The ancient Manor of the fief haubert of St Ouen is one of the most historic landmarks in Jersey. Guarded by moat and rampart it stands, an embodiment in stone of the history of nearly 1,000 years.
There are no title deeds to St Ouen's Manor - it has never been bought or sold, having, as the old chronicler so charmingly puts it, belonged to the de Carterets, qu'il n'y en avait memoire du contraire. It is impossible to determine the exact date of the fief's origin.
In his list of the barons and knights who followed William the Conqueror at Hastings, Wace mentions "De Cartrai, Onfrei e Maugier, ki etoit novel chevalier".
Renaud de Carteret donned the white surcoat and red cross of the Crusader, and fought under Robert Courteheuse and Godfray de Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine, at the seige of Jerusalem in 1099. But the earliest record of the de Carterets holding land in Jersey occurs in the 12th century, the Cartulaires of the Abbey of Mont St Michel recording that in 1156 Philippe de Carteret gave to the Abbey the church of St Ouen in Jersey, also the chapel of St Mary de Lecq in the same parish.
When King John lost Normandy in 1204, the family of Carteret abandoned their far more valuable holdings on the continent (including that from which they took their name) and remained steadfast in their allegiance to the ancient line of Dukes, as represented by the King of England.
It was then, tradition tells us, that they adopted their very appropriate motto, Loyal Devoir.
It seems highly probable that this was the period at which the de Carteret seigneurs took up residence in Jersey; a supposition which is borne out by the terms of tenure of the fief haubert - that the Seigneur, with two armed and mounted men of his own providing, should serve in Gorey Castle in time of war.
Before the alienation of Normandy and the consequent danger of a French invasion, there could be little need for such defensive measures; indeed it was only at the commencement of the 13th century that the Castle came into prominence.
St Ouen's Manor, then, probably dates from the end of the 12th century or the beginning of the 13th century. It was subsequently added to, and as it stands today embodies the architecture of several succeeding centuries.
Its site is near the entrance of a pretty little valley, Les Charrières. Built upon a rock, protected on east and south by the winding valley and by a declivity of ground to the west, the manor is isolated from the surrounding countryside, and occupies a position of natural defence.
But, unlike English feudal manors of the same period, which were strongly built with a view to keeping a conquered populace in check, St Ouen's Manor was not originally fortified. Jersey had never been subdued, and the Seigneur had nothing to fear from his own people.
In 1483, however, Philip de Carteret applied for and obtained permission to fortify the manor. By that time some means of defence had probably become necessary owing to the frequent raids of the French. In front of the manor's principal facade, the ground is supported by a great rampart, at the foot of which lies the "vivier" or fish-pond, once kept well-stocked against the long days of Lent. The entrance to the ramparts is through a fine old archway bearing the arms of Carteret, Dowse and Paulet.
Here to the east, the valley which forms a natural moat has been partly filled in, probably with earth from the nearby garden, which was levelled to make a jousting-ground in the time of Henry VIII. The de Carterets were much esteemed by that monarch on account of their prowess at the tilt, at archery, and at shooting with the "harquebuse". Jean de Carteret acquitted himself with high honour in the spectacles which King Henry staged for the entertainment of the Emperor Charles V.
The Manor would have been most open to attack on the north, and here no doubt was formerly the great courtyard, surrounded by a high wall enclosing the dependant buildings. There are still traces of the original gateway. Here, too, on a smooth stretch of turf stands the colombier, ancient adjunct to a seignorial dignity, which the Lord of the Manor alone might possess.
On this side is now the chief entrance to the manor, a heavy studded door under a stone arch forming the inner angle of the wings.
It is difficult to convey a clear picture of a building of such antiquity, where the architecture of successive centuries overlaps, and incorporates fragments of much earlier work, but for the purpose of description we may divide it roughly into three periods.
The wings, which contain most of the principal rooms now in use, were built from 1600-1650. The central portion between the wings, which was probably erected at about the some time as the existing rampart, dates from the 16th century, but was once the front of much older building. Part of the eastern facade is also of earlier design, and on the south-west, overlooking a picturesque terrace, is a very ancient frontage which is attributed to the 15th century. The square tower dates from the late 12th or early 13th century. Time has blended and mellowed the whole to on edifice of imposing proportions.
