Bordage, bedelage and sergente tenure

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Bordage, bedelage and sergente tenure

This article by Christopher Aubin was first published in the 1994 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

What is a bordage?

On 16 December 1966, the Seignorial Rights (Abolition) (Jersey) Law, 1966 was registered by the Royal Court of Jersey and, with the passing of this Law, the service of bordage in Normandy ceased after one thousand years. Article 3 of the Law reads as follows:

"Abolition of restriction on alienation or division of land or rentes in relation to Feudal Services. Any restriction imposed on the alienation or division of land or rentes for the purpose of securing the performance of the services of prévot, sérgent, bedel, halberdier or any other feudal service is hereby abolished."

It will be noted that neither the term bordage, being both the holding and the duty, nor bordier, the holder of the bordage, are mentioned in the 1966 Law. Definition of some of the terms used in this article will be found in the appendix.

Towards the end of the 16th century, the term bordage was superseded by the terms sérgent and bedel. Indeed, in documents of the 17th to 20th centuries, the three terms and their derivatives appear to be interchanged freely. This mixing of terms is noted occasionally in Guernsey, where on some fiefs (eg Le Fief du Roi and Le Fief Saint Michel) bordiers became sérgents, but did not do so on others (eg Le Fief Le Comte).

In continental Normandy the terms remain distinct from one another. They describe separate functionaries who perform separate duties. Indeed, the idea of interchanging the terms is, on the understanding of the terms, impossible. However, this change of name of bordiers in Jersey has long been recognised. Julien Havet, writing at the end of the last century, suggested that bordiers and sérgents were one and the same thing and that they had simply changed their name.

De Gruchy, on the other hand, believed that the term bordier had been a misnomer, that the Jersey sérgents had only regained their rightful title and Jersey bordiers were the equivalent of sérgents on continental Norman fiefs. The Norman bordage was defined by Deslisle:

"On appelait bordage le tenement et la tenure des bordiers. On designait encore par ce nom le service que le bordier devait a son seigneur. Les bordiers se placent a un degre plus bas que les paysans proprement dits. Comme les paysans, les bordiers devaient a cause de leur tenement des rentes et des services. Mais ces services etaient ordinairement les plus penibles. On peut aussi remarquer que leurs services consistaient principalement en travaux domestiques."

Grand Coutumier

This is a reflection of Le Grand Coutumier de Normandie in which Chapter XXVIII, De Teneures, defines a bordage as a borde (cottage) leased or granted to a tenant in order to "faire les vils services de son seigneur."

Delisle believed that bordages, along with vavassories and vileinages could be considered as the three oldest forms of feudal tenure in Normandy. Delisle gives no reference earlier than the 12th century but references to bordiers in the time of Duke William, the Bastard, (mid-11th century) are known.

Le Grand Coutumier de Normandie makes further reference to bordage. Under the heading of Chapter XXVI, Des Parties D'Heritage, bordages are stated as being divisible between co-heirs.

"L'heritage est appellé partable, en quoy le seigneur ne peut reclamer aulcune garde, si comme sont vavassouries et tout aultre tenement villain, et le bordage, et le bourgage".

Chapter XXVIII, De Teneures, of Le Grand Coutumier adds a little more detail.

"En aulcunes parties de Normandie sont terres tenues par bordage, quand aucune borde est baillee a aulcun pour faire les vils services de son seigneur, qu'il ne peut vendre, ne engager, ne donner et de ce n'est pas hommage faict."

Thus the bordier cannot owe homage for his bordage neither can he dispose of it. According to the Latin version of Le Grand Coutumier "servile works" are added to the "vils services". This has been explained by Delisle as distinguishing between bordiers and vavasseurs (both tenements vilains) rather than implying that a bordier is a serf or a slave.

Chapter LIII of Le Grand Coutumier refers to courts and declares that anyone holding his fief by vils services cannot hold a court for his tenants. Bordiers are expressly included in this prohibition. It is interesting to note that in the Livre Pelut of Bayeux, dating to 1316, and dealing with the Domaine du Roi in the Vicomte of Bayeux, there are many bordages. These vary from one verge to forty vergées in area. There are also several separate fiefs that owe vilains services. Included in the services are, for example: acuiller les herbages; aider a la pesquerie; couper les grands bois pour le moulin et la pesquerie; tous services au foin et au moulin.

There is also an apparent occasional distinction between holding a bordage and holding land by bordage. Whether this distinction is anything more than clerical style is not apparent.

The bordages in Jersey

Owing to the nature of the surviving documentation all the early references to bordages in Jersey relate to Crown bordages, bordiers du Roi. This does not exclude the possibility of the existence of bordiers either on private fiefs or on those of religious houses. Indeed, some Crown bordages were included in the lands later carved out of the Fief du Roi to form such holdings. The first record of a bordage in Jersey is found in the Crown Extente for 1274 in Saint Peter: It de Bordagio Jonis Hamundi 1 Cabatellu fr.

The Assize Roll of 1299, sometimes erroneously referred to as that of 1291, gives a list of ten bordiers by parish:-

  • Mat Albini, de Sancto Helerio
  • Radulphus de Villa, de Sancto Clementi et de Groville
  • Thomas Lesterk, de Sancto Martino
  • Petrus de Vallibus, de Sancto Salvatere
  • Willelmus Cheuallier, de Sancto Laurencio
  • Ricardus Le Rey, de Sancto Brelado
  • Nicholaus Le Crochon et Albrea La Meteere, de Sancto Petro
  • Regin Bettun et Nuholaus Heraut, de Sancta Maria
  • Willelmus Le Bretun, de Trinitate
  • Petrus Hayles, de Sancto Johanne

Thus in 1299, there were bordages in ten parishes, that of Grouville serving also for Saint Clement. The Parish of Saint Ouen is not mentioned but in the 14th century that parish was covered by the bordier of Saint Mary. It should be noted that these ten parishes, each with at least one bordage, are the same ten parishes which in the 16th to the 20th centuries have a Prévot du Roi. There was no Crown prévot in Saint Ouen or Saint Clement.

