Quest for a hero

Theologians of the 16th and 17th centuries coined a pair of words of impossible and goggling magnificence to indicate that Man had known two states, one before, one after the Fall. They were Supralapsarian and Infralapsarian. So far our story of our little segment of Mankind in Mann has been infralapsarian. It started with the Lezayre family as it emerges out of the 17th century on its way down in the world, and showing most human weaknesses, socially, morally, economically inadequate. Since then it struggles with its destiny, and in the end it begins to rise again. But the family had had its supralapsarian age. Indeed the very first rays of light in the dawn of factual Island history fall on a scene of Kissacks trailing some kind of clouds of glory.

When the new King of Mann, Sir John Stanley, set out in 1405 to build the Manx kingdom again after generations of political chaos, he was most particular in reconstructing it on the pattern of the old Norse kings a century and a half before. Central in that model was to be the Court of all the Commons of Man, the Eldest and Worthiest of all the Land of Man'. The records of the meetings of such a body between 1405 and 1429 always contain the name of a Gubon (or Gilbert) Kissack. Indeed his name appears on an Indenture of 1417, the oldest Legal document on the Island. It was however, not the Legislators but the activists that drew the limelight, and stole the scene - the scene that was to open Act One of the story of the Stanley regime.

This present study, I think, really began when my grandfather told me; 'A Kissack was hanged, drawn and quartered for leading an insurrection against the imposition of a Poll Tax, and I'm proud of him' (the last sentence with the faintly defiant air that the orderly world of 1920 required). And I felt the boy's reaction that I wanted to prove my descent from him.

The relevant passage from The Acts of Sir John Stanley reads :

'In the same Court (as confirmed the new constitution) . . , Howlac McKissacke is arraigned that he feloniously rose upon John Walton, Lieutenant of Man, sitting in the Court at Kirk Michele upon the Tuesday after the Feast of Corpus Christi, in the year o f our Lord God, 1422. And men there being with him did beat and misuse the Lieutenant`s men in the Churchyard : and there Hawley came and entirely withsaid all his deeds, and put him to the Country.'

He was condemned to be drawn with horse, hung and headed. 'After that doom, he put him into the Kynge's hands'. Also dealt with in the same way were some 20 others in smaller batches, including Donald McKissaacke.

A. W. Moore has suggested that this 1422 uprising may have been triggered by suspicion that the new regime was intending to frustrate the powers of the Court of all the Tenants and Commons of Man. This Court consisted of 6 men from each sheading, chosen by the whole Commons of Man. From this panel of 36, it looks as if 24 would be called on to serve at need, but seemingly only in a judicial capacity. This Court would be referred to as 'the Country': Suspicions that it had become a tool of the Establishment could only be confirmed when the Country so readily condemned Hawley and his men.

Others however think that it was the Church who were the opposition to the Stanleys, and that Hawley might have been instigated by the Bishop. This much can be said for the theory. The Gubon McKissaacke who features among the 24 may well have been the Gubon Issacke involved in a case in 1430. There he is the Commissary of Bishop Richard Pully, and was complained against by Ffinlo McKye and others, who were refusing to pay 'particle rent', on the grounds that it was being withheld from its proper use, (to pay for the education of poor scholars so as to ensure a supply of clergy).

Whether Gubon the Commissary was indeed the Gubon who led the six of the Michael Sheading in the Court of the Country, depends on how one transliterates l5th century calligraphy. As with the name Ysage, the compilers of the l9th century edition of The Acts decyphered the name as McKimbe. Since then scholars have preferred in each case that the names should be Kissack. If this be accepted, an interesting fact emerges.

A few years ago, Michael Crellin discovered some pages among the earliest volumes of the Manorial Roll (i.e. the Rent Book of the Lords of Man), which he calculated from internal evidence must be even older than the 1510 date on the cover, and he dated them about 1490. They happened to include the Treen of Broctarge in Ballaugh, and show that Kissacks were living in that Treen then, only 60 years after Gubon's case, as well as that of Ballamoaney.

Now Broctarge is the modern Broughjearg, the quarterland that immediately abuts on the Bishopcourt demesne to the north. Normally round the borders of ecclesiastical land would be a strip of so-called Particles, whose misuse had evoked McKye's protest in 1430. Is this perhaps the fact that lies at the core of the issue? Had Gubon appropriated the disputed land or part of it ? With or without the Bishop's connivance? Was Gubon the Bishop's neighbour because he was his Commissiary ? It seems certain that the Kissacks were well established in the Sheading, otherwise Gubon would not be in the 24, nor would Hawley be able to command a rebellion. Ballaugh then was the setting of the Clan in its supralasarian age.

