1847 guide - origins of the name to the Norman invasion

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Durell's 1847 guidebook

Early history


This is the first 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.

This is the first chapter of the historical 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.

  • Origin of the name of Jersey
  • Its occupation by the Celts and the Druids
  • The conquest and government of the Romans
  • Its ancient connection with France
  • Conversion of the inhabitants
  • Canonisation of Saints
  • The Islanders become a distinct people
  • Invasions of the Normans and their ravages on the coasts of France

A short sketch of the historical recollections of the Island of Jersey may not be unacceptable, the more so as they become dim and uncertain, in proportion as they recede into the darkness of distant ages.


The name of Jersey itself is involved in obscurity. The most common opinion is that it is of a Roman origin, and that its present Latin name of Caesarea is merely derived from the adjective of Caesar, which has since been corrupted into Jersey. The subjection of Gaul to the Romans lasted for four centuries and a half, and it is probable that during that long period, some of the Caesars might have been attracted to this favoured spot; but it is very unlikely that a place then of so little importance should have been visited by Julius Caesar, who was the first Roman emperor, and the conqueror of Gaul, to whom the building of Mount Orgueil Castle is commonly attributed. Indeed, tradition seems to have been fond to assign exclusively to Julius, whatever had been done by any other of the Caesars.

The name of Caesarea is however very ancient, from its being mentioned as an island of the British Ocean, in the Itinerary of the Emperor Antoninus Pius, who reigned 150 years after Christ. It results from this that Jersey was already an island, and that if it had ever been severed from the continent, it must have been at a period of very remote antiquity. It is, however, certain, from the remains of Roman entrenchments, from the occasional finding of medals, and from the vicinity of the island to the Roman colony at Coutances, that it had been occupied by that people ; but in the absence of positive proofs, conjecture and probability may be allowed, however imperfectly, to supply their place. We, therefore, assume that the rule of that people continued, till they were themselves expelled from Gaul by the invasion of the northern barbarians.

Druids' temple at Le Couperon

Before the Romans

As to the period which preceded the Roman conquest, little can be said about the state of the island. Like the rest of the neighbouring countries, it had been under the influence of the superstition of the Druids from the various cromlechs or religious memorials of those enthusiasts which have been discovered here. It was during their ascendancy that the Castle of Mount Orgueil was first erected, for the present buildings seem to be Norman. A post so impregnable then was not likely to have been neglected. The druidical worship, however, continued long after the establishment of the Romans, nor did it disappear from the land till the propagation of Christianity had prospered on the ruins of those odious rites.

It is therefore for those different reasons, I am inclined to believe, that the name of Jersey is not of a Roman, but of a Celtic origin; and that it is derived from Caer, a rock, and ey, an island, from which a Roman would naturally write Caesarea, though it would correspond better with the rocky cliffs, which line so large a part of its coasts.

It may be further mentioned in this place that some of the earlier writers sometimes refer to Jersey under the name of Augia, as if it had already been so known under the dominion of the Celts, and before the coming of the Romans. Whether they were correct in using that name it is now impossible to ascertain, and indeed it would be superfluous to inquire.

The first period of the history of this island is that which existed under the administration of the Druids and the Celts, which ended in the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, a little before the Christian era. The particulars of those times are so much involved in fables that they may be continually disputed, or what is still more discouraging, that although some of the facts may be true, they are totally void of interest to the general reader.

The government of the Romans lasted till the subversion of their empire in Gaul. During those four centuries Gaul became comparatively civilized. Roman colonies were founded and flourished, while the old superstitions of the country gradually disappeared with the propagation of Christianity. This, however, was the general effect of Roman administration at large, but it is impossible to say how far those multiplied benefits extended to all the remoter provinces, or to the island of Jersey, which was then poor, unimportant, and with a scanty population.

It has indeed preserved no vestige of the residence of the Romans, except some mouldering encampments, and a few solitary medals of some of the emperors, which have occasionally been found. Even tradition is silent, whether the commanding fortress of Gorey, or Mount Orgueil, was ever a Roman station.



After those conquerors had been expelled from our shores, the Francs, a nation of barbarians, who had issued from the wilds of Germany, became in their turn the conquerors of our soil, and founded an empire, which has since been known as the French monarchy. That warlike nation breaking out of their native recesses spread themselves like an inundation far and wide. Under the two first dynasties of the kings of France, their empire gradually increased, till it comprised all the countries which are included between the Danube and the ocean.

That immense tract was divided into eastern and western France, part of the latter of which constituted the country of Neustria, whose lower province, at a subsequent period, was ceded to the Normans, and assumed their name. The ancient Neustria was a maritime province, of which the Channel Islands had been considered as parcels, and consequently during those ages they were integral dependencies of the great kingdom of France. The duchy of Normandy, which succeeded, was also a maritime tract, but much smaller than the ancient Neustria.