At the commencement of the present century, St Ouen's Manor was extensively but carefully restored, and the beautiful stained-glass windows by Bosdet, which were then inserted, are happily in keeping with its medieval air.
Those in the ancient manorial chapel depict the story of St Anne, after whom the chapel is named. When Colonel Heane's forces overran Jersey in 1651, St Anne's Chapel was one of the first places of worship to suffer desecration. It was reconsecrated by the Bishop of Winchester in 1914.
Another of Bosdet's windows, in the corridor of the manor, shows incidents of 15th and 16th century history. On the left is Sir Philip de Carteret making his historic escape from the French during their occupation of Jersey 1462-8. On the right the French commander hands over the keys of Mont Orgueil Castle to Sir Philip de Carteret and the English Admiral, Sir Richard Harliston, who subsequently came to the island's relief.
One day, while peacefully fishing in St Ouen's Pond, the Seigneur was ambushed by French soldiers. There was only one way of escape, and a hazardous way - across the Val de Charrière. Sir Philip took the hazard, leapt his horse over the terrible chasm, and arrived home safely. But his gallant mount, exhasted by the tremendous effort, dropped dead at the manor door. The Seigneur ordered a painting to he made of the horse, which, "pour le bon service quid lui avait rendu", was buried in the garden.
So wrote the old chronicler and, not very long ago, his story was confirmed in quite startling fashion. In 1904 some bones were dug up from a cemented grave in the manor grounds. Without a word as to its suspected origin, one was sent to the British Museum for examination. Back came the report that this was a bone of a horse which had been buried for over 400 years.
So now the bone of Sir Philip's horse rests in a glass case under its picture in the hall. Whether this is the original painting executed to Sir Philip's command, we do not know. Certainly it is very old; so dark with age that the black horse can scarcely be distinguished from its background. By an "artist unknown", it is as highly prized as many a painting bearing a famous name.
Sir Philip's grandson, the next Seigneur, married Admiral Harliston's daughter, Margaret. An account of this brave lady's perilous flight from the Island to seek aid for her husband when he was wrongly imprisoned by the Governor, Matthew Baker, of her interview with Henry VII, and the triumphant return bearing an order for the Seigneur's release, forms an epic tale of the "Chroniques de Jersey".
One of her numerous sons, Hélier de Carteret, Bailiff of Jersey, attained fame for his long and determined opposition to another tyrannous Governor, Sir Hugh Vaughan. The pair first came to words, and very nearly blows, during a sitting of the Royal Court. Seeing that a case in which he was interested was going against him, the Governor laid a hand on his sword and threatened to run it through the Bailiff's body if judgment was not given in his favour.
Nothing intimidated, Helier de Carteret promptly drew his own sword and replied pleasantly that if the Governor tried to interfere with the course of justice or as much as moved, he would be a dead man. This lively scene is depicted in the central panel of Bosdet's window.
The lofty hall, with its immense granite hearth, forms the central point of the manor. Here is the main staircase, built in Tudor times to replace the original one of stone in the north tower. With its massive balustrade of hand-carved polished oak, its width and stately proportions, what ghosts of the past this magnificent old stairway conjures up.
Here walked that Heller de Carteret (a nephew of the intrepid Bailiff) to whom Queen Elizabeth granted the island of Sark. Here walked Rachel Paulet in spreading farthingale, as his son, Sir Philip's, bride.
Rachel was the only daughter of Bailiff George Paulet, and niece of Sir Amias Paulet, who was for many years Governor of Jersey, but is perhaps better known to history as the last custodian of Mary Queen of Scots.
The drawing room was of special and particular interest, for here the youthful Charles Stuart spent an occasional pleasant hour in the early years of his long exile. During his sojourns in Jersey, first as Prince of Wales in 1646 and again as King Charles II in 1649, he was a frequent visitor at St Ouen's Manor, and this room was set aside for his exclusive use.
Over the fireplace was a wooden plaque bearing Charles II's coat of arms, just as it was painted by some unknown artist, a little crudely, but one feels with loving pride, for the adornment of Charles' "own" room. During the restorations it was incorporated with the wall panelling, so that it should never leave the manor.
