Notre reine, le Duc

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Notre roi, le Duc

William Conqueror.jpg

William the Conqueror

When Jerseymen sit down to a formal dinner they drink a loyal toast to their Monarch, and today that toast is Notre roi, le Duc. Until the death of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022 and the accession of her son, the toast was Notre reine, le duc

The Duke in question is the Duke of Normandy, and with this toast Jerseymen are referring back to the period before 1204 when the island was part of the Duchy of Normandy. With the conquest of England by Duke of Normandy William II, otherwise known as William the Conqueror, King William I of England, the islands remained part of the Duchy, until 1204 when King John lost the majority of his French territories and the Channel Islands became possessions of the English Crown.

So does the reference to Notre roi, le Duc have any meaning in the 21st Century?

A learned article in the Jersey and Guernsey Law Review by lawyer Paul Matthews argues that it does not.

His summary of the position is as follows:

Kings of England were Dukes of Normandy, in a real and meaningful sense, up to 1204. They claimed to be so until 1259, when they gave up the title by international treaty. For the next 160 years there were very rare - and short lived - attempts to call themselves Dukes of Normandy, but none after 1420. French law would probably judge the English Kings to have forfeited the title in 1202, and, although it appears to have been granted or used a few times thereafter by French Kings, for most of the following centuries there was, according to French law, no Duke.
If there are residual feudal or seigneurial rights relating to the Dukedom in continental Normandy, they have probably passed to the French President. But, in relation to the Channel Islands, the English Kings established a new and original title, effectively by force. English law, however, does not recognise the creation of any separate Dukedom - or other title - in relation to the Islands, and holds that the British monarch is their sovereign, in the capacity of King or Queen. In any event, the King or Queen could not also be Duke under English peerage law. Jersey law accepts - indeed asserts - the status of Crown dependency accorded under English law, but does not provide for, or recognise, any separate title for the British sovereign in Jersey.
This is as it should be. In modern times it would plainly be offensive to a friendly neighbour state (France) for the British Crown to assert a right to the title of Duke of a large part of that state. It would also be misleading, as it would suggest a connection - even a power - which no longer exists. Of course Jersey law could provide expressly for the sovereign to be known and referred to there as (say) the Duke of the Channel Islands, or something of the sort. A kind of titular UDI. But that would involve the loss of the immediate and obvious (not to say popular) connection with Britain. In addition, there would be a need for separate legislation whenever the succession was altered, and also for co-ordination with Guernsey.
The wisest course is to leave things as they are. The King in Jersey is, legally speaking, the King. The vestiges of history relating to Ducal titles that remind Jersey of its Norman past are, unlike some other areas of customary Norman law, of no practical importance today. They are best left, as they are, to a piece of harmless after-dinner whimsy: "To our King, the Duke".
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