The Roles de la Cour d'Heritage during the first half of the 16th century record at least one sérgent in the same ten parishes. In three of them, Saint Helier, Saint John and Trinity, the sérgent is never mentioned in these Rolls after circa 1550; only the Crown prévot is recorded. The remaining seven parishes had at least one sérgent and a prévot until the 20th century. It is in these seven parishes, Saint Martin, Grouville, Saint Saviour, Saint Lawrence, Saint Peter, Saint Bre1ade and Saint Mary, that the Fief du Roi exists.

The ferme or prévoté (firma) payable by the tenants of the Fief du Roi was collected by the King's prévot in each parish. In these seven parishes the ferme was more or less the same in the 20th century as it was at the end of the 13th century. This ferme is shown as totals by parish in the Assize Roll of 1309 but is shown broken down to its contributors, all listed with their holdings in bouvées in the Extente of 1331, who produced the King's prévot for their parish from amongst their number.

Extentes show totals

The Extentes of 1528, 1607, 1668 and 1749 again list this ferme as a total by parish. The parish apperiements produced in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and perhaps even earlier are again lists of the holders of land owing this ferme or prévoté. The land holdings had become divided by inheritance and sale. By the 16th century the bouvée/prévot system of the 14th century had been superseded by the Chef de Charette/Aides system of the apperiements.

Each apperiement divided the tenants under a number of Chefs de Charette in the parish and the rest of the tenants were then listed as aides to the chefs. The chefs became responsible for being or providing the prévot in turn and the aides contributed financially to the cost. The number of chefs varied from parish to parish and, within a single parish, from time to time. This system would have been potentially more successful than the bouvée/prévot system as a new apperiement was drawn up every 30 years or so and the aides were re-apportioned to the chefs to counterbalance the acquisition or loss of land in each holding. This apperiement/Chef de Charette system was used on many private fiefs although its origin, at present, is unknown.

However, before the 13th century the totals of the money collected as prévoté were different. The Rolls of the Norman Exchequer give figures for the ferme collected in Jersey but, unfortunately, only in 1180. In 1198 two of the three fermiers who were responsible for collecting the ferme in the three ministerii into which the Island was divided were fined for not having gone to the Exchequer in Caen but no figures are given.

The three ministerii mentioned above were probably composed of four parishes each:

  • Groccio; comprising Trinity, Saint John, Saint Helier and Saint Lawrence. Paid one hundred and forty livres.
  • Crapout Doit; comprising Saint Ouen, Saint Mary, Saint Peter and Saint Brelade. Paid one hundred and sixty livres.
  • Gorroic; comprising Saint Clement, Grouville, Saint Martin and Saint Saviour. Paid one hundred and sixty livres.

A comparison, listing the 1180 ferme for each ministerium against the parish prévoté of 1331, can be made.-

Groccio Crapout Doit Gorroic
1180 140livres 160livres 160 livres
1331 5s 2 livres 3s
20 livres 2s 61 livres 7s
31 livres 2s 3d 31 livres 12s 9d
28 livres 8s 32 livres lls 28 livres 9s
Totals 28 livres 8s 84 livres Os 3d 123 livres lls 9d

Comparisons are difficult

An exact comparison is impossible because only the totals are given in 1180 and it is possible that other income is included. The total incomes, as listed in 1331 but deducting rentes known not to have existed for the same parish groupings in 1180, would produce figures closer to those of 1180 but the same trend would be shown. However, it is clear that there were major changes in the Duke/King's income, between 1180 and 1331.

The Fief of Vingt Livres had been carved out of the parishes of Saint Ouen, Saint Peter and Saint Mary, all in the ministerium of Crapout Doit and its grant to Philippe de Carteret was confirmed by Henry III in 1227. The Fief of Noirmont, Saint Brelade, was granted to the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel at an unknown time before the end of Henry II's reign. The ministerium of Groccio includes the three parishes of Trinity, Saint John and Saint Helier, which are the same three parishes which had lost their sérgent or bordier before circa 1550.

The suggestion is that the bordiers in these parishes held lands that were on the Duke/ King's fief in 1180 but that by 1331, although still counted as King's bordiers, the lands were no longer on the Fief du Roi but formed part of the domaines granted to private or religious house holdings between 1180 and 1331, indeed, before 1274, the time of the earliest Extente.

In the parish of Trinity this can be shown to have happened. A large part of the parish is on the Fief de Dielament. De Gruchy identified this fief with 60 librates of land given to Drouet de Barentin by Henry Ill. The King's prévot for the parish of Trinity was elected from the tenants of the Fief de Dielament and from those of the Fief de l'Abbesse de Caen. No field names incorporating bordage are known in Trinity. However, there are many references to bedelage and sérgenté from the 16th century.

In 1539 the prévot of Trinity was fined for ignorance, having given a bille to Cosmes Cabot, the sérgent, instead of Thomas Vauldin, the bedel. A field, La Sergeanté, is known in Trinity. It was sold on 7 March 1555 by the Seigneur of Dielament to John Rondel in exchange for services. In the 17th century (5 November 1644) a separate piece of land, le petit clos, was sold by Amyce de Carteret to Thomas Le Gros, son of John, to discharge Amyce from the service of bedelage.

