Clement Le Couteur

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Religion was clearly a very important part of the life of 17th century Receiver-General Jacques Le Couteur and his wife Esther Botterel. Three of their four sons became Rectors of Jersey parishes and two of these were appointed Dean.

42 years as Dean

Clement, who was born in 1631 and baptised at St John, succeeded his elder brother Philippe as Dean in 1672 and held the office until his death at the age of 83 in 1714.

The latter years of his tenure of office were tumultuous and he was sent to prison after excommunicating the Constable of St Peter for barring access to a communion service at the parish church on Christmas Day 1698.

Little is known about Clement Le Couteur's early life, but he went into exile in Holland during the Commonwealth and is next heard of at Oxford after the Restoration receiving an MA degree in December 1660.

After appointments in Kent and Lincoln he returned to Jersey as Rector of St John in 1664 and married Jeanne de Carteret, daughter of Josue, Seigneur of St Jean la Hougue-Bo√ęte.

His first 25 years as Dean were uneventful, but presiding over the Ecclesiastical Court in 1699 after Philippe Anley, Constable of St Peter, objected to a Communion Service being held at the parish church the previous Christmas Day, he excommunicated Anley and one of the churchwardens. They appealed to the Royal Court and Le Couteur was sent to prison on 25 February 1699, although for how long has not been specified.

Clashes between Courts

There followed a long series of clashes between the two courts over their respective powers. The Bishop of Winchester and the Privy Council were called upon to adjudicate in several disputes and in 1704 the Bishop complained to the Privy Council about the treatment of the clergy in Jersey by the laity and the Royal Court.

The Courts clashed over who had the authority to rule in disputes over ownership of pews in the churches. These disputes frequently became very bitter and it was not unknown for one of those involved to be sent to prison. When, in 1708, the Dean ordered the excommunication of his namesake Jean Le Couteur, following a Royal Court ruling in his favour over a dispute in St Lawrence, all the Rectors were arrested and fined by the Royal Court, with part of their penalty being given to the excommunicated man.

The Dean was central to other disputes, including one between the clergy and the Receiver General over tithes. During this dispute, in 1703 Jean Dumaresq, Rector of St Helier, was sent to prison for "having uttered many calumnious words against the honour and reputation of the Lieut-Governor" and three years later the Rector of St Ouen, Edouard Payne, was imprisoned for a similar offence. The Dean's attempt at negotiating a settlement between the warring parties was rejected by the Privy Council.

At other times Dean Le Couteur was in conflict with his own clergy. The Rector of St Lawrence was suspended for conducting at service at St Ouen at the request of the Constable in place of the Rector of St Mary, whose turn it was on the Dean's rota in the absence of a St Ouen incumbent.

There were also disputes over Jersey Rectors also holding a living in an English parish. Dean Le Couteur was determined to stop this practice, which often led to the clergyman's absence from his island parish for many years. In 1706 he summoned three such Rectors and when they failed to appear he dismissed them from their Rectories with the support of the Bishop.

Controversy surrounded the Dean until shortly before his death when he ordered all the Rectors not to make payments out of their Tresor to meet the expenses of the Civil Court while the churches themselves were in a state of disrepair.

Clement Le Couteur was survived by three sons and six daughters.

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