Francois Breuil

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So concerned was Edward IV about the constant attacks on Jersey and the other Channel Islands by French pirates and others that on 1 March 1483 he persuaded Pope Alexander VI to issue a papal bull expressing his abhorrence at the practices and sentencing “rogues, pirates and privateers” to excommunication for attacking and pillaging the islands, despoiling churches and capturing the crews and cargo of ships they attacked.

The church was very powerful at the time, but the “Bull of Pope Sixtus” as it was commonly called, seems to have had little or no effect. In 1543 Jersey’s Royal Court made an Act requiring islanders to carry a stick for self defence. The full might of the law was brought down on any pirates who were caught and found guilty. In 1550 John Wite and Bernavy de Quesne were condemned to be ”hanged and strangled until death” on scaffolds erected high above St Catherine and at La Moye.

The following year the French attacked again, but this time in force. French King Henry II had sent a force led by Captain Francois Breuil and Italian Leon Strozzi to occupy Sark in 1549. A French naval force landed Breuil and 400 men on the island. Their forts can still be made out - overlooking the landings at the Eperquerie and Grand Grève below La Coupée, and on the Hogsback above Dixcart Bay.

The 100 men remaining in 1553 were expelled by a Flemish corsair, vainly hoping for reward from the English Queen Mary. A Jersey party razed the fortifications. By 1560, when a French noble claimed Sark from the French king, the Crown commissioners were surveying “waste” lands in the Channel Islands.

In 1551 Breuil turned his attention to Guernsey, and then Jersey, landing at Bouley Bay and hoping for an easy conquest. Bouley Bay was for many centuries of strategic importance, being a natural haven for vessels to anchor, and several proposals were made to make the bay a harbour for the Royal Navy, but this never happened.

It seems, however, that Breuil must have met with a warmer reception than he could have anticipated, for the Island Militia, behaving with conspicuous bravery, met the invaders on Jardin d'Olivet, and repulsing, speedily forced them to re-embark with a loss, it is said, of about 1,000 men, besides 60 superior officers reported to have been buried at St Malo In the engagement the Lieut-Bailiff, Jurat Helier de la Rocque, lost an arm and died of his injuries a few days later. It is believed that this is the first time the Jersey Militia fought in a Brigade formation.

When the French force arrived at St Malo the bodies of the 60 officers were taken ashore to be buried. The King of France was so affected by the disaster that he forbade any mention to be made, not only of the battle in Jersey but of the entire expedition.

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