Helier de Carteret (1480-1561) - 2

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From A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey by George Balleine

Helier de Carteret (1480-1561) who became Bailiff of Jersey, was the fourth of the 20 sons of Philippe de Carteret, Seigneur of St Ouen and Margaret Harliston. His elder brother, Edouard, became Jurat in 1304, a younger brother, Pierre, in 1503.

Early years at Court

Nothing is heard of Helier until he was 33, but since in 1518 the Chronicler says that he "had for a long time been familiarly acquainted" with the Duke of Norfolk and Sir William Compton, we may assume that some of his early years had been spent at Court.

In 1502 Sir Hugh Vaughan became Governor of Jersey. He was a Welshman of low birth, originally a tailor, who had attracted the notice of Henry VII before he became King, and had risen to be Gentleman Usher. He was one of the worst Governors Jersey ever had. The Chronicler writes:

"He became so lecherous that he carried off young girls by force, so that they dared not walk the roads alone for fear of him. Moreover, if he claimed any man's land, he would summon him to produce his title-deeds, and, when he saw them, would break the seals, and tear the deeds in pieces. He beat and belaboured certain persons, so that they almost died".

These charges are confirmed by contemporary evidence. In 1513 Thomas Lempriere, the Bailiff, went to England to complain to the King. Vaughan then fortified his position by alliance with the de Carterets, taking two of the brothers, Richard and Jean, into his service, and offering Helier the post of Bailiff. He sent him to the all-powerful Cardinal Wolsey with a gift of Normandy cloth to make sheets for the Cardinal's servants, and a letter stating that the Governor had appointed him Bailiff.

In May 1514 the deposition of Lempriere was confirmed by the King, and the appointment of de Carteret as his successor. But in 1515 a Commission of Inquiry came to Jersey, two English lawyers, who could not understand Jersey-French, and were easily hoodwinked by Vaughan and his officials. Their report found Lempriere guilty of various irregularities and slurred over most of the Governor's misdoings. "Thus", says the Chronicler, "by the help of the Seigneur of St Ouen and his brothers, all was quieted for the moment".

But not for long. In 1515 Drouet Lempriere, who had married de Carteret's sister Mabel, inherited Trinity Manor on the death of his uncle. Vaughan suddenly claimed that the Manor was forfeit to the Crown for treason, because 60 years before, at the time of the French occupation, Lempriere's uncle, Thomas de St Martin, had sided with the French. He ignored the fact that in 1480 de St Martin had received the King's pardon.

Swords drawn in Court

The case came before the Royal Court, which, because of the plague in St Helier, sat in Jurat Payne's house near Grouville Church. When the Bailiff was about to give judgement against the Governor's claim, in the words of the Chronicler, "Vaughan put his hand on his sword said, “if you do not decide in my favour, I will plunge this into your belly”. The Bailiff sprang to his feet and ordered the doors to be opened, and, drawing his own sword, grasped Sir Hugh's wrist firmly, and told him that, if he moved, he would be a dead man.

Then the people rushed in and the Bailiff gave judgement. The Captain, seeing himself frustrated, wanted to depose the Bailiff, but the Bailiff told him firmly that he held his office of the King. The Captain said: 'Though it cost me my all, down to my shirt, I will turn you out".

The case now had to go before the Privy Council, and de Carteret hurried to Greenwich, where the Court was staying, and told his story to his friends, the Duke of Norfolk and Sir William Compton. By all accounts he was at this time a most attractive person. The Chronicler describes him as "very handsome, fascinating, and extremely eloquent, good-natured and large-hearted, invariably cheerful and amusing".

Henry VIII

He made many friends, and before long attracted the notice of Henry VIII by his skill with cross-bow and arquebus. The king was enormously pleased with an arquebus that de Carteret invented which would fire five bullets without reloading. (The gun is probably the one now in the Armoury of the Tower of London marked "Early XVI Century").

Henry gave him a post in the Royal Household as Sewer of the Chamber (a Sewer's duty was to arrange the seating of guests), and he secured good positions for three of his brothers, Guillaume in the service of the Princess Mary, Pierre in the service of Cardinal Wolsey, and Jean in the household of Sir Thomas Compton.

Jean soon distinguished himself by his athletic skill. He could clear 25 feet at the long jump and, when the Emperor visited Henry, and a contest was staged between his followers and those of the King, Jean secured the victory for England by winning the prize both for running and jumping.

Among other friends whom Helier made was William Sulyard, the distinguished lawyer, who was Master of the Court of Requests, and through him he secured Chambers in Lincoln's Inn. The entry runs: "20 January 1519. Helyer de Carteret alias Senton (ie St Ouen) was admitted, and pardoned all vacations and offices: he may be at repasts: he shall not be charged with grand repasts nor with pensions, unless he have chambers within the Inn, and then he shall pay for the time and otherwise not: he gave a hogshead of wine."

