The First Tynwald

Home / The First Tynwald

The Tynwald Parliament and the Viking Legacy.

‘Our little nation is the only Norse nation now on earth that can shake hands with the days of the sagas and the sea kings.’ 
(Hall Caine in The Little Manx Nation,1891)

From the 9th century, the Isle of Man was vulnerable to Viking raiders and fell victim to their attacks on various occasions, but within a hundred years the feared raiders had settled peacefully and were farming and trading on the Island.

Their integration into Island life, with the existing Gaelic-speaking population, is evidenced by the Norse and Gaelic names recorded on Manx carved stone crosses. The Norse incomers influenced Island life for the next 500 years and their legacy can be seen in a number of Norse place-names, for example Laxey, and Sulby, and in surnames of Norse origin such as Corkill and Costain.

However, the greatest legacy of the Norse Kings of Mann was their founding of the Manx Court of Tynwald, which, as a parliamentary system, predates Westminster and all other forms of Government in Europe. They introduced the Norse system of law-making and open-air assemblies at which laws were promulgated (read aloud to the people), where the ruling elite’s authority was displayed and where wrongdoers were punished.

Tynwald (from the Norse ‘thingvalla’ meaning ‘assembly place’) is the oldest continuous parliamentary tradition in the world. There are also Norse Thing sites (places of open-air assembly) in Iceland and Norway.

A watercolour of Tynwald Hill, by the Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant in 1774
A watercolour of Tynwald Hill produced as part of a series by the
Welsh naturalist and antiquary, Thomas Pennant, in 1774

Y Chiare-as-Feed (the four and twenty)

During the time of the later Norse Kings, the Isle of Man formed the centre of a large maritime kingdom, together with the Scottish Hebrides (the sudr-eyjar or Southern Isles), called the Kingdom of Man and the Isles. This kingdom was ruled by a Tynwald with 32 members: 16 from the Isle of Man and 16 from the Isles of Lewis, Skye, Mull and Islay. During the 12th century, the Isles of Mull and Islay (and their 8 representatives) were lost to Argyll, and Tynwald was reduced from 32 to 24 members.

The modern Tynwald continues the Norse tradition as an open-air assembly by holding one meeting each year outdoors at St Johns, on 5 July (Old Midsummer’s Day), where in the ancient form, new laws are read aloud, both in English and Manx Gaelic.

In the past Tynwald has also met at various other locations on the Island including Castle Rushen, Peel Castle, Kirk Michael and Baldwin.

Little is known about the early Tynwald ceremonies; a reference in the Chronicles of the Kings of Man and the Isles for 1077, says:

‘…a convention of all the Manx people took place at Tynwald’

The ancient chronicle also provides details of considerable violence which occurred at the open-air Tynwald.

Tynwald Day 1900
Photograph of a crowded and relatively informal Tynwald Day 1900