Richard Harleston (Harliston) was the first Governor of Jersey. Before his appointment in 1470 the Crown representative for the whole of the Channel Islands was known as Warden of the Isles with one or more sub-Wardens appointed for the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey. With Sir Richard’s appointment the post of Warden was abolished and each Bailiwick had a Governor.
He was born at Humberstone, Lincolnshire, and brought up in the household of Richard Duke of York. On the accession of Edward IV, Richard became a Yeoman of the King’s Chamber and was made vice-admiral
Invasion of Jersey
Towards the end the western end of the island was more or less under the control of the Seigneur of St Ouen, Philip de Carteret, who knew that there was an English fleet off Guernsey, under Harleston’s command, and he arranged with him a joint assault on Mont Orgueil Castle, which the French had made their stronghold. De Carteret and his men attacked by land while Harleston blockaded the castle from the sea side. After a six-month seige the French were eventually forced to surrender and were allowed to leave Jersey. The islanders wanted Harleston to remained as military commander, but he returned to England. In 1473 he was appointed the Island’s first Governor (although his title was probably ‘Captain in Chief’), with authority over the other Channel Islands. In 1478 a separate Governor, Sir John Dichefield, was appointed for the Bailiwick of Guernsey.
At first Harleston was very popluar. He added a tower to the Castle of Mont Orgueil, which became the 'Harleston Tower'. Then he began to get grander ideas. It is said that at the time of the fall of Richard III he thought to make himself "Lord of the Islands" under the protection of the French and the Duchess, Margaret de Burgundy, but this was prevented by the diligence of the inhabitants, mostly the supporters of Henry Tudor.
Fall from grace
He rapidly fell from grace and ended up taking refuge in Mont Orgueil Castle in 1485 only 18 years after he had rescued it from the French. He eventually left the island and was one of those attainted for joining the Earl of Lincoln in Lambert Simnel’s rebellion in 1486, but on the 4 September of that year a General Pardon was granted him. In the pardon he was described as late of Jersey.
He took refuge with Margaret of Burgundy and in 1495 was one of Perkin Warbecks supporters who were attainted for landing at Deal in Kent. He remained in Margaret's service until his death and she paid for his burial, probably in Malines, where she had her court.
Although Harleston is often referred to as Sir Richard, particularly in Jersey, there is no record of his being knighted.
His daughter Margaret married Phillip de Carteret, grandson of his old ally and by him had some 21 children. Those islanders who are descended from one of these children can, therefore, trace their ancestry back a considerable distance though Richard Harleston’s ancestors. His family tree has been well researched by specialists in medieval genealogy, although there is some dispute over who exactly was his father.