The Great Rebellion - Preparations for attack

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This is the seventh part of a 54-page article by F H Ellis first published in the 1937 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Thomas Fairfax, requested to provide troops to invade Jersey

Plans for Guernsey

Before Charles left Jersey on 13 February a proposal had come from the Marquis of Ormonde to reduce Guernsey by means of Irish soldiers, which the King and his Council regarded favourably. While at Beauvais, en route for Breda, he wrote to Ormonde that he had tried to find transport for 2,000 or 2,500 troops from Ireland, but without success, and urged him to find the necessary shipping, promising all possible help from Jersey and Cornet Castle. On 15 March Seymour, who had brought the letter from Ireland, also wrote to the Marquis from Beauvais that the King had recalled Lord Percy's Commission as Governor of Guernsey, which had been promised to Ormonde in the event of success, and added that 500 Parliament troops had recently arrived in the Island. Reports of the expedition to Jersey preparing in England put an end to the Irish plan and the reduction of Guernsey was abandoned.

At the end of the month the exiles in London wrote to Fairfax reminding him that in the previous May the Council of State had asked him 'to consider some forces' to reduce Jersey, they pointed out that the Island was still unsubdued and prayed for some troops to join with those in Guernsey to effect the reduction. It is evident that Fairfax and the Council had no need of this reminder, for Coxe was already in England making preparations for an expedition and the force which arrived with Coxe in Guernsey in January, though hastened over with the object of protecting the Island from Rupert, was obviously part of the preparations for the attack on Jersey which had been under consideration in the previous November.

In May Carteret, writing to Long, secretary to the King's Council, who was still at Breda, related that Coxe had been three months in England and that a fleet of five men of war and 13 transports with a force of 1,500 or 2,000 men was preparing at Weymouth and Poole, the forces to be augmented by the troops already in Guernsey and some of the Islanders and that Lydcot, now Vice-Admiral of the Fleet, was to act in conjunction with Coxe.

This expedition in its turn was also abandoned, for in June Fairfax, after refusing to invade Scotland, resigned his Commission as Lord General and his successor Cromwell, being busy with preparations for his campaign in the North, no doubt felt that the Channel Islands expedition could be deferred. Mrs Hutchinson states that Fairfax at the request of the exiles gave Colonel Hutchinson a commission as Lieut-Governor of Jersey, presumably soon after the departure of Lydcot in 1643, and adds that her husband did not hasten to take up the appointment, though Fairfax forwarded to him all business concerning the Island and a model of the Castle. After Fairfax resigned when Hutchinson did not apply to the new Lord General for a fresh commission, Cromwell 'made haste to prevent the Islanders and appointed one of his own creatures'.

Spring 1643

In the spring of this year, apart from affairs in Scotland, the Council of State was concerned about the Royalist activities in the West of England. In May orders were given for warships to ply about the Western Coast to prevent the landing of any forces from Jersey or Scilly, and 'for better enabling the Western parts to make opposition'. Colonel Heane, Governor of Weymouth, was directed to make up his four companies to a regiment of 1,200 men of which 800 were to be employed to strengthen the field forces. At the end of the month Major Harriso,n acting Lieut-Governor of Guernsey, fired 150 shot at Cornet Castle, apparently without much effect, and a few weeks later the Council of State, hearing that the Castle was in great straits and might easily be subdued, ordered Colonel Deane to send a shallop or two with a warship in support and a supply of scaling-ladders.

The scaling-ladders arrived in due course and Chevalier mentions a bombardment of the Castle in July by a large warship supported by the guns of St Peter Port, but this also seems to have had little effect. After Cromwell's victory at Dunbar there were great rejoicings in Guernsey and the Castle was once more summoned, and once more refused to surrender, whereupon an an attempt was made by an infantry force which was able to cross by land, as it was the season of very low tides, but this was also without result as the garrison could see the enemy coming and fired on the causeway. After that, as long as the tide served, an attacking party crossed each night in darkness and attempted to escallade, but each time was repulsed with little difficulty.

Meanwhile Council had decided that mortars should be brought to bear, and on 7 September directed that Captain Roberts, Proof-master-general at the Tower, should go to Guernsey to reduce the Castle, being allowed 10s a day and 2s 6d each for four assistants, with a promise of £300 gratuity when he had succeeded. On 25 September orders were given for two new mortars to be sent to Guernsey after first being tested in Hyde Park on the following Friday. Two hundred shells were allowed for each mortar and Roberts was to have £10 for buying instruments and £50 for material for the fireworks.

