Popular History of Jersey Chapter 9

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Elizabethan times

Edward Seymour

The year that Henry VIII died (1547) Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, uncle of the youthful King Edward VI and for some two years Lord Protector of England, entered into the office of the Governorship of Jersey, Lieut-General Henry Cornish being made Lieut-Governor under him, and the way in which Somerset gained the appointment is to say the least of it, undoubtedly interesting — as giving an insight as to "how they managed things in those days" - not to say very peculiar.

The Governor appointed after the death of Sir Anthony Ughtred was one Sir Anthony Darcy, who had only held the office for a short time when Lord Vaux, who was anxious "to obtain so good a post", exchanged a considerable and valuable property in Northamptonshire with Darcy for the appointment, and this without even consulting or advising the King who, when he was solicited to confirm the bargain, is reported to have told him plainly that "he would not trust the keeping of such an Island as Jersey into the hands of a man who could not keep his own lands". His Majesty, however, gave Lord Vaux permission to demise the office to any third party who should meet with his Royal approval, and also to receive a sum in recompense. The result was that Edward Seymour, then Viscount Beauchamp, and afterwards Duke of Somerset, became the purchaser.

Religious reform

Matters, nevertheless, turned out better than they oftentimes do under such circumstances; for though unable, through his exalted position, to make much stay on the Island, it was during Somerset's term of office, and no doubt in a great measure through his influence, that the principles of the Reformed Church of England, together with the English Liturgy — commonly known as Edward VI's First Prayer Book — was first introduced into Jersey; he being accredited, too, with having added a tower to Mont Orgueil Castle, and also with originating the idea of fortifying the Town Hill — where Fort Regent now stands — a project which was not carried out fully until the beginning of the present century.

During the fourth year of the reign of Edward VI (1547 to 1553), who, like his predecessors, had granted a charter confirming the liberties of the Island, Sir Hugh Pawlet, having been first sent over on a Royal Commission to inquire into the religious state of Jersey so far as the principles of the Reformation were concerned, after delivering his report in England, was appointed Governor (1551), and returned to the Island with a Royal Commission addressed to himself concerning those things that were still extant appertaining to the Church of Rome, the result of which was that the Jersey churches were deprived of their chimes (one bell only being allowed to remain in each), with all crosses and images either in the sacred edifices or round about. Added to this, all "luminaries" (lamps lighted in honour of different martyrs) and the rents due for masses, "obits", and fraternities — masses said on the anniversaries of the founders, and special prayers for individual members of that particular society which attended the respective churches — were sold to various persons at the rate of 16 crowns the quarter of wheat rents; the bells being disposed of to private personages for the sum of £171 9s; and though it was the original intention to devote the proceeds from the latter source towards the defences of the Island, they appear to have been appropriated for the benefit of the Crown.

Pirates

Of the Pawlet family, which held Jersey in its sway for at least three generations, more anon. Meanwhile further stirring scenes must be recounted. In the first place, the Island had for some little time been subjected to the depredations of pirates and others. In fact, so far back as 1 March 1483, Pope Alexander VI had, on the petition of Edward IV, issued a "bull" expressing his abhorrence at the practices carried on, and pronouncing sentences of excommunication, anathema, and eternal malediction against such persons, "rouges, pirates and privateers" who were guilty of incursions into the Island, or of pillage; or who robbed and took possession of crews and cargo, and desecrated and despoiled churches; such to be of effect whether these things were done in or within sight of the Island; though, notwithstanding the terrible power of the Western Church at that time, the celebrated "bull of Pope Sixtus", as it is commonly called, seems to have had but little effect.

The Island was still frequently ravaged, and the state of its insecurity, even 60 years afterwards, is eloquently set forth in an Act of the Royal Court, 21 October 1543, enjoining each inhabitant to carry a stick for self-defence; whilst we find in the manuscript copy of an old record amongst the Acts of the States, dated 1550 — the year previous to Sir Hugh Pawlet's appointment — that such depredations met with the full measure of old-time justice. As an instance, of three men found guilty, John Wife, Bernaby de Quesne, and Sebastian Alexandre, the two former were condemned "to be hanged and strangled until death ensued; Wite on a high scaffold elevated on the top of the point near St Catherine, and Le Quesne to be hung in like manner on the most elevated spot above Noirmont Point", it being ordered that they remained in their chains until they were rotten and consumed. Sebastian, however, though equally guilty, "was respited for certain considerations" and on a promise of amendment.

French attack repulsed

Then, again, the following year, 1551, Jersey was once more attacked by its old enemies — the French, this time under one Du Breuil, who, having first made an assault on both Sark and Guernsey, landed in Bouley Bay, hoping for an easy conquest. It seems, however, that he 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, though in the engagement the Seigneur de Rocque lost an arm, and received such injuries that he died a few days subsequently.

It was after this, and during a period of comparative though anxious repose, and evidently in dread of a fresh invasion, that the fortress which eventually became Elizabeth Castle was commenced for the defence of St Helier.

Elizabeth's Charter

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1568 to 1603), Jersey was entirely at peace with regard to enemies from without, at least so far as foreign nations were concerned. But that the Island was not free from the plundering of pirates and the like is clear from the fact that, in the Charter of Liberties granted to it by Her Majesty, 27 June 1562, Queen Elizabeth not only distinctly alludes to, but confirms Pope Alexander's Bull.

For the rest, this said Charter ordained that Bailiffs, Jurats, and inhabitants of the Island generally, should be free, as hitherto, of all markets, cities, boroughs, fairs, etc, in the United Kingdom or in other territories under the English Crown — except in case the body of the Queen or her successors be detained in prison. It confirmed, too, the right of neutrality whereby, in time of war, merchants of all nations, whether friends or foes, were allowed freely and legally to frequent the harbours of the Island, whether for the purposes of trade or shelter, and the right of the Royal Court to hear and determine all cases and pleas arising in the Island, "real, personal, mixed, or criminal", according to the customs of the Island, without appeal, excepting only cases reserved to the cognisance of the Crown; at the same time ordering that no inhabitants should be cited by brief or process, or be in any way constrained to appear before an English Court to answer any matter or cause arising in the Island; the latter portion of which Charter, it may be added, is in force in Jersey to the present day.

The autumn of the same year, 20 October 1562, saw another Royal Commission held on the Island for the purpose of drawing up certain regulations relating to the more satisfactory appointment of those elected to the guardianship of orphans and the due care of such property as they were heirs to, together with other matters concerning their welfare, one of its most important outcomes being that the Dean was thenceforth bound to keep a registry of all wills, a matter that up to that time had apparently been entirely neglected. The Commissioners on this occasion, it may be added, were Sir Hugh Pawlet (Governor), Richard Worsley, George Pawlet (afterwards appointed Bailiff). George Miles and Peter Smith.

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