Manx Kingship in its Irish Sea Setting, 1187–1229

King Rognvaldr and the Crovan dynasty

R. Andrew McDonald

Hardback €49.50
Catalogue Price: €55.00
ISBN: 978-1-84682-047-2
July 2007. 240pp; ills.

'McDonald deals with a period much overlooked by other historians and provides an account of individuals omitted from mainstream histories. This is not simply a ‘Manx history’ but a very significant chapter in the history of these isles', Ireland’s Genealogical Gazette.

‘To date the history of the Isle of Man during the later Viking Age has not received as much attention as it deserves. R. Andrew McDonald is therefore to be congratulated for his study … McDonald has drawn on a wide range of sources to show how Røgnvaldr's reign can shed light on a broad field of north European politics. The text is clearly written and accessible to undergraduates, including those who are not already familiar with the Isle of Man. Extensive footnoting and a good bibliography also make this book a useful resource for those wishing to study Manx history in greater depth … It covers a significant period of Manx history and it will long remain an authority on the reign of King Røgnvaldr. The general character of the volume is approachable and helpful. This contribution to our understanding of medieval Insular history is certainly to be welcomed’, Clare Downham, The Medieval Review (2008).

‘The last few years have seen an explosion of scholarly interest in, and publication on, the Irish Sea World in the central middle ages ... McDonald’s volume is very much a new departure within the field, and one which builds upon what has gone before, for he attempts for the first time to write a book-length biography of one of the kings of this dynasty: Rögnvaldr son of Guðrøðr … McDonald’s approach is thematic and the bulk of the volume comprises five chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of Rögnvald’s reign ... This is undoubtedly a sensible approach since, given the very unbalanced distribution of primary sources relating to the reign, a simple chronological narrative could hardly be constructed … There is still much to be written on the history of the kingdom of the Isles but Andrew McDonald has made a sturdy contribution with this volume. It is to be hoped that it will provoke further debate. The Irish Sea World is one of the hottest topics in Insular history at the present. Long may it remain so’, Dr Alex Woolf, The Innes Review (Spring 2008).

'History has ignored the Isle of Man. Located centrally in the Irish Sea, Man has fallen under the rule of Norwegians and Englishmen, even existing as an independent kingdom in the Middle Ages. The kings of this domain reflected the turbulent and changing nature of their world – descendants of Norwegian Vikings, marrying and living among the native Celts, and increasingly responding to the influence of the Papacy and English rule. They offer a valuable glimpse of a medieval society in the midst of change. It is the rule of this world to which Andrew McDonald so aptly applies his hand. Engaging to read and very well written, his work is an important study of a neglected topic … Exceptionally well-researched, this work incorporates an impressive array of sources to illuminate not only the doings of the Crovan Dynasty, but to build an encompassing view of how and why those events occurred. Ranging from Manx to Norse, Scottish to Irish, English to Papal records, McDonald provides a wide array of lenses trough which to view the actions of Rognvaldr and his family. The depth of research allows McDonald to develop and present a nuanced view of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Man making this work extremely valuable … McDonald’s work fills a void in the history of this maritime region. Not only does the work lucidly explain Manx Kingship and politics, McDonald places it clearly within the context of the British Isles. Complementing the quality of the writing and research, his maps provide an excellent visual for those unfamiliar with the location mentioned in the text. Important for readers is the light that McDonald sheds on a medieval sea-based kingdom, a topic often ignored by historians who focus on land-based domains such as England and France. Anyone reading this book will come away with a much greater understanding of not only Manx politics but the Irish Sea Region as well', David Beougher, International Journal of Maritime History.

‘McDonald is … to be congratulated for his analysis of Manx politics within their wider geographical context during the eleventh to thirteenth centuries … [he] presents us with a detailed yet clearly written discussion of convoluted and interconnected historical developments that crisscross the British Isles … There is no doubt that the book succeeds to a large extent in what it mainly sets out to do: analyzing the twelfth- and thirteenth-century Manx kingship in an Irish Sea setting. It also remains one of the very few books to examine this kingship, is a highly readable introduction to late Scandinavian Manx history, and is a welcome contribution to our understanding of medieval kingship for undergraduates and specialists alike’, Ian Beuermann, H-Albion (October 2008).