Our ultimate objective in genealogy is to find one's way, if not to a Proto-Isaac, at least to an Eponymous Hero. And Hawley must serve as such - a Manx Che Guevara. But whether he was a martyr or not is disputed. Certainly we do not hear of him or Donald after 1422. But equally certainly we do not hear of any executions. A softly-softly approach was always characteristic of the 15th century Stanleys, and paid them off very well in that most tortuous of centuries. Thomas Stanley, for instance, would be prudent enough to renounce the title of King for that of Lord, lest its presumptuous sound call the wrong sort of attention. As a result the family rose so high as to rank as an alternative candidate for the English throne, had it not been offered and accepted by James of Scotland. Sir John, then, would be wiser than to alienate his not-very-powerful new kingdom by over-severity, when clemency and indulgence could undergird his ascendancy (and maybe incidentally show that a Keys that was not quite so strong as some hoped, was not so sad a fate as some had thought). Nor does the career of the other Kissack, Gubon, seem affected by the events of 1422, whatever was his destiny after 1430.

When 170 years later, the Ballaugh parish registers open in 1598, (precisely the year which canon law demands), they reveal a truly tragic death scene. The 17th century was less than a week old, when William Kissaughe died on the last day of March, 1600. Two years later, Ffynlo (or Philip) his eldest son is buried, and in the same year, another William, seemingly in his prime (his wife was pregnant with their first child, though he admits also to a bass son). His uncle Thomas follows the next year; in 1605 Christian, wife of Donald Corlett. A Donald Kissack dies in 1613, Bahee in 1647, Margaret in 1663.

Six of these burials were 'within' the old church at Ballaugh, such was the privilege of Quarterland families. These were years of pestilence, yet how much compounded must its deadliness have been by piling corpse on corpse under the seats where the family worshipped Sunday by Sunday?

Yet though these carefully kept registers bear no sign of baptism or wedding in the Ballaugh family (though curiously 3 entries concern the Lezayre Kissacks), there was a William Kissack about in the 1630s and `40s inventorising for wills in the parish. And a most valuable insight is left from this dark period, in the will of that first William. He leaves 'a milcher and follower, and 4 sheep to William Kissack of Kirk Santan' - and so enables us confidently to assume that the William Kissack whose name is entered for the first time under the Treen of Bendoil in Santan in 1598, came of the Ballaugh branch. Thus the Ballakissack family have the strongest claim to descent from Hawley.

No other branch of the clan has any sure linkage with the Broughjearg or Ballamona families. It is not hard to believe that cadets of these families found their way a few miles into Jurby, Andreas and Lezayre, but how and when is unrecorded. On the death of Margaret, heiress of Broughjearg, her quarterland and intack properties passed to her Corlett son (and the line which was to include Sir Mark Collett.) Likewise the Manorial Roll indicates how, on the death of Mally Kissack (1686), her intacks in Jurby and Ballaugh passed into Tear possession. Mally was the daughter of William Kissack of Lezayre and Katherin Charrin (Mylecharaine), who bestowed on Mally and John Tear at their marriage in 1634 a property called Ballacharlaine, lying across the boundaries of Ballaugh and Jurby (and so on Ballamona quarterland, which had been in the name of Patrick McIssak in 1490). This might suggest a definite link between the Ballaugh and Lezayre families, were it not for the fact that our name had disappeared from Ballamona by 1583, although throughout the 1570s Gylbert Kyssage had been in constant litigation with a William McGawen over problems of Ballamoaney.

In land records, we can trace Kissacks on intack land in Lezayre from 1539, under the names of Donald (1539), Edmond (1540-'89), William (1576ff) and a second William (1580ff). Law suits involved a Hugh, (who was aged about 50 in 1633) in a dispute with a William Garrett and a William Kissack, over 'half a Water-mill', - another evidence of the family's milling interests even in the 16th century.

The name Donald suggests a linkage. Broughjearg was held in that name in 1490. The William who died in Ballaugh in 1600 had a son Donald. Under the name intacks were registered in Ballaugh in 1589, in Jurby after 1583, and in Lezayre about 1600. A Donald was one of the 24 Keys in 1485 and 1504; he would certainly have been of Broughjearg, maintaining the family place held by Gubon in 1408, 1422 and 1430. The tradition was being carried on by a William in 1585, and lasted until 1637, since when the family name has never reappeared among the 24.

Who, it is interesting to ask, were these Williams who served for that last half-century? Could any have been of the Kerrowmoar family 

The Manx Note Book vol. i (1885) published a stray document of 1601, which represented an agreement between representatives of the Islands landowners and the Government Officers over the means of payment of customary dues for the upkeep of the garrisons of the two Castles. A serious cattle epidemic prevented the normal payment in the form of beasts, and a cash substitute was negotiated. The document bears 92 signatures (the 24 Keys and 4 representatives of the 17 parishes). These must have been the most important people on the Island at the time. Three of them bear our name. Twelfth of the list is a William Kissagge, who makes his mark; and among the last 5 names are Phinlo Kyssage and William Kyssagge, seemingly straight signatures.

