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The 15th Century and the ''Other'' British Isles - History...a Flowchart
History. The 15th Century and the ''Other'' British Isles
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What In the World Was Going On in the 15th Century in...

The “Other” British Isles

Please do not use this column as a primary source.

This is a multi-part column.

Part 1: the Isle of Man.
Part 2: Islands in the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth
Part 3: Islands in the English Channel

This column is about some of the smaller islands in the British Isles. The British Isles form an archipelago consisting of the two large islands of Great Britain and Ireland, and many smaller surrounding islands. The full list of islands in the British Isles includes more than 1,000 islands, of which 51 have an area larger than 20 km. Not all of them are inhabited.

Each island has its own local history but is also effected by and part of the history of the larger islands. Not a lot is available about the 15th century in these localities.

Part 1: Isle of Man and Surrounding Islands

In the center of the Irish Sea, the administrative unit of the Isle of Man has four islands, only two of which are inhabited, and three islets (very small islands) in the Irish Sea.

The islands are the Isle of Man, the Calf of Man, St Michael’s Isle, and St Patrick’s Isle. St. Michael’s and St. Patrick’s are uninhabited and are connected to the main island by causeways.

The Isle of Man

Also known as “Mann”, the Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown Dependency located in the Irish Sea between the island of Great Britain and Ireland.

The people of Man are called Manx.

The island has been inhabited since before 6500 BC. Norway held it until the 13th century, when conflict among the Manx, the Norse, the Scots, and the English. In 1399, Henry IV declared that he had taken it by conquest. He granted it first to Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland. Possibly because Mann had been recognized as an independent kingdom, Percy used the title King of Mann during his tenure, as did his successors during the 15th century.

The Earl of Northumberland supported Henry of Bolingbroke when he deposed his cousin Richard II and took the throne as Henry IV. A few years later, when the king elevated a rival to a position of power, the Percys turned against the king and supported and even led several rebellions.

After Percy was convicted of treason in 1405, Henry IV made a lifetime grant to Sir John Stanley of the Isle of Man, and in 1406 he extended the grant to Stanley’s “heirs and assigns” in return for “rendering homage and two falcons” to all future kings of England on their coronations. He was also given, separate from the power of governance, the patronage of the Diocese of Sodor and Man, meaning that he could choose the clergy who served on the islands.

Sir John I Stanley, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland several different times and became titular King of Mann in 1405, a title used by Henry Percy before him even though the Isle was held in suzerainty from the King of England and was not at that time a sovereign or independent state. The first Sir John does not seem to have ever visited “his little realm of Mann.”

Sir John II Stanley was Knight, Sheriff of Anglesey, Constable of Carnarvon, Justice of Chester, Stewardof Macclesfield, and titular “King of Mann, the second of that name”. He succeeded to the kingship in 1414, on the death of his father. A lieutenant-governor ruled the island in his name, but a serious uprisingi n 1417 required his presence there. He held a Tynwald court at St John’s, and appointed two men as his commissioners to settle the affairs of the Isle. In 1422, the people of Mann attempted to kill the governor and Sir John had to return. He again summoned a Special Tynwald Court, the culprits were sentenced to death.

Sir John Stanley curbed the power of the spiritual barons, who “in the constant absences of their king had probably become accustomed to virtual independence”. They now swore fealty to him. He introduced trial by jury instead of trial by battle, and ordered the laws to be written down. After concentrating power into his own hands, he “wisely conceded a representative form of government.”

Sir John II Stanley was succeeded by his son Sir Thomas, 1st Baron Stanley, in 1432. Sir Thomas “was brave in the field, wise in the Senate, just to his Prince, an honour to his country, and an ornament to his family ... There is no account of is having visited the Island; and no legislation is recorded during his reign.” Sir Thomas, Lord Stanley, died in 1459 and was succeeded by his son, also Sir Thomas.

The next King of Mann was Thomas Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley. He managed to stay in favor with successive kings during the Wars of the Roses. Through his second wife, Margaret Beaufort, he was stepfather to Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who became King Henry VII. The new king created him Earl of Derby. Thomas was the last to use the title King of Mann; his successors chose to be called Lord of Mann. “He died in 1504. It does not appear that he ever visited the Isle of Man, and during his reign the Statute book is a blank.”

Calf of Man

Calf of Man is an island off the southwest coast of the Isle of Man, separated from it by the Calf Sound. Until 1939, the island was privately owned by the Keig family, who donated it to the National Trust to be a bird sanctuary. It is home to a species of seabird called Manx Shearwaters. The island has two permanent inhabitants, the wardens for the bird observatory.

St Patrick’s Isle

St. Patrick’s Isle is connected to the Island of Mann by a causeway over Fenella Beach. It is largely occupied by Peel Castle, which mostly ruined but with the outer walls intact. The castle was built in the 11th century by the Vikings under the rule of Magnus Barelegs. There are stone Celtic monastic buildings on the island dating from as far back as the 6th century AD but the first Viking fortifications were of wood. The prominent round tower was originally part of the monastery.

