Jean Chevalier Jersey diarist
By A C Saunders (1936), Jersey before and after the Norman conquest of England
To most people the name of Jean Chevalier means nothing, but, to those interested in the history of the Island of Jersey, he becomes the "Pepys" of our Island – somewhat different from our old friend Samuel who hesitated not in the frankest manner to describe the many episodes of his very busy but somewhat amorous passage through life.
In Chevalier’s diary self plays a very minor part but, like all Jerseymen, he was intensely interested in his fellow men and, as incident followed incident during those eight troublous years 1643-1651 – the most exciting and interesting period of our history – they found a place in Jean’s diary. He had good descriptive powers although it is sometimes difficult to read his diary, written as it is, more or less in the patois of the Island, and as we read page after page, we get before us a panoramic mental view of the great events which occupied the attention of the Jerseymen of that period.
In 1651 the diary stopped and we have no definite knowledge as to why it was not continued, except that Jean was a strong Royalist, and after the year 1651, members of the Royalist party had to walk very warily and it was dangerous for anyone to continue a diary in which the Parliamentary party would meet with no favour. We know that Jean had been a Vingtenier of the town of St Helier, a position he had to give up after the capture of Elizabeth Castle, and that his sight was troubling him but, unlike the English Pepys, he could not afford and probably would not have dared, to employ a scrivener to write down his views of the current events of the day. Then probably he had less opportunity of obtaining definite news and, as he was under grave suspicion as a known ardent Royalist, he was afraid to put on paper, or employ anyone to do so, information which, if known, might have been used against him.
The Royalists were having a very bad time and the slightest false step might have resulted in the loss of liberty. However, Chevalier left a wonderful picture of the great doings of those stormy times describing as he did the actions of "Sir Phelipe Carteret, Seiur de Saincte Ouen", and the government of the Island under "Luytent Lidcot" and "Capitaine Carteret authorisay de sa Majeste".
Mr J A Messervy tells us that the original manuscript, now in the possession of the Société Jersiaise, belonged to a Miss Hemery and the Committee of the Public Library had a copy made for their use. Later on, the original manuscript became the property of the Societe Jersiaise who, in 1906, gave particulars of the family of Chevalier of St Helier, tracing them back to the beginning of the 16th century. From there we find that Jean was the grandson of Raulin "Proprietaire de Navir en 1564, presume mort a l’etranger vers 1565" and that his grandmother’s Christian name was Louise of Louyx, but there is no knowledge of the surname.
They had three children and the eldest, Clement, was the father of Jean, the subject of this book. His father died when he was about ten years of age, and, apart from his diary, the only official notice we can trace of our friend is that he was a Vingtenier of the town 1638-1651, Officier pour l’Extente 1665, and Diacre de St Helier. He married Marie, the daughter of Centenier Edward de la Cloche of St Helier, whose son was the Rector of St Ouen from 1628-1645. From his diary we learn very little about himself except that he was an ardent Royalist and a man of strong religious views and, living within the official circle, he was able to collect much valuable information about the current events of the day. He lived in a house in the Royal Square, where, within the last 50 years, Les Chroniques de Jersey had their premises.