The minute book of the Jersey Colloquy (1577-1614)

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This article by S W Bisson was first published in the 1979 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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Three-tier administration

After the Reformation the Church in Jersey was reorganised on Calvinistic lines with a three-tier system of government. In each parish ecclesiastical authority was exercised by a Consistory, composed of the Minister and selected laymen. Representatives of the Consistories, meeting together, constituted the Colloquy, which was responsible for the ecclesiastical administration of the Island, and at the summit of the edifice was the Channel Islands Synod, attended by delegates from the Colloquies of Jersey and Guernsey.

It has long been known that the register or minute book of the Jersey Colloquy, which contains a record of its proceedings from 1577 to 1614, had survived and was to be found in the University Library at Cambridge. Charles Le Quesne refers to it in his Constitutional History of Jersey, published in 1856. Only recently, however, has it been brought to light (by Mr B Pipon) that a copy of this minute book existed in Jersey, in the possession of Rev B J Giles, Rector of St. Peter, who has kindly made it available to the Societe Jersiaise for study.

This copy was made in 1908-1909 by Rev Francis de Gruchy, a former Rector of St Peter, from an earlier copy of the original book. A note at the beginning states that the Cambridge manuscript "belonged to the library of Moore, Bishop of Norwich. It is among the books given by George I to the University. Perhaps it may have been carried to the French Calvinistic Church at Norwich by one of the French Ministers, and so come into the possession of the Bishop."

The minute book is entitled Registre contenant les Actes des Colloques des Eglises de l'Isle de Jersey commence au mois de Septembre, l'an du Seigneur mil cinq cents et septante sept, et finissant le quatorzieme jour du mois de Novembre en l'an mil six cents et quatorze.

First Colloquy

The first Colloquy recorded was held in September 1577 (the exact date is not given) and eight more were held at irregular intervals from December 1579 to December 1583. From 1584 to 1614, when the book closes, Colloquies were held at quarterly intervals, with extraordinary meetings taking place between the regular meetings whenever the need arose. The first Colloquy met at St Saviour; the second at St Martin, when it was resolved that future Colloquies should be held at St Helier.

The proceedings were evidently in camera, for on 18 September 1601 a complaint was made that the consistoire in which the meetings were held was not sound-proof and the members of the Church of St Helier were asked to repair it so that the business of both the Colloquy and the Consistory could be conducted in secret as was proper.

The minutes from 1583 to 1589 show that the meetings were attended by ministres et anciens (unnamed) and one or more of the following: the Governor, the Lieut-Governor, the Bailiff, the Seigneur de St Ouen, the Seigneur de la Trinite and Aimes (Amice) de Carteret. The last three of these were Jurats and perhaps attended in that capacity.

Between 1589 and 1605, with rare exceptions, the names of those present are not recorded, but from 27 December 1605 a complete list of those who attended each Colloquy is given. At that period only the Governor, the Lieut-Governor, or a Deputy Governor was present in addition to the Ministers of the Parish Churches and one elder from each parish. The elders were not always regular in their attendance. On one occasion it was even necessary to threaten the worst offenders that they would be deprived of Communion if they continued to absent themselves. From 28 February 1607, one of the Ministers present at each meeting is designated Moderateur. As his name always appears at the head of the list of Ministers, he presumably acted as chairman.

Regulation of people's lives

It is impossible to refer in detail in an article of this length to every aspect of the work of the Colloquy and I have therefore selected for mention those subjects which appear to me to illustrate most clearly the organisation and activities of the Church and its attempts to regulate by its discipline the lives of ordinary people.

The Protestant persecutions in France had driven many Huguenot Ministers to take refuge in Jersey, providing a source from which parish ministers could be drawn. By 1583, however, suitable replacements for those who subsequently left had become difficult to find. A minute of that year shows that five parishes had no permanent incumbent. Edouard Herault, the Minister of St Clement, had also to officiate at Grouville; Pierre Henrie officiated at St Helier and St Saviour; Olivier Menier at St John and St Lawrence ; Pierre de la Place at St Ouen and St Peter; Laurens Masson at Trinity and St Martin.

