Extradition of prisoners to France
In the 16th century and earlier it was not uncommon for fugitive criminals to flee Jersey and seek refuge in France, and often they were sent back to face trial with the minimal amount of formality.
However, in November 1618 a request from France for the repatriation of Frenchmen who were accused of rape and other crimes created a major diplomatic incident.
An application was made to the Royal Court on behalf of two French women. The men were accused of "rape and forcible carrying away of the said women" and to have fled to Jersey when brought to trial in Brittany. The women were referred to throughout the proceedings as "gentlewomen", indicating that they were of significant social rank and were probably heiresses who had been abducted with a view to forcible marriages, a practice which was not uncommon at the time.
The men (it is not clear whether there were two or four of them) were held in prison while it was decided what to do with them, and advice was sought from England after lettres rogatoires were received from the Brittany Parliament formally requesting their return. Meanwhile the court "took sureties that the gentlewomen should defray the charges and victuals allowed to the said prisoners".
Privy Council letter
There was then an exchange of correspondence, the Privy Council writing to the Governor, Bailiff and Jurats on 30 November 1618:
- "We understand as well by letters from you the Governor as by a petition exhibited into this Board in the name of two gentlewomen of Brittany that there are now at this present two persons in custody within HM Castle there, who, being pursued by justice in Brittany for rape and forcible carrying away of the said women, fled thither in hope to escape the punishment which (it maybe) they deserve. For as much as you the Governor desire by your said letters to understand HM pleasure and to receive further directions how to dispose of the said prisoners, and that on the other side the petitioners do humbly pray that the said supposed malefactors may be remanded into Brittany there to receive their trial according to law, we have thought good to let you know that HM hath been acquainted therewithal, and that although he be far from giving countenance to persons so tainted and touched with offences of that nature, yet that the case being taken simply as it appears, unless there be any other reason that may either move or oblige HM in honour and justice to the delivery of them, HM cannot yet resolve to remand them being come under his protection and safeguard.
- "And therefore before you are to have any other resolution from hence we do require you to certify us whether to your knowledge there hath been and now is in force any convention or contract betwixt the two crowns of France and England like occasion otherwise whereby it is agreed that prisoners shall be remanded upon the by treaty or happening. If not, then whether there hath been any such custom between France and those islands, and whether the same has been reciprocal, and to give us instances of such as many as you can, whereupon you shall receive HM final pleasure. And in the meantime the prisoners are to remain as they do and be carefully looked after that they make no escape."
From this point the respective views of the Governor and the Royal Court clearly diverged. The Court replied as follows on 6 February 1619, but Governor Sir John Peyton sent a separate letter:
- "After our humble duties remembered, we have received your Lordships' letter of 30 November last, whereof may it please your Honours to understand that upon the examination of the rapes complained of by the two gentlewomen therein mentioned we conceived in our poor judgments, under your Lordships' better reformation, that it was important not only for our own safety and the preservation of our liberties but also for the King's honour to deliver justice unto our said neighbours, whereupon we resolved to comit the said four men prisoners until such time as we might certify the matter with your Lordships, and receive your Honours directions therein, and took sureties that the gentlewomen should defray the charges and victuals allowed to the said prisoners. As likewise when afterwards letters rogatories were brought unto us from the Parliament of Brittany requiring that the said prisoners might be remanded back unto them, we took order that the said letters should be sent unto your Honours as a matter not appertaining to us to intermeddle withal.
- "As concerning the treaties between the two crowns England and France whereof your Lordships will be informed by us whether it is agreed that prisoners shall be remanded back on like occasions, we humbly declare that we have no such treaties in our custory. But for other points we find that the custom is and hath been among us when malefactors have been suded here for crimes committed in foreign parts that justice hath been ministered to them that have sued for it, as we find also that sometimes malefactors have been reciprocally remanded back, as your Lordships may be more particularly informed by Sir P de Carteret, unto who we humbly beseech your Honours to give (two words illegible) not only to inform your Lordships concerning this business but also for all other matters which might concern the state of this poor island the welfare whereof we humbly recommend unto your Honours' able care and favour, humbly beseeching your Lordships to accept favourably of this our humble answer and dutiful endeavours and to signify unto us HM's pleasure with your Honours' direction how we shall proceed with these prisoners.
- "And thus with our humble and hearty prayer unto God for your Lordships' long life and prosperity we humbly take our leave."
- (Signed J Herault, Bailiff and eight Jurats)
The letter was accompanied by examples of fugitives who had been repatriated either to France from Jersey or in the opposite direction in recent years.
Peyton, however, wrote separately expressing his concern:
- "I most humbly crave your Lordships' pardon in that I rather choose to trouble your Lordships with my signle answer than to join in one letter with the Bailiff and some of the Jurats for that in my weak judgment I cannot approve the Bailiff's acknowledging of the process in Brittany, with the letters rogatory from that Parliament, and public attesting the same, such proceedings drawing too near the form of correspondance had between the provincial Parliaments in France, being all under one sovereignty, neither should I ever have thought fit to have recommended such process to your Honours but left that solicitation to those of Brittany who pursue the cause on behalf of the women plaintiffs. I with all humbleness submit to your wisdom the consideration how far this acknowledging and attesting arrests of French Parliaments may be allowed or continued in precedent here.
- "Some cursory relation of priates executed here, of a coiner for putting out false moneys on this isle, and of one remanded by Mr Secretary Winwood's directions from Guernsey, I received from Mr Bailiff, but have no writings or records, they being reserved for the procureurs of this isle their recommending to your Lordships' rein. What I can by my best endeavour attain unto, as also what passed since my time by myself, I most humbly send to your Honours, viz Mr George Paulet, his knowledge for the space of threescore years and M de Cusse, premier president of the Parliament of Brittany, his letters to me with my answers to the same. The prisoners remain in safe custody till HM's pleasure be known. Praying heartily to God for your Lordships' healths and everlasting happiness, I most humbly take my leave."
Privy Council ruling
The Privy Council eventually agreed to the prisoners being returned to France, but somewhat reluctantly and insisting that this should set no precedent for the future. They wrote:
- "We received both your letters dated in February last concerning the prisoners refuged and committed there for rape comlained of by two gentlewomen of Brittany for the sending back of which prisoners letters rogatories were brought unto you from the Parliament of Brittany. In asnwer whereof you shall understand that HM hath taken notice of the cause and considered as well of the reasons contained in each of your letters as of the reciprocal precedents transmitted ither, and although there is no reson to give way to any such letters rogatories in these cases of refuges, nevertheless HM is graciously pleased out of princely courtesy and respect to that neighbour province, and specially in favour of justice, to command that these prisoners shall be remanded into Brittany. These shall be therefore to will and require you to give order accordingly and to remand them back in such manner as hath been formerly done."