Dielament colombier

Dielament colombier

Amyce had acquired the land and duty from Mabel Le Gros, only heir of Jacques Le Gros, along with the rest of her property. During the 17th century (7 November 1657) the owner, Philippe Bisson, of a separate field on the fief, le clos du bedelage, owed a rente to the heirs of Mabel Le Gros. A third connection between Mabel and Jacques Le Gros involves a separate property upon which the service of cleaning the colombier of Dielament was attached. This property also passed from Mabel to Amyce, who sold it shortly after to Hugh Mollet (9 March 1638).It is not clear whether these Le Gros properties were one of the King's bedels or not, but it appears that the holding may well have owed one of the classic bordage services, that of cleaning the colombier at Dielament.

Drouet de Barentin also received the fief of La Hougue Boëte which is principally in Saint John but also in Saint Mary, Saint Lawrence and Trinity. Henry III granted other lands in the parishes of the ministerium of Groccio. Robert de Meleches was given a large fief spread principally across Saint Helier and Saint Lawrence. The King's sérgent for the 16th century in the parish of Saint John was elected from among the tenants of the Fief d'Orville, a fief which was in Crown hands before the end of the 13th century.

In Saint Helier the King's prévot was elected from the tenants of the Fief du Prieur. According to Le Geyt the prévot was, traditionally, from Saint Lawrence, until an inhabitant of the Vingtaine du Mont Cochon had built a house on land in that vingtaine forming part of the Fief du Roi. It should not be forgotten that included in the 1331 Extente in Saint Lawrence was a bouvée of land in Saint Helier held by Guillaume Martin. This bouvee Martin occurs in various contracts of the 17th century.

In time the obligation of providing the prévot du Roi became due on new houses built in the town of Saint Helier on the Fief du Prieur. The prévot of the Fief du Prieur itself was provided, presumably, by the older tenants of the rest of the fief. It could be suggested that the obligation of prévot was transferred to the new houses of the growing town from the tenants of Saint Lawrence or possibly Meleches.

In 1299 the bordier for Saint Helier was Mat Albini but in other unpublished versions of the Assize Roll this name is given as either Mathieu or mere de. The name is not clear. However, elsewhere in the Assize Roll an enquiry was held into the tenants of this bordage. Pierre Lessaire held one acre; Matillis, widow of Guillaume Le Bas, and doubtless the Mat Albini mentioned above, held one and a half vergées, whilst Nicolas Huelin and associates held two and a half vergées.

Hanging thieves

They owed the service of hanging thieves convicted in the King's Court and condemned to death. The service had long been withheld and the land upon which it was owed confiscated until the tenants made satisfaction to the King for the service, and its arrears.

Six years later Pierre Lessaire's holding was held by his nephew Perote who, along with the others named above, petitioned Parliament at Westminster for the restitution of two "acres" in Saint Helier withheld from them by the inquisitors of 1299. (2 "acres" = 1 "acre" + 1.5 vergees +2.5 vergees). The case was deferred to the next Parliament and the outcome is unknown. In 1309 the bordage of Pierre Seirre was held by Philip Le Bacotel for the service of suspendendi laterones. But he, too, refused to perform the service and the bordage was again taken into the King's hands. It was regranted to Robert Crespel on condition that he performed the services. He had married one of the heirs of Pierre Seirre.

De Gruchy believed that in 1309 there was an attempt to impose new services on the bordage. But he was unaware of the evidence of the 1299 rolls and the 1305 petition which suggest more of a refusal by the bordiers to carry out their duties than an imposition of a new vil service. No further reference to the bordiers of Meleches occurs, although the fief had a sérgent in the 16th century. The service was due on a field named La Sergeanté or Le pre du Roi, which was situated on Le Mont es Pendus next to the 'gibet'.

In 17th and 18th-century contracts it contained 8 vergees 17 pieds, or slightly over two acres, surely the same lands as the 13th-century bordage. It should be noted that these sérgenté lands of Meleches were also next to the common.

Apart from the list of bordiers, the Assize Roll of 1299 mentions also some ten others. One unfortunate bordier of the King, a Nicolas Hornet, was wounded by Philippe Ernaud while carrying out his duty. The Assize Roll of 1309 does not give a list of bordiers similar to that of 1299 but it does supply further information regarding the bordiers in some of the seven parishes where the Fief du Roi is found.

The two bordiers in Saint Saviour paid two sous and six deniers to the Abbess of Caen. The bordiers in Saint Lawrence were specifically stated as owing neither charriage nor fumage which they would otherwise have been expected to owe. In Saint Mary there were two bordiers, one of whom, John Bloyn, also served in Saint Ouen, In 1331 his bordage was said to be held by John Le Blanc and De Gruchy preferred this second name. However, the lands for one of the Saint Mary sérgentés include Le Clos du Blouin and border on a lane still named to this day, La Rue du Blouin. The second Saint Mary bordier seems to have served only in that parish.

The Saint Peter bordage of John Hammond in 1274 is perhaps that held by Nicholas Goies in 1309 as both owed one cabot of wheat except that, in 1309, Goies owed also one boisseau (two cabots) said to be extra. The Crochon bordage in Saint Peter had been divided into halves; a five cabot rente had been created on one of them and this had been taken into the King's hands. From the second half, five perches of land had been sold off and the purchaser had then given the land to his son-in-law upon the latter's marriage. These five perches also had been taken into the King's hands. The Grand Coutumier did expressly state, after all, that a bordier could not sell, charge or make a gift of his bordage. There were three bordiers in Saint Brelade in 1309 and a fourth who passed only summonses, etc, to the prevot and other sérgents (serviens) of the Fief de Noirmont.


