1847 guide - Reformation and Civil War

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Durell's 1847 guidebook

Civil War


This is the seventh chapter of the history section of The Picturesque and Historical Guide to the Island of Jersey, by the Rev Edward Durell, with lithographs by Philip Ouless, who also published the book in 1847.

  • The Reformation and Annexation of the Islands to the Diocese of Winchester
  • Calvinism in Jersey
  • Consequences of the Reformation
  • Erection of Elizabeth Castle
  • Sir Philip and Sir George De Carteret
  • Charles II visits Jersey twice
  • Distinguished emigrants
  • Charles I and Hurst Castle
  • The Commonwealth send an expedition against Jersey
  • Sir George De Carteret opposes its landing without effect
  • Siege of Elizabeth Castle
  • It capitulates
  • Oppression of Jersey till the Restoration in 1660

Hitherto we have considered the islands in their political relations and importance, and their inhabitants as a brave and loyal race, the interesting remnants of a once mighty nation, who, by a singular good fortune, have, during so many ages, never been subjected to any foreign power; but have preserved their allegiance inviolate to the same and uninterrupted line of sovereigns, all lineally descended from each other for almost 1,000 years. Our ancestors, in common with the rest of Europe, had been labouring under the spiritual bondage of gross ignorance and degrading superstition. The hour was now arrived when those grievous fetters were to be broken, and man was again to appear in all the dignity of knowledge and of truth.

Elizabeth I


The Reformation spread early to the Channel Islands and it would seem, from a variety of records still remaining, that its doctrines had already taken a deep root there before the death of Henry VIII. Those doctrines afterwards rapidly increased among the inhabitants, and after having in some measure partaken in the religious oscillations and persecutions in England, the islands became decidedly protestant.

In 1565 Queen Elizabeth finally removed them from the diocese of Coutances, and annexed them to that of Winchester. The annexation was not, however, immediately carried into effect, for the first reformers in the islands were protestant ministers from France, who had fled from persecution in their own country, and who imported with them a leaning towards the opinions of Calvin. Nor was this surprising, when it is considered that the universal prevalence of the French language at that time would have offered an almost insuperable obstacle to any exertions of the English reforming clergy.

Through the connivance of three successive governors, the islanders, though strictly protestant, remained unconnected with the Church of England, and formed for themselves with their ministers a body of church discipline on the model of that of Geneva. This is what has given rise to the opinion that the islands were originally calvinistic. This state of things continued during the whole reign of Queen Elizabeth, and a great part of that of James I. After a certain degree of reluctance, and even opposition, and it being known that it was at the special desire of the reigning monarch, they were indissolubly united in doctrine and in practice to the Church of England. This happened in 1623.

We are not, however, here to consider the beneficial effects of the Reformation merely in a religious point of view, but in their consequences, which added a still more violent hatred to the heriditary aversion to any connection with France; and rendered all the obstacles fourfold, which would militate against any future incorporation of the islands with that monarchy. As to ourselves, who are persuaded that all their past and present prosperity has been derived from their British connection, we cannot be too thankful to Providence for that long and complicated concatenation of events, which has been traced in this historical sketch ; and which has been productive of so desirable an end, as the establishment of the civil and religious establishment of this small but interesting portion of the British empire.

Things, which in a general point of view would be wholly uninteresting, assume a particular importance in reference to some local object with which they may be connected. The great changes which had occurred in the art of war had destroyed the illusions which had so long attached to the impregnability of Mount Orgueil Castle. It was now found to be totally inadequate to the defence of the island, and that in addition to the neglect of its fortifications, and the ravages of time, it was commanded by a hill, which rendered it untenable. Accordingly, Queen Elizabeth, in 1586, ordered another Castle to be built on a small island in St Aubin's Bay, on the site of the ruined Abbey of St Helier.

This is what is now called Elizabeth Castle, which, with Fort Regent, on the Town Hill, commands the town and harbour of St Helier. As for Mount Orgueil, it gradually decayed as this new rival rose into importance; and at this moment it presents little more than a mass of walls and buildings in the different stages of dilapidation, unable indeed to resist an invader, but still imposing on the beholder by its majestic site, and by the recollection of the chivalrous prowess of its defenders, who in the olden time so nobly repulsed Du Guesclin and Maulevrier.