The period of that ancient French sovereignty extends over a duration of almost 500 years, or from the foundation of that kingdom about the year 420 to the cession of the province of Neustria to the Normans in 912. The transactions of those times are meagre and scanty, or refer to men and actions which have long ceased to be interesting, and whose effects have no influence on the present state of society.

Those events were the wars and the degeneracy of the first dynasty of the French sovereigns, the invasion of the Saracens, the wars and the establishments of Charlemagne, and the subsequent declension, and final ruin of his family. These were indeed great historical events, but their consequences have passed away, till they have become in the present state of society to be no more than the shadows of an empty dream. Moreover, every history of this kind belonging to the general efforts of a great country cannot with propriety be referred to as being the local history of any particular district.

Therefore, the annals of the Channel islands, and of the neighbouring parts of the continent, may be dispatched in a few words. In the first place, the various elements of the population, whether Celtic, Roman, or French, were melted into one general mass, from which arose a new language and a new nation, which now constitutes the modern French. The amalgamation of the usages of the ancient natives, of different countries with the Romans, who conquered them, have in like manner occasioned the origin of the several nations of modern Europe, till every section of its large families, have become proud of their nationality, and by means of progressive improvements and variations, have still further widened the lines of separation.

This is more particularly striking in the case of the Frenchman, the Spaniard, and the Italian, who though originally sprung from the same stock, have since spread themselves out into distinct nations. Hence, under this point of view the Channel Islands were strictly French, and constituted a small part of that monarchy during the first 500 years of its existence, a long period indeed in the course of human generations, and more than sufficient to impress the indelible traces of a national character. This will account for many of the laws, and other local peculiarities of the inhabitants of those islands, and why French has been retained, notwithstanding their change of religion and of political circumstances, as their vernacular language.


It is to this period of French connection that we must refer the complete conversion of the natives to the Christian faith. It is well known that the Roman Empire was Christian at the time of its destruction, unless it might have been in some of its remote and yet half civilized provinces. When, therefore, one reads of the successful labours of the missionaries, who came from Wales into Armorica, since Brittany, and into the neighbouring districts, it must be generally understood that their exertions were directed to eradicate the remnants of the druidical, and of other pagan superstitions from the country, and to convert that part of the population, which consisted of the hordes of northern barbarians, who had settled in their conquests.

Be that however as it may, it is evident that the general propagation of Christianity, the formation of dioceses, the building of churches, and the establishment of a regular priesthood are referable to this period.

Most of the churches in the Channel Islands have retained the names of their patron saints, whose career was either very obscure, or at most but locally known. Many of them had been the founders of their own churches, who after having spent holy and useful lives in the service of their respective congregations, were considered by them as beings of a superior order, to whose tutelary guidance they might commit their worldly and spiritual concerns.

Charles the Bald

It would seem as if every church then enjoyed the right of canonisation, and that it is to circumstance that we must attribute the great number of saints, whose origin is unknown, and whose names have never been canonised. It is not commonly known that the canonisation of saints is not to be found in the early ages of the church, and that the first instance of it in the Romish Church happened in the year 923, in the case of St Uldric.

At present that church does not canonise anyone till 100 years after the death.

French influences

Another effect of that early connection with France is that it has left some indelible marks on the national character of the inhabitants, such as on their laws, their language, and their habits, which sufficiently prove that they are not of a British origin, but that they have been so much modified through a long series of changes and variations, that their protracted connection with the Normans, and subsequently with the English, has rendered them a distinct people, in every respect essentially different from the two powerful neighbours, who almost enclose their narrow limits on every side.


The latter part of this period was productive of the most extraordinary events. The Normans, a northern nation as their name imports, and who seem to have been the same people as the Danes, who so long ravaged England, extended their piracies to the coasts of France, and rendered them the scenes of their havoc and desolation. Their incursions began under Louis I, the son of Charlemagne, and lasted about 80 years, or to 912.

The success of those invaders had the effect of increasing their numbers and rendering their incursions more frequent and more formidable. Their track was marked with the most frightful horrors, and with scenes of the bitterest distress. It belongs, however, to the history of France to expatiate upon those calamities, which are but incidentally mentioned in this place, so far as they affected the Channel Islands, and the adjoining continental province of Neustria.

The weak successors of Charlemagne, were unable to resist effectually the violence of those invaders; but it was in the reign of his grandson, Charles the Bald, that matters grew infinitely worse, the whole of which was spent in endeavouring to oppose a barrier to their ravages. By means of their light vessels they ascended the rivers, and penetrated into the heart of the country, where they plundered, and burned the towns, and shed such torrents of human blood, that the ruin and devastation, which followed in their course, could hardly find a parallel in history.

Those pagans were gross and brutal idolaters, and strongly addicted to all the superstitions of their god Odin. It was this which made them wreak their rage, particularly upon churches, monasteries, and religious persons; and indeed everything that was Christian, was exposed to their wanton and unmitigated barbarity. There were no places in the neighbourhood more exposed to the predatory incursions of those barbarians than the Channel Islands, near which they necessarily had to pass. as they ranged along the coasts of the Continent.

1847 Guide
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