Balleine's views on perquages

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Conflicting views on perquages


This gate on the seaward side of St Brelade Parish Church churchyard is wrongly identified as opening on to a sanctuary path. It is neither a sanctuary path nor a perquage

Widely recognised as the foremost of Jersey's 20th century historians, George Balleine appears to offer strangely divergent views on the theory that Jersey's perquages were pre-Reformation sanctuary paths leading from the 12 parish churches to the sea.[1]

In his renowned History of Jersey first published in 1950, Balleine hints at problems with the theory, but a year later, in The Bailiwick of Jersey he offers nothing but support for it, and suggests that there was a 13th sanctuary path from a St Mary chapel to the north coast. His 1948 glossary of Jersey terms had failed even to mention perquage.

It is suggested that this track through St Peter's Valley, pictured in 1890, was one of the original perquages

History of Jersey

The revised version of Balleine's History of Jersey, by Joan Stevens and Marguerite Syvret, devotes two pages to perquages, ending with the caution 'there is a considerable need for further research in this field'. But was this Balleine writing, or are the doubts being expressed by the two ladies who updated the book for republication in 1981? Perhaps so, because as will be shown below, in 1951 Balleine appeared to have no doubts.

It is one of the unfortunate failings of this otherwise excellent reference work that it does not distinguish between what Balleine wrote originally and the additions and amendments in the updated version.

This is a slightly abridged text of what the revised version has to say on the subject of perquages:

"In 1663, in acknowledgement of his services, [Edward de Carteret] received a curious gift of perquages. This has posed a number of as yet unsolved problems by the linking of the word perquage with the right of sanctuary.
"This ancient right existed in many countries, Christian and pagan, including England, Normandy and Scandinavia. In Jersey the malefactor took refruge in a church or cemetery, where he was allowed to stay unmolested for nine days. Although the civil power kept him under strict observation, his friends and relations might bring him food.
"After this period the right was denied him and he was forced to take the oath of abjuration of the island for ever in the presence of the Bailiff and Jurats. He was then led by the ecclesiastical authorities direct to the sea, any deviations from the prescribed route entailing the forfeiture of his privilege.
"Two late examples in island records are that of Thomas Le Seelleur, who sought sanctuary at St Martin in 1546, and Rene Le Hardy who, after committing a robbery, fled to the church or cemetery of Trinity in 1558. He claimed sanctuary in the presence of John Poulet, last Catholic Dean of Jersey. This was granted him by the civil authority, but Nicolle concludes, from the wording of the Act of the Ecclesiastical Court, that at this period the civil power was making efforts to restrain this ecclesiastical privilege, which disappeared with the Reformation.
"Much work has already been done in tracing the perquages given with other 'waste' land to Edouard de Carteret. He sold most of his gift to owners of adjacent fields. Other patches were sold by his sister and nieces up to about 1715, and it is through the contracts for these sales of land that it has been possible to trace the routes of most, if not all of them.
"Except at St Ouen and St Martin, they went to the south coast, even from northern parishes where bays like Greve de Lecq, Bonne Nuit and Bouley were closer to the church. The perquages of St Mary, St John and St Lawrence met together at a point where Tesson chapel now stands, reaching the sea just east of Beaumont.
"Other parishes may also have merged in this way. Trinity and St Saviour possibly reached the sea by Castle Street, formerly known as Le Perquage. A study of the one at St Peter, which is authenticated, shows ow circuitous were the routes taken, though as Poingdestre says, they always followed water courses.
"No one denies the existence of the right of sanctuary or of the perquages. The problem lies in relating one to the other. Writing on roads in his Caesarea in the 1680s, more than 100 years after the practice of taking sanctuary had lapsed, Jean Poingdestre defines 'another Way of farre different use called Perquaqe, of the same breadth as the High Way in Normandy'. (Allowing for certain discrepancies in Poingdestre's arithmetic, this was about 24 feet.) But one has also to remember that the Jersey perch differed from the French. These wayes began at every church and by the shortest and most direct line went on to the sea, so that it did commonly passe through boggs and between hills along streams of water. For it had noe other known use but to conduct by it such as having committed capital crimes did take sanctuary in those churches; which was then a very ordinary course to doe.
"I never heard of such wayes anywhere else, and soe I think I may place these kind of wayes among the singularities of this island, although by abolishing of sanctuaries at the Reformation the sayd wayes remained uselesse yet they are still visted yearely in their course; till His Majestie disposed of them by Letters Patent to Sir Edouard de Carteret, who had made conveyance of parcels thereof to those persons who had lands bordering thereon, and by that means quite razed and extinguished them as if they had never been'.
"Since Poingdestre wrote thus, his theory has been handed down by successive historians, and the tradition maintained that every parish had a perquage exclusively for the use of forbannis, but there are many anomalies to be ironed out. Poingdestre himself casts doubt on his statement in his Lois et Coutumes de Jersey, this time equating the perquage with the King's highway and asking why the widest of roads used by the public for moving troops or for solemn processions should have been reserved for outlaws or indeed belonged to the Church, and suggests that it was a popular error to suppose that they had originally been 'sanctuary' roads. Why, he asks, make roads for criminals when other routes were available?
"Poingdestre derives perquage from the Latin pertica or the French perche used in the measurement of roads. We know from early records that all roads above four feet in width were under royal supervision, hence the term Visite Royale. De Gruchy tells us that Jersey had adopted the Norman custom of classifying roads by width, so that we find them variously called via regia, cheminum regis, semita regis so ranging from the King's highway to the path or sentier. There were also certain rights of way, sometimes across fields such as the chemin de moulin and the chemin des morts.
"To revert to the perquages, Poingdestre suggests that, if they had fallen into disuse, it was because the public had found better ways and so neglected the older roads. In any case, these 'better' ways, by comparison with Don's highways, can have been but tracks of verying widths used by carts or men on horseback. Except on the flat land at St Clement and Grouville, they must have followed for the most part the winding valleys running from north to south of the island. They did not, it seems, necessarily reach the sea in their parish of origin.
"Perhaps the solution to the mystery lies in Poingdestre's reference to solemn processions. Anger at the sale of the perquages may have had its roots in memories of wide paths made sacred by earlier religious observantes of Feast days and Holy days: one still sees in Breton villages processions making their way to the sea for the lessing of the fishing fleet.
"No doubt the clergy used these ancient ways to escort forbannis to the sea. That the roads were important is revealed in a document recording a Visite Royale in St Peter in 1645, where, under a sub-heading, encroachments on the perquage are listed. There is a considerable need for further research in this field, particularly as the word perquage appears to be unique to the Channel Islands and is used in a different context in Guernsey".