In the years that follow there are frequent references to parishes pleading to be supplied with a minister and the shortage was aggravated by attempts to meet the despairing appeals from Churches in Sark, Guernsey and even France for ministers to be loaned to them.

Samuel de la Place

To ease the situation, the Colloquy evolved a policy of training local men for the ministry, as an example of which the case of Samuel de la Place may be cited. On 26 December 1595 the Colloquy promised to provide a minister for the Church of St Helier on condition that the members of that church paid for the training of a theological student at Oxford. It was at first proposed to send Samuel de la Place, but the arrangement was varied and on 26 March 1596 de la Place, with his father's consent, bound hinself to the Colloquy for two years to be trained in the Island by local ministers. The Church of St Helier was to pay 24 ecus each year for his upkeep and he agreed to place himself at the disposal of the Colloquy when he had completed his training.

In October 1599 de la Place was asked to preach a trial sermon and decide whether he wished to dedicate himself to the ministry in Jersey. He then continued preaching until the following year, when the Church of St Mary expressed a desire to have him as their Minister. As a result the Colloquy, having approved him tant en sa doctrine qu'en sa vie, sent him to preach at St Mary bareheaded (ordained ministers preached with their heads covered). A month later, having been accepted by the Church of St Mary, he was admitted as pasteur by the Colloquy and received the hand of fellowship, following which le frere Bonhomme was appointed to ordain him by laying-on of hands.

New Governor's intervention

Before 1603 the Governors of Jersey apparently raised no objection to the Colloquy's practice of appointing the parish ministers. Sir John Peyton, however, who became Governor in that year, was violently opposed to Calvinism and had no intention of allowing the Colloquy to usurp his right to present ministers to vacant benefices. When the Colloquy appointed Daniel Brevint as Minister of St John the following year, he therefore appealed - though unsuccessfully - to the Privy Council.

The minutes of the Colloquy make no mention of this, but it is significant that the next time a minister was appointed (at Trinity in 1612) the appointment was delayed until the consent of the Governor had been obtained. And in 1614 the Governor succeeded in persuading the Privy Council to order the Colloquy to accept as Minister of St Peter Elie Messervy, whom they had previously rejected on the grounds that he had been episcopally ordained and had refused to subscribe to the declaration required by the Order and Discipline of the Calvinist Church. The Colloquy obeyed the order, thus (as Le Quesne puts it) "paving the way for their own downfall".

Disputes with Guernsey

From May 1586 to August 1587 the proceedings of the Colloquy relate almost exclusively to its disputes with the Guernsey Colloquy, which were largely engendered by the employment in Jersey of ministers who had been expelled from Guernsey by its Governor for (according to his own statement) having flouted his authority, violated the discipline of the Church and caused trouble not only within the Church but throughout the Island.

The extensive correspondence between the two Colloquies - it fills some 70 pages of the original register - opens with a suggestion from Guernsey that a meeting should be held with a view to settling the disputes. Although Jersey's initial reaction was favourable, further difficulties and differences of opinion soon arose. Jersey wished the meeting to take the form of a Synod, which would, of course, have included Elders. Guernsey wanted a meeting of ministers only: five from each Island chosen by the other Island, together with an eleventh chosen by these ten.

Jersey consulted the French refugee ministers in the Island, who suggested another alternative if a Synod could not be held. The Governor of Guernsey then took umbrage at some remarks in one of Jersey's letters and refused to sanction the holding of any assembly at which the expelled ministers or any others who had supported them (amongst whom he included the majority of the Jersey Colloquy) would have a voice.

Jersey hastily disclaimed any intention of offending anyone, least of all the Governor of Guernsey, whose authority and services to the Church they acknowledged. Although they still favoured the holding of a Synod, at which they could speak in defence of their actions, they now offered to take no part in its proceedings when the stage of giving judgment on their own conduct and that of the Guernsey ministers had been reached.

