Castle Rushen, Part 2: Lords and Governors

The Isle of Man’s political history is long and complex. Even in long periods during which a single country held suzerainty over the island, rule on the ground frequently changed hands. This was especially true after Scandinavian rule came to an end in the mid-13th century.

Castle Rushen (19th century) by Henry DrydenManx National Heritage

For the next 70 years, rule went back and forth between the Scots and the English. Then in 1333, when King Edward III of England granted the island to William de Montacute, the period of undisputed English dominance began.

Rushen Castle, Castletown (19th century) by S. StaplesManx National Heritage

Not that Montacute held the land for long: in 1392 his son sold it to Sir William le Scrope. Le Scrope was beheaded for treason in 1399, and the island went to the Crown. In 1405, Henry IV granted the land to Sir John Stanley. Thus began the reign of the Stanley dynasty as Lords of Mann that lasted well into the 18th century.

Prison Stairs and Portraits

Long after the Lords of Mann had occupied Castle Rushen, it was turned into the island’s prison. Alterations were made to the building in 1815, most notably the addition of this staircase in the middle keep.

While some medieval structures were destroyed in the renovation process, the Castle’s official use probably saved it from neglect and the damage that can come with disuse. The stairs are hung with portraits of the Lords of Mann who ruled between 1521 and 1627.

Edward Stanley, Lord of Mann (1509–1572)

Edward Stanley served the English Crown under Henry VIII, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth I. He was well known for his meticulous house-keeping, which included setting up a commission to look into and prevent the "great Waste that hathe been made in the Castle [Rushen]”.

Henry Stanley, Lord of Mann (1531–1593)

Henry Stanley was Privy Councillor to Queen Elizabeth I and led negotiations with Spain prior to the 1588 attack by and the English defeat of the Spanish Armada. He paid two visits to the Isle of Man, where it is recorded that he attended Tynwald Courts.

Ferdinando Stanley, Lord of Mann (1559–1594)

Ferdinando ruled the Isle of Man for less than a year before he died suddenly in 1594. He was only 35, and some thought he had been poisoned. Following his death, a family dispute left the Man title unclaimed for 18 years.

William Stanley, Lord of Mann (1596–1612)

William Stanley was Ferdinando’s younger brother. As a second son, he hadn’t expected to inherit a title, but he eventually got 3 of them, including Lord of Mann. He retained that title for himself, but he handed the actual running of the island off to his niece, Anne Stanley.

The Lords’ Dining Hall

The recreation of the lords’ dining hall at Castle Rushen depicts a period when Thomas Stanley, 2nd Earl of Derby and Lord of Mann, was in residence. Stanley usually ruled from his estates in northwest England or from London, but in 1507 he made a prolonged stay at the castle. 

Here he sits at table, flanked by the Abbot of Rushen Abbey John Farker on the left and the island’s Governor Ralph Rushton on the right.

Canopy of State

The canopy of state hanging above the lord and the lord’s position at the centre of the high table signify his supreme status. In fact, every detail of a meal in the lords’ dining hall had significance and was regulated by a strict code of conduct.

On the Table

A meal here might have included roasted meats and mortrus (a thick pâté), chewets (meat pies), pottage (stewed vegetables), and manchets (bread rolls). The slices of stale bread that served as plates were called trenchers.

Wall Hangings

In the medieval times, wall hangings of various kinds brought rooms to life and helped to keep out damp and cold draughts. If you couldn’t afford woven tapestries (arras), you might have hung ‘steyned cloth’, or painted fabric.

The Battle of Bosworth

The hanging to the left of the main entrance depicts the Battle of Bosworth, in which Thomas Stanley’s grandfather participated on behalf of Henry Tudor against Richard III. In the image, Richard III is being struck down by William Stanley’s horsemen.

The Lord’s Great Chamber

This room is the medieval equivalent of a withdrawing or sitting room. The adjoining room beyond the arched doorway may have served as a bedchamber and contains a private garderobe. 

The mannequins represent two senior officers who have accompanied Thomas Stanley from his estates in England. They await the Lord’s return from dinner with the Abbot and Governor and keep careful watch over the Lord’s Treasury.


