Visite Royale

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A Visite Royale in St Clement in 1959

The Royal Court keeps a close watch on parish affairs. All parish officials are sworn in by the court and twice a year the Court pays an official visit to a parish, known as a Visite Royale

Books examined

During the Visite the Court examines the parish's account books and is taken on a tour of parish roads, during which it may be asked to rule on disputes over such matters as the encroachment of a tree on the public highway.

The tradition is an old one, and Jean Poingdestre wrote this about it in 1682:

"There are every yeare in the beginning of this Vacation appointed certaine dayes (more or fewer, as it pleaseth the Bailiff and Jurats) for the Perambulation of High-wayes, but not in what Parish; to the end that every Parish may expect it and worke about mending theires: the like is don ye next day being Sunday in ye pticular Churches. The Constable of the Parish to be visited, being warned aforehand, takes with him twelve of ye principall men of ye same parish, and meetes ye Judge accompanyed by three or foure Jurats, at a Rendez-vous; where the sayd Judge administers an oath to the Constable and twelve men, that they will guide the Court that day through all publick wayes of ye parish which they knowe to be most out of repaire, without favour or partiality. The Judge is on horsebacke, and ye Jurats; soe are the Kings Officers: before them the Viscount or Sheriff rides with his Staff of Office of an Ell long, with one end upon the pummel of his Sadle and ye other upwards (in ancient times it was with a Lnce, cum lancea says ye Record). The Contable and his twelve goe likewise before, but afoot: and soe they walke through most part of ye Parish. When ye Viscount's staff encountreth any hedge, bough or plant it is a finable fault, called Brancage, which ye Clark of ye Court setts downe in a Booke for ye purpose; and the party who ownes the ground payes it. But if the fault be belowe in ye bottom of the waye, not ye party bordering but the two Officers who are appointed as Inspectors of High-wayes for the Tything are fined, with an Iniunction to repaire within a swett time, under a double fine. If any stone or overgrowne tree be found prejudiciall to the publick in passing freely with all manner of Cariadges, it is removed or cutt downe by order taken upon ye place. Noe fine is ever layd or Injunction made but by the direction of the Juratts present, and
A 1908 Visite Royale makes its way through the centre of St Helier
that after the verdict of the Constable and twelve men taken; for they are a perpetuall Jury all that day. Here is also to be noted that all fines, whither above head or beneath, are not alike. For they are greater or lesser according to the bredth of ye waye; which to understand you must remember that there are in Jersey three sorts of wayes: Le Chemin du Roy, the Kings High waye, which is to be of ye bredth of twelve foot, besides foure foot on each side by ye hedges, in all sixteenhe foot; Le Chemin de huict pieds, of eight foot in ye midle and foure foot on both sides, in all twelve foot; and lastly Le Chemin de quatre pieds, or foure foot waye, like ye Actus of Civilians, being onely for footmen and cariadges on horse back, and not for Carts. If therefore ye fault be found in ye Kings High way, ye Fine is double of that of ye eight foot way; and if it be found in ye Eight foot way, ye fine is double to that of ye foure foot way; which is not onely propter dignitatem, but alsoe because ye prejudice is greater to the publick when the fault is in that waye which is most frequented."


A visite royale at Grouville in 1956

Limousines

Today the Court does not arrive on horsback, but in black limousines, and there is no surprise element in which parish is visited. There is a programme which allows for each parish to be visited once every six years. The Court is accompanied by one of the two most junior advocates, who may be called on to speak in defence of a tree which is under threat of being marked for felling by a Vingtenier carrying an axe.

Another account of the Visite Royale was given by Charles Le Quesne in 1856:

"I allued to a visitation or survey of the public roads by the body of the Court four times a year. This takes place out of term. The Court on the day appointed meet usually near the parish church. They examine the parish books, produced by the Constable, concerning the amount received for the roads, the persons who owe cartages or labour for the roads, and the manner in which the money is expended. The constable is then called upon to produce a jury of twelve good and impartial men, chosen from among his parishioners. The jury take an oath to lead the Court through the worst roads in the parish. These men are called Voyeurs, because on the march, they see or discover the nuisances which may exist, the encroachments which may have been made, and the trees which, interfering with the free use of the road, should be removed.
St Helier Centeniers pose for a portrait after the 1896 Visite Royale - F T Carter, E T Nicolle, E F Carrell, F M Cavey, A A Downer and J E Pinel

Formerly the procession was on horseback; now it is otherwise. The voyeurs, with the Constable, take the lead; then follow the Vicomte, with a staff, the Bailiff and the Jurats, accompanied by the Attorney-General and the Greffier. Whenever the voyeurs discover any nuisance or impediment in the road, or an unfortunate tree which has been guilty of an encroachment, they make a verbal report of the same to the Court, who immediately order the removal of the nuisance or the downfall of the tree. As all proprietors of land bordering on the public roads are bound to keep their hedges properly trimmed, and also to have the trees pruned in such a manner as not to overhang the road below a certain height, it is a rule that if the official staff of the Vicomte, as he paces along the road, is arrested by an overhanging branch, a report is made to the Court, who, ascertaining that the report is correct, impose a fine on the owner of the land."

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