Guernsey firmly refused this offer. They were unwilling to sit in Synod with their Jersey colleagues until the differences which separated them had been settled by another assembly. This, they now suggested, should take the form of an arbitration council composed of nine refugee ministers unconnected with the churches in the Islands and eight refugee elders. No sooner had Jersey agreed to this proposal than a new series of arguments started, in which the proposed arbitrators joined: Who should decide where the arbitrators would meet? How would the arbitration be conducted? Would the arbitrators' judgment be final or subject to appeal?

Correspondence between the two Colloquies continued in more or less acrimonious terms until the abritrators in Jersey abruptly brought the argument to an end by withdrawing the offer of their services.

Accusation of forgery

A new problem now began to occupy the attention of the Colloquy. Olivier Menier, Minister of St John, had been accused by some of his parishioners of forging a letter concerning tithes and had left the Island without the Colloquy's permission, leaving his Church uncared for. The question of improving relations with Guernsey was shelved and was not to be mentioned again until eight years had passed.

Then, on 26 September 1595, Edmond Snape, Minister of the Church at Mont Orgueil, was chosen by the Jersey Colloquy to act as intermediary to reopen negotiations with the Guernsey Colloquy with a view to healing the breach which still existed. He was asked to write to Mr Cartwright, his opposite number at Castle Cornet, saying that the Jersey Colloquy was prepared to proceed on the basis that everything that had happened in the past should be forgotten. Cartwright showed great tact in his approach to the Guernsey Colloquy and direct negotiations between the two Colloquies were soon started, conducted this time without any of the acrimony that must have contributed to the failure of those of 1586-87. In little less than a year agreement had been reached and preparations for the holding of a Synod were soon under way.

Education

The Colloquy took a great interest in education. The schools were visited and names of pupils who were considered suitable for sending to Oxford or Cambridge at the public expense were forwarded to the States.

In September 1601 it was reported to the Colloquy that the building and grounds of St Mannelier School were falling into decay and steps were taken to ask, first the Royal Court, then the States, and finally the Constables of the six eastern parishes, to attend to the matter. Evidently no one wished to accept responsibility for renovating the school and the Colloquy eventually decided that a search should be made for the original patent in order to find out who was responsible.

St Anastase, the other "public" school in the Island, is invariably referred to in the minutes as l'eschole de St Pierre. Although nominally the prerogative of the Seigneur de la Trinite, appointment of the master was virtually in the hands of the Colloquy, who chose a suitable candidate and asked the Seigneur to confirm their choice. The master of St Brelade's school was also appointed by the Colloquy and only persons approved by them were allowed to conduct private schools in the Island.

The idea of uniting the schools of St Mannelier and St Anastase into a single college originated at an extraordinary meeting of the Colloquy on 6 December 1594. The ministers who were members of the States were asked to present the proposition to that body. On 3 April 1595 the States decided to consider it at their next sitting, but it was then again deferred and no decision appears to have been reached.

The following year, however, Laurens Baudains gave his famous endowment for the foundation of a college, and in 1598 the States appointed Edmond Snape to take charge of the organisation of the college until a full-time master could be appointed. The Colloquy now took a hand, electing Snape and Claude Parent, Minister of St Brelade, as a subcommittee for the affairs of the college. It was resolved that the Ministers should decide what standard of education was required to qualify students for admission to the college and statutes for its government were drawn up and submitted to the States for approval.

Not long afterwards Snape incurred the displeasure of the Colloquy by leaving the Island without their consent, taking the statutes of the college with him and leaving the Church at Mont Orgueil without a pastor.

The new college, though usually referred to as le college de la ville, is in one minute (in 1604) described as le College d'Elisabeth. It appears from the Actes des Etats that it had a chequered career and it is not surprising to find that in 1610 the ministers complained that the income from the endowment was being misapplied, au grand scandale de toute l'Isle. In their anxiety to protect the reputation of the ministers, the Colloquy appealed to the Lieut-Governor to use his authority to stamp out these abuses.

Baptism rules

Nothing shows us more clearly than the minutes of the Colloquy how closely the lives of the people were regulated by the Church.

A child had to be baptised at the first, or at least the second, service following its birth; otherwise the parents would be censured. Unless they had a valid excuse, persons who presented a child for baptism were expected to sit through the preceding sermon. If they lived in another parish they had to produce a "testimonial" from the minister or an elder of their own Church.