Soon afterwards the orders were cancelled and Roberts was sent to Scotland, where mortars were to be used in the siege of Edinburgh Castle, and provisions already shipped for Guernsey were likewise diverted to Scotland. Early in December Roberts was back in England and Council gave orders for him to be sent to Guernsey with the mortars and such guns as were required. It is doubtful if Roberts ever went, as there is no record of any attack on the Castle before the great assault in the following March, which was an infantry affair unsupported by warships, and with no mention of any preliminary bombardment. If the mortars ever reached Guernsey it is possible that they were reshipped to Jersey at the time of the expedition and that these were the engines which wrought such havoc at the siege of Elizabeth Castle.

Castle Cornet under attack

1651

From the time of Charles' arrival in Scotland in June 1651 there was considerable anxiety at Whitehall, as it was felt to be more than probable that an invasion of England would follow. After the battle of Dunbar in September, fears died down somewhat, only to revive again during the winter. The Royalists were known to be plotting in different parts of the country and the Council of State took steps to counteract their activities as far as possible. All persons whose adherence to Parliament was questionable were carefully watched and all governors of garrisons were ordered to remain at their posts. Early in February a considerable body of troops was sent to the North of England and in March, on receipt of information from Cromwell that a plot was hatching in Lancashire, Blake was ordered to take a squadron to patrol the Irish Sea and round the Isle of Man lest the Earl of Derby should attempt a landing on the West coast.

There was a disaster in Guernsey at the beginning of March, when the Parliament forces made an attack on Cornet Castle which failed ignominiously. Harrison, the acting Lieut-Governor, attempted to take it by storm being led to believe by traitors that the garrison was very weak — only 42 men of whom 18 were sick — and urged on by hot-heads in the Island who had long been anxious to have this thorn plucked from their side.

The Castle is built on an islet about 600 yards from the mainland and in the 17th century was almost continuously surrounded by the sea, except at the ebb of very low tides; between the fortress and the town was the rock called La Vermiere upon which Russell stood during the attack which had such 'a very bad success' now incorporated in the Castle pier which connects the Islet and St Peter Port.

Attack on castle

One dark night between 11 and 12 o'clock the attacking force numbering over 300 well-armed men, equipped with scaling-ladders, pushed off from the town and rowed across to the Castle. They landed on the surrounding rocks and one party succeeded in reaching the Lower Ward and captured Captain May, the officer in command, who was wounded. The entry was effected near the Castle Gate, through a breach in the walls made by the town guns which, owing to the winter weather and the fact that the work had to be done at night to avoid being fired upon from the town, had not yet been adequately repaired by the depleted garrison.

The enemy made attempts to fix the scaling-ladders, but these were repulsed by the defenders, by no means as weak as was supposed, for only a few days before they had been reinforced by a small detachment from Jersey sent over by Sir George Carteret, who had received information that an attack was in prospect. On the night of the assault Colonel Burges, having premonition of danger, turned out his men and kept them on guard till 11 o'clock, when neither seeing nor hearing any signs of the enemy, he ordered them back to quarters to lie down in their clothes, so that they were quickly ready when the boats arrived shortly afterwards.

They made a valiant resistance, knocking away the scaling-ladders with long iron forks and hurling down grenades, stones and blocks of wood. The foe was obliged to beat a retreat, but when the men reached the water's edge they found that most of the boats had gone, and many of them had to hide among the rocks round the Castle hoping that search parties would be sent to fetch them off.

One of the accounts says that some of the boatmen who ferried the soldiers across treacherously deserted them and rowed back to Guernsey. Flares were lighted in the Castle of which the glare could be seen in Jersey, and this enabled shots to be fired at the receding boats, one of which was sunk with all on board. This misfortune deterred rescuers and the men on the rocks were left to their fate. Having given up hope, at daybreak they sent their prisoner, Captain May, to ask for quarter, which Colonel Burges granted, although his brother, Major Burges, urged him to put them all to the sword.

He said afterwards that he would not have given quarter had they been Guernseymen, as it was at their instigation that these English soldiers were there. The prisoners were all marshalled under the Castle walls between two demi-lunes with a cannon trained on them, but Colonel Burges found sails to shelter them from the winter weather and forbade any of his own men to rob them. One of the traitors from the garrison, an Irishman who had reported its weak condition and undertaken to act as guide in the attack, was hanged without the walls from a cannon's mouth.

A week's truce was arranged and the Islanders had to undertake to provide food for the prisoners, but were allowed to fetch their killed - 26 — and wounded, the latter being put on parole to return when recovered. The burial register at St Peter Port shows that 35 were killed or died of wounds, but the list of casualties at the Castle was much shorter, only four killed, one by the bursting of a hand-grenade, and six wounded. 200 carbines were captured together with 100 pistols, 30 scaling-ladders and 50 or 60 barbed forks for fixing them.

