Hélier de Carteret

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Hélier de Carteret
Bailiff of Jersey
1513-1515, 1516-1523, 1529-1560

Helier de Carteret's signature

Disagreements with the Governor, Sir Hugh Vaughan led to de Carteret's suspension from ofice on several occasions, which were ultimately ruled illegal

Family disputes

The de Carterets of St Ouen just did not get on with Jersey's Governors in the late 15th and early 16th century. All went well to begin with, because Philippe de Carteret married Margaret Harliston, daughter of the island's first Governor, Sir Richard Harliston. He fell out with Harliston's successor Matthew Baker, was falsely accused of treason, imprisoned in Mont Orgueil by the then Bailiff, Clement Le Hardy and condemned to fight a duel. He was saved by his wife, Margaret's intervention with King Henry VII, and they went on to have 20 children.

The fourth of these, Helier, appears to have spent some time at the King's Court but nothing is known of him in Jersey, despite two brothers, Edouard and Pierre, having been appointed Jurats in 1504 and 1505, until 1513, when he was plucked from obscurity and appointed Bailiff by the Governor Sir Hugh Vaughan, after the incumbent Bailiff, Thomas Lempriere went to England to complain to the King about his violent and lecherous ways. Vaughan did not have the power to dismiss Lempriere, much less to appoint de Carteret, because Henry VII had ruled in 1486 that all the major appointments in Jersey's administration from Bailiff downwards were the sole prerogative of the monarch.

Nevertheless, Helier de Carteret was duly appointed Bailiff, the third member of this illustrious family to occupy the position and Henry VIII confirmed the appointment in 1514. However, whatever relationship he may have had with Vaughan to cause him to be appointed soon deteriorated to the extent that within two years a dispute between de Carteret and Vaughan was also referred to the King's council and de Carteret was suspended from office.

Cardinal Wolsey leads his court into Westminster Hall

Prolonged battle

The exact sequence of events afterwards is in some doubt, and it was not until 1530 that de Carteret was again secure in his position as Bailiff, with Vaughan, having eventually been totally discredited, removed from office. It appears that during the initial suspension no appointment was made to replace de Carteret, although Thomas Lempriere may temporarily have been restored to his former office in 1515. Helier de Carteret won the first round of his battle with Vaughan before the Privy Council and was restored to office in 1516, but after seven years he was again suspended and the action dragged on for another seven years.

Their quarrel was over whether Trinity Manor belonged to de Carteret's brother in law, Drouet Lemprière, or to the Crown. Drouet had married de Carteret's sister Mabel, and inherited the manor on the death of his uncle. Vaughan claimed that the manor was forfeit to the Crown for treason, because Lempriere's uncle Thomas de St Martin had sided with invading French forces 60 years earler.

When the case came before the Royal Court, de Carteret gave judgment against Vaughan because de St Martin had been pardoned by the King for his actions. Vaughan, with his hand on his sword, threatened de Carteret:"If you do not decide in my favour, I will plunge this into your belly". De Carteret drew his own sword, opened the Court doors and let the public in to witness his judgment against Vaughan.

Their dispute went before the Privy Council, de Carteret accusing the Governor of interfering with justice. Both had friends at Court, but although Henry VIII liked de Carteret and gave him a position in his household after being impressed by de Carteret's skills as an archer and his invention of an arquebus which could fire five bullets without reloading. De Carteret secured positions for three of his brothers, including the athletic Jean, who proved to be the best long jumper and runner in the country.

Complicated affairs

Helier's love life also seems, from this contemporary report, to have been somewhat complicated:

"Edouard de Carteret was the son of a young English lady with whom H de Carteret, Bailiff, slept on the night before he should have married her. Then he left her, and mounting his horse very early in the morning, went and married another lady in another county. The former lady sent him the said Edouard, after he was weaned, and broken-hearted by the insult, never wished to marry, and died shortly after".

The legal proceedings dragged on thanks to the support Vaughan received from the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, despite the fact that in December 1521 de Carteret's position as Bailiff was confirmed by the King and the following year he was granted the Manor of St Germain in Jersey for life. A bribe of 500 gallons of Anjou wine seems to have ensured that Wolsey would adjourn the case term after term, allowing it to drag on for 12 years.

Vaughan then went on the offensive and challenged the King's grant of the Manor of St Germain to de Carteret, but de Carteret slipped over to Jersey and collected his rents before Vaughan knew he was there. Vaughan retaliated by appointing a succession of Acting Bailiffs to cut off de Carteret's official income.

