Mont Orgueil Castle from a 1932 guidebook
Access from St Helier by motor to Gorey Pier
Admission, sixpence. Open every weekday from 8 am to sunset (in winter from 10 am) and after 2 on Sundays, but the guide is not in attendance after 5 o'clock, except in the height of the season. The fees are devoted to the maintenance of the fabric. Visitors are conducted round by guides, who expect a small tip. On the first Thursday of October, November, December, January, February, March and April, the Castle is open free, but there are no guides. Certain reserved portions can be seen on application to the warder.
Mont Orgueil Castle is the most cherished of Jersey's ancient monuments, and in 1905 the States gladly accepted an offer from the Crown by which it was vested in them.
The old fortress stands on a projecting headland of rock at the northern extremity of Grouville Bay, and attains in its loftiest part a height of 310 feet above sea-level. Its position commands all the east coast of the island.
The building was begun in the tenth century by the Dukes of Normandy, and their work was continued by the Kings of England. It was originally called Castellum de Gurrit, and later Gouray Castle, until, if tradition may be relied upon, the reign of Henry V, when it received from the Duke of Clarence the title of Mont Orgueil, a common name for a strong fort at that period.
The student of military architecture will find in Mont Orgueil an interesting specimen of the development of an early Norman Castle into a Tudor fortress. In the 13th century, when the Castle was complete, it consisted of the keep (smaller than it is to-day), a middle ward and an outer ward. These wards were surrounded by the usual round towers and curtain walls. Most of these remain and form the key for the picture of the castle as it was in its origin.
When cannon came into vogue, the defenders of the fortress had to adapt their defences to the exigencies of a changed warfare. They raised the curtains, built through the beautiful round towers, and established the huge batteries as we see them today.
The present area of the castle covers a little over two acres. On the south-east, or seawards, it is inaccessible.
The first entrance was protected by a drawbridge, replaced a few years ago. Commanding this entrance is Harliston's Tower, erected between 1473 and 1483, by Sir Richard Harliston, Governor of Jersey, who had recovered the castle from the French in 1466, as described later.
A few paces down the pathway in the outer ward, the skew-back of the vaulted roof of its original guard-house may be seen and the grooves of the portcullis.
The second gateway is of the 12th century, and also possessed a drawbridge and portcullis. Through the arch we pass into the lower ward, and here, before arriving at the third gateway, we notice some interesting machicolated fortifications. The third gateway (Tudor period and possibly later) is called the Queen's Gate. An inscription above commemorates Queen Victoria's visit to the Castle in 1846.
Ascending some steps, we arrive at the fourth gateway (temp Queen Elizabeth). Over this entrance are the Royal arms, with the Paulet and Norreys arms on either side. Sir Amias Paulet, the keeper, of Mary, Queen of Scots, was Governor of Jersey.
On the royal escutcheon it will be noticed one of the supporters is a dragon instead of the unicorn with which we are now familiar. The former was introduced by Henry VII, the first of the Tudors, who claimed descent from Cadwallader, the last king of the Britons, whose ensign bore a dragon. The unicorn was introduced by James I.
The tower in which this gateway was inserted at the Tudor period is of much older date. Some parts are 12th century; other portions later.
From this gate we arrive at the Middle Ward, right under the Keep, where a path across grass on the right leads to the Crypt of St George's Chapel (12th-century). The crypt has been rebuilt by the States.
Well and keep
By continuing to ascend the steps one soon has on the left the doorway of the chamber in which is the well. At the top of the steps is the granite arch of the entrance to the keep, embellished with mouldings of animals. It is an insertion, and is contemporary with the building of the great walls encircling the ancient keep, having been erected, as a tablet over the gateway testifies, in 1337. In the keep is the Crypt of St Mary's Chapel (12th-century). Connected with it is a cell for ecclesiastical prisoners. The chapel was for the private use of the Governors. It has been much injured, having been converted into a kitchen. Only one original lancet window remains.
Adjoining the chapel are the residential rooms of the Governor. The various storeys of the keep are connected by a spiral stone staircase. The uppermost battery of the keep is known as the Mount, or Somerset Towers, having been built during the governorship of the Duke of Somerset.
The Castle was besieged in 1373 by the famous Bertrand du Guesclin, Constable of France, but he only succeeded in capturing the outer defences. The keep was impregnable. But the fortress was destined to fall into foreign hands nearly 100 years later.
In 1460 Queen Margaret appears to have made overtures to the French to cede Jersey in consideration of a force being sent to the succour of her party in the English wars. The French King granted the Island to Pierre de Breze, Comte de Maulevrier, and through the connivance of the Governor of the Castle, the fortress was seized by the French, who held it for six years.
It was retaken by Admiral Harliston in conjunction with Philippe de Carteret, the Seigneur of St Ouen, who collected a force to invest it by land while the admiral invested it by sea. When the siege had lasted five and a half months, the starving garrison surrendered. They were allowed to march out with the honours of war, and were then transported to France. During the Civil War of the 17th century, Sir Philippe de Carteret, who was both Lieut-Governor and Bailiff, took the side of the King. He appointed his wife chatelaine of Mont Orgueil, while he conducted the defence of Elizabeth Castle. He died while thus engaged in 1643. His wife died in the following year. In 1651 Blake and General Haynes, as recorded in connection with Elizabeth Castle, obtained Mont Orgueil with little trouble.
In olden times, and until a prison was built in St Helier, Mont Orgueil was used as the island prison. During the great rebellion it served as a State prison. William Prynne, the puritan, was imprisoned here from 1637 to 1640; the cell he occupied is shown.
While here he wrote Mount Orgueil, or Divine and Profitable Meditations raised from the contemplation of these three leaves of Nature's Volume-1, Rockes ; 2, Seas ; 3, Gardens.
It will be recalled that William Prynne became recorder of Bath in the reign of Charles I, and represented the city in three parliaments. For lampooning players and playgoers, and casting a reflection on the virtue of the queen, he was sentenced by the Star Chamber to lose his ears, to stand in the pillory, to pay a fine of £5,000 and to be imprisoned for life. For a second pamphlet written in prison he was again sentenced to the pillory, to lose what remained of his ears, and to pay a further £5,000. While at Mont Orgueil he gained the friendship of Sir Philip Carteret and his family, by whom he was treated more as a guest than as a prisoner.
From the top of the castle on a clear day the coast of France can be distinctly seen. The guide will point out Carteret, the spire of Coutances Cathedral a short distance inland, and, under very favourable atmospheric conditions, Mont St Michel.
A finely preserved dolmen lies to the north of Mont Orgueil.
To return to St Helier by the shortest route (4½ miles), the road leading inland from Gorey village should be taken to the main St Martin's Road. Turn to left, and proceed past Prince's Tower and Five Oaks village.