Hundred Years War
The Channel Islands were in the front line from the start of the longest sustained conflict between England and France, the Hundred Years War, which actually lasted 114 years from 1337 to 1451.
In February 1338 King Philip VI of France appointed a new Admiral, Nicholas Béhuchet, who had previously served as a treasury official and was instructed to wage economic warfare against England. On 24 March he began his campaign, leading a large fleet of small coastal ships across the Channel from Calais and into the Solent where they landed and burnt the vitally important port of Portsmouth.
Mont Orgueil beseiged
The fleet then sailed to the Channel Islands, which had already suffered minor attacks the previous year but now faced a major threat, Jersey being invaded by the French crews and the entire eastern half of the island reduced to ruins, only Mont Orgueil holding out, despite a six-month seige. The raid had been predicted by intelligence officers in the royal household, but defensive measures were woefully inefficient and efforts to intercept the attack had utterly failed. During the course of the siege the Seigneur of Rosel, Jean de Barentin, was killed while leading a sortie against the attackers.
The campaign at sea began again in September, when a large French and Italian fleet descended on the Channel Islands once again under Robert Bertrand, Marshal of France and Seigneur of Bricquebec, the Cotentin town where the seigneurial castle can still be seen today. Sark, which had suffered a serious raid the year before, fell without a fight and Guernsey was captured after a brief campaign. The island was largely undefended, as most of the Channel Islands garrison was in Jersey to prevent another raid there, and the few that were sent to Guernsey and Sark were captured at sea.
Messengers from the islands were also captured, preventing the English government from discovering what had happened for over a week. Guernsey’s Castle Cornet and Vale Castle were the only points to hold out. Neither fort lasted very long as both were undermanned and unprovisioned. The garrisons were put to death. Bertrand then turned his attention to Jersey. According to contemporary documents he was accompanied by other noblemen and some 8,000 soldiers. This massive force was transported in 17 Genoese galleys and 35 ships from Norman ports.
Initially Bertrand did not attack, but invited island representatives to discuss their plight and invited them to surrender Mont Orgueil and become subject to French rule, while retaining their land and traditional liberties. Jersey refused to surrender and Bertrand decided not to attack the castle and sailed away after allowing his troops to burn and plunder the rest of the island.
The then Seigneur of St Ouen, Sir Renaud de Carteret, is credited with repulsing the attacks of Behuchet and Bertrand and with rescuing Guernsey, although he got little thanks for that. He led a Jersey fleet which came off second best to Admiral Behuchet, but in 1356, assisted by the English, he helped drive the French from Guernsey. During this battle many notable Jerseymen lost their lives, but because a prominent Guernseyman, William le Feyvre, was executed for treason by the Jerseymen, a bitter inter-insular feud broke out. A trial ensued, at which the angry widow stated that her husband had been done to death, "out of ancient enmity and their own malice", and the Jerseymen implicated were banished. Sir Renaud de Carteret and Ralph Lempriere, who had been leaders in the siege, challenged the verdict and were imprisoned in Castle Cornet, where they had a hard time at the hands of the Guernseymen until released by the King's pardon.
The English got their revenge over Behuchet in the naval Battle of Sluys. There are varying reports of the outcome of the battle, but Behuchet was certainly defeated and may have been hung from the mast of his own ship.