Jul 052018
 

Today is Tynwald Day (Manx: Laa Tinvaal) the National Day of the Isle of Man, an independent nation within the British Isles. On this day, the Island’s legislature, Tynwald, meets at St John’s, instead of its usual meeting place in Douglas. The session is held partly in the Royal Chapel of St John the Baptist and partly in the open air on the adjacent Tynwald Hill (a small artificial mound). The meeting, the first recorded instance of which dates to 1417, is known as Midsummer Court. It is attended by members of the two branches of Tynwald: the House of Keys, and the Legislative Council. The Lieutenant Governor, the representative of the Lord of Mann (currently queen Elizabeth), presides except on the occasions when the Lord of Mann or another member of the British Royal Family is present. All bills that have received Royal Assent are promulgated on Tynwald Day; any Act of Tynwald which is not so promulgated within 18 months of passage ceases to have effect. Other proceedings include the presentation of petitions and the swearing in of certain public officials.

Since the first recorded Tynwald Day in 1417, Tynwald Day had traditionally been held on 24th June, which is the feast day of St John the Baptist and also Midsummer’s Day. In 1753, the Isle of Man legislated to replace the Julian Calendar with the Gregorian Calendar after Great Britain had done so in the previous year: making a difference of 11 days. But the legislation retained the Julian Calendar for the purpose of determining Tynwald Day: it provided that “Midsummer Tynwald Court shall be holden and kept … upon or according to the same natural Days upon or according to which the same should have been so kept or holden … in case this Act had never been made.” Hence Tynwald Day occurred on 24th June in the Julian Calendar, but on 5th July according to the Gregorian Calendar. It was not subsequently moved back to 7 July, even though the Gregorian Calendar is now 13 days ahead of the Julian Calendar because the Gregorian Calendar had no leap day in 1800 or 1900. If Tynwald Day occurs on a Saturday or Sunday, it is normally commemorated on the next Monday, as happened in 2008 and 2009.

Midsummer Courts were sometimes presided over personally by the Lords of Mann, but more often by his/her representatives, as the Lords of Mann were often British aristocrats or monarchs who were not resident in the island. After the Duke of Atholl presided in 1736, over two centuries passed before a Lord of Mann participated in Tynwald Day ceremonies. George VI presided in 1946; his successor Elizabeth II presided in 1979 (the millennial anniversary of Tynwald’s establishment) and again in 2003. Occasionally another member of the Royal Family may preside, as HRH Prince Edward did in 1986, and HRH The Prince of Wales did in 2000.

The Lieutenant Governor is preceded by the Sword-Bearer, who wears a scarlet uniform and bears the Sword of State. The Sword of State probably dates from the 15th century, and may have been made for Sir John Stanley. The Sword, which is blunt for the sake of safety, displays the Manx triskelion (the traditional “three legs” symbol which also appears on the Manx flag). Members of the House of Keys and of the Legislative Council are also in attendance. The Speaker of the House of Keys wears a wig and black robes with gold decorations. The President of Tynwald wears a wig and blue robes with silver decorations. The President’s robes also display the triskelion. The Isle of Man’s highest judicial officers, the Deemsters, participate in the ceremony, wearing scarlet robes and long wigs. There are currently three Deemsters, including the First and Second Deemster. Their office is of great antiquit