The Role of the Keys
The earliest function of the Keys
was to declare the ancient common or Breast law (laws recited from
memory) with the Deemster, when any queries arose. Until 1577, the
Keys 'gave for law' (interpreted) the common law. But from declaring
the old laws to making new law was a natural development, and by
1610 their function as lawmakers was clearly recognised.
The earliest surviving record referring to the Keys dates from
1422, after the granting of the Island to the Stanley family, who
became the self-styled Kings and Lords of Mann.
The 24 members of the Keys represented the whole Island with 4
members coming from each sheading (a Norse land division that still
forms the basis of the Island's political constituencies).
By the late 1500s the Keys were regarded as "the worthiest
men" and recommended their own replacement members when vacancies
occurred. But the final decision regarding the choice of new members
of the Keys was made by the Lord of Mann. The House of Keys remained
a self-elected body until 1866. Since that time the Keys have been
the elected representatives of the people.
A watercolour detail from a
plan of Castle Rushen by S.Fane, entitled 'Castle Rushen -
A North-Eastern view thereof, taken from the river' c1760.
Castle Rushen was a garrison and centre of the Island's administration
for the Lord of Mann and an early meeting place of the Keys.