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WILLIAM CHRISTIAN
(ILIAM DHOAN)
ILLIAM CHRISTIAN, OF RONALDSWAY, RECEIVER­GENERAL,
POPULARLY KNOWN AS ILIAM DHOAN ("BROWN WILLIAM') WAS BORN ON THE 14TH OF APRIL, 1608.

His father, Deemster Ewan Christian, of Milntown, had been the most powerful and determined opponent of James Earl of Derby's endeavours to abolish the old feudal tenure of the straw, which was nominally a tenancy-at-will under the Lord, but practically equivalent to a freehold, and to replace it by leases for three lives. To enforce the Deemster's consent to his scheme the Earl threatened to support a claim of long standing on the Ronaldsway Estate by one John Corrjn. This threat had the desired effect, as the Deemster, seeing the futility of further resistance, transferred the property in 1643 to his third son William, who accepted the new lease. In spite of the disgrace of his connection, Edward Christian, who was at this time confined in Peel Castle for treason, William was now received into favour, and in 1648 was appointed to the important office of Receiver General. During the three following years Christian must have thoroughly gained the Earl's confidence, as when he left the Island in 1651 to join the Royalist forces, (He took part in the battle of Worcester, after which he was captured and  beheaded at Bolton.)  he not only put him in command of the insular militia, but committed his Countess, the famous Charlotte de la Tremoille, to his care. It is exceedingly difficult to ascertain precisely what part Christian played in the subsequent transactions, as the only statements that remain to us are conflicting and obscure. We know that the Countess, on hearing that her husband was a prisoner, made proposals to Parliament for the surrender of the Island, in the hope of saving his life. These proposals were drawn up by Sir Philip Musgrave, the Governor, with the assistance of the House of Keys. They must, consequently, have been well known to a considerable number of the most influential Manxmen, who, smarting under the new land laws, would doubtless take the opportunity of forwarding their cause by impressing upon their followers that the Countess intended to save herself by sacrificing them. This being so we are not surprised to learn that on the same night on which the bearer of these proposals sailed, the insular militia under Christian's command, rose and seized all the forts, except Rushen and Peel. Burton, Musgrave's biographer, remarks that they plundered the Earl's property and illused all the English who fell into their hands. This statement, however, is uncorroborated. The Governor demanded an explanation of the rising from Christian, who replied that it was to procure the redress of certain grievances; and added that the Countess had sold the country into the hands of the Parliament. These grievances we know to have been connected with the Earl's new system of land tenure mentioned above, and there were also complaints of the free quarterage of troops upon the people. An agree­ment was then entered into between Christian and the Governor to defend the Island until satisfactory terms could be obtained, but, as both parties were negotiating with the Parliament, whose troops were now mustering for the capture of the Island, it was in reality a mere pretence for the sake of gaining time. We learn the proceedings of these troops from the account of "a gentleman that was an eye-witnesse, and present in the whole action," which was published in the "Mercurius Politicus," of November 13th, 651. On the 20th of October, while Duckenfield's fleet "lay in Beaumorris harbour came in Major Fox, a Lancashire gentleman that had been long imprisoned by the Earl of Derby in the Isle of Mann, and with him one Mr. Brayden, the Countess's servant." This Major Fox, as it appears from Hugh More's deposition in 1662, had given William Christian a commission "to raise ye contrey for ye parliamt against all opposers." Mr. Brayden was the bearer of the above mentioned proposals from the Countess. Early on the 25th the fleet of 44 vessels sailed, and the same afternoon "came to have a clear view of the Calve of Man, Castle Rushen, Darby Fort, Dowglas Fort, and almost the whole Island. We saw also the country people . . . both horse and foot . . . muster­ing up what strength they could ingage, which for ought we knew was against us." Then a storm 'arose and with some difficulty they "fetched Ramsey bay by 10 of the clock that night." The next day "about one in the morning, came one Hugh More, an Islander, employed by Mr. Receiver Christian, and others the chief of the Island, to assure us we should have no opposition in landing, but might securely come under any of their forts, which hee said they had already taken possession of for us." On the 28th the troops landed and "laid siege to both the castles at once." On the 29th Christian was the bearer of a courteously worded letter from Colonel Duckenfield to the Countess, who was in Castle Rushen, calling upon her to surrender. This letter contained the words "the late Earl of Derby," which was the first intimation the Countess received of her husband's death. The unfortunate lady filled with rage and despair by these sad tidings replied in a manner more befitting a conqueror than one who was practically a prisoner. By the 31st, Duckenfield had got his siege guns into position; and the Countess, finding that she could not rely on the fidelity of her garrison, was pursuaded to arrange terms. It was agreed that Peel and Rushen Castles should be given up on the 3rd of November, that the property of the Countess should he at the Parliament's absolute disposal, but that she and her household should have permission to leave the Island. Seacombe, the Derby Historian, states that the Countess and her children were kept as prisoners in the Island until the Restoration, through Christian's malice. We know, however, from a news­paper entitled "The Faithfull Scout," published on the 12th of December, 1651, that "The Countesse hath been allowed £100 in Plate to bear her charges into England," and that her departure was only delayed by the difficulty of finding a suitable vessel. We have, besides, ample evidence from her own letters, dated from 1651 to 1660, ("Lady of Lathom" published in London in 1869) of her residence in London and Knowsley during that period. It is clear, at any rate, that Christian's actions during these proceedings had been satisfactory to the ruling powers, as the Journals of the House of Commons for December, 1651, contain a resolution to the effect that the Receiver, and his brother, the Deemster, "two of the ablest and honestest gentlemen in the Island," should be consulted with regard to the laws observed in the Isle of Mann. There is, however, a letter in the State Paper Office, under date July i6th, 1652, directed to Colonel Worsely, Major Wigan, and Captain Rigby "to appear as material witnesses in behalf of the Commonwealth against William Christian and John Sharples (Deputy Governor from 1636-39), who were residing in the Isle of Man at the time of the reducing thereof to the obedience of Parliament, and did then commit acts of delinquency against the Commonwealth." (The writer has not had access to the original document, but quotes from Cumming's "The Great Stanley," pp. 257-8.) The only explanation we can offer of this is that the above mentioned William Christian may have been the proprietor of Knock Rushen, brother of Captain Edward Christian, and a connection of his namesake Iliam Dhoan. This view is rendered highly probable by the fact that Christian continued to hold his office of Receiver, under Lord Fairfax, to whom the Lordship of the Island had been granted after Lord Derby's execution, and that he was appointed to the still more responsible office of Governor. The combination of these two offices must have given him a practically complete control of the insular finances; and such a position evidently proved too much for his integrity, for in 1658 we find that James Chaloner, who had been appointed Governor in that year, ordered his arrest on the charge of having misappropriated the revenues of the sequestrated Bishopric, which Fairfax intended to be used for the support of the Grammar Schools, and for the augmentation of the stipends of the poorer clergy. Christian, with his eldest son George, managed to escape to England, whereupon Chaloner sequestrated his estates and imprisoned his brother Deemster John Christian, for having aided and abetted his flight.

