The Channel Islands (CI)

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.

Jersey and the other Channel Islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy that held sway in both France and England. Jersey lies in the Bay of Mont St Michel and is the largest of the Channel Islands. It has enjoyed self-government since the division of the Duchy of Normandy in 1204.

Page One Images     Page Two Images

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.
It has been an island for approximately 8,000 years and at its extremes it measures 10 miles east to west and six miles north to south. The earliest evidence of human activity in the island dates to about 250,000 years ago when bands of hunters used the caves at La Cotte de St Brelade as a base for hunting mammoth. There was sporadic activity in the area by nomadic bands of hunters until the introduction of settled communities in the Neolithic period, which is marked by the building of the ritual burial sites known as dolmens. The number, size and visible locations of these megalithic monuments (especially La Hougue Bie) have suggested that social organisation over a wide area, including surrounding coasts, was required for the construction. Archaeological evidence shows that there were trading links with Brittany and the south coast of England during this time. It would appear that the island was significant enough to inspire large-scale construction projects.

La Hougue Bie

Although part of the Roman world, we know very little about the island until the 11th century. The tradition that the Island was called Caesarea by the Romans appears to have no basis in fact. The Channel Islands, then called the Lenur Islands, were occupied by the Britons during their migration to Brittany (5th-6th century). Various saints such as the Celts Samson of Dol and Branwaldr (Brelade) were active in the region, although tradition has it that it was Saint Helier from Tongeren in modern-day Belgium who first brought Christianity to the Island in the 6th century, and Charlemagne sent his emissary to the island (at that time called Angia, also spelt Agna) in 803.

Caesarea - Written By Jean Poingdestre

"A Discourse of The Isle of Jersey"

The island took the name Jersey as a result of Viking activity in the area between the 9th and 10th centuries. The Channel Islands remained politically linked to Brittany until 933 when William Longsword, Duke of Normandy seized the Cotentin and the islands and added them to his domain; in 1066 Duke William II of Normandy defeated Harold at Hastings to become king of England; however, he continued to rule his French possessions as a separate entity.

But to those islanders, 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 Gernsey during a violent tempest in 1029. It was his son who became William the Conqueror.

When William, Duke of Normandy, seized England in 1066, the Channel Islands already part of Normandy for more than a century shared the glory of the conquest. In the 13th century, the French took Normandy from John, King of England and Duke of Normandy. But they failed to get the Channel Islands, and so by virtue of possessing these fragments of the great duchy, the English King or Queen is still Duke of Normandy. In return for this honor the British liege must endure the islanders' inclination to regard England, as their oldest possession. 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 war with Philip of France who overran Normandy, leaving John with possession of the Channel Islands and the Duchy of Aquitaine. This loss however enabled future sovereigns to regard themselves as English and not French Princes.

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.

The islands remained part of the Duchy of Normandy until 1204 when King Philippe Auguste of France conquered the duchy from King John of England; the islands remained in the personal possession of the king and were described as being a Peculiar of the Crown. The so-called Constitutions of King John are the foundation of modern self-government.

From 1204 onwards the Channel Islands ceased to be a peaceful backwater and were thrown into the spotlight as a potential flashpoint on the international stage between England and France.

In the Treaty of Paris (1259) the King of France gave up claim to the Channel Islands. The claim was based upon his position as feudal overlord of the Duke of Normandy. The King of England gave up claim to mainland Normandy and appointed a Warden, a position now termed Lieutenant-Governor and a Bailiff to govern in his stead. The Channel Islands were never formerly absorbed into the Kingdom of England,

Mont Orgueil castle was built at this time to serve as a Royal fortress and military base. During the Hundred Years' War the island was attacked many times and was even occupied for a couple of years in the 1380s. Because of the island's strategic importance to the English Crown the islanders were able to negotiate a number of benefits for themselves from the king. During the Wars of the Roses the island was occupied by the French for seven years (1461-68) before Sir Richard Harliston arrived in the island to claim it back for the English king.

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 Guernsey, 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 plowing.

During the 16th century the islanders adopted the Protestant religion and life became very austere. The increasing use of gunpowder on the battlefield meant that the fortifications on the island had to be adapted and a new fortress built to defend St Aubin's Bay. The new Elizabeth Castle was named after the queen by Sir Walter Raleigh when he was governor. The island militia was reorganised on a parish basis and each parish had two cannon which were usually housed in the church - one of the St Peter cannon can still be seen at the bottom of Beaumont Hill.

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 four and six horned sheep, pigs, fowls, geese and turkeys. Wheat was the main crop. Sons sailed to Newfoundland while others earned extra income by knitting. The production of knitwear reached such a scale that it threatened the island's ability to produce its own food and so Jean Poingdestre, Lt. Bailiff, passed laws regulating who could knit with whom and when. The islanders also became involved with the Newfoundland fisheries at this time. The boats left the island in February/March following a church service in St Brelade's church and they wouldn't return again until September/October. During the 1640s England was split by Civil War and hostilities spread into Scotland and Ireland as well. Jersey was divided and while the sympathy of islanders lay with Parliament the de Carterets and Poingdestres held the island for the king.

Thus the word jersey in England refers to a knitted outer garmet or Jersey Sweater.

The future Charles II visited the island in 1646 and again in 1649 following the execution of his father. It was in the Royal Square in St. Helier on February 17, 1649 that Charles was first publicly proclaimed king after his father's death. Parliamentarian forces eventually captured the island in 1651. In recognition for all the help given to him during his exile, Charles II gave George Carteret, Bailiff and governor, a large grant of land in the American colonies, which he promptly named New Jersey, USA.