Colonel Burges sent Captain May and two other wounded men to Jersey with a request that Carteret would take charge of the prisoners, as it was impossible to keep them on the rocks and equally impossible to have them inside the Castle, as they considerably outnumbered the garrison. Four days after the assault, although delayed by contrary winds, boats from Jersey arrived at the Castle and were able to land the stores they brought without opposition on account of the truce, after which 104 prisoners were embarked and taken to the bridge at Elizabeth Castle, whence they were marched under guard to St Helier. Burges kept six officers at Cornet Castle and an armourer who was made to work at the defences.

Remonstrance

Before the attack there had been considerable feeling in Guernsey because Cornet Castle was still unsubdued and this was intensified by a rumour that ships and men were being mustered in France to come to its relief. A Remonstrance was drawn up by some of the officers of the militia for presentation to Harrison, requesting permission for the Island forces to make an assault and asking for the loan of the scaling-ladders which had been sent from England. One local account says that the Islanders offered in great numbers to subdue their 'long cruel and very insensible enemy' which made the garrison commanders so ashamed that they resolved to venture an attack, but carelessly omitted to stop ships going to Jersey, thus enabling Cornet Castle to be reinforced.

It also accuses the said Commanders of deliberately shortening and weakening the scaling-ladders. The account published in London attributes the failure to the fact that the ladders were too short and the tide unfavourable. It is possible, though hardly likely, that the Remonstrance influenced Harrison to put forward the date of the attack which one writer says was fixed for the following week at the time of a very low tide, but on the other hand a man who had just come from the Island reported at Plymouth that the forces in Guernsey intended to make a barricade of boats and so to storm the castle.

The news was by no means welcome at Whitehall. Council writing to Cromwell imputed the fiasco to the perfidy of some of the Islanders, who deliberately encouraged Harrison to attack, so that his forces might be cut off, 'whereby the Island might become a receptacle for the mischevious designs of the enemy'. A letter of 16 May which seems to have been written by someone carrying weight in Guernsey, with the intention of correcting misconceptions in England, endorses this view and speaks very highly of Harrison and his soldiers.

Council now decided to send Colonel Bingham as Lieut-Governor with a further force of 200 men, and considered giving Harrison a field-officer's command with the army in Scotland. Meanwhile he remained in charge at Guernsey until Bingham's arrival in July and was still there at the time of the expedition, when he commanded the Guernsey contingent at the landing in Jersey.

Dutch squadron

At the end of the month trouble arose in another quarter, for the Dutch sent Tromp with 19 ships to Scilly to demand satisfaction for the damage done to their trade by Royalist privateers, and the size of the squadron made it not unreasonable to suppose that Tromp had orders to seize the islands. To have them held by the Dutch would be even more obnoxious to Parliament than under present conditions, so Council immediately recalled Blake from the Irish Sea and gave orders for the reduction. On arrival at Scilly he tactfully made it clear that he was there to protect the Islands, but at the same time he told Tromp that he had no wish to hinder the Dutch from exacting reparations, in fact was ready to render assistance.

It is doubtful if any satisfaction resulted. Perhaps Tromp was content to feel that Blake was about to put an end to the Scilly pirates, in any case the Dutch ships sailed away and after some little preliminary trouble the islands surrendered to Blake on 27 May.

Oliver Cromwell

News of the fall of Scilly was woeful tidings in Jersey, well aware that her own day of reckoning was drawing near. The Council of State had by no means forgotten her, and on 26 April, after consultation with Cromwell, issued orders that a commission be given to Colonel Heane, Governor of Weymouth, to set out forces by sea for 'fighting, killing and taking any of the enemies of the Parliament'. Heane was an ardent Puritan and so faithful to Parliament that while imprisoned in Portland Castle in 1644 he refused to go over to the Royalist side, though much pressed to do so by his captors. While in Dorset in 1645, Fairfax gave him one of the gold medals bestowed on officers for distinguished service and appointed him Governor of Weymouth in 1647 and Commander-in-chief of Dorset in 1650.

Carteret prepares

All this time Carteret was busy with preparations against the coming attack and early in the year he added some English soldiers and a body of Swiss to his forces. There was a good deal of trouble over the tax imposed during the previous November for buying horses from Normandy for his cavalry, so Carteret, Lieut-Governor and Bailiff, called a meeting of the States and offered to hand over the Crown revenues if in return the States would meet the expenses of governing the Island and of maintaining the Castles and the soldiers.