This means that he was a privileged person, who only paid for such meals as he ate, and for rooms when he actually occupied them.

To this early part of his life in London belongs the story in Brevint's Note Book: "Edouard De Carteret was the son of a young English lady with whom Helier de Carteret, Bailiff, slept on the night before he should have married her. Then he left her, and mounting his horse very early in the morning, went and married another lady in another county. The former lady sent him the said Edouard, after he was weaned, and brokenhearted by the insult, never wished to marry, and died shortly after." The name of neither lady seems to have been preserved.

Cardinal Wolsey

At Court de Carteret remained in favour. In December 1521 the King confirmed his appointment as Bailiff and in March 1522 granted him for life the Manor of St Germain in Jersey. But what did not go well was the business which had brought him to London. Wolsey was now at the height of his power, and the wily Welshman, Vaughan, knew that Wolsey was bribable. This is not a libel on the part of the de Carteret Chronicler, for in the Record Office is a letter of 1522 from Vaughan about the case, in which he mentions that he is sending Wolsey 500 gallons of Anjou wine and that there is more to follow.

Influenced partly by the bribes, and partly perhaps by the belief that the longer de Carteret was out of the Island, the less trouble there would be in it, the Cardinal adopted the simple expedient of always adjourning de Carteret's case for consideration next term. In this way he dragged out the suit for nearly 12 years.

Meanwhile Vaughan was not idle. In July 1522 he started proceedings in Chancery to annul the grant of the Manor of St Germain. It was a bold step to challenge a direct grant from the King, but he hoped by protracting the case to hold up a slice of de Carteret's income. The latter, however, slipped over to Jersey, and collected the arrears of rent, before Vaughan knew he was there.

The Governor then cut off the Bailiff's official income by appointing a series of Acting Bailiffs (Juges pour l'offico de Bailli) "thill the case shall be decided". He secured the support of Dean Mabon. In July 1522 he sent Mabon to Wolsey with a letter stating that the Dean's views could be accepted as those of the island. In June 1524 Vaughan forwarded a petition from eight Jurats, sealed with the Dean's seal, asking that de Carteret be dismissed from office. In August Mabon and Jean Lempriere of Rozel were appointed to act together as Bailiffs.

From time to time de Carteret paid surprise visits to Jersey. On one of these, according to the Chronicler, Jasper Pen, the Acting Bailiff, tried to assassinate him in the Market Place. There was certainly a fight with drawn swords, and Pen only escaped by running into a house and barring the door.

At last de Carteret lost patience. On the closing day of Summer Term 1528, when his Counsel rose, and Wolsey as usual called the next case, he shouted: "I demand justice". "The Cardinal", says the Chronicler, "pretended to be deaf, and went on with the other case : but the Bailiff cried at the top of his voice, 'I demand justice or at least some show of justice'. He made such a noise that the Cardinal could no longer pretend not to hear.

So he said, ‘Justice! If you had justice, you would be punished as a man who has wrought much harm to his country.' The Bailiff replied 'You do wrong to charge me with things you cannot prove'. The Cardinal rose in a rage, and said to the Lords of the Council, 'Did ever you see such insolence? We can guess how he lords it in his own land, if he is so malapert here'. And he called for the Keeper of the Fleet Prison.

The Bailiff answered boldly, `Before you send me there. I beg you tell me why. Is it for demanding justice? You have kept me waiting in this city by your command for three years and more, and I have not had a hearing. You have cut off my livelihood. My money is spent. I am a poor gentleman with a wife and children, whom I cannot support as I should. Have I not good cause to protest?' Everyone marvelled that he spoke so stoutly but the Cardinal snapped back, 'You are a freak (homme extraordinaire) and quite unfit to rule'.

The Bailiff replied: `You cannot prove that'. The Cardinal said, `I will show it you, sealed with the island seal', (referring evidently to the petition with Mabon's seal). The Bailiff retorted: 'That you cannot do, for I have the seal in my keeping', (He had brought the seal with him to England, and in spite of much pressure, had refused to part with it). The Cardinal knew not what to answer: so he suspended the sitting in a rage".

But the outburst had done good. De Carteret's friends pulled strings behind the scenes and on the first day of Michaelmas Term his case was heard, and he was restored to his position as Bailiff and his manor.

Return to Jersey

In 1529 he returned to the island, and made his home at Handois, the manor-house on the fief of St Germain. He remained Bailiff for the next 30 years. Wolsey fell in 1529 and Wolsey's protégé, Vaughan, did not long survive him. A batch of fresh petitions against him was sent to the Privy Council. A new Commission of Inquiry was appointed, and he was recalled.

With all subsequent Governors de Carteret seems to have worked well; but in those hot-tempered days trouble was always simmering. On 18 January 1556 he wrote to Cromwell: "I hear complaints are made against me, the causes whereof I do not know". In 1559 he put himself seriously in the wrong in a quarrel with Nicolas Hue, Constable of St Mary. The Constable, in the course of his duty, asked de Carteret how much he was contributing toward the new cannon. De Carteret resented this, and summoned Hue to St Ouen, where, according to evidence given in Court, he "struck, beat, and maimed him in an inhuman manner".

