Famed Manx nationalist remains little noted by modern officials


The Isle of Man, inhabited for at least 8,500 years, counts among its greatest heroes Illiam Dhône, a 17th century nationalist who was executed for actions taken amid the English Civil War.

How does the Manx government honor Dhône? Hardly at all, it turns out.

Dhône’s memorial is nothing more than a weathered brass plaque on a stump of an aged concrete structure that marks the site of his execution, according to the Celtic League, an organization that seeks to promote greater cooperation between Celtic peoples. The plaque is not only hard to find, but the site is unkempt and overgrown, and the dilapidated building is unconnected to the events of 1663, the year Dhône was put to death.

In 1648, amid the English Civil War, James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby and the supreme lord of the Isle of Man, appointed Dhône as receiver general of the island, located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland.

Three years later, Stanley went to England to fight for Charles II, who was battling Parliamentarian forces in a bid to regain his throne. Stanley’s wife Countess Charlotte de la Tremouille was left in charge of the island, with Dhône, whose English name was William Christian, in command of its militia.

The Earl of Derby fought with Charles II at the Battle of Worcester on Sept. 3, 1651.

Once Stanley left to aid Charles, a revolt erupted on the island. Led by Dhône, the conflict, known as the Manx Rebellion of 1651, was the result of the void caused by Stanley’s departure and discontent caused by agrarian changes recently introduced by Stanley.

After the rebels seized many of the island’s forts Dhône entered into negotiations with Parliamentary forces.

Meanwhile, Stanley survived the Battle of Worcester but was captured a short time later near Nantwich and taken prisoner. His wife tried to obtain his release by negotiating with the victorious parliamentarians for the surrender of the Isle of Man.

Stanley was tried by court-martial on Sept. 29, 1651, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. He was executed on Oct. 15, 1651.

Plaque at Hango Hill marking site where Illiam Dhône was executed on Jan. 2, 1663.

Plaque at Hango Hill marking site where Illiam Dhône was executed on Jan. 2, 1663.

When the Countess of Derby learned of her husband’s death, she surrendered the island to Col. Robert Duckenfield, who had landed a Parliamentary fleet on the Isle of Man in October 1651.

Dhône was appointed governor of the island in 1656.

In 1658, Dhône was accused of misappropriating funds, although the charges were never substantiated.

He fled to England but was arrested in London in 1660. He was imprisoned for a year, then returned to Man. By this time, Charles II had regained his crown.

Charles Stanley, the 8th Earl of Derby, was apparently not of a forgiving mind. Although Charles II, in an attempt to bring a measure of peace to his troubled country, had issued the Indemnity Act of 1660, absolving those involved in actions taken during the Civil War, Stanley ordered Dhône’s seizure.

At the latter’s trial many members of the House of Keys, the directly elected lower branch of the Manx parliament, were unwilling to condemn him and were removed and replaced by others who would find Dhône guilty, according to the Manx Museum and National Trust.

Not surprisingly, he was sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad on Jan. 2, 1663, at Hango Hill, according to the 1877 work Records and Proceedings Relating to the case of William Christian of Ronaldsway Receiver-General of the Isle of Man Who was Shot for Treason at Hango Hill.

Dhône’s killing angered Charles II and his advisers. The Manx judges who had pronounced sentence on Dhône were punished, and some reparation was made to Dhône’s family.

Today, Dhône is remembered as noted Manx nationalist. He is celebrated through the Manx ballad Baase Illiam Dhône, which was first translated into English by John Crellin in 1774, and through the references to him in Sir Walter Scott’s work Peveril of the Peak.

As the Celtic League notes, it is long past time for the Manx Government to commission a more appropriate memorial to Dhône.

(Top: Illiam Dhône, noted Manx nationalist.)


7 thoughts on “Famed Manx nationalist remains little noted by modern officials

    • Thank you, Helen. As an US citizen, I knew absolutely nothing about the English Civil War growing up. Most Americans are almost wholly ignorant of the conflict, which is unfortunate because it influenced what occurred here the second half of the 17th century.

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