The subservient States could only desire him to continue as before and the tax remained as a source of resentment to the taxpayers. In March came the 104 prisoners from Cornet Castle, later to be reduced to 67 by exchange. According to the agreement, the cost of their food had to be paid by Guernsey and for some months boats arrived at intervals bringing the money, as well as tobacco and clothing for the men who had been robbed by the Jersey boatmen on the way over. Towards the end of the summer the payments fell into arrear and while Heane was besieging Elizabeth Castle in November, and after the prisoners had already been released, Carteret had the temerity to send an emissary to ask him for the money due, which naturally was not forthcoming.

In the spring of this year Jermyn was machinating for the sale of some of the Crown lands, on the pretext that it was for the benefit of the Royal exiles. He arrived in May with five or six gentlemen, including Sir John Berkeley and the poet Cowley, who were to negotiate the sale. Out of the proceeds Jermyn was to have £2,000 and Carteret in a letter to Nicholas tells him that he saw a warrant from the King to pay 300 pistoles to secretary Long, and that Berkeley and Cowley 'were to have a fleece of it', so that Carteret was justified in thinking that little would remain for the defence of the Island.

Jermyn offered to sell the office of Governor of Jersey to Carteret who averred that what money he had, had been employed to provision the Castles, and that if he were reimbursed for his outlay and the King and Lord Jermyn desired him to resign, he would willingly obey. Then Jermyn tried to bribe him to go, promising 2,000 pistoles if he would leave at Michaelmas in the event of the King appointing someone else. Carteret urged Nicholas to convince the King that it was a very bad time to sell land 'when every bower wee do expect an ennemy' and not at all the way to encourage the Islanders to hold Jersey for him.

This letter was written in the middle of June after Jermyn's abrupt departure. Only the day before leaving he had told Carteret that he intended to stay six months, which as he brought three silver table services and a large quantity of furniture, as well as two cooks among a number of other servants, appears to have been his original intention.

Piracy

In May great alarm prevailed in Jersey when 24 ships convoyed by some large ones appeared off the West Coast and were taken to be vanguard of the Parliament fleet. Bells were rung and drums beaten to call out the militia, but it proved to be a false alarm for the ships were merchant men becalmed, who sailed off to France when a wind sprang up. Nevertheless a sharp-look out was kept and every night a mounted patrol inspected the stations round the coast. Meanwhile the privateers continued their depredations, constantly bringing in prizes with valuable cargo, which was either used or sold and the ships themselves, after being fitted out and manned by Jerseymen, were added to the pirate fleet.

No wonder that these pirates were dreaded in the Channel, for they were extremely daring; on one occasion they sailed into Dartmouth, captured two Dutch merchantmen at anchor there, cut their cables and carried them off. Sometimes, though rarely, there were mishaps; in April Colonel Heane sent out a boat from Weymouth filled with soldiers kept hidden from view, but when the pirates thinking they had made a fine capture went on board the soldiers appeared and gave them such a welcome that they hasted away and hardly escaped, leaving the captain and twelve of his men dead.

In July the Duke of York and Jermyn gave warning from Paris that a large fleet and army were preparing in England and offered 300 soldiers, English, French and German, which the King of France had given them permission to send, but once landed the Island would be expected to pay and maintain them. The States were divided on the matter but finally it was decided that the soldiers would be too costly. It was considered that there were sufficient men in the Island for the ranks but that it would be advisable to have some additional officers of experience.

Col Heane's signature and seal

Fortifications

During August Carteret built a small fortified tower on a great rock on the Castle Green. In the event of the capture of Fort Charles, this rock was capable of giving protection from the Castle guns to a body of 200 men. The hastily-built tower had two tiers of loopholes below with a platform above for a gun to be trained on the fort and above that was to be a windmill. Chevalier does not state when the windmill materialised, in any case it did not remain for very many years, perhaps due to the hasty construction of the tower, for though it is seen in a sketch of about 1680, a plan of the Castle dated 1775 marks the site - 'Rock on which once stood a windmill'.

When the tower was finished trenches flanking it were dug as a further protection and the main gateway by Charles Fort strengthened. Chevalier complains that Carteret took every possible care to fortify the Castle and St Aubin's Tower and neglected the small forts round the coast, but with the resources at command to fortify adequately all the possible landing-places would have been out of the question, and Carteret was wiser in concentrating on the defences at the Castle and St Aubin's Tower, although he must have known that the power of the Parliament must finally prevail.

He did not neglect to have some fire-ships prepared ready to send among the enemy fleet when the long-deferred day of reckoning should arrive and he also took the precaution of locking up the prisoners from Cornet Castle in Mont Orgueil so that they should have no opportunity of helping the enemy.

