A brief history of Jersey

La plus grande des Îles Anglo-Normandes

Culled from "Un hommage à la famille Le Sauteur"
William Thomas Le Sauteur

Jersey is the most southerly of the Channel Isles. It has an area of 44.87 square miles and is situated about 100 miles southward from Weymouth and only 14 miles west of Normandy. Capital is St. Hélier.


Neanderthal Men inhabited Jersey's caves about 100,000 years before Christ and the Iberians of about 2,000 B.C. left seven Dolmens or chamber tombs.

But to us, les vrais Jèrriais, "history" stems from the annexation of the island by the Norman Dukes. Of the early Dukes of Normandy, only one, Robert I, visited Jersey when he sought refuge on the isle of Gersui during a violent tempest en 1029. It was his son who became William the Conqueror.

When William the Conqueror died in 1087 he bequeathed Normandy to his eldest son Robert, and England to his second son William Rufus.

Robert however sold or pledged the Cotentin and the Channel Islands for £3,000 to the third brother Henry. But in 1106 Henry overthrew Robert and made himself Duke of Normandy. Henry I died in Normandy in 1135.

John I, known as Sansterre or Lackland, was on the English throne from 1199 to 1216. He was challenged by Arthur, Count of Brittany, who claimed the French Duchies, and this led to a war with Philip of France who overran Normandy, leaving John with possession of the Channel Islands and the Duchy of Aquitaine. This loss enabled future sovereigns to regard themselves as English Princes and not French.

To the Normans who held tenures in both Normandy and Jersey, the French victory of 1204 meant they had to choose between allegiance to the French King or to the English sovereign, and forfeit their land rights accordingly. It also meant that the coast of France only 14 miles away was now enemy territory to the people of Jersey. This led to the building of Gorey Castle.

Henry V, 1413 to 1422, described as the greatest King since William the Conqueror, had regained France, north of the Loire, by the treaty of Troyes in May 1420.

Henry VI, 1422 to 1461, married Queen Margaret of Anjou in 1445 in the hope of improving his relations with France, but by 1449 Normandy was again in French hands.

The French-born English Queen Margaret offered the Channel Islands to her cousin Pierre de Brézé, Count of Maulevrier and Grand Séneschal of Normandy. In 1461, de Brézé sent his cousin, a Sire Jean Carbonnel, with a force to capture Gorey Castle. This they did by the probable connivance of John Nanfan, a Cornishman, who was Warden of Jersey at that time.

The French occupation of the Island, or at least all the Eastern Parishes, lasted for 7 years until 1468. During this period the name Le Mont Orgueil was first used instead of Gorey Castle.

July 21 1549, Henry II of France seized Sark, which was held for 9 years. On July 31 he attacked Guernesey, then sailed for Jersey, landing in the Bouley Bay area, led by du Bruel. A battle was fought near Trinity Church in which Jurat Hélier de la Rocque was killed and the French retired to St.Malo.

In 1562, Calvinism of the Huguenots becomes established in Jersey and for the next 300 years Jersey Churches were called "Temples".

By 1582 hundreds of Jerseymen were sailing across the Atlantic to bring back cargoes of Newfoundland Cod, leaving Jersey in the Spring and returning in time for the Autumn ploughing.

Circa 1634 Jersey had about 25,000 inhabitants. There were 100 to 130 Seigneurs with large families probably around 2,000 persons in all. Then the farmers who kept 4 and 6 horned sheep, pigs, fowls. geese and turkeys. Wheat was the main crop. Sons sailed to Newfoundland and women earned by knitting. The word Jersey in England meant knitting.

1646. It was rumored that King Charles was bankrupt and considered selling the Channel Isles to France for 200,000 Pistoles but the scheme came to naught.

In January 1647, Parliament decides to invade the Channel Isles but they were unable to decide who was to command the expedition. Jersey at this time became notorious as a "Nest of Pirates" which led to a reprisal raid by Cromwell's orders in Newfoundland and the capture of 10 Jersey fishing boats there.