De Carteret often made surprise visits to Jersey, and during one of these Jasper Pen, one of his replacements as Bailiff, tried to assassinate him in the Market Place, resulting in a fight with drawn swords.

Justice demanded

De Carteret eventually lost patience and demanded justice in Wolsey's Court when another adjournment was ordered. With Wolsey pretending not to hear, he shouted:"I demand justice or at least some show of justice". The Cardinal retorted:"Justice! If you had justice, you would be punished as a man who has wrought much harm to his country." De Carteret replied:"You do wrong to charge me with things you cannot prove."

This caused Wolsey to fly into a rage and he turned to the Lords of the Council and said:"Did you ever see such insolence? We can guess how he lords it in his own land, if he is so malapert here." He called for the Keeper of the Fleet Prison to take de Carteret away. But he responded:"Before you send me there, I beg you tell me why. Is it for demanding justice? You have kept me waiting in this city by your command for three years and more and I have not had a hearing. You have cut off my livelihood. My money is spent. I am a poor Gentleman with a wife and children, whom I cannot support as I should. Have I not good cause to protest?"

Wolsey replied:"You are a freak and quite unfit to rule." De Carteret said:"You cannot prove that." The Cardinal said:"I will show it you, sealed with the island seal." This was probably a reference to a petition from eight Jurats calling for de Carteret's dismissal from office, sent to Wolsey by Vaughan with Deanh Richard Mabon,one of his succession of Acting Bailiffs.

The Bailiff responded:"That you cannot do, for I have the seal in my keeping." The Cardinal then suspended the sitting in a rage. But further pressure behind the scenes led him to concede defeat and the case was heard on the first day of the Michaelmas Term and de Carteret cleared his name and returned to Jersey in 1529 to take up his office again. Wolsey fell from grace in the same year and further complaints about Vaughan led to a Royal Commission being appointed and his dismissal as Governor.

Temporary replacements

Insular problems

De Carteret held office for another 30 years and got on well with subsequent Governors, but that did not mean that he had no problems in Jersey. On 18 Jan 1536 he wrote to Wolsey's success as Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell:"I hear complaints are made against me, the causes whereof I do not know". In 1539 he quarrelled with Nicolas Hue, Constable of St Mary over his contribution to new cannon and summoned Hue to St Ouen where, according to subsequent Court evidence, "he struck, beat and maimed him in an inhuman manner". He was strongly censured by a Commission of Inquiry.

That same year his illegitimate son Edouard was appointed Viscount, and shortly afterwards accused of murder by five of the Jurats. THe case went to the Star Chamber for trial, the outcome of which is not known. However, Edouard wsppointed Solicitor-General in 1551 so it is assumed that he was acquitted. His father supported him and the Jurats who had been friends with the murdered man refused to work with their Bailiff, causing them to be strongly censured by the Privy Council, which said that the work of the court had been disrupted "partly because many of you refuse to be present, and partly because you refuse to declare your minds. Henceforth every one of you shall on reasonable notice from the Bailiff show yourselves diligent and attendant upon him. You will answer for the contrary at your peril".

The Reformation

Helier de Carteret eagerly supported the Protestant cause during the Reformation, which brought him into conflict with the local clergy. In 1548 he summoned the Rectors to bring their books for inspection and the following year the Royal Court ordered the arrest of anyone continuing to support the Catholic church. De Carteret was twice commended by the Privy Council for his zeal, which could have caused problems when Mary became Queen and the religious bandwagon reversed. However, with the support of Governor Sir Hugh Paulet he kept his position as Bailiff.

Attack at home

One New Year's Day after dining with the Lieut-Governor at Mont Orgueil de Carteret upset some of the troops by tossing a crown to the Master Porter as a tip for the garrison which they deemed insufficient. That night they went to his house, dragged him from his bed, exclaiming "your money or your life", and escaped by boat to France with his gold chain, silver cups and 500 crowns. They were caught and returned to Jersey, where they were tried and hanged.


Helier de Carteret had a daughter Margaret by his first wife, and as an old man he married again to Jehanne Colles, a cousin of Sir Hugh Paulet, and they had a son who was named Hugh. De Carteret wanted his grant of the Manor of St Germain to continue with his heirs after his death and went with Paulet to England to petition Queen Elizabeth. His mission was successful, but this was one journey too many for a man of over 80 and he caught a fever and died in Sir Hugh's London house and was buried in St John's Clerkenwell on 19 February 1561.

Bailiffs of Jersey
Predecessor Successor
Thomas Lempriere
Hélier de Carteret
1513-1514, 1516-1523, 1527, 1530-1560
Hostes Nicolle
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