Durell's 1847 guidebook
1204 to Du Guesclin
- Effects of the Conquest of Normandy
- Character of King John
- The Islands escape subjugation
- The Norman proprietors lose their lands in Jersey
- Loyalty of the de Carterets
- Constitutions of King John
- Charters repeatedly granted by other Kings
- The Islands as neutral ports
- Frequent French Invasions
- Repulse of Du Guesclin from Gouray
- The reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V, uninteresting.
Loss of Normandy
A new era began for the Channel Islands with the beginning of the 13th century. We are now come to that highly important period when Normandy lost its national independence, and was again reduced to the form of a French province. That dismemberment was felt by England as a severe humiliation, and occasioned the most bitter national animosities, which caused almost interminable wars for almost 300 years. Nor did the chimerical projects of recovering the English continental provinces seem to have been abandoned till the accession of the house of Tudor in 1485.
It is not here our object to examine whether the loss of those territories, which were at a distance from the centre of the monarchy, and which could hardly have been defended from the attacks of a powerful and inimical nation, was not ultimately beneficial to Britain. But as to the islands, it was fortunate for them that they were not swallowed up in that general dismemberment; as that circumstance had the effect of strengthening their connection with England, and brought them at once within its more immediate protection, but without strictly incorporating them with Britain. That dismemberment gradually assimilated them to British views and feelings, and in course of time put them in possession of all the blessings that belong to British subjects, such as civil liberty, industry, wealth, and the protestant religion.
The character of King John belongs to history, and after so many ages it may be judged without the influence of fear or the prejudices of partiality. It would be unnecessary to enter into minute particulars, when it is well known that it was the most unfortunate, and the most degraded reign in all the annals of Britain. After having been an undutiful son, and a faithless brother, he usurped the crown over the children of a deceased elder brother.
The son, Prince Arthur, disappeared, and it is supposed was murdered, by the orders or the connivance of his unnatural uncle; and his sister, the Princess Eleanor of Brittany, was doomed to a perpetual imprisonment in the Castle of Bristol, where she lingered for 40 years till her death. Had such horrors existed in private life, what state of society would have tolerated such a monster? Such an offender would not have been suffered to exist; and history shows that tyrants, in almost every case, have not escaped the punishment which was due to their crimes. The King of France, who was the suzerain lord of John, took advantage of the indignation and the disaffection which those atrocities excited among his subjects.
John was three times cited to appear before the High Court of Parliament of the King of France, in his quality of Duke of Normandy, to answer to a charge of felony for the murder of his nephew. To such an indignity, and its consequent danger, he refused to submit, and the summons having been three times repeated, judgment was awarded against him for contumacy and parricide, in consequence of which his extensive dominions in France were ordered to be seized and reunited to that crown, as having been forfeited by his condemnation.
Philip Augustus, the King of France, was appointed to carry the sentence into execution, a commission which he gladly accepted, and to which his crooked policy had long been directed. The sentence considered as an act of that severe justice, to which the high as well as the low ought to be amenable, had been deservedly incurred, and if it had only reached the guilty sovereign personally, he would have fallen unpitied. But on the other hand, there can be no doubt that nothing can justify the defection of the subject to a foreign enemy, when such conduct would be productive of the greater evil of revolutionising a country, or subjecting it to a foreign yoke.
Philip was highly desirous of reducing Normandy, which, ever since it had been separated from France had given more trouble and uneasiness to that country than all its neighbours put together. He therefore lost no time to direct all his efforts to succeed in that enterprise; and here it cannot fail to be remarked, from the example of John, how weak and how wretched was that prince, who lost his best means of defence in the alienation of the love of his people.
The Normans had not yet degenerated from their ancient valour. No nation had ever been better trained to the use of arms, when on account of their vicinity to the French territory they and their ancestors had been kept in an almost continual state of warfare. They hated them as being their old and natural enemies, with whom they had had so many encounters during the whole of the long period they had been settled on the continent as a separate nation.
