Bailiff orders a duel

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Bailiff orders a duel


When the Seigneur of St Ouen, Philippe de Carteret, was falsely accused of treason, his wife had to flee the island to persuade King Henry VII to halt a one-sided duel which would probably have cost her husband his life. These two accounts of the saga date from the 19th Century

French account

Story taken from Les miettes de l'histoire (Crumbs of history - historical and legendary sketches relating chiefly to the island of Jersey) by Auguste Vacquerie, 1863 (Pagnerre, Paris)

Richard Harliston: appointed Captain of the Channel Islands by Edward IV - his daughter Marguerite Harliston married Philippe de Carteret

Philippe de Carteret: lord of the manor of St Ouen

Matthew Baker: appointed Captain of the Channel Islands by Henry VII in place of Harliston

Roger Le Boutillier: previously secretary to Philippe de Carteret, who sacked him; took service with Matthew Baker

Matthew Le Hardi: Bailiff

Parchment in road

A meeting of the Royal Court took place at St Helier, to which, among others, went Philippe de Carteret, Matthew Baker, Roger Le Boutillier; they met on the way there; Le Boutillier took from the path a parchment, which he suggested de Carteret had dropped; Philippe had no memory of any such parchment.

Philippe was in a gay mood, and took little notice of those around him since just two days previously Marguerite had given birth to their twelfth child - although she was only 28 years old - a son.

At the Royal Court Philippe de Careteret was accused of having written and sealed the parchment recovered by Le Boutillier - a treasonable letter, addressed to Philippe's father-in-law Richard Harliston, then in Flanders, and out of favour with the King; which he denied. He was nonetheless convicted.

Duel ordered

Philippe de Carteret requested the right to "God's Justice" by the sword, but refused to fight the only man who took up the challenge, Roger Le Boutillier, whom Philippe accused of forgery (of Philippe's signature, theft and use of his seal). However, the Bailiff ordered him to accept the duel.

As Governor, Matthew Baker closed the island to all sea-traffic until after the duel; then, fearing royal intervention, embarked for England.

Although she had only just given birth, Marguerite, with two servants, embarked secretly on a small vessel and went to Guernsey and William Beauvoir, Jurat of Guernsey and a sea-captain, who agreed to take her to England in his own vessel. Two days later they were no further than Aurigny due to heavy seas and winds. Marguerite ordered William to put to sea again; at midday the wind turned and twenty-four hours later they were before the harbour of Poole - where they saw Matthew Baker on the quayside (he had had the same ill seas and wind, had been blown back to France, and only just reached England).

Suddenly a hail-storm began, hail the size of small pebbles. Everyone on the quayside took cover. Marguerite and her two servants came out of hiding, went quickly to Mr Havilland of Poole who provided them with horses; the four galloped off to London. They reached Salisbury at night-fall, too late to enter the city, fed their horses thanks to a peasant, and continued on their way, despite the fatigue of their mounts. Not recognising, in the night, the next city as Winchester, Marguerite got people out of their beds, and discovered she had mistaken the way, was going towards Oxford, had to return back; believing they had at last reached Winchester at dawn - she discovered her mistake again, they were back at Salisbury.

Fresh horses

With four fresh horses they set out again, but William Beauvoir, no horseman, gave up. Reaching Winchester Marguerite went to the Bishop's palace (he was de Carteret’s friend and well-liked by the King). The Bishop was in London. Mounted on fresh, strong horses, Marguerite and her two servants set out for Guilford. One servant fell out before reaching that town; the other, near Kingston, fell to the ground. Marguerite continued on.

The evening was drawing in, Marguerite just managed to enter London before the drawbridge was lifted, and went straight to the Bishop of Winchester, who was lodging in the King's palace and at supper. She begged him to take her immediately to the King, stating that if she did not go directly, her husband would die.

Henry VII was in good humour: he had received news of the French which delighted him - they had had to return back across the Alps, and more especially, the leading French nobles, in their homage to the Neapolitan women, had contracted an illness theretofore unknown in France, and which was to spread throughout that country. Had it been otherwise the King would not have excused the Bishop for presenting a woman in such a dusty and disordered state.

At the King's feet

Marguerite threw herself at the King's feet, recounted the events leading to her husband's detention and the impending duel. She was firm and convincing, explaining she had had to escape from a closed island of Jersey; Matthew Baker, who was present, admitted his fault.

The King dictated, signed and sealed with green wax an order preventing the duel and setting free Philippe de Carteret. The King offered to send a trusted messenger with the order, but Marguerite insisted on going herself. After only agreeing to sup with the Bishop first, she once more set out on the best horse in the stable, accompanied by two guides so that she should not again lose her way. The Bishop rode with her to London Bridge, which he had lowered for her to pass.

She had needed five days to reach London from Jersey; there only remained three for the return journey.

