Development of Jersey's Government

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The Channel Islands have never been truly independent, so overall control has always been in the hands of a larger political body - the early French monarchy, the Duchy of Normandy and then the English monarchs from King John onwards.

French monarchs

Historian the Rev Philip Falle records that while the Island was subject to the early Kings of France the Governors were styled Comites and Duces, ie Counts and Dukes.

"Thus Loyescon, who commanded in the time of Clotaire and Cherebert about the year 560, is called Comes, a Count ; as we learn from the compilers of the Life of St Magloire, the Apostle of this Island. And Amwarith, who had the same command under Charlemagne two hundred years after, is called Dux, a Duke ; as appears from the passage alleged before concerning Geroaldus, Abbot of Fontenelle, that is "quadam Legatione fungebatur in Insula cui Nomen est Augia [ie Jersey] cui tempore illo praefuit Dux nomine Amwarith". Under the Dukes of Normandy, and the first English Kings after the Conquest, the Government of all the Islands was usually given to one man, called sometimes Dominus, sometimes Ballivus, sometimes Costos Insularum, ie Lord, Bailly, and Warden of the Islands."

Duchy of Normandy

Little is know about who, if anybody, was appointed to administer the Channel Islands in the early centuries of the Duchy of Normandy. The islands churches were responsible to the Bishop of Coutances from early in the Norman period and the islands themselves were looked upon as the personal property of successive Dukes. They in turn would give large areas of land either to the Church or to their favourite barons. In 1020 Duke Robert gave half of guernsey to Nigel, the lord of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte and vicomte of the Cotentin, and the other half to the vicomte of the Bessin.

The picture in Jersey is not so clear, but the abbey of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte possessed five of the 12 parish churches and a share in the tithes of the others, so it is likely that Nigel was heavily involved in Jersey, too. Historians differ over when Jersey's 12 parishes were created, but it was probably about the middle of the 11th century, when the Dukes were seeking to bring greater organisation to Lower Normandy, and probably also to the islands. The parish boundaries were, however, probably ecclesiastical rather than administrative and very little is known about lay lordship and land tenure in Jersey before 1066.

After the Norman Conquest of England, life in the Channel Islands continued much as before and it is likely that the Seneschal of Normandy was given ultimate authority over the islands, although this probably had more to do with securing an income than playing any real part in their administration.

A Brief Description and Historical Notices of the Island of Jersey a book by an unknown author, possibly John Davies, and probably published in 1826, shows two Lords or Wardens in the early 12th Century, "the high and puissant" Prince Julien du Pracle in 1111 and Sire Brandin Henton in 1117. Nothing further is known about these two men, however.

The 1180 Norman Exchequer roll names Robert Agneaux as representative of Seneschal William de Courcy. About this time the English King and Duke of Normandy Henry II was showing interest in Jersey's development. The three ministeria of four parishes each into which the island was divided were administered by Richard Burnouf, Roger Godel and Gislebert de la Hougue, islanders participating in ducal government. However, Giselbert de la Hougue appears to have had the greatest importance because he had responsibility for the whole of Guernsey, where he had a deputy, Robert de Haverlant.

King John

The future King John of England, who had been left no territory by his father, Henry II, was created Lord of the Isles by his brother, Richard I, about 1198, when England still held substantial territories in France. When King John lost most of these territories, including Normandy, in 1204 he managed to hang on to the Channel Islands after two or more French invasions. He was then faced with creating a new administrative structure for the islands and appointed his own Lord of the Isles. Pierre de Préaux had held this role from about 1200, the year after John succeeded Richard I to the throne, until 1024.

Lord of the Isles

The titles of the English monarchs' representatives in the Channel Islands were recorded in Latin or French, and sometimes no title was noted in documents concerning their appointments (or activities after the appointment) , but a number of people are known to have held the supreme title of Lord of the Isles. Others were Warden of the Isles and often either the Warden, or the King, appointed sub-wardens to actually carry out administrative duties in either Jersey or Guernsey, or both islands.


There was a division (in the early days often somewhat blurred) between military and civil authority. From the 13th century Wardens would appoint a Bailiff (Ballivus; Bailly) in each island (usually an islander) to be responsible for civil administration and the Courts.


From the middle of the 15th Century the position of Warden of the Isles was abandoned in favour of the appointment of separate Captains, or Governors for Jersey and Guernsey. The Governor still appointed the Bailiff, until tiring of conflicts between the two, King Henry VII ruled that the Bailiff would henceforward be appointed by the Monarch alone.


Jersey has no written constitution. There is a popular belief that a constitution was laid down by King John, but this is a misconception. Jersey's relationship with the English crown and the English government has evolved over the last 800 years into something approaching independence, but still largely unwritten.

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