The spirit of disaffection was now, however, widely spread, and they suffered themselves to be an easy conquest to Philip. Some of the towns made a moderate resistance; but it was Rouen that stood out the longest. The greater part, however, opened their gates voluntarily to Philip, and received him within their walls as a deliverer. A change so sudden and so unexpected in the minds of men could only have been occasioned by hatred of the usurpation of their King, and of his cruel treatment of the helpless orphans of his departed brother. It would, however, have been wiser for the Normans to have resisted, and trusted that the reign of John would soon pass away, when a more virtuous sovereign would bring back things into their ancient channel, rather than have submitted to a fcreign power, to prevent a temporary usurpation, which would break down their ancient independence, and weigh them down under the galling yoke of the severest oppression. Thus happened the separation of Normandy from England, 137 years after the two countries had been united under one sovereign, by the decisive victory of Hastings, by William the Conqueror, and it became again a province of France, 312 years after it had been erected into an independent state.
Channel Islands not subjugated
It has always been thought extraordinary that the Channel Islands were not subjugated with the rest of John's dominions. It was not because they could have offered no effectual resistance, or because their sovereign could not have given them any assistance. Nor was in that age the naval superiority of England sufficiently established to have prevented an invasion. It is true that the islands were twice invaded during that reign, and that the invaders were as often repulsed by the bravery of the inhabitants, whose loyalty in the general defection of Normandy had been unshaken for their hereditary sovereign.
It is not, however, to be supposed that if King Philip had made any serious attack upon the islands, he would not have succeeded, considering their then defenceless state, from the scantiness of their resources, and the poverty of their population. Scarcely any memorials of those invasions of the islands have remained; and if they were at all seized by the enemy, it is equally evident that they were not permanently occupied.
All this may be granted without any disparagement to the honor or the loyalty of the inhabitants. Probably the islands owed their safety to their being of difficult access, and to their being thought of little value. Philip had too many objects of greater importance on which to fix his attention, and could not spare a sufficient force to succeed in an enterprise which would have repaid neither for the dangers, nor for the expenses to be incurred. Be that, however, as it may, the islands were preserved; and their isolation from Normandy linked them but the closer to their sovereign, and rendered them if possible still more desirous than ever of the continuance of their British connection.
As the result of this separation was that the Channel Islands would have in future to rely for protection on either of the two great neighbouring countries, they wisely made their election of Britain, from which have been derived so many beneficial consequences, which have been handed down unimpaired to the present generation. As they became English, they gradually acquired advantages, which they would have never gained as French; or rather they have been exempted from all the misfortunes which would have attended their connection with France, such as that of a long depression under a despotic government, which would have left them in their original poverty and insignificance, and made them the victims of religious thraldom and intolerant superstition. But above all, they have been enabled to escape from the terrible and sweeping vortex of the French revolution.
Several of the Norman proprietors had also lands in Jersey, which they lost by confiscation for having submitted to the Conqueror, and preferred to stay in the country where they had their most valuable estates. But among the few who had the courage to adhere to their sovereign, one noble family made the sacrifice of their patrimony in France, and settled on the lands which they still possessed in Jersey. That family was the de Carterets, the descendants of that Regnault de Carteret who went with Duke Robert to the first crusade.
Deeds of glory
For high deeds of glory and for local celebrity, through an uninterrupted continuation of ages, their name might compete with some of the most distinguished in the empire. It is, perhaps, a pleasing reflection to have sprung from a race of worthies, but that is of little value if their descendants are in their declension, and rely on a long ancestry, which seems, in fact, but to upbraid them with their own inferiority.
But, be that as it may, that family had the peculiar felicity of preventing, under King John, the islands from being seized by France, during the troubles of that prince, by repelling two distinct invasions within a few years. Again, at a later period, they delivered Jersey from the usurpation of the Count De Maulevrier; and at another time, already ancient, but not so remote, Sir George De Carteret adhered with inviolable fidelity to the two Charles in their adversity, nor yielded Elizabeth Castle to the enemy, till after a protracted siege, and after having been the last to surrender in all the British dominions. A rare example of merit and good fortune, and almost unexampled in any history, that the same family should have saved their country from foreign conquest twice; and again to have been "once" the last, whom dire necessity compelled to surrender their country to the galling yoke of a rigicidal usurpation.