Medal awarded to Col Heane by Lord Fairfax

The summer of this year was an anxious one at Whitehall. The Council of State continued to make preparations to meet the danger threatening from Scotland, a strong standing force was held in readiness to march rapidly as need might arise and local authorities were given strict injunctions to hold themselves prepared. In July Heane received notice that the 2,000 troops appointed for Jersey were to be used on another service and that his regiment was to remain entire any former orders notwithstanding.

On 2 August Sir Henry Vane wrote to Cromwell as to the troops that could be brought into the field 'in case of the Scots army marching into England and of your following them with your body ... but the 2,000 under Haynes (Heane) are designed another way as your Lordship well knows and the Council unwilling to divert that designe wherein a great progresse in preparation is already made, without a more visible necessity than yet appears to them'.

The same day Council wrote to Heane to proceed with his preparations 'as the rumour already spread abroad of the giving over of the said voyage will be much to the advantage of it'. Once again orders were countermanded, for on 6 August Charles crossed the border and immediately Heane received instructions to clear out the troops under his command at Weymouth and to deliver the town to such forces as Lieut-General Fleetwood might send. With 2,000 foot and 300 horse he marched to Reading, as part of the army to be drawn together for the immediate safety of London, but from Reading he was ordered to Oxford, where the Council of State was concentrating forces to bar the way should the Scottish army make for the capital.

The Governor of Oxford was ordered to cede command to him on account of his good experience,but this was only for a short time for a few days later word came to Heane to proceed to Worcester where his troops formed part of Fleetwood's column at the battle on 3 September.

Not realising that the government was far too occupied just then to think about Jersey, Carteret sent a frigate to ply about Guernsey, and Sark, with orders to report at once if she saw more than three ships together coming from England. On the night of 10 September bonfires on Guernsey were taken to be in celebration of the defeat of the Earl of Derby and the troops from the Isle of Man, but the true cause was known shortly afterwards on receipt of news from France of the rout at Worcester.

Declaration of loyalty

Carteret knowing that many people would be discouraged by the tidings and that many of the Islanders were not on his side, called together the chief officials and made them sign a declaration vowing to be loyal to their last breath and their last penny, which they did with sad hearts, expecting to lose everything if they attempted to fight against the all-powerful Parliament.

Heane returned to Dorset to press on the interrupted preparations. Weymouth harbour could accommodate 200 sail of any burden and while the transports were gathering there, the troops were mustered at Bridport and other nearby coast towns, whence they could easily be transferred to Weymouth when the time came.

Twenty years after the Restoration, Charles II dictated to Pepys an account of his many escapes and described how after leaving Trent on 23 September, he together with Colonel Wyndham and Mrs Coningsby rode to Bridport and found the streets very full of redcoats, Cromwell's soldiers, being a regiment of Colonel Haynes's - 1,500 hundred men going to embark to take Jersey.

"We rode directly into the best inn of the place, and found the yard very full of soldiers. While Colonel Wyndham was trying to secure a private room, the supposed serving-man in charge of the horses had to stay in the yard, where he talked freely with the soldiers and learned from them their intended voyage for Jersey and Guernsey and their Design upon those Islands. After dining, the fugitives proceeded on their way, narrowly escaping capture by a Parliament officer who arrived in hot pursuit within quarter of an hour of the time they left the inn. The King told Pepys that shortly after this, Colonel Phelips secured a ship at Southampton to take him to France, but by misfortune she was, amongst others, prest to transport their soldiers to Jersey.'

From time to time Blake had been consulted as to the naval and military forces required for the expedition and at last, on 20 September, Council wrote to him:

"We have given instructions to Col Heane for reducing the Isle of Jersey, and for its better affecting, we desire you with such ships as you think fit, to set sail for that place and there give your best advice and assistance for its reduction.'

Blake selected at least seven men-of-war, as well as a number of smaller craft, and by 8 October a newsletter reported that all the ships had arrived and the men were ready. Thinking that people who knew the Island intimately might prove very useful, Council decided to send three of the exiled Jerseymen with Colonel Heane. These were Michael Lempriere, his nephew Colonel James Stockall and Captain Daniel Norman who had fled from Jersey on the arrival of Captain Carteret in 1643 and were now employed at Worcester House in the office of the trustees for the sale of the late King's property. Council wrote that they were not to lose by being absent on public service, but they did not return to England after the reduction for Lempriere resumed his former office of Bailiff, Colonel Stockall was given command of the Island militia and Norman a lesser rank in the same body. Norman became Vicomte de Jersey in 1655.

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