The majority of the walls and towers were built, mostly using local red sandstone, in the 14th century. The Gatehouse, the best-preserved building in Peel Castle, was constructed in 1333. The Cathedral of St German, built within the castle walls for the See of Sodor Diocese, was remodelled, and the adjoining residential block became the apartments of the Lords of Mann of that time. The castle was inhabited as late as 1860.

St Michael’s Isle

St Michael’s Isle is popularly referred to as Fort Island. It is connected to the Isle of Man by a narrow causeway built in the mid 1700’s. Made of rocky slate, the acidic soil has important communities of maritime plants. The wild vegetation acts as a natural nesting ground for birds, as does the rocky coast. It was designated as a bird sanctuary in 1936.

Two ancient buildings stand on the island. Both are closed to the public. St Michael’s Chapel on the south side of the Island was built in the 12th century on the site of an older Celtic keeill (small chapel). The ground around the Derby Fort, at the eastern end of the island, was built in 1645 by James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby and Lord of Man.

Two battles were fought on St Michael Isle during the mid 13th century when the Norse, Scots, English, and Manx were fighting for control of the Island of Man. In 1250, the Manx won but in 1275 the Manx lost control to Scotland.

The Islets near the Isle of Man

The islets are Kittlerland, St Mary’s Isle, and Chicken Rock. Kitterland is in the Calf Sound, between the Isle of Man and the Calf of Man in the Irish Sea. Basically unihabitable by humans, Kittridge has a wealth of birds and marine wildlife. St Mary’s Isle, also called Conister Rocks, is part of the Conister Shoals and is not far from the ferry dock. There is now a castle-like Tower of Refuge constructed in the 19th century to shelter the victims of shipwreck. Chicken Rock is a very small islet south of the Isle of Mann and southwest of the Calf of Mann. It has a lighthouse built in the 19th century.


Moore, A. W. The Manx Note Book January 1887: A Short Account of Sir John Stanley the Second King in Mann of that Name and Family

Part 2: Islands in the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth

Scotland has more than 790 offshore islands. Most of them are in four main groups: the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands, and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. There are also clusters of islands in the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth. Some of the islands are “skerries”, small rocky islands or reefs.

Islands in the Clyde

There are about forty islands and skerries in the Firth of Clyde. Only six are inhabited and only nine larger than 99 acres. The largest and most populous are Arran and Bute.

These islands, like the Outer Hebrides and most of the inner Hebrides, were part of the Diocese of Soder (or the Isles). It was part of the Archdiocese of Trondheim until 1472, when the Bishopric of St Andrews became an Archbishopric, and Soder was placed under its jurisdiction.

Most of the Islands in the Clyde were held by the Lord of the Isles. The island of Bute was the personal property of the Scottish monarchy. Lochranza was used as a royal hunting lodge.

The Lords of the Isles were the greatest landowners and most powerful lords in Britain, next to the kings of England and Scotland. They were often in conflict with the king. Their holdings included the Hebrides and the Kintyre Peninsula. Throughout the 15th century, the title was held by the head of Clan MacDonald.

Islands of the Forth

There are about a dozen islands in this group.

The Bass Rock, or The Bass, is in the outer part of the Firth of Forth. Historically settled by an early Christian hermit, it became a retreat for hermits.

An important castle was built there during the 14th century, and a chapel was built around 1491. Much of Bass Rock was owned by the Lauder family for six centuries; part of the island was owned by the Church. In 1406, King Robert III placed his young son James in the custody of Sir Robert Lauder in his secure castle on The Bass before the prince took ship to “safer parts on the continent.” His ship was wrecked, and he became prisoner of the English for 18 years.

After he returned to Scotland in 1424, James I imprisoned his political enemies on the Bass, including his cousin Walter Stewart. In an attempt to pacify the Highlands, he imprisoned forty highland chiefs, including Angus (or Aonghas) Dubh Mackay of Strathnaver. Mackay was soon released but his eldest son Neil, then 14 years old, was retained as hostage for the good behavior of the Clan. Following the murder of King James at Perth in 1437, Neil escaped from The Bass and was proclaimed Chief of Clan Mackay.

In 1497, King James IV visited The Bass and stayed in the castle with a later Sir Robert Lauder of The Bass. Robert was knighted sometime after January 1497 but before July 1498; historians surmise that it occurred on the occasion of the King’s visit to The Bass.

Inchcolm has the remains of a medieval abbey at the center of the island. Walter Bower is the best known of the abbots. He was one of the commissioners for the collection of the ransom of James I, King of Scots, in 1423. He also was part of the embassy to Paris that arranged the marriage of the king’s daughter to the dauphin of France. During his later years, he wrote the Scotichronicon, a history of Scotland. The completed work consisted of sixteen books.

Inchcolm Abbey was where Patrick Graham, Archbishop of St Andrews, was first confined when his conduct was investigated by order of the Pope. The Archbishop was charged with insanity; he was deposed in 1478.

The Island of Inchgarvie has a castle built by King James IV, round 1490. In 1497, Inchgarvie and the nearby Inchkeith were used as an isolated refuge (“a place of compulsory retirement) for victims of syphilis which had broken out in Edinburg.