King John visited the islands about the end of his reign, and is said to have been particularly careful in repairing its strongholds, and placing its various harbours and landing places in the best state of defence. Gorey Castle, or in a more recent time, Mont Orgueil Castle, was already a considerable fortress, which after the repairs and the improvements laid out at different times was till the invention of artillery deemed to be impregnable.
King John's Charter
That King who, under the intimidation of his English barons, had yielded to them the great Charter, granted during his stay in Jersey another Charter to its loyal inhabitants. As the former had been extorted by violence and compulsion, so this was the effect of approbation and gratitude on the part of the sovereign.
That charter has, in fact, been for the islanders what the great charter has been for the English. The Constitution of King John, as that charter is justly called in Jersey, have proved of the highest importance to its liberties, as being the foundation of all the rights, privileges, and immunities, which it enjoys to this day; the principal of which is, that it should be free from all foreign dependence, and own no subjection to any other power, or be under any other restriction than the immediate control of the crown, as administered by the Sovereign in Council. Hence the inhabitants are amenable but before a court in their own island, where they are to be judged by their own laws, and by native judges, whom on the authority of the charter, the freeholders themselves elect. The charter calls them sworn coroners, or jurats ; and, indeed, the popular election of coroners in England may probably be of the same origin, and be a remnant of the same usage. The constitution of Jersey was decidedly of a Norman origin, the enjoyment of which was confirmed to the inhabitants by that charter. It has affixed the seal to their nationality, which has enabled them to retain their language, manners, and customs; and by preventing them from being totally assimilated to the English, it has continued them, as it has been already said, to be the only feeble, but interesting remnant of the once celebrated Norman nation.
From this period all connection of the islands with Normandy ceased, which began to be considered both in war and peace, as a foreign country, and an integral part of France, with all those feelings of aversion and hostility, which till very lately had for so many ages existed between the two great countries. Henceforth the history of the islands becomes so much linked with that of England, that it is to be sought in that of the latter country.
A few general features have, however, distinguished the islands during that period. Through so many reigns, and under so many sovereigns of very different characters and pursuits, their loyalty to them has been zealous, sincere, and persevering; while their attachment to England has ever been, under all circumstances, unbroken, and undiminished.
Another feature in the history of the islands is that they have been the favoured subjects of the Kings of England; and that their charter, originally granted to them by King John, has been ratified, confirmed, and enlarged by most, if not all, their sovereigns till James II. On account of their exposed situation and liability to invasion, they obtained the most valuable privileges and immunities; the most important of which is that they are allowed to enjoy in every part of the empire all the rights of Englishmen, by being put on the same footing as natives, and not as aliens.
For a long time also the islands were by mutual consent considered as neutral ports, where the vessels of the belligerents had a free access to come to, and go from, without any hindrance or molestation for the purposes of trade. They were well situated for the grant of such a neutrality; and as they were small and poor, such a singular privilege did not then excite those naval or commercial jealousies, which made its continuance incompatible with a more advanced state of society. That principle still existed under Henry VIII, but how much longer it remained is unknown.
It is nevertheless remarkable that this neutrality was merely commercial, and did not extend beyond the facilities it gave for trading to the islands; for during the whole time that it continued the rage of hostility between England and France remained unmitigated, and the islands themselves had to repel some of the most critical invasions of their limited territories.
The third feature of the annals of those islands is the frequent invasions to which they have been exposed, and the perpetual state of alarm and anxiety in which they have ever been kept in time of war. Those invasions were, however, particularly frequent during the reigns of the Plantagenets; though it may be surmised that many of them were merely predatory incursions, which indeed inflicted severe injuries at the time, but which led to no permanent results. It is likewise very extraordinary, that the islands were not alternately taken and retaken, as might have been expected; but that in every instance the enemy were repulsed. It is, however, an exception that Guernsey was occupied by the French during three years in the early part of the reign of Edward III or 1338. It was granted by Philip de Valois to his son John, afterwards King of France, the same who was taken prisoner at Poitiers by Edward the Black Prince.
