History of the Channel Islands - Post-Civil War

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The Civil War

In 1551 the fortification of the castle in St Aubin's Bay, Jersey began, partly paid for by the confiscation of all but one of the bells of each parish church. In 1594 Paul Ivy was engaged to fortify and extend the castle. The completed enterprise was named by the Island’s new Governor, Sir Walter Raleigh, Fort Isabella Bellissima after the aged Queen.

Elizabeth Castle, as it became known, was later enlarged by Sir Philip de Carteret in works completed in 1636. The castle having been secured by the royalist Sir Philip provided the ideal base for Prince Charles when exiled during the Civil War. Sir Philip had fought hard to secure the island for the Royalists against disaffected Militia detachments but had died in August 1643. It was his nephew, Sir George, who finally supressed the Parliamentarians in Jersey.

In April 1646 the Prince of Wales sailed from the Isles of Scilly to Jersey arriving in three ships with over 300 retainers to be cared for at the castle by Sir George de Carteret. Sir George spent nearly £15,000 on supporting the prince on this visit alone. The prince stayed for two and a half months before moving on to France. Some of the prince's party remained at the castle including Lord Capel and Lord Clarendon and it was from Elizabeth Castle that Lord Clarendon wrote his History of the Great Rebellion.

On 17 February 1649 Prince Charles was proclaimed King in the Royal Square by the island's royalists led by the Viscount, Laurens Hamptonne, Jersey being the first place that he was so proclaimed. In September 1649 Charles and his brother, later James II, returned to the island for a period of five months with their now penniless retainers. They were again cared for at the Castle and largely financed by Sir George.

It was during this stay in February 1650 that Prince Charles granted the Smith islands off the coast of Virginia to Sir George de Carteret who renamed these islands New Jersey. However the area now comprising the state of New Jersey was not given to De Carteret until after the Restoration. A letter in the King's hand addressed to Sir George survives at St Ouen's Manor, the de Carteret seigneural seat.

This reads I can never forget the good services you have done to my father and me and if God bless me you shall find I do remember them to the advantage of you and yours .

After Charles's defeat at Worcester, Cromwell became exasperated by the royalist resistance in the island and the attacks on his passing shipping by pirates based there. In 1651 Cromwell dispatched Admiral Blake and Colonel Heane to take the island with parliamentary forces from Guernsey led by Major Harrison.

Sir George de Carteret's force was no match, and he was forced to retreat to Elizabeth Castle. The Castle was held under siege for 50 days but in a final attack a cannon ball from the massive cannon based in the grounds of the St Helier town church destroyed the castle’s food store and ammunition dump together with the 12th century Abbey of St Helier. Sir George in a final act of desperation attempted to despatch a ship laden with valuables including much of his silver plate and two large chargers in an effort to hire mercenary troops from France. The ship became stranded by the tide and at night was set alight by the Parliamentarians in a fire that destroyed the cargo. Sir George, after consulting Charles in Paris, was forced to surrender, however not before he had negotiated favourable terms for himself allowing the retention of his estates and wealth including the remainder of his silver plate.


On his restoration Charles II granted to Sir George manors in Cornwall and Devon, the province that became the present New Jersey, one sixth of the Bahamas and one eighth of the state of Carolina. Sir George was also rewarded with appointments as Privy Councillor, Vice Chamberlain of the King's household and Treasurer of the Navy. It was in that last capacity that Sir George later, as a member of Parliament, gained some notoriety. He was accused of defrauding the Naval treasury of some £300,000 . As a result of the King’s direct intervention this was never proved, although Sir George was stripped of many of his posts. He died in 1680.

In 1643 the King in recognition of Jersey's loyalty, presented to the island a magnificent silver-gilt mace which is carried before the Bailiff as a measure of his royal authority (see Chapter 6).

In Guernsey the story of the Civil War period was very different. Sir Thomas Leighton, Governor (1570-1610) had found the Calvinist beliefs of the islanders an offence to his Anglican principles. In voicing his views and in his over zealous efforts on behalf of the King in matters of tax collection and administration, he had made both the King and the office of Governor most unpopular.

Leighton's successor, Sir Peter Osborne, did little better to secure the support of the islanders and, at the outbreak of hostilities, retreated to Castle Cornet. In March 1643, when Parliament in England replaced the King's appointees with commissioners, Osborne's response was to bombard the town of St Peter Port with cannon fire. It is estimated that over 30,000 cannon balls fell on the town in the next few years and, as a result, most of the buildings were destroyed.

The occupants of the castle were supplied throughout the Civil War by Sir George de Carteret from Jersey, it being noted by Chevalier, the diarist of the day, that the supplies included bacon, salted fish, beer, wine, biscuits, tobacco, wheat, sweet oil and clothing. However the conditions in Castle Cornet were terrible and they surrendered on 19th December 1651 on hearing of de Carteret’s capitulation in Jersey four days earlier.

On the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 Guernsey was in considerable danger of losing its ancient privileges and concessions, however the representations on behalf of the island by those Guernsey families who had remained loyal to the King were accepted and the privileges continued.

The Militia Forces

The origins of the Militia forces in Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark probably lie in the seigneurs' duty to provide men for the King in time of war. The 1248 Enquiry into the Customs of the Channel Islands, however, established that there was no obligation on the part of the islanders as to military service out of the islands except for a requirement to accompany the King in person and, as Duke of Normandy, to recover England.

The Militia forces were initially parochially based but by the 17th century the regional regiments had been formed. In 1660 the Jersey force numbered 4,000 foot soldiers and 200 cavalry and by 1730 five Jersey regiments had evolved. In 1660 the Guernsey forces consisted of 13 Companies which by 1755 comprised 54 officers and 2,000 men. By 1800 Guernsey's forces consisted of 3,600 serving men comprised into four infantry regiments and four artillery regiments. In 1831 The islands' Militia Forces were all styled Royal to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Jersey. Men from the majority of local families were conscripted into the Militia and proudly served their regiment. The local forces were backed up by English regiments stationed in the islands. In Jersey, conscription ended in 1929 and the Militia was disbanded in 1946. The exchange of ideas and influences that resulted from this interchange was very important to the story of Channel Island silver.

The Battle of Jersey

In 1773 hostilities again began between England and France after the latter's forming of an alliance with the American colonies. In 1779 the Prince of Nassau attempted to capture Jersey, his attempt ending in a fiasco as he had not taken account of the tide and was unable to land his troops.

On 6th January 1781 Jersey's most famous battle took place. Baron de Rullecourt landed at La Rocque with about 700 men and marched to St Helier forcing the Lieutenant Governor, Moses Corbet, to surrender. However the local Militia led by Francis Pierson, a 24 year old Major serving in the 95th Foot regiment, together with the garrisoned English forces, attacked the French in the Royal Square.

The heavily outnumbered French were quickly defeated but both Pierson and de Rullecourt were mortally wounded. One of the central figures in this battle was the local silversmith Pierre Amiraux who was captured by the French and, bound to another officer, forced to lead his captors to Govenor Moses Corbet’s residence.

From 1775 frantic activity began to protect the islands from French invasion. Coastal defence towers (now incorrectly termed Martello towers), batteries and barracks were built throughout the islands. The pace of the construction of fortifications only increased with the advent of the French Revolution in 1789 and later during the Napoleonic Wars both Fort George in Guernsey and Fort Regent in Jersey were constructed.

The French refrained from launching a full attack on Guernsey although in 1794 they were engaged in a naval action off the coast. On this occasion they were successfully chased off by Captain James Saumarez. With the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 the French danger subsided and the islands were not threatened again until 1940.

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