We hear nothing of Christian till at the Restoration he "went to London with many others to have a sight of my gracious King."  While there he was arrested upon an action of £20,000 and "clapped up in the Fleet, unto which action, I being a stranger, could give no hail, but was there kept nearly a whole year." (Dying Speech; Manx Society, Vol. VI., pp. 35-40.)

 

Some months after his release, being assured that the Act of Indemnity secured him against all the legal consequences of his past political offences, he rashly returned to the Isle of Mann. He was at once arrested and imprisoned in Castle Rushen, by order of Charles Earl of Derby, who, on the 12th of September, 1662, issued a mandate ordering "all his Officers both Civil and Military in the Isle of Man," to proceed immediately against William Christian "for all his illegal actions and rebellions on or before the year of our Lord, 1651." (It was an unusual proceeding for a Sovereign to issue special directions for a prosecution against a person by name. The writer is indebted to the learned Attorney-General, Sir James Gell, for guidance in the legal points of William Christian's case.) Depositions were then taken on the 3rd, 4th, and 29th of October, evidently for the purpose of justifying the committal of Christian for treason. On the 13th of November Mr. Thomas Parre was examined, probably before the indicting jury, as the indictment was drawn on that day. His deposition, as well as the preceding ones were-apparently before the indicting jury was charged-laid before the Keys for their opinion as to whether or not they disclosed a case of treason on which Christian ought to be tried, or whether he could be sentenced "without quest," that is, without trial by jury, as was probably not infrequently done in former times in cases of treason. The House decided that the case fell within the compass of the Statute of 1422, (To the effect that a traitor might be sentenced without quest "to be drawne with Horses, and after, hanged and beaded."-Statute Law Book, p. 21.) but that the prisoner was entitled to take his trial by jury. On the 26th of November a further deposition was made by Mr. William Qualtrough, of Kentraugh; probably merely to increase the amount of evidence. On the same day the Court of General Gaol Delivery was held, when Christian "refused and denied to come to abide the Law." The Deputy-Governor then demanded the law of the Deemsters. Deemster John Christian, and his son Edward, who acted as his deputy, seeing that William's fate was practically decided, had already sailed to England to implore the King to exercise his authority to save him. The remaining Deemster, Norris, then craved the advice and assistance of the 24 Keys, who declared that "the Law in this case ("In this case," i.e., in the case of refusing to plead. Christian thus made a fatal mistake in refusing to plead for he consequently subjected himself to the same punishment as if he had pleaded guilty or had been found guilty by a jury, and therefore, in the two so-called trials no evidence was taken for him, so that he was virtually condemned without trial.) deemes such a pson to be in ye mercy of the Lord for life and goods." After this a most arbitrary act was committed by the Lord's order, i.e. the dismissal, by his authority, of seven of the Keys, and the appointment of others in their places. Probably, the seven deserved their removal, as they seemed to have been more or less connected with Christian's proceedings in 1651, but the Lord had no legal right thus summarily to dismiss them, nor to fill up the vacancies; for the ancient mode of election was for the Keys to submit two names for each vacancy, of which the Lord, or Governor, chose one. As it happened, however, this illegal act had no effect on the case, which was a foregone conclusion when Christian refused to plead. In December, the question was again submitted to the Court, thus reconstituted, who unanimously confirmed their former decision. Excepting in the two points already noted (the special mandate for prosecution against Christian by name, and the summary removal of the seven Keys), the procedure in Christian's case seems to have been according to law. It is, however, difficult to understand why he was not brought into Court and required to plead guilty or not guilty at the bar. If he had then refused to plead, or stood mute, his conduct not being caused by the act of God, by the old law he would, undoubtedly, have been deemed guilty. Christian's refusal to appear or plead given in prison was thus considered the same as if it had been made at the bar of the Court. This may have been correct according to the procedure in those days, but now a prisoner is obliged to attend at the bar. Assuming, therefore, that his refusal to plead made in prison was as valid as if made at the bar of the Court, there can be no doubt of the legality of his conviction. It seems certain that if there had been a material flaw in the trial in this particular, it would have been made a point of before the Privy Council, but we do not hear of anything of the