‘ … contains much of general interest to the more general reader as well as the specialist … McDonald charts the way in which the kingdom was drawn away from the Norwegian sphere of practical influence and into the political world dominated by England during the early thirteenth century … McDonald’s work should serve to increase our knowledge of both the Isle of Man and the politics of the Irish Sea area in this period, and help shed light on the politics of the larger surrounding kingdoms, and the region’s relations with Norway', Rosemary Power, Saga-Book (September 2008).

'… a study that settles the kingdom of Man into its rightful place as an entity powerful, wealthy and strategic enough to be taken into consideration by the kings of England and Scotland, and by the Welsh and Irish princes, and valuable enough to remain within what the Norwegian kings considered their sphere of influence … it remains clear that the Manx kingship was to a great extent precarious in its independence, and lacked the resources to aspire to an equal footing with the English, Scottish or Norwegian kings. McDonald demonstrates through his analysis of the sources that the Crovan kings were aware of those limitations, and perhaps naturally sought to exploit the rivalries of those other monarchs, in order to maintain independence', Darlene Hall, Irish Historical Studies (May 2009).

‘McDonald’s text fills a hole in scholarship about the Isle of Man and the Irish Sea in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries … The focus of the work is especially the political history of the Crovan dynasty and the Isle of Man', Mary A. Valante, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History (2009).

'R. Andrew McDonald tells Rognvaldr’s tale well but the particularly interesting passages are those that bring to life the relationships of petty kings and provincial lords with one another as well as their cultivation of relationships with more powerful kings in Scotland, Norway, and England', Balász J. Nemes, Medium Ævum (2008).

‘This book is an important contribution to the political history of the region … McDonald draws together every scrap of evidence into a convincing picture of a tiny monarchy that was conforming to contemporary European models by the early thirteenth century, if not before … In sum, this is a worthwhile book which deserves to be consulted not only by specialists of the Irish Sea region, but also by historians interested in the development of European kingship in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. That the book needs to be consulted with an alert critical mind does not detract from its merits: anyone attempting to construct a coherent history of the Manx kings from the extremely fragmentary sources is bound to do so by means of more or less debatable hypotheses', Michael H. Gelting, Scottish Historical Review (2010).

‘In this book, the first on the subject of a medieval Manx king, R. Andrew McDonald focuses on the forty year reign of Rognvaldr Gudrodarson (1187–1229) exploring his life, career and kingship within the broader framework of the history of the Irish Sea basin c.1200 … the author extracts an astonishing level of detail from the relevant sources which include English government documents as well as chronicles, annals, poems and sagas … McDonald explores the evidence for Irish influence on various aspects of Manx culture and kingship and even speculates plausibly that the famous Manx galleys may have been constructed of Irish timber … The final chapter in the book comprises an exhaustive examination of the nature of Manx kingship presenting the evidence for election, inauguration, regalia, religious patronage, use of charters and seals, royal residences and military capability … The Isle of Man has up to now been a largely ignored region of Europe and the British Isles, but this book will do much to redress this situation for the medieval period. McDonald’s scholarly and engaging book highlights the island as a crossroads of power and cultural influence rather than a peripheral backwater and King Rognvaldr as a fascinating figure who embraced contemporary European culture without losing his essentially Hiberno-Norse identity. It represents an important contribution to the growing body of work on the comparative history of the Irish Sea region', Margaret Murphy (Carlow Institute of Technology), Eolas (2009).

‘Despite being one of the larger islands in the archipelago, the Isle of Man has been relatively little studied from an ‘archipelagic history’ perspective. McDonald’s book is a conscious attempt to rectify this … Rögnvaldr son of Guðrøðr, king of Man (1187–1229), features prominently in the title and text, but this is emphatically not a traditional royal biography – an exercise that the sparse documentary and narrative sources would scarcely have allowed. Instead, McDonald attempts something far more challenging and absorbing: a thematic account of Manx kingship that touches on such widely dispersed topics as kin-strife, royal self-representation in charters, inauguration rituals, relations with the church, and the growth of ‘bureaucratic’ kingship. The author explores these themes by working outwards from the familiar … adding layer upon layer of contextualizing detail drawn from an eclectic range of primary sources. Moreover, like the ‘super-viking’ about whom he writes with verve, McDonald raids and trades with any number of national and supranational historiographies. The result is a success, and the two chapters on Man’s interactions with its neighbours make for particularly satisfying reading', Peter Crooks, Studia Hibernica (Spring 2010).