Hellier Gosselin

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Jerseyman Hellier Gosselin became Bailiff of Guernsey in the 16th century and presided over a notorious witch trial and the burning of the three accused.

Family

He was the second son of Thomas Gosselin of St Helier, and Catherine Le Bastard. His elder brother Guillaume Gosselin became Lieut-Bailiff of Jersey in 1551.

The Gosselins were one of the earliest Jersey families to become Protestant. Hellier was born in Jersey in la grande maison do Gosselin en ville. In 1559 he received permission to build a house in Guernsey. In 1546 he was appointed King's Procureur in that island; and on 4 October 1549 was sworn in as Bailiff.

Under Edward VI it fell to him to enforce the Reformation changes. When Mary became Queen, his position was critical. Hence perhaps his severity toward three protestant women, Catherine Massey and her daughters, burnt in 1556.

Burning

It was Gosselin who sent them before the Ecclesiastical Court, and, when the Dean had pronounced them to be heretics, it was Gosselin who condemned them to be strangled and then burnt. Foxe tells the story of their death:

"Then were three stakes set up. At the middle post was the mother, the eldest daughter on the right hand, the youngest on the other. They were first strangled, but the rope broke before they were dead, and so the poor women fell in the fire. Perotine, who was great with child, did fall on her side, where happened a ruefull sight; for, as her belly burst under by the vehemence of the flames, the infant, being a fair man-child, fell into the fire, and efstoons, being taken out of the fire by one W House, was laid upon the grass. Then was the child had to the Provost, and from thence to the Bailiff, who gave censure that it should be carried back and cast into the fire".

The accuracy of Foxe's account has been challenged, but every detail is confirmed in the appeal made by Catherine Massey's brother to Elizabeth that those guilty of his sister's death should be punished; and the facts are recited again in Elizbeth's pardon eventually granted to the Rectors and Jurats. For this execution Gosselin was deprived of his post by Elizabeth and imprisoned in December 1562. He remained in prison until January 1565, when he was pardoned.

On his return to the island he was elected Jurat by the Catholic Party. He married four times: (1) a daughter of Thomas Dumaresq of La Haule; (2) Perotine, daughter of Francois Henry of Guernsey, 1545, (3) Emet daughter of James Blondel; (4) Thomasse, deaughter of Collas Effard. His eldest son, Nicholas Gosselin, became Greffier of Jersey in 1560. Hellier died in December 1579.

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