Finally, in 1309, there were the broken up and dispersed bordages of Grouville. Thomas de Samares was the Chef Bordier and there were 14 other bordages or parts of bordages, three of which, together with some rentes, had been taken into the King's hands. The people of the Island had told the Assizes that the bordiers could not charge their bordage without licence from the King. After the Assizes, the bordiers of Grouvil1e, with William Horman the pleader, Richard Le Fessu and all the other tenants of bordages, appealed to the King for the reinstatement of their bordages.

They stated that they owed the services of serving summonses and distraining for the King's debt and whatever else they owed, because of their bordages, and that they could be fined for non-service. The prévots, and perhaps others, had doubtless had trouble in contacting the bordiers as, in 1323, an ordonnance is recorded whereby each bordier was to have a main house on his bordage where he lived and where there would always be a man available to do the services.


In the Extente of 1331 more detail is given of the services. The parish of Saint Martin is mentioned first and the services for the other parishes are referred back to those of Saint Martin. In that parish there was, at that time, a chef bordier and three sous bordiers. The bordiers were pledged (namier) by the prevot of the parish. The services which the bordiers owed included arrests, summonses and other menus services and their heirs, as holders of the bordages, were bound to the same services. There were no specific services attached to the Crown mills, as these were maintained by all the tenants, not just the bordiers. Hence this classic duty of a bordier is not to be found nor, on the Fief du Roi at least, is that of cleaning the seigneur's colombier. There was never a King's manor house in Jersey.

By contrast, as noted above, a 16th-century holder of a bedelage on the Fief of Dielament was bound to clean the seigneurial colombier though it is not evident that this duty was actually attached to the bedelage. There was a colombier at La Ville Machon, Trinity, a confusing property on five fiefs, one of which is Petit Rozel. A short distance over the road at Le Catel on the same fief is Le champ du bordier.

In Saint Lawrence the seigneur of the fief, Jourdain Payn, bought a property in the early 17th century which owed the service of cleaning his colombier but there is no mention of bordage. However, the 1608 Terrier of the Fief of Samares claims that all the tenants were responsible for cleaning the colombier. Indeed, in 1723 one tenant, Jean Clement, was brought before the Seigneurial Court for failing to travailler a vuider le colombier.

Again, by way of contrast, the bordiers on the fiefs at Bretteville and Verson in continental Normandy, held by the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel, and on that at Saint Martin des Bois, held by the Abbey of Saint Ouen at Rouen, were charged to assist the sérgents of their respective fiefs, a duty similar to that which in Jersey led to the confusion between the terms bordage and sérgent.

Thus, in the first half of the 14th century, as already stated, there were no bordiers in Saint Ouen or Saint Clement. There were the King's bordiers in Saint Helier, Saint John and Trinity but the indications are that the actual bordages were no longer on the Fief du Roi but on the fiefs which had been carved out of the Fief du Roi in grants to seigneurs. In the other seven parishes there were:-

  • Saint Martin: one chef bordier and three sous bordiers
  • Grouville: one chef bordier and numerous parts
  • Saint Saviour: two bordiers
  • Saint Lawrence: three bordiers
  • Saint Brelade: three bordiers and one who served on Noirmont
  • Saint Peter:three bordiers
  • Saint Mary: two bordiers

A further undated 14th-century reference to Grouville is to one Jousnin Neel who held fifty perches and owed service of bordage.

In a partage of the de St Martin family, dated 1315, the eldest son, seigneur of the Fief of Trinity, had to be summoned by the sérgent of Grands Vaux, pour sa dignitey. This is, perhaps, the earliest reference to a Jersey bordier being called a sérgent and may be due to the 'dignity' of the person requiring something different from a possibly unacceptable summons by a bordier. One of the Saint Saviour bordages, later called a sérgenté, was in Grands Vaux.

Bordages become sérgentés and bordiers, sérgents

During the seven years from 1461 to 1468, the Island was occupied by the French. Three letters written by Louis XI of France to the Baillis of the Cotentin and Jersey during December 1461, concerning the possessions of Norman Abbeys in Jersey, have survived. Each letter had a mandement addressed Aux jures viconte de l'isle de Gersuy et a tous les Sergens du Roy nostredit Sire.

In the second letter the viscount is referred to as: viconte ou sérgent of Jersey. It is suggested that the change of name of Jersey bordiers to that of sérgents occurred during the French occupation. Seven years may not seem a long enough time for such a change to occur but there is evidence also of the States of Jersey having attained some degree of formalization during the same seven years.

The ordonnances of the Comte de Maulevrier, Pierre de Breze, Grand Senechal of Normandie and (under the King of France) Seigneur des Iles, allowed for the Jurats to be elected by the Bailiff, Jurats, Rectors and Constables, les trois etats and were, as Nicolle has remarked, la genese des futurs Etats de Jersey.

On 21 March 1463, and during the French occupation, Jeannete, wife of Nicolas Le Moigne, sold by ouye de Paroisse her house and lands at Le Hurel in Saint Lawrence to Colin Le Cornu. This holding was expressly stated as being exempt from: prévoté, sérgenté, servage, de fumage, de suite de moulin et de tous autres services.

