Hostes Nicolle - Bailiff of Jersey 1561-1564
Hostes Nicolle was appointed Bailiff by Governor Sir Hugh Paulet to succeed Hélier de Carteret, who had died in London at the age of 84 after a turbulent period in office, having been in and out of office during a prolonged dispute with an earlier Governor, Sir Hugh Vaughan.
Nicolle was not a member of the old-established Nicolle family but a great-grandson of Cornishman John Nichol, who came to the island as Gentleman-Porter of Mont Orgueil and remained and adopted the Jersey spelling of his name. His son Hostes was elected Jurat in 1501; his son Jean becoming Viscount in 1527 and Attorney-General from 1533 to 1545, when he died. Hostes jnr inherited Longueville Manor from him and became in turn Gentleman-Porter in 1551, Constable of St Saviour in 1558, and Attorney-General until 8 March 1561, when he was sworn in as Bailiff.
Although it had been ruled by Henry VII some 65 years earlier that only the monarch could appoint and dismiss the Bailiff and other officers of the Crown, this runling seems once more to have been ignored by Sir Hugh Paulet., who wrote to the States announcing that he had made the appointment of Hostes Nicolle.
First witch trials
Nicolle died after only three years in office, but his time was not without considerable incident. As a strong protestant he ordered the burning of all Breviaries and Legendaries (lives of Saints), condemning one man who possessed a Breviary to bring a cartload of wood to the Market Square and publicly burn the book. He also sentenced the first two witches to be burned to death in Jersey.
In 1562 Elizabeth granted him her Charter which confirmed all the privileges previously granted to the island, including freedom from duties on goods exported to English ports. This important part of Jersey's unwritten constitution has been relied on many time since as Jersey has fought to maintain its independence of the British Government.
In October of that year Nicolle received the Royal Commissioners who made a number of rulings which would have considerable influence on the future life of the island. They established safer guardianship for orphans' property, registries of wills and property transfers, and regulation of weights and measures. Steps were taken to shortern lawsuits and the Constables were compelled to inforce decrees of the Royal Court.
The following year there was an outbreak of plague, brought to Jersey by soldiers who had been fighting in France and there were many deaths. The Court met at St Saviour's Church to avoid entering town.
The Chroniques de Jersey written 21 years after Nicolle's death contains a bizarre story, which can neither be proved or refuted, of how it came about:
- "There was a poor man whose house and land adjoined that of the Bailiff. This land the Bailiff coveted, but he knoew not how to get it. One day, however, he bade his servants choose two of his finest sheep. These they slew and at his behest carried to the house of ............. who was by trade a butcher.(The name was probably torn from the original manuscript). Next day he roused the Constable and his officers, and bade them search the butcher's house; and there they found the sheep dead and hanging in a stable, where the Bailiff's servants had put them. The man was at once arrested and brought into COurt, and without any defence condemned to be hanged that day, thopugh he was in nowise blameworthy.
- Thereupon, as the hangman put the rope round his neck at the door of the Court, he said to the Bailiff before everyone:'I summon you to appear within forty days before the just Judge of all to answer to God and me for the injustice you have done'. And on the thirty-ninth day Hostes Nicolle, the wicked Judge, fell dead by the wayside, as he was returning from Town."
He was buried in the chancel of St Saviour's Church, leaving his wife Ysabel Perrin, daughter of Jurat Edmond Perrin, Seigneur of Rosel, and five children