kind. On the same day on which the decision of the Court was given the Deputy-Governor ordered the Deemsters to pronounce sentence, stating at the same time that upon the "earnest peticon" of the prisoner's wife, and in "consideration of her very disconsolate condition," he thought fit to commute the punishment of hanging, drawing, and quartering, and to order that he be "shot to death, that thereupon his life may depart from his bodie." This sentence was carried out on the 2nd of January, 1662-3, at Hango Hill. An entry relating to the execution in the Parish Register of Malew states that "he died most penitently and most curragiously, made a good end, prayed earnestly, made an excellent speech, and next day was buried in the Chancel of Kirk Malew." A broadside purporting to be a copy of the speech referred to was printed in 1776. According to this document, which, whether authentic or not, is eloquent and dignified in style, and contains nothing inconsistent with any known facts, he protested against the charge of treason brought against him by "a prompted and threatened jury, a pretended Court of Justice, of which the greater part were by no means qualified." He appealed to those present to bear witness how unjust this accusation was, and that "the rising of the people in which he afterwards came to be engaged did not at all, or in the least degree, intend the prejudice or ruin of the Derby family." During Christian's imprisonment in Castle Rushen, he had addressed a petition to the King and Council, pleading that the proceedings taken against him by the Earl of Derby were a violation of the Act of Indemnity, and praying that his case might be heard before them. His petition did not reach London till a week after the execution. In ignorance of this event orders were sent to Lord Derby to produce his prisoner. Iliam Dhoan's sons, George and Ewan, presented petitions for redress, and, after some delay, the Earl, the Deemnsters, and three other members of "the pretended Court of Justice," were brought before the King in Council, who decided that "the Act of General Pardon and Indemnity did and ought to be understood to extend to the Isle of Man." This decision is difficult to understand for "The Act of Indemnity applied to Treasons, &c., committed by virtue or colour of the authority of the existing Govern­ment of England, Scotland and Ireland, and the Dominions and Territories thereto belonging: and the Isle of Man is not a Dominion or Territory belonging to England, though it is a Dominion of the Crown of England;" also, "The Treasons, &c., referred to, must be considered as against the Crown of England. Persons in the Isle of Man might be guilty of Treason against the Lord of the Island independently of the Crown of England. If Christian was guilty at all, the charge against him was Treason against the Lord of the Island, not against the King of England." (Cumming, "The Great Stanley," p. 269. Opinion of Sir James Gell, Attorney. General.) The Privy Council furthermore ordered that "intire restitution" be made of Christian's estate, and "to the end the guilt of that Bloud, which hath been unjustly spilt, may in some sort he expiated," the Deemsters "who decreed this violent death" should remain prisoners in the King's Bench "to receive condign punishment," while the others who had been summoned were discharged on giving security to appear when called upon. William Christian has been variously represented as a perjured traitor, or as a patriotic victim of a judicial murder, according to the sympathies of the writer. A more titan local interest in his career has been aroused during the present century by the publication of Sir Walter Scott's "Peveril of the Peak," (As there has been much misconception on the subject, it is perhaps worth mentioning that Sir Walter Scott states in his Introduction that the Edward Christian, who is represented as William's brother, and who plays an important part in the Novel, is a purely imaginary person. He has been confused by some with Captain Edward Christian of Loughmallo and Balla Killey, a connection of  Illiam Dhoan's, who died a prisoner in Peel Castle in 1660.) which evoked the inaccurate and prejudiced pamphlet entitled "Historial Notices of Edward and William Christian," by William Marsden. It is so difficult to judge impartially of actions committed during a period of revolution, and of which, moreover, we have but an imperfect record, that the present writer has confined himself to laying the facts as far as he could ascertain them, before his readers. Whatever his faults Christian undoubtedly suffered for the part he took in endeavouring to protect his countrymen's laws and liberties. It is this circumstance that has enlisted their sympathies in his favour, while the plaintive ballad (Portions of this Ballad were evidently not written till at least a century after Christians death) "Baase Iliam Dhoan "- " Brown William's Death," has invested his memory with the halo of a martyr.

 

A.W. MOORE.          

 

(For genealogical particulars of William Christian, see Manx Note Book," Vol. I., p. 17.)