In 1666, Louis XIV declared war on England and Jersey was to be his first target. Sir Thomas Morgan remodelled the Militia into 3 regiments of 400 foot and 200 horse, all well-equipped, but in 1667 peace was proclaimed and the invasion threat to Jersey removed.

In 1677 Jersey was faced with another threat of invasion from France as Britain clamored for war to check Louis's Low-country triumphs.

1685. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes brought a fresh flood of French Huguenots to Jersey.

William and Mary 1689 to 1702. William was as deeply interested in breaking the power of Louis XIV as in settling the affairs of England. Jersey was doing a great trade with the French which was suddenly prohibited by an Order. The result was to make smuggling a favorite national sport in Jersey.

1692. The Battle of Cap La Hague crushed the French Sea-power. During this time the bitter quarrels between Islanders, even Clergy and Jurats continue. Jerseymen were not a happy family.

1729. The States of Jersey supported by an Order in Council devalued the liard (½ of a farthing, 120=1/3). In Jersey 4 liards equalled 1 sol and it was proposed to make 6 liars to equal 1 sol in line with their value in France. But thrifty Jersey Farmers had other ideas and in 1730, the greatest riot Jersey had ever known, broke out in St.Hélier, and a mob smashed the windows of the Lieutenant Baliff's house (where A. de Gruchy now stands) forcing him to flee to Government House (where Woolworths is now). Finally the original Order in Council was disregarded and Jersey liards remained at 4 to the sol as before, until the English monetary system was introduced in 1835.

In 1779, Prince Nassau made an abortive attempt to storm the Island but was unable to land and was forced back to St.Malo where 5 of his ships were destroyed by the British Navy.

1781. La batâle dé Jèrri. Chevalier de Luxembourg made a second attempt at invasion, using Baron de Rullecourt as a leader of a motley force of 950 men. They landed on January 5th at La Rocque and marched to St.Hélier before sunrise on Jan 6th. They caught the lieutenant Governor, Corbet, in bed, took him prisoner and forced him to sign an act of surrender. This was ignored by Elizabeth Castle troops who fired on the French when they tried to approach. The Highlanders and several companies of Militia withdrew to Gallows Hill and here they were joined by Major Francis Peirson, aged 24, and about half of the 95th Foot Regiment, making a total force of about 1,600. Peirson decided to ignore the surrender act of Corbet and sent some troops to seize the Town Hill (Le Mont de la Ville). His main force was dispatched up what is now known as Broad Street, whilst he led another party up the back lane, now King Street, and burst into the Market Place through what is now known as Peirson Place. The French were outnumbered and the fighting lasted less than 10 minutes before they capitulated.

1789, the start of the First French Revolution. Jersey appears to have been in sympathy with the insurgents. Thousands of French aristocrats flee to Jersey resulting in an enormous expansion in the size of St. Hélier.

In 1804, Napoleon collected 130,000 men, 15,000 horses and 600 guns at the port of Boulogne to invade England. Jersey was the top of Napoleon's targets. He said "France can no longer tolerate this nest of brigands and assassins. Europe must be purged of these vermin. Jersey is England's shame".

In 1834, the Jersey States adopt the English system of currency.

1869. The Canadian fishing stations of Gaspé and Pasbébiac were owned by a Jersey firm of Charles Robin and Co who had a fleet of over 450 vessels that made regular trips between Jersey and Gaspé, but when in January 1886 the Jersey Banking Company became insolvent due to the manager Gosset who had gambled with the Bank's cash, it drove Charles Robin and Co into bankruptcy as well as other famous firms like Abraham de Gruchy.

1901. Death of Queen Victoria. During her long reign Jersey has changed in many ways. The Norman-French language was rapidly being replace by English.

1940. June 18th, Jersey is demilitarized. June 28th, the Germans bomb St.Hélier. July 21st, ultimatum of Surrender. German troops arrive.

1945, May 9th. "Liberation" by the British forces.


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