The format of the contract differs from that normally used and is, perhaps, a reflection of the French occupation. On 4 October 1532 another Nicolas Le Moigne sold a house and lands, including les jardins de haut et de bas du bordage on the Fief des Arbres in Saint Lawrence, to Martin Langlois et uxor. The property passed to the Mauger family a few years later but from then on there has been no further reference to these named lands. However, during the 18th century, a property in the Langlois family (Partage of Jean Langlois, 27 June 1767) on the Fief des Arbres included La Fontaine du Bordage. The suggestion is that one of the three bordages in 14th-century Saint Lawrence was, in fact, situated on the Fief des Arbres.

15th century Bailiff's partage

Nicolas Morin, Bailiff of the Island during the French occupation, died shortly after the recovery of the Island by Harliston. He left eight daughters and their 1482 (jeudi apres Quasimodo) partage of his estate survives. The eldest daughter married Thomas Dolbel and, as part of her inheritance, was held to perform the service due for the bordage of Saint Saviour and to have the lands accustomed to be held for this service.

The Dolbels held one of the sérgentés for the parish until the end of the 18th century. The third share of the estate passed either to Jean Vasse or Guille du Pont and was held to perform the service for the sérgente for Grouville, in turn, if it was owed upon the inheritance. It is curious to note that, in this one document, the terms bordage and sérgente are used for separate parishes for what, in fact, are the same offices.

Five years later a remarkable series of exemptions arises. The origin appears to be letters granted to John Bertram, chef sérgent for Saint Martin, on 11 June 1487. It is necessary to note that the chef bordier in Saint Martin in the 14th century was Raoul Bertram. Indeed, in 1528 John Gaudin, in right of his wife, daughter of Drouet Bertram, was actioned by John Payn, the prévot of Saint Martin, to act as prévot. Gaudin, in right of his wife, claimed exemption as co-heir to the Chef Sergeante lands. His brother-in-law, the eldest heir, John Bertram, was held responsible for the actual service as chef sérgent under the terms of their partage.

Letters of exemption

The old extente was consulted and the sérgenté lands were referred to as having belonged to Raulyn Bertram and Collyn Le Tellier. In 1487 John Bertram had complained that various attempts had been made to compel him to pay for or carry out other services. Listed are guet, fouage and fetture, from all of which he claimed he and his ancestors had been exempt. Twelve old and loyal men were produced who swore that they had never heard that he was not exempt of guet, fouage and faitture and all other services by virtue of his office of chef sérgent of the King. For this, needless to say, John Bertram requested letters sealed by the Bailiff and Jurats.

Six years later on 18 December 1493, Guillmin Boullon, the miller at Quetteville in Saint Lawrence, challenged Guille Le Bailiff, chef sérgent of Saint Lawrence, to perform the services he owed. Le Bailiff promptly quoted the letters given to Bertram as his reasons for exemption and then obtained further letters from the Royal Court by which he was exempt from: de guet, de fouage, de queriage, de receantise de moulin, de fetture et de tous aultres servages, similar to the chef sérgent in Saint Martin, for all his property owing the sérgenté. On the same day Jacquet Fallu, chef sérgent in Saint Peter, received letters of exemption but his letters included the extra exemption from prevote. During the 14th century the bordiers paid ferme but in the apperiements of the 17th and 18th centuries, their lands which owe the sérgenté service, are not included, ie they did not owe ferme (prevote).

One hundred years later, on 6 October 1586, the chef sérgent of Saint Mary had trouble with his parish Constable who tried to force him to do his turn at guet. The chef sérgent promptly referred to the letters of 11 June 1487, and himself received further letters of exemption. In Saint Mary they were not so easily deterred. The next Constable tried again on 21 September 1587, and even went as far as to distrain the chef sérgent's goods for the nights he had defaulted. The Constable's excuse was that the chef sérgent owned other lands beside the sérgenté and it was on account of these that the service was to be performed. The chef sérgent's response was that: le corps de la personne doit le guet et non la pluralite des pieces, que si aucune des pieces de teneure affranchist la personne elle demeure quitte pour les autres. The Court issued further letters of exemption.

In 1636 the Procureur du Roi requested that the chef sérgents assist with the dovres, a day's work each year on the castle fortifications. Again their letters of exemption were referred to by the chef sérgents of Saint Lawrence, Saint Martin, Saint Peter and Saint Saviour and they won their case. The Crown appealed but no result is known. Perhaps the Crown failed to follow through the appeal. These exemptions mark a major event in the evolution from bordier to sérgent, a change of state which could have been extracted by the bordiers from the French occupation.

Although the bordiers of Saint Lawrence claim to be exempt from charriage and fouage in 1309, many of their contemporaries paid ferme and, with the tenants in general, owed many more services from which no claim for exemption was made.

The origins of the bedels and the bedelages

From early in the 16th century the records of the Royal Court are preserved in bound volumes. The first volume from the Cour d'Heritage speaks of sérgents without special distinction of chef sérgents in ten parishes; there are no references in Saint Ouen or Saint Clement. The next two volumes, 2A-1531 to 1545 and 2B-1531 to 1548, refer generally to sérgents but also of chef sérgents and bedels. Until 1547 many sérgents are mentioned in these tomes, not just sérgents du Roi in the seven parishes but also in the three parishes which used to have a Fief du Roi - Saint John, Saint Helier and Trinity, as well as sérgents of the bas fiefs; fiefs confiscated by the Crown.

