Warden of the Isles

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Custos insularum. Gardien des iles

Two officials

During the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries two officials were often entrusted with the government of the Channel Islands, a Lord of the Isles generally non-resident, and under him a Warden, who himself may rarely have been present in the islands and relied on lieutenants, sometimes appointed sub-Wardens, to represent him, either in one island or all of them. Surviving documents which refer to appointments or activities of Wardens are rarely available and do not always indicate the exact status of the office holder, but it is believed that although some Wardens were appointed by the Lord of the time, most were probably appointed directly by the King.

The Wardens would be expected to answer directly to the King, through his Privy Council, for the security and stability of the islands and the Lord may not have been involved in this process at all. For long periods no Lord was appointed, but Otto de Grandison, a boyhood friend of King Edward I, who appointed him, held office for over 50 years. Although he only visited Jersey once, he appointed a succession of friends and trusted retainers to represent him and squeeze as much money out of the islands as possible, leading to regular complaints by the insular authorities to the King.

Because letters of appointment were made in Latin the title custos insularum which is also frequently found in old French as gardien des iles has been variously translated over the years as warden, keeper and governor. Other documents refer to ballivus, but this is sometimes taken to indicate a Warden rather than a Bailiff. In the early years the distinction was of no great relevance because one man would have had ultimate authority for eveything which happened in the islands and would, himself, have made subordinate appointments. But the Bailiffs of Jersey and Guernsey, almost invariably islanders, came increasingly to have much greater powers over the affairs of their islands, with the exception of military matters, and clashed with either the Warden who had appointed them, or, in the absence of the Warden, with those sub-wardens who had been ordered to control the islands on the Warden's behalf.

Brief appointments

Some of those mentioned below in the 13th and 14th centuries may not officially have held the title Warden. Sometimes an appointment was very brief, and the same person may have held office on a number of occasions with others intervening. This can often be explained by the political situation of England and France. Although King John lost most of his French territory in 1204, England later held greater or lesser areas of France, depending on the ebb and flow of war between the two countries, including Aquitaine in the south-west. Military commanders sent from England to Aquitaine by the English king would often be required to spend a short time in one or more of the Channel Islands en route south, or on their return, carrying out the responsibilities of Warden.

There is a large gap in published lists of Wardens for Jersey from 1396, when Sir John Golafre died, until 1470 when Sir Richard Harliston was appointed the first Governor. This list, the most detailed yet published, fills that gap, and others. Lords of the Isles are listed separately and this list, too, fills big gaps in the 15th century.

Sometimes records only exist in relation to a Warden's responsibilities in Guernsey, but that individual is believed to have held a Royal warrant for the whole of the Channel Islands. Where there is any doubt whether an office holder had responsibility for Jersey as well as the other islands this is mentioned in their individual biographies.

Holders of office

13th century

14th century

An 1826 book A Brief Description and Historical Notices of the Island of Jersey also shows Sire Peter Cornet appointed Warden in 1312 and John Cockerell, who is known to have been Bailiff as "Keeper and Bailiff" in 1357

15th Century

From 1471 onwards a Governor was appointed for each island

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