No one who had been twice suspended from communion was allowed to present a child for baptism. Those who wished to give children pagan baptismal names were asked to change them. If they refused, they were required to make a public acknowledgment of their refusal. One father who was found guilty by the Colloquy of neglecting to have his child baptised before it died was suspended from communion.

Communion services were held quarterly and those who failed to attend one were not admitted to the next unless they had accounted to their consistory for their absence. In December 1611 the Church of St Brelade was given permission to advance the date of its next communion service, which was due to take place the following April, in order to allow fishermen, including those from other parishes, to communicate before sailing for New-oundland.

Catechism

Catechism was an essential preliminary to communion and took place quarterly before each Communion service. Those who refused to be catechized and those who neglected to attend for instruction when directed to do so were not allowed to communicate. However, persons who, by reason of old age or feeble memory, were unable to learn the Commandments might be admitted if they knew the gist of them and were devout and of good character. English people who wished to communicate might be allowed to do so if they had received instruction in the Christian religion and knew the Lord's Prayer, the Articles of Faith, the Commandments and the Shorter Catechism, even though their knowledge of French was not sufficient to enable them to understand the sermon completely, which in any case (the minute adds) even those who knew French found it impossible to do.

Marriage

A disproportionate amount of the Colloquy's time seems to have been spent in hearing cases in which the validity of a promise to marry was challenged and in enforcing promises which one of the parties was unwilling to fulfil. When a marriage had been arranged, the intended bride and bridegroom usually each made a formal promesse de mariage before a minister. With a few exceptions, such as when a girl had been coerced into giving her promise or was under age, the Colloquy regarded a promise made in this way as binding on both parties and enforceable by either of them.

If the promise had not been made before a minister, its validity might depend on the circumstances of the case, though in 1600 the Colloquy decided to ask the Synod to rule that no promise to marry should be binding unless it had been made in the presence of a minister or elder.

The lengths to which the Colloquy was prepared to go to enforce a promesse de mariage which had been adjudged to be binding are illustrated by the case of Elizabeth Becquet and Philippe Le Caumes, On 24 December 1602 the Colloquy, having considered the proceedings which had taken place in the Consistory of St Clement and in the Royal Court with regard to this couple, held that their promises to marry were valid and binding and declared that Elizabeth should suffer the penalties prescribed by the Church if she refused to marry Philippe. Elizabeth's response was to go into hiding, whereupon the Colloquy asked the Constables of Grouville and St Clement to summon her father and brothers to appear before the Royal Court to be questioned as to her whereabouts.

Elizabeth had, in fact, fled to Southampton to avoid the marriage, but in the eyes of the Colloquy both she and Philippe continued to be bound by their promises. Even three years later, when Philippe, no doubt having given up all hope of winning his bride, applied to be released from his undertaking to marry her, the Colloquy decided that further pressure should be applied to Elizabeth. One of their members was instructed to write to the brothers of the French Church at Southampton, asking them to interview Elizabeth and find out why she had failed to carry out her promise and also to take the appropriate disciplinary action against her. As to Philippe, he was exhorted to be patient and to remain chaste until the Church had taken these measures.

There is no record of a reply having been received from Southampton, but seven weeks later, after reading a report from the Consistory of St Helier, the Colloquy at last released Philippe from his promise and sent him to the Royal Court to obtain an official declaration of his freedom.

Sunday marriages banned

In 1592 the Colloquy decided to prohibit Sunday marriages because the behaviour at wedding feasts was often not in keeping with the proper observance of the Lord's Day. They asked the Governor and the Court to order that in future marriages should be celebrated only on Wednesdays and Fridays. The practice of some young people of leaving the Island to get married was also frowned upon, particularly if they returned without written evidence that the marriage had taken place.

When a married couple separated, the parish Consistory attempted to effect a reconciliation. If that failed, the parties were summoned to appear before the Colloquy, and as a last resort the spouse who left the matrimonial home might be ordered to return on pain of being excluded from communion. In 1611 the Colloquy granted a divorce to Thomas de la Perrelle on the ground that his wife, Sarra de Laic, had committed adultery, but this must be regarded as an exceptional case.