Those of the religious houses would fall into this group. Two sérgents occur from bas fiefs in the seven parishes, namely; Noirmont in Saint Brelade and Prieur in Saint Peter, again, though, only before 1547. The sérgenté for the Fief du Prieur in Saint Peter was due on land on the Fief du Roi. It is possible that the sérgenté has become attached to a second property. It is curious that no sérgent occurs in the Cour d'Heritage books for Saint Clement, although there was Le clos du sérgent on the Fief du Prieur in that parish and Daniel Venement is known to have been sérgent in 1613.

The sérgent of Noirmont was Jannequin Rede who, sadly, committed suicide at the end of April 1560, after a long illness. On 20 May 1560, Thomas Le Petevin was sworn in as sérgent, followed on 20 June 1569, by Lucas Le Goupil. On 14 January 1626, Pierre Le Cornu was sworn in as sérgent because his lands owed the service. His son, another Pierre, sold a camp and cotil, named Le Bordage, to Philippe Deslandes 8 October 1661, but retained the service of the sérgenté. Twelve years later Deslandes obtained the consent of the then seigneur, Sir George de Carteret, to the sale.

The service of sérgenté remained attached to the Le Cornu property until the late 19th century when it was bought by the seigneur. The land sold to Deslandes bordered on the Commune de Haut of Noirmont and several other pieces of land which include bordage as an element in their name. It also adjoins the Clos de la Resderie. Perhaps, then, the unfortunate Jannequin Rede held the same lands.

Prior to 1547 in Saint Brelade there are references to Pierre and Estienne Lael as chef sérgent, Jannequin Rede as sérgent of Noirmont, Jean and Thomas Valpy as sérgent du Roi and to Philippe and Thomas Jehan as sérgent du Roi. The last two were always called sérgent before 1544 and bedel after 1547. During the 14th century four bordiers existed in Saint Brelade, one of whom served on the prévot for Noirmont. During the 16th century, Saint Brelade possessed one chef sérgent, one sérgent for Noirmont and two sérgents/bedels. The Fief of Noirmont was granted by Henry III to the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel.

Saint Mary

In Saint Mary the earliest reference to the term bedel is in 1542, recordatum est per Ffranciscum arthur Bedel. Eight months later the chef sérgent recorded having passed a billet to a bedel. In 1547 Francois Arthur is again called sérgent. In 1547 Philippe Jehan, mentioned above, is called upon to prove that the lands owing the bedelaige were indivisible.

From the 1560s the term bedel and its derivatives is the more common term rather than bordier, sous-bordier, sérgent or sous sérgent. However, mixtures of the terms do occur. For example, in 1564, Francois Arthur sold a house and lands to Pierre Grault who was to do le service nome le bedelage ou bordage and, in 1566, Symeon Levesque took oath i la fiee of Pierre Grault for the service de la sergeate et bedelage du soubs bordage.

Why did bordiers become sérgents and then bedels? The change to sérgent can be accepted as being confirmed by, if not actually instigated by, the French occupation. Poingdestre, writing in the 17th century, believed that the subordinate officer to the vicomte, known locally as the denonciateur, would have been called the bedeau in bygone times. In Jersey, the Bailiff carried out many of the functions of a Norman vicomte, and the viscount those of a Norman sérgent. Indeed, when Richard Le Fessu, or de Gereseye, the first of a series of hereditary viscounts of Jersey, was appointed in 1305, it was to the bailiwick of the serjenty of Jersey.

This would be in agreement with Poingdestre, ie that a real Jersey bedel, under the terms of the Chapitre au Vicomte of the Norman Coutumier, would be the denonciateur. Indeed, during 1330 in Sark, there were unius prepositi, unius bedelli et sex juratorum whilst Alderney possessed one prevot, one bedel and seven Jurats.

The bedel was elected from the commonalty of the Island and was salaried. In 1575 part of the salary of the Alderney sérgent du Roi was in the form of land, but this had long been submerged by the sea and lost. Even in Guernsey during the 14th century there was a bedel who became the sérgent du Roi, an officer appointed by the Crown.

Thus it is clear that a 'real' bedel is a totally different officer from Francois Arthur, bedel of Saint Mary in 1547. The suggestion is that the similarity between vicomte/sérgent/bedel in Normandy and vicomte/chef sérgent/sous sérgent in Jersey had been noticed and that the sous sérgent was thus re-christened bedel. Why should this be? The Grand Coutumier became readily available during the 16th century when at least ten editions were printed between 1483 and 1539.

This may seem an extremely simple answer but why else should the misnomer bedel suddenly appear? Thus the change was complete, the bordiers and chef bordiers of the 14th century became bedels and chef sérgents.


To recapitulate: the numbers of 14th-century bordiers in the seven parishes were as shewn above. From references from the 16th to 20th centuries investigated during this study, the following numbers of sérgents were identified:-

  • Saint Martin: one chef sérgent and six bedels although four are divisions of one original. Thus there are really three bedelages
  • Grouville: one elected sérgent and five bedels
  • Saint Saviour: three chef sérgents but two are a division of one original and, thus, there are really two
  • Saint Lawrence: one chef sérgent with two others known but lost
  • Saint Brelade: one chef sérgent, two bedels, one sérgent for Noirmont
  • Saint Peter: one chef sérgent and two bedels
  • Saint Mary: one chef sérgent and two bedels, both parts of one original

Thus the numbers of 14th-century bordiers exactly match the numbers of 16th to 20th-century sérgents and bedels.

Later history

The individual history of each of these sérgentés/bedelages is beyond the scope of this present article but a detailed study of their histories provides considerably more material. The Grand Coutumier allows for the division of bordages but not of sérgentés. By the mid-16th century one sérgenté/bedelage in each of the parishes of Saint Martin, Saint Saviour and Saint Mary, had been divided though how, why or when is not known. The divisions themselves vary.