The Island of Inchkeith was property of the crown in the 15th century until it was granted to Patrick Lyon, 1st Lord Glamis. Glamis was the ancestor of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, better known as the Queen Mother.

Besides being a place of refuge or quarantine, Inchkeith was the site of an extraordinary experiment. In 1493, James IV had a woman who could neither speak nor hear transported to the island with two infants to be reared in isolation from the rest of the world, in order to find out what language they would speak. Writing in the sixteenth century, historian Robert Lyndsey of Pitscottie reported that “some say they spoke good Hebrew”. Similar experiments were reportedly carried out by other monarchs at that time.


James Grant’s Edinburgh, Old and New, online edition:

Part 3: Islands in the English Channel

There are several major islands in the Channel, the most notable being the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands.

The Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are an archipelago off the coast of Normandy. They are British Crown Dependencies but are not part of the United Kingdom; rather they are considered remnants of the Duchy of Normandy, with Queen Elizabeth II bearning the title the Duke of Normandy. The Loyal Toast at formal dinners is to “The Queen, our Duke”, rather than “Her Majesty, the Queen” as in the UK. The islands are divided into two separate self-governing units, the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey have been administered separately since the late 13th century. Common institutions are the exception rather than the rule. They do not have the same laws, they do not hold elections together, and they do not have a common representative body.

The islands became part of Normandy in the 10th century. Between 1204 and 1214, King John of England (of Magna Carta fame) lost his French holdings, including Normandy, to King Philip II of France. In 1259, John’s successor, Henry III, gave up his claim and title to the Duchy of Normandy, but he did retain the Channel Islands. The islands were not absorbed into the Kingdom of England but two offices were appointed; Warden (now Lieutenant Governor) and Bailiff.

The islands were the focal point of strife between England and France. The French raided the islands and gained a temporary foothold, for instance during the 14th century, when the French held some territory from 1338 to 1345, and besieged Mont Orgueil Castle on Jersey in 1373.

In the 15th century, Guernsey and Jersey are mentioned in connection with French attempts to take over, and in connection with its religious houses.

During the Wars of the Roses, while England’s attention was focused elsewhere, the French occupied Jersey from 1461 to 1468. In 1483, a Papal Bull decreed that the islands would be neutral during time of war.
In 1414, the English Parliament under Henry V passed legislation to suppress French monasteries in the Channel Islands. Nevertheless, the Channel Islands seem to have been part of the diocese of Coutances despite attempts to transfer the islands to the diocese of Nantes in 1400, to Salisbury in 1496, and to Winchester in 1499. The bishops of Coutances in the 15th century included Gilles Deschamps and Giuliano della Rovere. Deschamps was created cardinal by the Antipope John XXIII in 1411. He was present at the trial of Joan of Arc in 1431. Della Rovere later became Pope Julius II.

The Abbey of Mont St Michel held the Priory of St Mary on the island of Lihou in the Bailiwick of Guernsey. According to folklore, the locals suspected the monks of devil worship. The monks and the islanders came into conflict over the “rights of wreck” or jus naufragii. That was a medieval custom which allowed the inhabitants or the lord of a territory to seize all that washed ashore from the wreck of a ship along its coast: cargo, wreckage of the ship itself, and even passengers. There were obvious financial benefits to the Priory or to the islanders because of the custom. The prior of Lihou was summoned to the Abbey of Mont St Michel to do penance for “certain irregularities” in 1448.

Jethou, another island in the bailiwick, was part of the estate of Henry V in 1416 (he died in 1415). It remains a Crown lease. Before the Act of suppression, it was held by Mont St Michel for 350 years. It is believed however that other Benedictine Monks occupied the Island for another 100 years. It also seems likely that these Monks constructed the anti-erosion wall and ditch, which encompasses about half the coastline, together with the walls of the terraces and the massive protective and dividing stone walls so extensive in Jethou.

The Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is off the south coast of the county of Hampshire, separated from the mainland by a strait called the Solent. The position of Lord of the Isle of Wight was created during the Norman Conquest. When the last Norman Lord died in 1293, the Lordship came under full control of the English Crown.
In 1444, Henry de Beauchamp, 1st Duke of Warwick was crowned King of the Isle of Wight. He was a friend and playmate of King Henry VI of England, who is said to have assisted in person in the ceremony, placing the crown on his head. As Warwick had no male heir, the regal title expired at his death and the Lordship again became a royal appointment.

Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight was granted to Anthony de Wydville, Lord Scales, later Earl Rivers, in 1467. He was the brother-in-law of the York kings Edward IV and Richard III.

The Isle of Chausey

Although it is in the English Channel, Chausey is not considered part of the Channel Islands. It is a French possession. Chausey was governed from Jersey until 1499, when it was abandoned to the French for reasons unknown. Historians speculate that the cost in money and manpower to control it could not be justified.

(These are only some of the sources consulted for this column)

Also see the following by BamBamsGirl. -Editor
  • What in the World Was Going On?
  • What in the World Was Going On? Continued