In the footsteps of William Christian, Illiam Dhone

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August, 2019

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William Christian, known by his nickname Illiam Dhone (Brown William, because of his hair colour) was born at Derbyhaven in 1608 and was the son of Deemster Ewan Christian. The extensive family had held positions of power and influence since the early C15th. Milntown House on the outskirts of Ramsey was one of their family homes.

William followed in his father’s footsteps into politics. He is still a controversial figure in Manx history. Some view him as a patriotic martyr who stood up for rights of the Manx people, others as a traitor.

Visitors interested in the history of the Island will soon come across his name, although there is little information about him and his importance. There is only one known “portrait”: of him that hangs in the National Art Gallery in the Manx Museum.

During the English Civil War, the Isle of Man was staunchly Royalist. The 7th Earl of Stanley, Lord of Mann, left the island to fight for Charles II following the execution of Charles I. Christian, the Receiver General, was left in command of the Island Militia.

The Earl was taken prisoner in 1651 and his wife, Charlotte de la Tremouille, tried to negotiate with the parliamentarians for his release. She was unsuccessful and the Earl was executed.

Cromwell sent an army to invade the island led by Colonel Robert Duckenfield, demanding the Manx surrender. Christian was involved in negotiations with the Parliamentarians which agreed there should be no opposition from the Manx and the Countess was compelled to surrender Castle Rushen and Peel Castle. It was a bloodless coup with the Parliamentary Forces taking over the administration of the Island. Christian was regarded as a traitor by the Stanleys but was regarded as a patriot by the Manx, who were disillusioned by the Stanleys after changes in agriculture introduced by the seventh Earl.

Christian was appointed Governor in 1656.

Two years later, however, Christian was accused of misappropriating money, although these charges were never substantiated. He fled to England, and was arrested in London in 1660. He served a year in prison before returning to the Island. Charles Stanley, the new Earl, was determined to punish Christian and ordered his seizure, accusing him of treason for surrendering the Island. Christian refused to plead at his trial and a packed House of Keys declared that his life and property were at the mercy of the Lord of Mann. The Deemsters passed sentence, and Christian was executed by shooting on 2 January 1663. The execution was botched and he later died from his injuries.

This arbitrary act angered King Charles II and his advisers. The deemsters and others were punished, and some reparation was made to Christian’s family.

He was buried in “Malew Church”: and a monument was placed in the church in 2006 to commemorate him.


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