This tapestry depicts a blacksmith hammering a piece of metal on an anvil, with a fire in the background and another figure weighing metal on his scales. The scene is set against a background decorated with plants, flowers, animals, and mythical creatures.


The hanging above the fireplace shows a maiden and unicorn. This imaginary creature resembled a pure white horse and bore a single horn on its forehead. Unicorns featured in the myths of the ancient Middle East, India, and China.

Large Panel

The large hanging panel depicts numerous real animals, including mole, hedgehog, magpie, owl, and elephant. The man-eating manticorn and the siren, a creature who lured sailors to their death on the rocks with her enchanting voice, are entirely imaginary.

The Lord’s Treasury

Accessed through the Lord’s private chamber, this small room is the most secure space in the castle.

When sovereignty of the Isle of Man fell to the Stanleys in the early 15th century, one of the first problems the new Lord encountered was that many of the ‘laws’ of the land were unwritten.

Eventually, Manx laws were compiled in writing by the Clerk of the Rolls, and the books of laws were locked up for safe-keeping here in the Lord’s treasury.


Perhaps the Manx law books were kept in this built-in cupboard. Books in general were valuable in the Middle Ages. Before the invention of the printing press around 1440, books were painstakingly made by hand, and only wealthy institutions and individuals could afford them.


This mannequin may represent the Receiver of the Castle, who held a key to the treasury. The Receiver was responsible for some aspects of provisioning the castle and keeping accounts.

The 17th Century Dining Room

James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, renovated and enlarged Derby House to use as a residence during his term as Lord of Mann (1627–1651). This Stanley probably spent more time on Man than any other of its English lords.

The Derby House dining room might have looked like this in James Stanley’s day. Note the absence of a ewery, or table with water jug and bowl for washing hands. By the early 1600s, hands stayed clean when eating because forks had become common.

Table Settings

In James Stanley’s day, the main meal of the day was served at mid-day. When the Lord and his guests arrived at table, they found their places set with silver knives, forks, and spoons, fine drinking glasses, and carefully folded linen napkins.


The last course of the evening meal was known as the ‘banquet’. Guests washed down a variety of sweetmeats, puddings, and fruit with wine while they conversed, sang or listened to music, and gambled at cards.

Wall Hangings

The wall hangings are made from camlet, a strong wool that was also used for furniture upholstery. The hangings are ‘paned’ or ‘empaned’: a rectangular pane of one colour is surrounded by a border in a contrasting colour, and the panels resemble windows.


We know from a 1694 inventory that in that year there were 42 maps in this room. Some were probably rolled up and stored, but maps were popular wall decorations at the time. They signified their owners’ wealth and knowledge of the world.

The Presence Chamber

The 17th century Presence Chamber is a formal hall decorated with wall hangings and containing a Chair of Estate.

Here the Lord of Mann received distinguished visitors and made important pronouncements. When James Stanley, who assumed the title of Lord of Mann in 1627, first came to Castletown, he held a number of formal meetings with potentially hostile Manx citizens.

To bolster his position as Lord-in-command, he might have chosen this impressive setting for the meetings.

The Portrait Painting

The portrait shows James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, with his wife, Countess Charlotte de la Tremouille, and 1 of their 4 daughters. When Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck made this painting sometime between 1631 and 1641, he was the leading court painter in England.

The Lord in Residence

When a Stanley came to visit, the castle was spruced up on a grand scale. The Lord’s private rooms were furnished and refurbished. Food supplies were brought in to ensure that the Lord’s table provided only the best as befitted the title.

The Imprisonment of Bishop Wilson

Thomas Wilson occupied the see of Sodor and Man as Lord Bishop from 1697 to 1755. Throughout this period, the church had its own laws and handed down judgements in all manner of cases independently of the State and the King. 

This situation gave rise to ongoing conflict between the Church and the State. Bishop Wilson was imprisoned at Castle Rushen from 29 June to 31 August 1722, following a dispute with the island’s then governor, Alexander Horne.

Wilson in His Cell

During his imprisonment in this cell in the inner gatehouse, Wilson is said to have begun work on his translation of the Gospel of St. Matthew into the Manx language. Manx Gaelic, called locally Gaelg or Gailck, is a close relative of Irish and Scottish Gaelic.

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