The Forgotten Kingdom? The Kingdom of Man and the Isles at the Manx Museum

By Ben Miller | 27 November 2012
A photo of an ancient book with black ink on handwritten parchment under blue lights
The Chronicles of the Kings of man and the Isles and the skeleton of King Olaf II have been loaned to Manx National Heritage by the British Library for the new exhibition at the Manx Museum© Manx National Heritage

Exhibition Preview: The Forgotten Kingdom? The Kingdom of Man and the Isles (1000 – 1300 AD), Manx Museum, Isle of Man, until March 9 2013

Telling tales of grudge battles, indulgent Kings and Queens, haunted chieftains and dastardly politicians, a giant pair of storybooks form the centrepiece of this show, capitalising on the Isle of Man’s place as the seat of power in the powerful sea kingdom once formed between the Outer Hebrides, Skye, the Inner Hebrides, Argyll and the Irish Sea.

You can almost smell the sea air raging along the vital trade route, symbolised by symbols of wealth and religious power. The most notable are six of the Lewis Chessmen – a set of exquisitely carved, rare chess pieces found on the Isle of Lewis.

“It tells of a time when we were the capital of a maritime kingdom,” reflects Tony Pass, of the museum, calling the opening of the show “a landmark occasion”.

“This is a significant but so far obscure period of our Island story. Trade brought wealth, and wealth supported sophisticated art and skilled craftsmanship.”

Pass wants visitors to buy an accompanying series of “iconic” tiny works of art: a set of stamps, specially issued to depict the Chronicles and Chessmen as part of the adventure, cost 41p, which he justifiably describes as a “trivial sum” for such mementoes.

Inside the cases, Viking swords and silver coins represent more lucrative spoils of a turbulent past.

“It is thanks to the Viking legacy that we uniquely have our own legislature, Tynwald, and our own laws and government,” explains Steve Rodan, the man who bears the sterling title of The Honourable Speaker of the House of Keys.

“The Kingdom deserves to be remembered. Manx National Heritage have done an excellent job in reviving that ancient memory for the public and academics, who should know better.

“They have put together a superb exhibition.”

Rodan’s words might summon some of the passion behind local history, but it’s also a playful prospect for kids.

An area specially designed for children features handmade outfits designed by local costumier Penny Nuttall, and adults can also try them on in a latter-day tribute to our fearsome Norse predecessors.

  • Open 10am-5pm (closed Sunday, December 25 and 26, January 1). Admission free. Follow Manx National Heritage on Twitter @manxheritage.

More pictures:

A photo of four children standing in a line in a museum wearing Viking costumes
The children's area – King, Queen, Knight and Berzerker. The costumes have been made by Penny Nuttall, also known as The Uncommon Costumier© Manx National Heritage
A photo of two men in suits carrying a giant stamp showing a carved Norse chessman
A giant stamp accompanying the exhibition features The Bishop chess piece© Manx National Heritage
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