Adultery

Adultery was a civil as well as an ecclesiastical offence. Guillaume de Soulemont, who accused a woman of adultery before the Colloquy, was ordered to produce his evidence to the Royal Court. When he failed to do so after several admonitions, the Colloquy declared the woman to be cleared of the charge and allowed her to receive communion. When a charge of adultery had been proved, the culprit was liable to be publicly censured or ordered to make a public acknowledgment of his, or her, offence. In one case repeated adultery was punished by excommunication.

A lighter note on the hazards of marriage is struck by a minute regarding a wife's quarrels with her mother-in-law. The Colloquy ordered that when the wife went to Church she should sit in a pew that would be allotted to her and not in her mother-in-law's pew, thus ensuring that in church, at any rate, the women kept the peace.

Sunday restrictions

Great stress was laid on the proper observance of Sunday as a Holy Day. Dancing and games were forbidden. Farmers who sheaved corn were to be reported to the Court, which was asked to order that corn should not be carted to the mills on Sundays. The sale of bread and fish was also regarded as a profanation of the Sabbath, but the greatest strictures were reserved for taverners who kept their premises open on Sundays. Those of St Mary were excommunicated for keeping open after several warnings, and both civil and ecclesiastical officials who persistently frequented taverns on Sundays were ordered to be publicly deprived of communion.

Regular attendance at Divine Service was compulsory and it was the duty of the Constables to ensure that their parishioners sat through the sermon from beginning to end. After receiving a warning, those who failed to attend the Sunday evening service were to be deprived of communion, privately in the first instance, but by public announcement if they continued to offend.

Ministers and elders were charged to visit families and root out any remnants of Popery. The elders, in particular, had a duty to ensure that the life of every family was conducted in accordance with Christian principles. Prayers were to be said night and morning and there must be no swearing, no vulgar songs, no scandalous games and no observance of Catholic feast days. Persons guilty of blasphemy and disobedient children were to be publicly named on communion days and excommunicated if their behaviour did not improve.

Readers, Elders and Deacons of the Church were to be decently attired when attending a Consistory or Colloquy and were never to appear in doublet and hose. Constables and parish officers who took no steps to repress dissolute behaviour were to be deprived of communion, as were persons who danced in public, those who allowed dancing on their land and those who indulged in revelry by night, wearing masks and armed with sticks.

Many other offences, ranging from sleeping during the sermon to unchastity and insulting behaviour, which were regarded as causing a scandal to the public or to the Church, were punished by condemning the offender to make a public acknowledgment of his sin. The penalty for more serious "scandals" was deprivation of the right to receive communion. As a last resort, impenitent and persistent offenders were threatened with total excommunication from the Church.

Authority challenged

As time went on, more and more people rebelled against the discipline of the Colloquy, ignoring its summonses, scorning its orders and publicly challenging its authority. Reporting this to the Governor in December 1609, the Colloquy asked for his help in obtaining from the King the grant of a new code of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, which they hoped, no doubt, would result in strengthening their powers. The Governor's reply showed little sympathy for their "striving for autoritie". "My advise to everie one of you", it ends, "is that you should walke humble before your laye brethren and bestowe two partes of your time in studie of divine things and them to preach and writte so as you may be reverenced in the present and memorable in the future times."

It has been my aim to give in this article some indication of the remarkable variety of material contained in the minutes of the Colloquy and the light which it throws on many aspects of life in Jersey under the Calvinist regime. In conclusion, I would draw the attention of genealogists to the value of the minutes as a source of information about the numerous persons who are mentioned in the proceedings of the Colloquy. The index contains some 300 names, but in most cases surnames only are indexed, so that the number of individuals represented is considerably larger. A word of warning, however, to those who may have the opportunity of consulting the index. The page numbers refer to pages of the original minute book; not to those of Mr de Gruchy's copy. Once this is realised, there is no difficulty in tracing entries, for the page numbers of the original book have been noted in the margins of the copy

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