In Saint Saviour all were named chef sérgenté though two were parts of a single holding in Les Grands Vaux near Louys Paul mill. In 1537 a declaration of Tomelin La Cloche, miller of the nearby moulin de Mal Assis, refers to the moulin du Mann as having been built on a bordage. The original Le Mann paid four cabots of wheat as annual rente to the Crown for its permission to build the mill on the bordage.

In the Extente of 1607, the four cabots were payable by Hugh Nicolle, son of Hostes of Longueville, having right of Louys Bertram, son of Paul, having right of Thomas Le Mann. Part of this holding was held by the Dolbel family, doubtless heirs of the Thomas Dolbel who married one of the Morin heiresses. Jean Dolbel sold "le pray du moulin Louys Paul" to Jean Poingdestre on 16 August 1681 but Dolbel, however, remained charged with the service of sérgent.

Some 100 years later, in a Dolbel partage, the eldest heir took four extra vergées of land of his choice as payment for having to perform the service of sérgent. The second part of the holding owing service was sold by Clement Gallie to Mathieu Dorey on 5 April 1656 as, la moitie du pray de la sérgenté ... joignant au moulin de Louis Paul. Dolbel served for two years out of four and held four vergées but Gallie served one year and held twelve vergées. The fourth year was due on a holding of 30 vergées of Noe Le Geyt. Le Geyt's property was half a mile to the north-east of Louys Paul mill and possessed a fine coat of arms of the Le Geyt family which, unfortunately, was tentatively identified by Major Rybot as that of the Cabot family.

St Saviour

Thus, in Saint Saviour, there are examples of sérgenté lands being sold free of the service. This also happened in Saint Martin where a bedelage was divided. Again, the circumstances of the division are not known but it was divided into four parts all of which owed service in turn. Two of the parts were purchased by Jean Le Hardy on 7 and 21 January 1625 free of service. He paid to the vendor one poule of annual rente which was doubled to two in the years when the service was actually performed.

Again, as shown in the Crown Extentes, a bedelage is divided in Saint Mary. One family held eight vergées for one year's service and the neighbours held 24 vergées for the remaining three years. Over the road, the chef sérgent held 32 vergees and served continually. These figures appear artificial, as if there had been some formal arrangement.

During the 17th and 18th centuries the bedelages and sérgentés are usually treated separately in contracts of partage des heritages. They are left impartable to the eldest heir to perform the service. However, with the above divisions this, clearly, has not always been the case. In 1547 in Saint Brelade, Philippe Jehan had to prove that his lands were indivisible and had to remain intact for the bedelage. In 1636 the Royal Court suggested that the estate of Elie Payn in Saint Peter be divided between his three daughters and co-heirs.

Either lands of the sérgenté were to be valued and then enough set aside to the eldest for the sérgenté, with the rest being divided equally, or they were to be divided equally between the three daughters who would then each owe the service in turn. Collas Le Boutillier, who had married the eldest daughter, interjected an appeal to the Crown but, in the partage two months later, on 13 August 1636, he took causa uxoris all of the sérgenté lands and he alone was responsible for the service. This order of the Court clearly took no notice of an earlier Act of 1580 when it was ordered that the chef sérgenté of Saint Martin and all others were to remain indivisible among co-heirs.

St Peter

There was a bordage in the vingtaine of Saint Nicolas in Saint Peter for which a sérgent was sworn in on 8 September 1655. By the beginning of the 18th century the lands of this bordage were in about 15 pieces and the service appears to have ceased after the Civil War. The other bedelage in Saint Peter was at Le Coin Varin, the service being attached to Clos de Hastain. In the neighbourhood of this field is another named Jardin du Bordage which owed no service. This appears to be another example of the lands and services being separated. It must be noted that Jardin du Bordage abutted on to the common.

Two bordages in Saint Lawrence disappeared. One of them, as mentioned above, probably because it was on land that became part of the Fief des Arbres. The other, which was on the Fief du Roi at Petit Felard, appears to have been greatly divided.

The parish of Saint Martin had, as had Saint Brelade, the most bordiers. It is the only parish where one of the 15th century sérgents has the same family name as one of the 14th century bordiers. One of the holdings was on land which was granted by the King/Duke out of the Fief du Roi, this time, to l'Abbesse de Caen. It is possible that this is another example of the service being transferred from one property to another.

However, it should be said that the holding bordered the common of the Fief de l'Abbesse de Caen. As previously stated, during the 14th century, the Abbess received ferme from the bordiers of Saint Saviour. It is interesting to speculate that the lands of the Abbess in Saint Martin formed a part of the grant made to the Abbess by Duke William, the Bastard, and, hence, this bordage could have been in existence in the mid-11th century.

Although it was the land holding that owed the service, its tenant was obliged to provide the bedel or sérgent only, and it was often the case, especially when the holding was in the female line, that the tenant hired someone to perform the actual service, loue i la fiee de . . . .

Civil War

The period of the English Civil War became a time of great disorganization locally and, at one time, there was only one serving Jurat out of the twelve. The proportionate number of the sérgents could hardly have been greater. Thus, in September 1655, the chef sérgents of Saint Peter, Saint Brelade, Saint Lawrence, Grouville and Saint Mary, together with the two bedels of Saint Peter, one of the two in Saint Brelade, four in Grouville and one of the two, who served in turn, in Saint Mary were sworn in.

During the same month the Jurats and prévots were also sworn in. The chef sérgent for Saint Saviour was sworn in during May and his successor, i son tour in April 1656. One bedel was sworn in for Saint Martin during October 1655.