Jean Poingdester, for some upknown reason refused an offer to become the King's secretary. Eventually the task was given to John Milton, the second most important English poet and writer since Willima Shakespare. King Charles II himself recommended that Jean Poindexter be appointed a Jurat and Lieutenant Bailiff of Jersey, which office Jean held honorably for eight years.

Towards the end of the 17th century Jersey strengthened its links with the Americas when many islanders emigrated to Virginia, New England and north east Canada. The Jersey merchants built up a thriving business empire in the Newfoundland and Gaspé fisheries. Companies such as Robins and the Le Boutilliers set up thriving businesses.

Round towers were built round the coasts to protect the Island from French attackThe Chamber of Commerce founded 24 February 1768 is the oldest in the Commonwealth. The Code of 1771 laid down for the first time in one place the extant laws of Jersey, and from this time the functions of the Royal Court and the States of Jersey were delimited, with sole legislative power vested in the States.

Methodism arrived in Jersey in 1774, brought by fishermen returning from Newfoundland. Conflict with the authorities ensued when men refused to attend Militia drill when that coincided with chapel meetings. The Royal Court attempted to proscribe Methodist meetings, but King George III refused to countenance such interference with liberty of religion. The first Methodist minister in Jersey was appointed in 1783, and John Wesley preached in Jersey in August 1789, his words being interpreted into the vernacular for the benefit of those from the country parishes. The first building constructed specifically for Methodist worship was erected in St. Ouen in 1809.

The death of Major Peirson, John Singleton Copley, 1782-1784.The 18th century was a period of political tension between Britain and France as the two nations clashed all over the world as their ambitions grew. Because of its position Jersey was more or less on a continuous war footing.

During the American Wars of Independence there were two attempted invasions of the island. In 1779 the Prince of Orange William V was prevented from landing at St Ouen's Bay; on January 6, 1781, a force led by Baron de Rullecourt captured St Helier in a daring dawn raid, but was defeated by a British army led by Major Peirson (see the Battle of Jersey). A short lived peace was followed by the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars which, when they had ended, had changed Jersey for ever. In 1799-1800, over 6000 Russian troops under the command of Charles du Houx de Viomesnil were quartered in Jersey after an evacuation of Holland.

The first printing press was introduced to Jersey in 1784. The Jersey cow was developed as a breed during the 19th century. Judging the quality of cows remains a feature of rural lifeThe livre tournois had been used as the legal currency for centuries. However, it was abolished during the French Revolutionary period. Although the coins were no longer minted, it remained the legal currency in Jersey until 1837 when dwindling supplies of livres tournois and consequent difficulties in trade and payment obliged the adoption of the pound sterling as legal tender.

The military roads constructed (on occasion at gunpoint in the face of opposition from landowners) by the Governor, General George Don, to link coastal fortifications with St. Helier harbour had an unexpected effect on agriculture once peace restored reliable trade links. Farmers in previously isolated valleys were able to swiftly transport crops grown in the Island's microclimate to waiting ships and then on to the markets of London and Paris ahead of the competition. In conjunction with the introduction of steamships and the development of the French and British railway systems, Jersey's agriculture was no longer as isolated as before. The new transport links also saw the arrival of the first tourists. In 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.

In 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.

In 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.

In 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 five of his ships were destroyed by the British Navy.

In 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.

In 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".

Battle Of Jersey

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

In 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 replaced by English.

The number of English speaking soldiers stationed in the island and the number of retired officers and English speaking labourers who came to the islands in the 1820s saw the island gradually moving towards an English-speaking culture.

Jersey was the 4th largest ship building area in the 19th century British Isles, building over 900 vessels around the island. In the late 19th century as the former thriving cider and wool industries declined, island farmers benefited from the development of two luxury products - the Jersey cow and the Jersey Royal potato. The former was the product of careful and selective breeding programmes; the latter being a total fluke. The anarchist philosopher, Peter Kropotkin who visited the Channel Islands in 1890, 1896 and 1903 described the agriculture of Jersey in The Conquest of Bread.

English was first permitted in debates in the States of Jersey in 1901 and the first legislation to be drawn up primarily in English was the Income Tax Law of 1928.

The 19th century also saw the rise of tourism as an important industry, which reached its climax in the period from the end of the Second World War to the 1980s.

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

As part of the Atlantic Wall, between 1940 and 1945 the occupying German forces and the Organisation Todt constructed fortifications round the coast of Jersey such as the observation tower at Les Landes. Emotionally, the 20th century has been dominated by the Occupation of the island by German troops between 1940 and 1945 which saw about 8,000 islanders evacuated, 1,200 islanders deported to camps in Germany and over 300 islanders being sentenced to the prison and concentration camps of mainland Europe (it depended on Neuengamme). 20 died as a result. The islanders endured near-starvation in the winter of 1944-45, after it had been cut off from German-occupied Europe by Allied forces advancing from the Normandy beachheads, avoided only by the arrival of the Red Cross supply ship Vega in December 1944. Liberation Day - May 9 is marked as a public holiday.

The Channel Islands were the only British soil occupied by German troops in World War II.

The event which has had the most far reaching effect on Jersey in modern times, is the growth of the finance industry in the island from the 1960s onwards.

Interview of Bob Le Souer - A Resident's Version Of The Occupation

Interview of Artur Boch - A Soldier's Version Of The Occupation


Island At War - Compelling Drama Of Three Island Families and German soldiers.


Edward Arnold "Eddie" Chapman - British Double Agent (Code Named ZigZag)

Return To The Homepage

E-mail Stories Or Just To Say Hello!