Charles Lempriere (1714-1806) was appointed Lieut-Bailiff of Jersey at a time when John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville, was the latest of a line of non-resident Bailiffs forming part of the Carteret dynasty which controlled the island from 1665 to 1826, but lived in England and played little or no part in island affairs, appointing Lieut-Bailiffs to preside over the Royal Court and States on their behalf.
Charles Lempriere was himself one of the most prominent members of his own family which controlled island affairs over a prolonged period. Indeed, he was away from the island during the Battle of Jersey in his final year in office, because he was seeking to persuade the latest Carteret Bailiff Henry Frederick Carteret, 1st Baron Carteret, that he should be allowed to retire and that his son William Charles Lempriere should succeed him.
Charles Lempriere was born in 1714, the eldest son of Jurat Michel Lempriere, Seigneur of Diélament. At the age of 18 he married his first cousin, Elizabeth Corbet, only daughter of James Corbet, Seigneur of Rosel. James was already dead so Charles Lempriere became Seigneur of Rosel.
On 1 August 1741 he was sworn in as Solicitor-General and immediately became involved in a dispute with the Attorney-General Jean Le Hardy, over their respective roles and authority. The dispute continued for nearly nine years, when the Privy Council ruled that the Attorney-General was "the superior officer and the proper person to carry on all suits in which the King's Interest is concerned".
Instead of working as Solicitor-General in Jersey, Lempriere spent much of his time in London fighting his case and making influential friends, including the Bailiff, John Carteret Earl Granville. He was the latest in a distinguished line of Lemprieres. His great-grandfather Michel Lempriere was the Republican Bailiff during the Civil War, his grandfather Michel was a Jurat, as was his father, another Michel.
He was appointed Lieut-Bailiff to succeed Philippe Le Geyt, which led to major protests because he was not a Jurat, hitherto thought to be a prerequisite to be appointed the Bailiff's Lieutenant. Lord Granville refused to revoke his appointment and the situation was resolved by his election as Jurat. He held office for 31 years and was the de facto civil leader of the island during that period.
His father-in-law James Corbet and a first cousin were both Jurats, his brother Philippe was appointed Attorney-General in 1758 and when two brothers-in-law joined the Jurats bench in 1761 and 1762 the family's control over island politics was almost absolute. Charles Lempriere became increasingly autocratic and increasingly unpopular.
Members of the de Carteret family resident in Jersey began to co-ordinate opposition to the Lemprieres and in 1769 a mob from the east of the island stormed into the Royal Court when the Assize d'Heritage was sitting, demanding a catalogue of reforms. The event was described by Advocate Poingdestre:
- "A great number of people armed with clubs forced their way into the Court, threatening the Magistrates that, if they did not comply with their demands, they would not let them go, lifting their clubs from time to time, and striking on the benches: and, notwithstanding the Rioters were granted every demand, they seemed not yet satisfied, but broke into the inner Court with such rage and fury that this deponent did not expect the Court to escape with their lives".
The mob's demands, which included a reduction in the price of corn, currency revaluation, abolition of Seigneural rights and release of prisoners were conceded by the Court, under duress, but unrest continues and, after retreating to Elizabeth Castle with his Jurats, Lempriere went to London with his brother and two Jurats, where the Privy Council ordered the reversal of the concessions, and decided to send a detachment of Royal Scots under Colonel Bentinck to restore order. The Colonel soon discovered that there was good reason for much of the public discontent and eventually those involved received the King's Pardon.
Lempriere's powers began to wane as his brother-in-law lost his post as Receiver-General (the collector of the King's revenues), his brother resigned as Attorney-General and left the island, and his cousin Moyse Corbet, who had joined the opposition, was appointed Lieut-Governor in 1771. Pamphlets began to appear demanding political reforms and the island entered what was to become a period of bitter party politics.
Chief among Lempriere's opponents was Jean Dumaresq, who would eventually become Lieut-Bailiff. After he returned to Jersey from university Dumaresq was friendly with the Lempriere family and it was thought that he would marry Lempriere's daughter, but the two progressively fell out, to the extent that as the political divide in Jersey deepened, the two factions became known as the Charlots (after Charles Lempriere) and the Jeannots (after Jean Dumaresq). The latter party soon became known as the Magots.
Lempriere began to lose ground as Magot supporters won elections for Constable and Jurats and he decided in 1781 that the time had come to quit, providing his son, William Charles, could succeed him as Lieut-Bailiff. Thus the two were out of the island during the Battle of Jersey. Charles Lempriere continued to have considerable influence behind the scenes as his son succeeded him, and then died before him in 1790, at which point power switched to the Magots with Jean Dumaresq's appointment as the next Lieut-Bailiff.
Charles Lempriere and Elizabeth Corbet had four sons, Charles, William Charles, Thomas and Philippe, and a daughter Sophie. He died in 1806 at the age of 92.