The Privy Council ordered a Commission of Inquiry, which censured de Carteret in the strongest language. In the same year he secured the post of Viscount for his illegitimate son, Edouard, but he a few months later was arrested for murder. As five of the Jurats were his accusers, the trial was eventually transferred to the Star Chamber. The final Judgement has been lost, but, since Edouard was not hanged, and in 1551 was appointed Solicitor-General, we may assume that he was acquitted.

But the case caused great scandal in the island and, as the Bailiff supported his son, many of the Jurats, who had been friends of the murdered man, refused to work with him. In 1546 the Privy Council sent a stern rebuke to the Jurats complaining that the work of the Court had been thrown out of gear, "partly because many of you refuse to be present, and partly because you refuse to declare your minds". "His Grace's commandment is that henceforth everyone of you shall on reasonable notice from the Bailiff show yourselves diligent and attendant upon him. You will answer for the contrary at your peril".


When the Reformation came, de Carteret early threw in his lot with the Protestant side. In 1548 we find him subscribing two quarters of wheat to support two Huguenot ministers who were brought over from France "to preach the Word of God purely to the people". On his shoulders as Bailiff fell the task of enforcing the religious changes ordered by the Government of Edward VI.

In 1548 the Rectors were summoned to bring their books and rent-rolls for inspection. In 1549 the Royal Court ordered the arrest of "all maintainers of the superstitions of the Bishop of Rome". Injunctions then followed one another thick and fast. All endowments for Masses, Obits, Lights, or Fraternities were to be confiscated for the Crown. All churchyard and wayside crucifixes to be destroyed. All images to be removed from the churches. All censers and other superstitious ornaments to be seized. All church bells, except one for each church, to be sold.

Twice de Carteret received letters of thanks from the Council for his zeal. This made things awkward when Mary came to the throne and the Catholic ritual was restored. But with the support of Hugh Paulet, the Governor, de Carteret kept his post, and on one occasion firmly resisted the claims of the Church.

In 1555 a priest named Richard Averty, not a Rector but an official of the Dean's Court, was arrested for murdering an illegitimate baby, of which he was the father. The Dean fought hard for his life, claimed Benefit of Clergy, and demanded that he should be tried and punished by the Bishop of Coutances; but de Carteret and the Jurats stood firm, and he was hanged.

In Jersey in those days even the Bailiff was not safe from assault. On New Year's Day he had been dining with Sir Amias Paulet, the Lieut-Governor. As he left the Castle, he tossed a crown to the Master Porter for the garrison. Cook, the Castle caterer, grumbled: "That is not enough".

That night, with four soldiers, he went to the Bailiff's house, and roused him from sleep, crying: "Urgent news from England! A letter from the Lieutenant". When the door was opened, they rushed into de Carteret's bedroom with the highwayman's threat: "Your money or your life". He took things coolly. "There is enough for us all", he said, "Take what I have. I shall not starve. I shall get more later from my rentes". They helped themselves to his gold chain, some silver cups, and five hundred crowns, and compelled a Bouley Bay boatman to take them to Portbail. Here, however, they were arrested, brought back to Jersey, and hanged.

As a Protestant he was a Bible reader, and he came across the proclamation which Samuel made before he laid down his Judgeship. He determined to follow this example. In 1557, when he was 77, he ordered the Constables to proclaim in every parish in the island that, if he had wronged anyone during his long tenn of office, that person had only to call at his house, and he would compensate him.


Of his first wife's children we hear only of Margaret, who married first Clement Dumaresq, Seigneur of Samares, and later her cousin, Helier De Carteret, Seigneur of St Ouen. In his old age the Bailiff married again, Jehanne Colles, a cousin of Sir Hugh Paulet. By her he had a son, who was christened Hugh after his godfather, the Governor. For the boy's sake the old man of 80 undertook another voyage to England to beg from the Queen that the grant of his manor might be extended to himself and his heirs, instead of only for life. He crossed with Sir Hugh Paulet to Lyme Regis in October 1560, spent some time with Sir Hugh in his home at Hinton St George, Somerset, then rode on to spend Christmas with his wife's brother, Humphrey Colles, then went to London, where again he was Sir Hugh's guest in his town house in Clerkenwell.

He was apparently successful in his mission, for later Brevint tells us that Hugh, son of Helier De Carteret, the Bailiff, sold Handois to his cousin Helier of St Ouen, as he had been appointed one of the Keepers of the Queen's Forests, and no longer wished to live in Jersey. But the effort cost the old man his life. He caught fever, and died in Sir Hugh's house, and was buried in St John's Clerkenwell, on 19 February 1561.

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