After passing over several of the invasions of the islands, under the successors of John, which, probably were not very important, and of which scarcely any memorials remain, till the reign of Edward III, about 1331, when the French sent a powerful fleet to cruise in the British Channel. Southampton was taken and pillaged; and it was then that the island of Guernsey fell into the hands of the enemy.
Jersey escaped from conquest by the obstinate resistance and loyalty of the inhabitants, whose invaders were at length compelled to raise the siege of the then impregnable fortress of Gorey Castle. Its Governor, Drogo de Barentin, one of the principal gentlemen of the island, fell in one of the attacks upon it. The name, though disguised, was probably the same as that of the noble family of the Barringtons in England, and had a common origin from the small town of Barenton in Normandy. The name of that noble family might have had also some reference to Barentin, a village near Rouen, through which the new railroad to Paris passes. He was succeeded in his command by Renaud de Carteret, a native of the island, and not inferior to the brave de Barentin in valour and capacity. The defence was continued by the chivalrous Renaud, till the siege was raised.
Part of the reign of Edward III was a series of victories and triumphs, and during that period the islands were in no danger. The Peace of Bretigny between the two crowns secured the connection of the islands with their natural Sovereign, the King of England. But unhappily the successes of Edward were not of long continuance, and his old age was chequered by the most fatal vicissitudes. The military affairs of France were directed by the Constable, du Guesclin, when hostilities were renewed some years after the peace of Bretigny. The Constable was one of the ablest and the most successful generals of his time, and soon recovered nearly all that Edward had acquired on the Continent during the late wars. The island of Jersey had then to sustain the most formidable invasion, which it had yet experienced.
Du Guesclin, after having taken several towns in Britany, among which was that of Brest, sailed from that port to invade Jersey with an army of 10,000 men. He was accompanied by the Duke of Bourbon, and some of the noblest of the chivalry of France. The whole of this invasion is fully described in the history of Britany by D'Argentre. It does not appear that the inhabitants attempted to oppose his landing. On the contrary, they left the enemy masters of the open country, and placed under God all their hopes of deliverance in the strength of their castle, and in the courage of the brave men, who had been entrusted with its defence.
Nothing was omitted on the part of the assailants, after the manner of carrying on sieges in that age. Some of the outer walls were thrown down by sap, but that did not affect the main body of the place. The castle was several times attempted to be carried by storm, but every time it ended in the disaster and repulse of the assailants, some of whose bravest men perished in those attempts. But though the besiegers could not take the castle, neither did this resistance oblige them to raise the siege. On the other hand, the besieged found famine to be growing among them, with all the despondence which arises from a protracted and hopeless resistance. At length both parties being wearied out with this kind of warfare, they came to a composition, by which it was stipulated that the besieged should surrender the castle, unless they should be succoured before Michaelmas day; that in the mean time there should be a suspension of hostilities, and that the Constable after having received hostages for the performance of the articles, should break up his camp and depart.
Such compositions were then frequent, the terms of which were generally executed with good faith. The practice seems indeed to have been introduced to save the honor of both parties, when they were equally tired with the length of a siege. The Constable in consequence returned to Britany, where he was soon after informed that an English fleet was out at sea, with the professed object of relieving the castle. This seasonable relief prevented the composition from being carried into effect, and the castle remained untaken. Thus ended that invasion, as one might say, most gloriously for Jersey; since its fortress had been perhaps the only one which had baffled all the efforts of that great and fortunate warrior, when every other place which had belonged to England on the Continent, and which he had attacked, had invariably fallen in the struggle.
The two succeeding reigns of Richard II and Henry IV, produced no events worthy to be mentioned, except a predatory invasion of Jersey during the latter reign, which was easily repulsed. Henry V having been informed of the great exploits, which had been performed in the defence of Gouray Castle, changed its name to that of Mount Orgueil, which it has retained ever since. He was succeeded by Henry VI, a weak and inoffensive, but misguided and unhappy prince. The latter part of his reign was particularly unfortunate, on account of the disputed claims to the crown by the rival houses of York and Lancaster. Though it does not appear that the islands took any active part in those civil wars, which desolated England at that period, the consequences of them, however, hurried on Jersey to the very verge of destruction.
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