As Phinlos name features in the Ballaugh burials of 1602, it looks as if he and the second William must be of that parish. As the first William Kissagge appears alongside Standish and Garrett, this could denote Lezayre. Logic might suggest that the first 24 names represent the Keys, but a comparison with contemporary lists does not confirm this li kelihood. Otherwise it would look as if the Lezayre family, for all its illiteracy, had somehow taken the seat. The Ballaugh William however could not have been the father of Phinlo; having died in 1600, he could not have signed in 1601. Clearly there had been more Williams to succeed Phinlo, despite the absence of any in the parish registers, enough at any rate to have continued to supply the Keys until sometime about 1640, when the male Broughjearg line must have ended. Certainly in 1629 a William Kissake was signing among the 24 in a fine fluent hand.

As for the problem of the entrance of the family into the Lezayre Abbeyland of Kerrowmoar, G. V. C. Young offers an interesting conjecture arising from his researches into the Standish family. These had shared intack land in Lezayre with the Kissacks since at least 1540, and he suggests that the Kissacks may have succeeded them in the quarterland of Kerrowmoar. The Abbeylands passed at the dissolution of the Monastries in 1537 into the control of the Lord of Man. One single page of the first Rent Roll (called a Computus) dated 1540 has survived, and by chance it is for Lezayre. It shows no Kissacks holding Abbeyland then, but Hugh Standish has the outstandingly large assessment of 23/- out of a total of £11 4s. 8d. The next surviving such list (1609) shows William Kissack paying a like outstanding sum (28/-).

Examination of such interim Abbeyland records as survive reveal that a John Standish was holding Abbeyland in the early 1580s and that about then the name of William Kissack first appears and features (not infrequently) among the litigants. In 1583/4 he charges John Standish with 'witholding from him a piece of ground called Close Moar', which he claims he had purchased legally the preceding Michaelmas. (Incidentally, he lost his case on a legal technicality). It is however unlikely that this Close Moar could be identified with the quarterland of Kerrowmoar. There is even a stray item of land transfer (about 1597) recording the acquisition of Abbeyland, rental value of 15/-, by William Kissack, but not from a Standish, but from William and John Kewney. So the fragmentary nature of the evidence is inconclusive. What could be of significance is that it was precisely at the juncture when a contentious Gylbart Kissauge disappears from the Ballaugh quarterland of Ballamoney, that an equally contentious William appears in the Abbeylands of Lezayre.

Maughold had already given indications of probable mid-l7th century links with Andreas on the one hand and Douglas on the other, and Lezayre of links at the same level with Castletown. The Kissacks who occupied part of the treen of Edremony in Rushen in the 15th century leave faint tracks there till 1631, and these, with the steady persistence of the Ballakissack family, are enough to account for, even if not explain, the few southern households. The strong milling associations of the family in those years would mean that their specialist trade drove them farther afield in the search for work than the casual labourer ever had to go.

This then completes the delineation of our Clan. What are we to make of ourselves?

Isaac and his seed, like Adam himself and all the Manx, came from the earth. We were peasants, the landed class, not in the sense of owning broad acres, but as the people who live on the land, by the land and for the land. Sharing its vicissitudes of dearth or plenty; loyal to it, though fate fettered us in its clods; finding nobility in enduring poverty.

Spared the uneasiness of heads that wear crowns, or minds that take too much though for the tomorrow of their wealth, we were wise with the wisdom of Agur the son of Jakeh when he said :

"Give me neither poverty nor wealth
Provide me only with the food I need :
For if I have too much, 1 shall deny Thee,
and say : Who is the Lord?
And if I am reduced to poverty, I shall steal and blacken the name of my God".

Not for us however the meekness that inherits the earth; we had that streak of sullen independence that could burst out in tempers that might unleash the virulence of Isabel's tongue, or tumble a sneering Corlett down the cellar stairs, though equally drive Hawley into battle for democracy against the Establishment, or the Maughold Millers against the Church and convention.

Only in 1422 did we make any history. Since then we have set neither the Thames nor the Sulby burn on fire. Even our Lezayre neighbours had their glories. But we never produced a bishop like the Nappin Crowes, nor a Pilgrim Father like the Ellanbane Standishes, nor a dynasty of hereditary Deemsters like the Milntown Christians, nor ever had an escutcheon like the Ballabrooie Garretts.

Nor, when we have left the Island, have we reached the professional eminence of other Manxmen. No academic professors like Kermodes or Kinvigs. No Vice-Chancellors like the Quirks of Cronk-y-Voddy. We did not win the American West like the Cannans in Utah, nor restructure a currency like the Moores in South Africa. We did not guard Napoleon on St. Helena like the Wilkses, nor administer the Indian Empire like the Cubbons. Nor can we claim any share in novelists like the Cains, nor in our national poet, T. E. Brown, as can Scarfes and Cosnahans and Stowells.

But we have captained ships and manned their sails and engines : we have built houses and machines, stocked shops and served in them, taught in schools and trained teachers, tended the sick in surgery and hospital wards. We have pen-pushed and administered in responsible offices in Island government, and directed the Island's Steamship Company. We have given lay and ministerial services in the Church. We have done jobs that hold communities together, and kept the wheels of social life turning.

Previous page: Historical Hinterland