La Descente des Aragousais
From the loss of Normandy by King John in 1204 until the Papal Bull of Pope Sixtus IV in 1480 granting the Channel Islands neutrality, Guernsey and her sister islands suffered frequent attacks, sieges and invasions at the hands of the French. One of the bloodiest and best recorded was an invasion which was immortalised in the Guernsey folk ballad La Déscente des Aragousais or The Ballad of Yvon de Galles.
In May 1372 the French King, Charles V, sent a force of 4,000 men under the control of Evan, or Owen, of Wales, a descendant of the last Welsh Prince of Wales, to cause an insurrection in Wales and avenge the beheading of Evan’s father by King Edward III. The force was due to be supported by a fleet of the Castilian King Enrique II, but due to bad weather in the Channel they failed to make the rendezvous and Evan turned his attention to Guernsey, the closest place loyal to the English king.
The Ballad of Yvon de Galles recalls that it was at dawn one Tuesday morning when Evan of Wales and his Arragonese mercenaries landed at Vazon Bay and were gathering in the marshes of La Grande Mare when they were spotted by John Le Tocq, a shepherd from La Houguette who had woken earlier than usual to tend his sheep. John Le Tocq found a horse wandering along a lane, and rode it across and around the island raising the alarm. A force of 800 Guernseymen were rallied and fought valiantly, with Evan being ‘struck by a lad’ called Richard Simon as the battling forces reached a mill at La Carriere, (near what is now Halfway). Evan was badly wounded, with a deep cut to his thigh and a badly injured right hand that never fully recovered. Fighting and skirmishing continued on the heights above St Peter Port, roughly where Elizabeth College and the New Town now stand, where the final battle took place. The fighting was so fierce it is said the hillsides ran red with blood, with close to five hundred Guernseymen and an unrecorded but substantial number of Evan’s men losing their lives. By the evening some support had arrived from Jersey but the battle was lost, the surviving Guernseymen had retreated to Castle Cornet where they were besieged for three weeks. Evan’s forces realised that Castle Cornet was so strongly defended and close to impregnable that they eventually made their way to the north of the island and laid siege to Vale Castle, where many islanders and the Governor, Sir Aymond (Edmund) Rose, had taken shelter. Whilst laying siege to the Vale Castle Evan was approached by a monk named Briard from the Priory of St Michel, who offered to act as a intermediary between him and the governor. Initially the governor refused to negotiate, stating he would rather be hewn to pieces, but the local clamour was such that he relented and agreed to talk to Evan through Briard. Eventually Evan said he would leave upon payment of a large ransom, whereby Briard collected up jewels, money and other valuables from the besieged islanders and handed the hoard to Evan. After many weeks of siege Evan of Wales and his Arragonese mercenaries sailed away. For the islanders it was an episode they would never forget.
The only signs of the location of this piece of Guernsey history are in two street names: Battle Lane, an alley between St Johns Street|St John's and Havilland Streets, the supposed epicentre of the final battle, and Rouge Rue, so named because of the blood that flowed down the hillside. The effect upon the population was recorded in Ballad of Yvon de Galles which was part of Guernsey’s oral tradition for centuries and first written down in 1839, and possibly gave the island one of its most famous fairy tales - the Invasion of the Fairies.