In the parish of Grouville there was an elected sérgent from at least the early 16th century and there were five bedels in the 17th and 18th centuries. The service of bedel was due on specified lands but not the service of sérgent. However, rentes were due to the sérgent. Presumably, the state of division of the bordages in this parish during the 14th century had led to the adoption of a different organisation by the 16th century.

An appendix to the apperiement of Saint Martin of 1701 lists all the tenants of houses in the parish. Unfortunately, like the 25th bouvée, it was not included in the published version. These tenants are divided into eight groups, five being on private fiefs and the other three on the Fief du Roi. The head of each group stated which sérgent, or prévot for most of the private fiefs, had the responsibility of issuing summonses, etc, to the tenants of that group.

Two of the Fief du Roi groups had one bedel whilst the third had four bedels who served in turn. Included in the former, was the bedel whose bedelage was on the Fief a l'Abbesse de Caen but he himself was listed in the group to be summoned by the prevot of the Fief a l'Abbesse de Caen. These regions in which each bedel served are the only indication of a system similar to that existing in Guernsey. The Fief du Roi in Guernsey was split into bordages from at least the 14th century. In 1331 these were listed by the names of tenants of the Fief du Roi and each grouping was referred to as a bordage although, in fact, the true bordage was the smallholding of the bordier whose duty was restricted to those tenants named in his listing.

Late in the 18th century, one of the chef sérgents of Saint Saviour, Thomas Lamy, was killed in the house of Michel Mallet which stood near the Seymour slip in the parish of Grouville. The accused, Pierre Journeaux, fled the Island only to return on the night of 5/6 January 1781, as guide to the invading French forces led by de Rullecourt.

Private fiefs

The sérgentés on some private fiefs are known in the 16th to 18th centuries. Those of the Fiefs du Prieur (Saint Peter), Franc Fief (Saint Brelade) and Luce de Carteret appear to have been due on specified lands. That of the Fief du Prieur (Saint Clement) may have been due similarly on the field La Sérgenté but it is possible that the use of this land formed part of a salary of an otherwise appointed sérgent. On the Fief de Rozel the sérgent was an appointee. The Chef de Charette system provided the sérgent as well as the prévot on the Fiefs of Saint Ouen, Vingt Livres and Samares,


Thus, despite the social and practical differences between a bordier and a sérgent, it can be seen that the unexpected evolution of the 14th-century bordier to the 16th-century Jersey sérgent and bedel was just an evolution and not a regaining of their rightful title by the sérgents. This change appears not only to have been unheard of in continental Normandy, but it is not even considered as a possibility. However, in Guernsey, a change from bordier to sérgent occurred also on the Fief du Roi, but not the change to bedel. By contrast, the bordiers of the Fief le Comte remained as such.


It is not possible to give exact definitions of the feudal terms mentioned in this paper. They differed from fief to fief and from time to time. However, to assist the reader, the following general definitions can be given:-


A formal document listing the tenants of a fief who owe prévoté. Each tenant is listed with a description of his land on the fief upon which the prévoté is owed. The tenants are divided into a number of Chef de Charette and the rest are apportioned between the Chefs as Aides so that each grouping of a Chef and his aides is of approximately the same land area.


The bordier holds a tenement called a bordage upon which he owes the service also called bordage. This service consists primarily of servile work - cleaning colombiers, hangman and assisting the prevot and the sérgent of the fief.


The bedel, in Normandy, was a high official under the Vicomte. In Jersey this official was called the Denonciateur, though it is also said that the Jersey Bailiff is the equivalent of a Norman Vicomte not a Norman Bailiff and that hence the Jersey Vicomte is technically the equivalent of a bedel. The Jersey bedel was a bordier renamed in the 16th century after a confusion in terminology. He owed the service of bedelage which was due on his holding also called a bedelage. The term bedelage is unknown outside of Jersey.


An official originally elected by the tenants of a fief, usually from among their number. He was assisted in some of his functions by the bordiers/bedels and was responsible for issuing summonses and for collecting from the tenants of his fief the Seigneuriale Rente known as ferme or prévoté. The election system based on bouvées (a land area of twenty-four vergees) in the fourteenth century was, by the sixteenth century, replaced by a system of Chefs de Charette and Aides. Each Chef was responsible for being, or employing, the prevot in turn. The Aides contributed financially to the cost of the prevot.


An official, usually enfieffed, who was responsible for issuing summonses and on some fiefs for collecting rentes due in poultry or eggs. There is a suggestion that the prévot was the tenants' man and that the sérgent was the seigneur's man. The functions of the two are often similar. In Jersey the sérgent sometimes owed his duty as holder of the sérgenté lands. Bordiers and bedels were often referred to as sérgents. This term is not to be confused with grand or petty serjeantry: a different, noble, duty such as, for example, that the Seigneur of Trinity owes two mallard ducks to the Crown and has to act as butler to a visiting Monarch.


In origin, a labourer to whom a seigneur had granted land in exchange for rentes and/or services. Rights of inheritance and ownership evolved slowly.


A vavasseur holds a vavassorie. A free man between nobles and peasants in status. The holding is sometimes called an ainesse in Normandy as the eldest son, the ainé, is the senior and responsible holder of the vavassorie. There are very few references to vavassories in Jersey. However, the author believes that many of the minor fiefs held from the Crown were in fact vavassories, eg Fief Quéruée and Fief Pierre Ugon in Saint Martin.


A term unknown in Jersey. In Normandy the vilein, holder of a vileinage, was the ordinary landed peasant.

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