The royal funds, we know, were then at somewhat low ebb, but Sir George, who was so "strangely civil to all men but immoderately so to such gentlemen as seem to have served the King", would scarcely have allowed the King himself to go lacking. So perhaps Charles was re-equipped with poetic justice, from the stores of some rich Parliamentary trader brought home by one of the Lieut-Governor's privateers.
It is pleasant to think that, as a schoolboy Prince, he continued his studies tranquilly in Jersey when civil war had rendered England unsafe; that as a young King he ruled for a brief few months in this the last remnant of his kingdom, which still remained loyal to him; and, before departing on his long "travels", enjoyed the kindly hospitality of St Ouen's Manor.
Would that we could put the clock back 300 years and glimpse him there, as Chevalier describes him, in his violet-hued suit with a single silver star upon his breast. His host, the young Seigneur, who was not much older than Charles himself, had been knighted by him on St Aubin's sands during a review of the Militia in 1646. The former Seigneur, Sir Philip de Carteret, died in 1643, whilst defending Elizabeth Castle against the local Parliamentary party. Sir George perhaps would be there as well, if he could spare the time from his multitudinous duties, naval, military and civil.
The depths of Charles' gratitude and affection for Sir George Carteret may be gauged from a document which is now a most treasured possession of the de Carteret family, and which is kept in St Ouen's Manor.
Just after leaving Jersey for The Hague early in 1650 his secretary had occasion to write to the Governor concerning the exchange of prisoners with Parliament. On this paper the King wrote :
- "Carteret, I will add this to you under my owne hand, that I can never forget the good services you have done to my father and to me, and if God bless me, you shall find I doe remember them to the advantage of you and yours, and for this you have the word of your very loving friend
And he did remember. Whatever his faults, whatever his other sins of omission, Charles never forgot his little island of Jersey and his loyal de Carterets.
When he returned to England and his Restoration in 1660, Sir George Carteret accompanied him and shared his triumphal entry to London. Sir George was immediately made a Privy Councillor and Chamberlain of the Royal Household and later became MP for Portsmouth, Treasurer of the Navy, and Deputy Treasurer of Ireland In 1664 he and Lord Berkeley were granted conjointly the American province which, in honour of Sir George's services in holding his native isle for the King, was named New Caesarea or New Jersey. His young cousin, Philip de Carteret, became New Jersey's first proprietary Governor’
For the rest of his life, Sir George remained near the King, and there was nothing, one imagines, that he could not have had for the asking. But as he characteristically remarked to Pepys, and the little diarist meticulously recorded, "he was not for the fanfaroone to make chew with a great title".
Nevertheless Charles intended raising him to the peerage as Baron Carteret of Hawnes, but Sir George died a few days before the patent came into effect.
His son, the young Philip, of whose courting days Pepys gives us such delightful glimpses, had been killed several years earlier in the great naval battle with the Dutch off Lowestoft, so the title descended to his grandson. Lord Carteret married into the ancient French family of Granville, and his wife was created Countess of Granville in her own right.
When Sir Charles de Carteret died unmarried in 1715, he left the whole of his property to his kinsman, John, second Lord Carteret, who, in right of his mother, became Earl of Granville. According to Jersey law, inherited property could not be willed away from the heirs. But the four co-heiresses (descendants of a younger son of the Sir Philip who died in Elizabeth Castle in 1643) agreed to surrender the fief to Lord Carteret on condition that it should return to their heirs if he or his successors died without sons.
Lord Carteret was one of the most brilliant men of his age. Scholar, diplomat and statesman, he was Secretary of State in the reign of George I, and Lord President of the Council under George II, who made him a Knight of the Garter. Horace Walpole said that of the five great men he had known, Carteret was "most a genius of the five", and the great Pitt himself afterwards admitted that he owed his position to Carteret's help and friendship.
In the same year that he succeeded to the Seigneurie of St Ouen, Lord Carteret was apointed Bailiff of Jersey. But he did not live in the Island and, unfortunately, took many treasures from St Ouen's Manor to adorn his English country seat, Hawnes Park. Among other objects which he sent for was the famous picture of Sir Philip de Carteret's horse.
