in relation to Orkney and Shetland. The diocese of Sodor and Man was placed under the metropolitical authority of the archbishop of Nidaros (Trondheim) in Norway in 1153, having apparently recognized the archbishop of York as metropolitan before this time. (fn. 1) In 1349 William Russell, abbot of Rushen on the Isle of Man, was elected as bishop and was subsequently consecrated at Avignon by Pope Clement VI. The Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles note that he was the first bishop-elect to be confirmed and consecrated by the apostolic see, 'for all his predecessors were accustomed to be confirmed and consecrated by the archbishop of Nidaros as metropolitan'. (fn. 2)

At the Great Schism two separate lines of rival bishops are found, one based on Man (the English line), and the other linked with Scotland, and usually known as bishop of the Isles. Certainly there is evidence in the fifteenth century at least that the archbishops of York claimed metropolitical authority over Man. A bull of Pope Calixtus III addressed to Archbishop William Booth of York in 1458 clearly considers the bishop of Man to be a suffragan of York. (fn. 3) In 1440 Booth's predecessor, Cardinal John Kemp, is found inspecting and confirming 'auctoritate pontificali et metropolitano' a charter for Rushen abbey. He inspects a charter of Sir John Stanley, lord of Man, dated 1410, granting a rectory to the abbey. The archiepiscopal confirmation following the recital of the earlier charter includes the statement that 'per partem et ex parte dictorum abbatis et conventus qui se nobis, ut eorum metropolitano, in premissis pure, sponte et ex certa scientia submiserunt'. (fn. 4) In 1542 the see was attached to the province of York by Act of Parliament (33 Hen. VIII c. 31), in an Act which detached the new diocese of Chester and that of Man (ostensibly) from the province of Canterbury. From 1545 the Manx bishop and archdeacon occur in the York Convocation records. (fn. 5)

Unlike all other dioceses, presentation to the bishopric was in lay patronage, that of the lords of the Isle of Man. On 19 October 1405 King Henry IV granted to Sir John Stanley the Isle of Man and all its liberties, including the patronage of the bishopric. The Stanley family became earls of Derby from 1485. They seldom visited the Isle of Man, and ruled it through governors sent from England. In 1541, Edward Stanley, 3rd earl of Derby, was declared to be 'Metropolitan and Chiefe of [the] holy Church'. (fn. 6) After 1542, the lord would present his candidate to the Crown, who would issue a mandate for the archbishop of York to consecrate him. The bishop had no seat in the house of lords, as he was not viewed as an English bishop. There was no dean and chapter in this period, and the only other higher clerical office was that of archdeacon, which was also in the gift of the lords of Man. (fn. 7)

The Stanley family held the lordship of Man until February 1736, when in the absence of male heirs it passed to the duke of Atholl. Poverty forced the duke of Atholl to sell the lordship of the Isle of Man to the British Crown in stages from 1765, and in 1825 he sold his remaining rights, including the presentation of the bishop. (fn. 8) Thereafter the pattern of royal presentation conformed to that for all other dioceses.

The report of the commissioners on ecclesiastical revenues 1828–31 revealed the bishop's annual income to be £2,555, mid-way between Carlisle and Chester. The archdeacon, as rector of Andreas (to which the archdeaconry was annexed), received £955. (fn. 9) The commissioners recommended that the two small dioceses of Sodor and Man and Carlisle should be united, with the chapter of Carlisle the chapter of the united diocese. This proposal was incorporated in the statute 6 & 7 Will. IV c. 77 of 1836, to come into effect on the death or resignation of the current bishop. However, a vigorous campaign was waged by the clergy and islanders against this and the clause was repealed 4 July 1838 by the statute 1 & 2 Vic. c. 30. The queen's presentation of a new bishop was published within a week. (fn. 10)

John Le Neve not surprisingly experienced difficulty in compiling lists of bishops for his 1716 Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae. He cited registers of the archbishops of Canterbury and York and printed sources such as Anthony à Wood's Athenae Oxonienses and Rymer's Foedera. He did not attempt lists of archdeacons. T.D. Hardy, in his revision of 1854, added to Le Neve's lists of bishops details from the patent rolls at the Public Record Office, of which he was an assistant keeper, although from 1697 he gave no references for his information. He supplied rudimentary lists of archdeacons, mainly giving dates of installation and death, without supplying his sources.

The extant diocesan records of Sodor and Man are quite unlike their English counterparts. There are no registers and act books for the period, which is the core of English ecclesiastical record-keeping, and the series of subscription and ordination books begins only in the nineteenth century. Material relating to appointments was generally kept on file (now arranged principally by person). There are good series of court and visitation presentment material and of course probate records. The records of Man's civil administration also occasionally contain material of relevance to the diocese and ecclesiastical appointments. There are no bishop's returns to the Exchequer of institutions and collations (Public Record Office, E 331), a source which in the case of other dioceses often provides information when the diocesan records have failed to survive. However, the registers and institution act books of the archbishops of York, together with the confirmations of bishops of the province, provide adequate details of the bishops of Sodor and Man.


  • 1. For the medieval claims of Nidaros and York see A. Ashley, The Church in the Isle of Man (York, St. Anthony's Hall publication xiii, 1958); see also D.E.R. Watt, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae Medii Aevi ad Annum 1638 (St. Andrews, 1968) pp. 197–202.
  • 2. Cronica Regum Mannie et Insularum: Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles: BL Cotton Julius A vii (Manx National Heritage, 1996) f. 51v: 'Qui primus electus Sodorensis ecclesie fuit consecratus per sedem apostolicam et confirmatus, nam omnes sui antecessores ab archiepiscopo Nidrosiensi, videlicet metropolitano, confirmari et consecrati consueverunt'.
  • 3. York, Borthwick Institute, Reg. 20 f. 369.
  • 4. Ibid., Reg. 19f. 182v.
  • 5. Ibid., Conv. Bk. 1 p. 14.
  • 6. Manx National Heritage Library, MS. 510C, J. Quayle, A Book of Precedents (n.d., c. 1725) p. 31, cited in J.R. Dickinson, The Lordship of Man under the Stanleys (Chetham Soc., 3rd ser., xli, 1996) p. 22.
  • 7. C.P.R. 1405–8 pp. 201–2; Monumenta de Insula Manniae II 235–46; stat. 33 Hen. VIII c. 31.
  • 8. Stat. 5 Geo. III c. 26; stat. 6 Geo. IV c. 34.
  • 9. Rept. of the Commissioners ... to inquire into the Ecclesiastical Revenues pp. 6–7, 84–5.
  • 10. Parl. Debates, 3rd ser., xxxix 1070–9; xl 940; xli 4–7; Lond. Gaz. no. 19634, 10 July 1838; R.K. Eason, 'The survival of the see of Sodor and Mann in the 19th century', Proceedings of the Isle of Man Natural Hist. and Antiquarian Soc., new ser. vii (1966–8) 232–47.