Charles I

The reign of Charles I was productive of great misfortunes to the islands, for having inviolably persisted in their loyalty to their unhappy sovereign. Before the civil wars broke out, the celebrated Prynne had been confined for some time as a state prisoner in Mount Orgueil Castle, from which he was afterwards liberated. In 1643 Parliament endeavoured by its emissaries to make itself master of Jersey. But the loyal spirit of the inhabitants was too strong to be perverted by the intrigues of a few domestic traitors, and it soon declared for the King. Sir Philippe de Carteret, of St Ouen, and his nephew, Sir George de Carteret, appeared at the head of their countrymen on that glorious occasion.

The former died soon after, but the latter held the island for the King during eight years, in spite of all the efforts which could be made by the different factions who had usurped the government of England. During those eight years Sir George, who was also an able naval officer, established, as it were, a small independent state, and made himself truly formidable to the Parliamentarian party by the immense losses which his numerous privateers caused to their merchants, and by the constant relief and protection which he afforded to the several distinguished fugitives from England, whom their loyalty had exposed to danger and persecution. The Prince of Wales, afterwards Charles II, finding his situation untenable in the west of England, sailed from the Scilly Islands with a large retinue to Jersey, and remained there for some months till he retired into France.

Charles I

The island was then full of illustrious emigrants, the names of many of whom have been preserved in its local chronicles, and in the traditions which have descended to us of those times. The names of a few may suffice: Sir Edward Hyde, afterwards the illustrious Chancellor; Lord Clarendon; the poet Cowley; and Sir Richard Fanshawe, the Prince's Secretary, who is now better known as the first English translator of the Lusiad of Camoens. As to Sir Edward Hyde, he resided above two years in Elizabeth Castle, where it is supposed that he wrote then a great part of his history of the Rebellion.

Plan to rescue the King

During the time that Charles I was confined in Hurst Castle, near the Needles, and within the Southampton water, it is said that a plan was formed in Jersey to deliver the monarch from captivity by having surprised the Castle. Such a plan would have been dangerous and difficult, but not altogether hopeless or impracticable. Sir George was of a daring and enterprising spirit, he had sufficient naval means in his power, and such was the ardent loyalty of many of his followers that he would have found numbers eager to enlist in so difficult and chivalrous an enterprise.

The scheme seemed to be perfectly feasible. As all vessels going to Southampton must pass near that Castle, it was imagined that four or five vessels from the island, disguised as traders to prevent suspicion, might have a sufficient number of men concealed under the hatches who, on approaching the Castle, and on a given signal, would suddenly start forth from their lurking place, and scale the walls.

This tradition rests on the authority of Mr Falle, the respectable historian of Jersey, who mentions that he had often heard it mentioned not long after the Restoration, and when he was still very young. It would not have been the first time that very strong fortresses had been taken by surprise, and their prisoners liberated. Had the attempt been made, and succeeded, the consequences which would have resulted from it would have been immense. The monarch would have been saved from the terrible catastrophe which awaited him, and his deliverers would have been rewarded with eternal glory. A dark and inexplicable fatality seems to have impended over the unfortunate Charles, which rendered ineffectual every effort that his friends ever made, or even intended to make in his favour.

After the death of Charles I, his son was proclaimed here, it being then one of the very few places in all his dominions where such a ceremony would have been practicable. In 1650 Charles II, with his brother James, came over to Jersey, and resided for some months in Elizabeth Castle, from whence he went to France, having been prevailed upon to embark in that rash enterprize to Scotland, which ended so fatally for him and his adherents at the battle of Worcester. We pass over the detailed accounts of those times, as they belong rather to the history of England, than to a small local narrative like the present, from which every thing that is not strictly indispensable ought to be excluded.

Commonwealth invasion

The incessant clamours of the English merchants about the losses which they experienced from Sir George de Carteret, drew on him at length the serious attention of the Commonwealth. It was not only expedient to subjugate those islands on account of the mischiefs which they had so often inflicted, but to punish them severely for their presumption. It was, therefore, determined to invade them, and a large fleet and army were prepared for that purpose, and the command of the former was given to no less a person than the celebrated Admiral Blake. The troops on board amounted to 5,000 men, the command of whom was entrusted to Haines, one of Cromwell's generals.

Admiral Blake

After sailing from Portsmouth with a fair wind, part of the invading fleet came in sight of the island on 20 October 1651, and on the same day came to anchor in St Ouen's Bay. Sir George had long foreseen that invasion, and now he did all that a brave and prudent man could have recourse to on such an emergency. He immediately collected his small body of regular troops and marched out with them and the insular militia to St Ouen's Bay, and resolved to make the best defence in his power, not that with such inadequate forces he could reasonably expect to succeed.