But the old caretaker, a Jerseyman quite as "canny" as the proverbial Scot, prevented this sacrilege by the simple expedient of cutting the canvas from its frame and hiding it away in the cellars — from whence, years later, it was resuscitated.
When Robert Carteret, second Earl of Granville, died without heirs in 1775, the fief reverted to Jane Le Maistre, a descendant of one of the co-heiresses of 1715. Philip Le Maistre, who died in 1848, was suceeded by his grandson, Edward Malet. In 1859 Edward Malet obtained permission by sign manual from the Queen to assume the additional arms and name of de Carteret, of which family he was a direct descendant in the female line and represented the eldest branch.
His son, Reginald Malet de Carteret, served as Jurat of the Royal Court and as Lieut-Bailiff of Jersey for many years. His able administration and high personal qualities gained him universal respect and affection. He died in January 1935, and the ancient fief and Seigneurie of St Ouen passed to his son, Guy Malet de Carteret, Lieut-Bailiff, and Jurat of the Royal Court. On his death in 1972 the Seigneurie passed to his son Reginald.
As premier seigneur of the Island, the Seigneur of St Ouen is first to be called at the Assise d'Heritage. The Seigneurie of St Ouen is the only fief in Jersey which can claim to be a fief haubert in the proper sense of the term, having never escheated into the King's hands, but remaining with the same family through a long line of seigneurs in unbroken succession, from almost the commencement of local history to the present day.
Indeed, the history of Jersey and the history of the Seigneurs of St Ouen is so closely connected that it is impossbile to tell the one without having, at the same time, to recount the other.
And as the de Carterets hold pride of place in the annals of Jersey, so is their Manor of St Ouen unique among our ancient buildings. About its mighty walls, its towers and turrets, its lofty ramparts and terraced walks, still lingers an indefinable quality of the long heroic past.
When the German Army occupied this Island, St Ouen's Manor was turned into a barracks and on 6 March 1941 a very serious fire destroyed the south-east wing and many historical pieces were lost. The following is the German officer's report
Report concerning the fire in St Ouen’s Manor House
On 6 March 1941, at about 5.30 am, a fire broke out in a wing of St Ouen's Manor. It was first noticed by a lance corporal who slept in an adjoining room. He woke up as a result of the heavy smoke and immediately alarmed the whole section.
Together with a corporal he tried to penetrate into the room threatened by the fire in order to extinguish it by means of water, which had meanwhile been carried to the spot. As it was impossible, even with gas respirators, to approach the scene of the fire, the door was shut in order to prevent the fire from spreading on account of the draught.
In the meantime, at 5.35 am, a member of the section had called up the Fire Brigade in St Helier which arrived at 6 am. At the same time almost all of the oil paintings, carpets and curtains, cupboards, chests, etc, which were in Manor House were carried outside into safety by soldiers who had been rushed to the spot.
As there is no water main in the house, a motor pump had to be taken to a point surrounded by marshy ground with trees and shrubs. Only after 45 minutes the Brigade succeeded in doing this, strongly assisted by a number of soldiers.
In the meantime the fire had developed considerably and seized almost all parts of the endangered wing. The Fire Brigade then succeeded in preventing the fire from spreading to other parts of the Manor House and to extinguish it.
It is impossible to trace the cause of the fire. It must be assumed that burning fragments have fallen out of the open fireside and started the fire at 1.30 am. There were the corporals' money chest and some canteen stores in that room. He stated that he had made sure that everything was in order there and that the fire in the fireside had been closed down.
The Chapel of St Anne also suffered desecration during the Occupation when it was turned into a butcher's shop and store. They damaged the beautiful altar beyond repair when using it as a chopping block for the meat.
After great difficulty this Chapel has been restored to its old splendour once again. A new altar stone has been replaced from the ancient Chapelle de St George at Vinchelez de Bas. There are very few stones of this kind known in Jersey. Some years ago, one was presented to the Bishop of New Jersey, USA. There are two in Mont Orgueil Castle and this one in the Chapel of St Anne, which is by far the best specimen of the few — the cross markings, five in all, being much larger and plainer. These crosses represent the five wounds inflicted on the body of Christ during the Crucifixion.
Photograph by Emile Guiton
Three paintings of members of the Le Maistre family at the manor