Bailiwick of Jersey

This book, first published in 1951, has eight references to perquages, all of which are fully supportive of the link between them and sanctuary paths. The references below come from the revised edition, edited by Joan Stevens and first published in 1970. Did she change her mind about perquages in the 11 years between the appearance of this edition and the revised version of the History of Jersey, on which she collaborated with Marguerite Syvret?

Parish churches

"Connected with the 12 parish churches, mention must be made of the perquages. These were sanctuary paths by which a criminal could reach the shore, from his parish church, and they were in use until the Reformation. If the criminal had friends who supplied a boat, he could leave Jersey, but might never return. Some, but not all of these paths have been traced. They always followed a stream but took devious routes, and often arrived at the shore in a different parish from that of their origin. They were granted, as well as some waste lands called terres vacantes, by Charles II to Sir Edouard de Carteret in 1663, and he and his descendants gradually sold off this ground, usually to adjoining landowners."

Chapel of St Mary de Lec

"The chapel had its own perquage, leading down to the bay, being apparently the only chapel in the island to enjoy this privilege, which elsewhere was reserved for the parish churches."

Alternatives to prison

"There was the right of sanctuary or, to be more precise, a sanctuary path leading from church to shore, a right thought to be unique to Jersey, and not occuring even in the other Channel Islands. Any culprit who could reach a church before he was caught was safe for several days, and if his friends could provide a boat, he could walk unarrested down the perquage, or sanctuary path, which ran from every church to the sea, and escape from the island, a simple way of encouraging criminals to deport themselves."

St Brelade's Church

"The old sanctuary path from the churchyard to the beach has recently been reopened. It is the shortest and most direct of all the perquages."

St Lawrence

"The most interesting ecclesiastical survival is the perquage. In olden days every parish church had a perquage or sanctuary path to the sea, by which criminals who had taken sanctuary in a church could make their way to the shore unarrested, and escape by boat, a convenient way of inducing undesirables to deport themselves. But the right of sanctuary disappeared at the Reformation, and one of the few surviving pieces of a sanctuary path is half a mile of the St Lawrence perquage, which comes down to the sea just east of Beaumont, which was ceded to the States by La Société Jersiaise, and must be maintained as a public path for all time.

St Martin

"The pre-Reformation perquage, the path by which criminals who had taken sanctuary in the church could escape to the sea, crossed the north wall of the churchyard by a stile, plunged down the valley to the brook, and followed the stream till it reached the shore near St Catherine's Tower. It was last used in 1546, when Thomas Le Seeleur escaped the gallows by walking down it to a boat that took him to Normandy."

St Peter

"The perquage, instead of following its own parish brook down St Peter's Valley, cut across to the brook that flows by Pont du Val and Pont Marquet through St Brelade to St Aubin's harbour."

Glossary of terms

"Perquage. A sanctuary path from a church to the sea on which a fugitive from the law was safe from arrest, before the Reformation, and again during Mary Tudor's short reign. These paths always followed a stream but did not necessarily take a direct route."

Notes and references

  1. Whatever Balleine believed, the connection between perquages and sanctuary has long been dismissed, most notably in an article by Christopher Aubin in the 1997 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise
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