Life in Jersey after 1066

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Very little is known about life in Jersey in the period between 1066, when England was conquered by the Normans and the Channel Islands came under the rule of English kings who were also Dukes of Normandy, and 1204 when they separated entirely from France.

Normandy documents

But documents discovered in Normandy in the early 20th century and researched by eminent Jersey historian G F de Gruchy throw considerable light on the life and administration of the island during that period and suggest that the island was far more affluent and heavily populated than had previously been believed.

Figures for tax returns in 1180 contained in the Normandy Rolls show that Jersey not only yielded over double the figure for Guernsey, but that both islands had revenues considerably greater than other parts of the Duchy of Normandy such as Cherbourg and Coutances.

Mr de Gruchy gave a talk based on his findings to the July meeting of La Société Jersiaise in 1918 and this was then published in that year’s Annual Bulletin.

The 1918 article stated:

”Membrane 2 of the rolls of the Norman Exchequer, made at Caen in AD 1180, supplies the earliest direct contemporary evidence of the conditions ruling in Jersey before the separation of Normandy from England, any earlier evidence having to be gathered indirectly from the few existing charters relating to grants in the Island before 1180. Therefore these entries are of the first importance to students of our Island History, though hitherto they seem to have had but little attention paid to them.”

Mr de Gruchy produced by far the most comprehensive and authoritative study of this important period in the history of the Channel Islands, but surprisingly it has subsequently not received anything but the sketchiest of coverage in the major volumes of island history published in the last 100 years.

Ministeria

The article revealed that in the years before King John lost England’s French possessions in 1204 and the Channel Islands separated from Normandy, there was no single authority in Jersey, but the island was divided into three divisions, called ministeria:

  • Groecium
  • Crapout Doit
  • Gorroic

The writer was unable to say for certain whether the 12 parishes into which the island is now divided were in existence at this time, but by an analysis of the men and places mentioned in the records of revenues due from each of the three ministeria he was able to conclude that Groecium largely coincided with the four middle parishes of Trinity, St John, St Lawrence and StHelier; Crapout Doit the four western parishes of St Ouen, St Mary, St Peter and St Brelade; and Gorroic, the four eastern parishes of St Martin, Grouville, St Saviour and St Clement.

It appears that the ministeria were more than just divisions for fiscal purposes. Each was headed by a minister, who was both a farmer (nothing to do with the agricultural role, but the term used in this era for a collector of taxes), and a chief administrator, with functions of the same kind as those of the single Bailiff of the Island a century later.

“As representatives of the Crown, each minister doubtless held his court, and exercised jurisdiction in cases that were not within the powers of the manorial courts, on the one hand, or reserved for the higher courts of the Duchy on the other.”

Farmers fined

The tax collection process was designed to produce an excess of revenue for the farmer over that which he was required to remit to the Crown each year, providing him with an income. This could be supplemented by the imposition of fines, but it clear from the number of occasions on which the farmers were themselves the subject of penalties that they were prone to overstep their authority and fall foul of their masters.

De Gruchy was not clear about whether the ministers were supported by Jurats, or whether, as has generally been assumed, these came later as elected officials with jurisdiction over the whole island. He refers to an act of 1179 regarding the Royal Court of Guernsey, which was presided over by that island’s single minister, and notes that it was signed by a number of persons, who may have been Jurats.

He uses the figures for taxation recorded in 1180 to estimate the population of Jersey at the time. The income for each of the three ‘’ministeria’’ when divided by the number of vingtaines into which they were divided, yields a remarkably consistent result.

”This would appear to point to the original farms having been fixed upon the basis of so much per vingtaine or, what is much the same thing if we take the accepted theory that the vingtaines were originally groups of 20 households, at so much per house. The figure on this basis would be 8s 10d per house.”

Population estimates

He continues:

”There is nothing in these figures to prove that the Island had in 1180 a small and poor pupulation, as has been assumed by some historians. Seeing that agriculture was then the support of the great bulk of the population of civilized Europe, and that Jersey possesses a considerable area of some of the best arable land to be found in any country, the contrary assumption is much more reasonable. It is hard to see why Jersey in the peaceful times of 1180 should have had a materially smaller population than in 1331, after more than a century of wars and invasions.

Using the hearth tax of the time as the basis for his calculations, de Gruchy estimates the population in 1331 at 11,000, and also notes that revenues were lower in 1274 and 1331 than they were in 1180.

One point which remained unresolved in 1918, and still does today, is when and why the division of the island into three administrative districts ceased. De Gruchy suggests that it possibly happened in 1200, when King John granted Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney to Pierre de Préaux as a fief, or in 1204 when the split from Normandy took place. However, reference in a 1201 letter patent of John to the ‘’ballivi’’ not ‘’ministri’’ points to the earlier date.

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