But because there is something in the generous mind which forbids it to despond, and because it is nobler to make an ineffectual struggle in a glorious cause than to yield tamely to an enemy. Some of his followers had long been disheartened, and were now wavering at the repeated ill success of the Royal cause, and into them he endeavoured to infuse the same alacrity which he possessed. On his reaching the beach of St Ouen's Bay, he took immediate measures to oppose the enemy at their landing, and for three days he baffled all their efforts, during which time his little band was harassed with incessant watchings and fatigue in following the motions of the hostile fleet, as it hovered along the coast, and made demonstrations for landing.

At length, on the third night when the Royalists were exhausted with their severe and tantalising service, Blake succeeded in landing one of his battalions. They were immediately discovered, and Sir George charged them at the head of his little troop of horse. The charge was desperate and bloody, in which many of the enemy were either killed or wounded. As this nightly landing of the enemy had been unexpected, a great part of Sir George's infantry had dispersed the evening before to seek for provisions in the neighbouring villages, and could not therefore be collected again in time to support their gallant leader.

If then the infantry could have come up, it might indeed have protracted the contest, but it was not to be imagined that Sir George would have eventually succeeded against such an overwhelming force. In the meantime other troops were landed so fast that all further opposition became useless, and that Sir George had no alternative left but that of leaving the field, before his very inadequate force had been either overwhelmed and destroyed, or its retreat intercepted. Sir George reached Elizabeth Castle in safety, in which he shut up himself, with a garrison of 340 men, among whom were several of his friends and some of the principal inhabitants of the island.

Terror and desolation

The open country was now abandoned to the invaders, who plundered the inhabitants, and made every part of it a scene of terror and desolation. The strongholds which had formerly baffled so many foreign enemies, such as Mount Orgueil Castle, and the Tower, or Fort of St Aubin, scarcely made any resistance. Sir George was then summoned to surrender Elizabeth Castle, to which he indignantly returned a becoming answer. The place was then regularly invested and besieged for several weeks, during which time it was cannonaded with 36-pounders from a battery on the hill, which now forms the site of Fort Regent, and unfortunately with some effect, as one of the shells fell into the old Church of the Abbey of St Helier, under which were the stores for keeping the provisions, as well as the powder magazine. That shell broke through two strong vaults, and blowing up, it scattered around ruin and destruction.

But what was still more lamentable, it killed 40 of the best soldiers in the garrison, besides armourers, carpenters, and other artificers, who are indispensably necessary in a siege. Notwithstanding this terrible blow, and a certain degree of consternation which spread through the garrison, Sir George by his prudence kept all quiet for the present, and held out some time longer till he could communicate with the king, who after the battle of Worcester had lately reached Paris in safety. Charles saw the hopelessness of Sir George's situation, and left him to act according to his own discretion. All hopes of relief being now at an end, and as no possible object could be answered by any further resistance, in addition that provisions were getting short, and that the garrison was daily becoming weaker by disease, and the ordinary casualties of war, it became imperatively necessary to treat for a surrender.

Sir George obtained a highly favourable capitulation, after having sustained a siege, which, according to tradition, lasted six weeks and two days; nor could it have been either much longer or shorter, as the Parliamentarians landed on 22 October 1651, and took possession of that fortress on 15 December following. The surrender of Elizabeth Castle completed the conquest of the Island, which now for the first time was obliged to submit to the coercion of lawless force. It was, however, some kind of consolation that the island remained as much as ever unsubdued by a foreign foe. It had now fallen, indeed, but it had been in an overwhelming struggle against the usurpations of revolted subjects.

Evil years of oppression now rolled over the Norman Islands, which were treated with the greatest severity by Cromwell's military rulers. It was then that the parliamentarian individuals who had excited so many disturbances in 1643, returned to the island, after an exile of eight years, and were restored to their estates, which Sir George had confiscated on his assumption of the local government. Michel Lempriere was confirmed in his office of chief magistrate, and held it till 1660, while D'Assigny was also rewarded with the living of St Martin, then supposed to be best in Jersey, and enjoyed it, till he was deprived soon after the Restoration. At that auspicious period the Islands recovered all their ancient privileges, and obtained all the praises and other remunerations which they had so nobly merited by an heroic and unwavering loyalty of nearly 20 years, and in the worst of times.

1847 Guide
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