On the morning appointed for the duel, no-one had returned from London. Roger Le Boutillier had spent the time carousing in the manor-house, while Philippe de Carteret had been in a dungeon with little or no food, light, air. He emerged as a ghost of himself. The two men were armed and taken each to the end of a field. All the inhabitants of Jersey were there, on the grass and the hillside. The Bailiff gave the order "Go to it" but was not heard since just then a clamour broke out by the hill. A mad horse with some woman on his back broke open the crowd, rolled down the hill, stepped over the people, pushed aside the guards and soldiers, jumped into the field - and they set themselves between the two opponents.

The woman on horseback was the lady of St Ouen.

The King's order

The Bailiff attempted to send her away. She looked at the crowd only, and, holding out the royal parchment, cried out "No combat! Free the lord of St Ouen! See here the order of the King, Henry VII".

The crowd, delighted, ran into the field - when suddenly the ground gave way under them: Roger Le Boutillier had had holes dug in the ground on de Carteret’s side, and turfed over, so that Philippe would have been easily killed.

Matthew Baker did not return to Jersey; both he and the Bailiff were removed from office. The Royal Council decided that thereafter the Bailiff would no longer be appointed by the Captain of the Island, but by the King himself.

Roger Le Boutillier went to join Matthew Baker in England, who received him ill.

This was the last such duel in Jersey. Justice by the sword (God's justice) was given up for ever.

The Bishop of Winchester reflected that, despite all her efforts and courage, her love of her husband, on another day the King might not have been so well disposed towards Marguerite de Carteret and her cause; that she perhaps owed her success to the ladies of Naples and their gift to the nobles of France...


Account from Payne's Armorial of Jersey

Ward of the Crown

Philippe de Carteret, Seigneur of St Ouen, succeeded his grandfather, and was for 18 years a ward of the Crown, as a minor. An ancient manuscript records that, on his coming of age, alder trees grew in the hall of the manor, owing to the neglect and covetousness of his guardians. He married Margaret, only daughter and heiress of Richard Harleston, Vice-Admiral in the English service, by whom he had 20 sons, who were presented to the King on one day, and a daughter — Mabel, wife of Drouet Lempriere, Seigneur of Trinity.

Margaret De Carteret was fated to become the heroine of a tragedy the details of which surpass the boldest imaginings of fiction. Her husband was in imminent danger of falling a victim to a foul and deeply-laid plot, devised against his life and honour by Matthew Baker, sometime Governor of Jersey, in the reign of Henry VII. The Seigneur of St Ouen had incurred the resentment of the Governor by his bold and manful remonstrances touching the great abuse of power exercised by this tyrannical official, and the heavy and exorbitant taxes which he cruelly and unjustly levied on the inhabitants.

Forged letter

In concert with a creature of his own, whom the Seigneur had saved from the gallows, Baker caused a forged letter, "written by his criminal underling in the name of De Carteret, and purporting to be an offer to betray the island to France, to be presented to him as he journeyed, attended with his suite, from the Castle of Mont Orgueil to St Helier. Fired with assumed indignation, Baker hurried to the Courthouse, and immediately laid this impudent forgery before the Bailly, who, himself to gratify a mean enmity against this noble and loyal islander, caused him to be incarcerated in a damp and solitary cell, and so scantily supplied with food as to subdue his energy and bodily vigour.

The base associate of Baker, on the other hand, maintained his accusation, and, as an easy means of depriving his adversary (purposely starved) of life, demanded trial by combat. This challenge St Ouen refused to accept, by reason of the low birth and criminal disrepute of his cowardly antagonist. He was, however, at length compelled to submit to this degrading condition, and lists for this unequal combat a l'outrance were prepared on Grouville Common, which was appointed to take place on the eve of the feast of St Laurence.

But before the last act of this wicked plot could be enacted, Margaret de Carteret had determined to make one grand effort for her husband's deliverance. So, secretly leaving the island, in the depth of winter, and but four days after her confinement, in an open boat, she directed her solitary attendant to steer in the direction of Guernsey; for Baker, the better to develope his plans, had strictly forbidden any vessel to leave the island, except by his express permission.

Journey to Poole

Arrived at Guernsey, she took refuge at the house of William De Beauvoir, one of the Jurats of that island, who, being a man of courage and decision, and a firm friend of the house of St Ouen, himself conducted her in his own ship to Poole, whence she rode in all haste to Salisbury, where Henry VII, at that time was holding his court. And as if by the manifest interposition of Providence to bring to nought these nefarious designs, she left the presence-chamber in possession of a warrant, issued by the Sovereign himself under the Great Seal, restoring her husband to his liberty and honours, as Baker entered it to attempt to justify his villany.

And, the lists being examined on her return to Jersey, which took place on the eve before the day of combat, the purpose of the confederates was fully brought to light by the discovery of numerous and deep pits studding the arena, which, known and avoided by his adversary, would have rendered the death of the Seigneur of St Ouen all but certain. For his share in this disgraceful transaction, Baker was deprived of his post; and effectually to check the abuse of power by, and pliant subserviency to, future Governors, the Baillies and Deans of the island, from this period, ceased to be nominated by them, and since have held their respective offices directly from the Crown.

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