1847 guide - Sovereignty and independence

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Durell's 1847 guidebook



This is the fifth 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.

  • Reign of Henry VI
  • Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands erected into a kingdom in favor of the Earl of Warwick
  • Some account of the ancient Sovereignty of the Isle of Wight
  • Grants to the Fitz Osbornes, the Rivers, the Vernone , and the Beauchamps
  • Sir Richard Worsley' s account of that petty kingdom
  • Conjectures and reflections on what would have resulted from an independence of the Channel Islands

Isle of Wight

THE reign of Henry VI. was particularly unfortunate for the Channel Islands, not on account of any part which they had taken in the contest between the rival houses of York and Lancaster, but because events occurred which had twice nearly separated them from their British connection. The former of which was when Henry Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, was crowned King of the Isle of Wight and of the Isles of Jersey and Guernsey, in 1443, by Henry VI, and afterwards created Duke of Warwick by the same sovereign towards the latter end of his reign.

It is known from history that the Isle of Wight had been anciently held as an independent sovereignty. William Fitz Osborne was one of the principal Norman warriors who had followed William the Conqueror, and fought with him at Hastings. He was made Earl of Hereford; and in 1070, that monarch bestowed upon him the Isle of Wight, to be held by him as freely as the King himself held the realm of England.

This Fitz Osborne was William's kinsman and confidential friend, and had been marshal of the Norman army at Hastings. This Lord held his high dignity but a short time, having fallen in battle four years after on the continent. He was succeeded by his second son Roger de Bretteville, who having been afterwards concerned in a conspiracy to depose the King, he lost the Isle of Wight, and his earldom of Hereford reverted to the crown. As to himself he was condemned to perpetual imprisonment, in which he ended his days in 1086.

The island was again granted to a subject by Henry I, in 1105, who gave it to Richard de Rivers, Earl of Devon, from whom it descended to his son Baldwin. That baron having espoused the cause of the Empress Maud, endeavoured, but in vain, to defend this territory against King Stephen. He was obliged to fly for his life; but afterwards, when an accommodation took place between the contending parties, he was restored to his possessions. After having passed lineally through several of the Rivers, the Isle of Wight devolved by marriage in 1184 to William de Vernon, a collateral branch of that family, whose descendants held it till 1293, when Isabel de Fortibus, the heiress of the last Earl, surrendered her interest in that island to King Edward I, who annexed it to the crown, from which it has never been again separated, except during two short interruptions.

Henry Beauchamp

The former happened in the case of Henry Beauchamp, who was crowned King of the Isles of Wight, Jersey and Guernsey in 1445; and in that of Richard Widvil, the father-in-law of Edward IV, who was created Lord of the Isle of Wight in 1466, The reason that he did not also obtain the sovereignty of the Channel Islands was that Jersey had not yet been rescued from the power of the Comte de Maulevrier.

This information about that Earl of Warwick who was King of the Isle of Wight, is derived from Leland, Dr Heylin, and Sir Richard Worsley's History of that island, whose work contains an engraving of "Henry Duke of Warwick, King of the Isle of Wight", and his sister, who married the Duke of Somerset. They are represented kneeling before an altar. Sir Richard gives also in a note a Latin extract from Leland, from which it appears that Henry, Earl of Warwick, enjoyed the high favour of Henry VI, by whom he was crowned King of the Isle of Wight. That monarch granted him also the Castle of Bristol, and the Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. Sir Richard observes, however, that very little notice has been taken of this singular event by historians. Selden has mentioned it in his titles of honor.

All these give a scanty information, indeed, with respect to the Channel Islands, although it proves that Warwick was in some sense a King; but of the extent of his royal jurisdiction, no precise information remains, nor whether he was to hold his sovereignty as a fief under the English monarchs. If so, it was certainly with more privileges than Barons had in general, and it would seem clear that all the revenues of those Islands were left at their disposal.

Worsley continues the account of what became of that petty kingdom after the death of the Duke of Warwick. "In the 26th year of Henry VI, Edmund, Duke of Somerset, married the sister and heiress of Henry, Duke of Warwick, before mentioned, as King of the island; who having some time before supplanted the Duke of York in the regency of France, obtained a grant of this island, to him, and the heirs male of his body, in satisfaction, as it was alleged, for certain sums of money, due to him from the King's Exchequer, and for the duties of Petty Customs in the port of London, which were part of his inheritance."

The Duke's prosperity was, however, of short duration; he died in 1455 and his two immediate successors, Dukes of Somerset, were involved in the misfortunes of the House of Lancaster, and perished both on the scaffold in 1463, and in 1471.

Kingdom vanishes

After that date this ephemerous kingdom vanished, and the islands of which it was composed have been inalienably reunited to the British monarchy. But it is nevertheless a matter of curious speculation to inquire what would have been the probable consequences if that limited territory had been suffered to exist as an independent state till our times; and whether it might not have had a prospect of rivalling the histories of Geneva, of the Hanseatic towns, or of the republics of Lucca, or of San Marino.

In the first place, the importance of the Isle of Wight is too great, and its vicinity too striking, for England to have consented to its permanent dismemberment. As to the Channel Islands, had they been made into a small independent state, and their political existence had been suffered to continue, some very curious consequences might have been the result of such a measure. The feelings of the inhabitants would not have been violated, by having been transferred against their will to a foreigner, as in the case of Maulevrier. But as their new sovereign, the Earl of Warwick, was a gallant soldier, a man of high rank, and an Englishman, their subjection to him would have been received with far less reluctance; still an insuperable objection would have remained, that it would have dissolved their English connection for ever.

Had their independence been suffered to remain through the forbearance, or the mutual jealousies of the foreign powers, their situation would always have been precarious, like that of other small European states, some of which after so many revolutions are still suffered to exist. But they would have gained nothing by that political change; for with the right to govern themselves without any external control, they would have incurred all the evils of civil discord, such as distracted the modern Italian republics during the middle ages. In point of trade, they would have had all the advantages of free ports, and their position might have rendered them as prosperous as any of the Hanseatic towns of Germany. Nevertheless, in another point of view, their insular situation would have been unfavourable, as leaving them more exposed to attack, and more likely, from their continual intercourse with strangers, to be brought into collision with foreign powers. Malta was the last of the smaller European islands, which had maintained its independence, but it expired in 1798. As to Corfu and its dependencies it have since been formed into the Republic of the seven Ionian Islands, which was the consequence of the downfall of the once powerful republic of Venice. Its existence is rather nominal than otherwise, for even that empty shadow of national independence, could not be maintained without the vigilant interference, and the incessant protection of Great Britain.

But is it more conducive to the happiness of a small community to be possessed of political independence, rather than to form part of a large one. The small republic is seldom involved in the quarrels of its distant neighbours, but it has fewer securities against domestic commotions, occasioned either by a tyrannical aristocracy, or by the licentiousness of an ungovernable mob, and above all, by the perpetual danger of being swallowed up to suit the convenience, or the aggrandisement of some more powerful state, a striking instance of which has occurred within these few months by the annexation of the Republic of Cracow to the Austrian Empire.

A large government is better enabled to protect all its subjects, and to overawe the efforts of hostile, or evil disposed neighbours; but on the other hand, the different parts are often brought in contact with interests to which they are foreign, and the parts are generally sacrificed to promote the power of the whole mass; or if the government is despotic, every thing is rendered subservient to the pride, the caprices, or the ambition of one man.

1847 Guide
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