History of Jersey

History of Jersey

The island of Jersey and the other Channel Islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy that held sway in both France and England. Jersey lies in the Bay of Mont St Michel and is the largest of the Channel Islands. It has enjoyed self-government since the division of the Duchy of Normandy in 1204.


It has been an island for approximately 8,000 years and at its extremes it measures 10 miles east to west and six miles north to south. The earliest evidence of human activity in the island dates to about 250,000 years ago when bands of hunters used the caves at La Cotte de St Brelade as a base for hunting mammoth. There was sporadic activity in the area by nomadic bands of hunters until the introduction of settled communities in the Neolithic period, which is marked by the building of the ritual burial sites known as dolmens. The number, size and visible locations of these megalithic monuments (especially La Hougue Bie) have suggested that social organisation over a wide area, including surrounding coasts, was required for the construction. Archaeological evidence shows that there were trading links with Brittany and the south coast of England during this time. It would appear that the island was significant enough to inspire large-scale construction projects.


Although part of the Roman world, we know very little about the island until the 11th century. The tradition that the Island was called "Caesarea" by the Romans appears to have no basis in fact. The Channel Islands, then called the "Lenur Islands", were occupied by the Britons during their migration to Brittany (5th-6th century). Various saints such as the Celts Samson of Dol and Branwaldr (Brelade) were active in the region, although tradition has it that it was Saint Helier from Tongeren in modern-day Belgium who first brought Christianity to the Island in the 6th century, and Charlemagne sent his emissary to the island (at that time called "Angia", also spelt "Agna") [cite web | title = History of stamps | publisher = Jersey Post | url = http://www.jerseypost.com/jppage.aspx?id=170 | accessdate = 2006-10-24 ] in 803.


The island took the name "Jersey" as a result of Viking activity in the area between the 9th and 10th centuries. The Channel Islands remained politically linked to Brittany until 933 when William Longsword, Duke of Normandy seized the Cotentin and the islands and added them to his domain; in 1066 Duke William II of Normandy defeated Harold at Hastings to become king of England; however, he continued to rule his French possessions as a separate entity. [cite web | title = A Short Constitutional History of Jersey | publisher = Voisin & Co | date = 1999-05-18 | url = http://www.voisinlaw.com/pg368.htm | accessdate = 2006-10-24 ]

The islands remained part of the Duchy of Normandy until 1204 when King Philippe Auguste of France conquered the duchy from King John of England; the islands remained in the personal possession of the king and were described as being a Peculiar of the Crown. [cite book | last = Liddicoat | first = Anthony | title = A Grammar of the Norman French of the Channel Islands | publisher = Walter de Gruyter | date = 1 August 1994 | pages = p. 6 | url = http://books.google.com/books?id=pgobrmlMAGQC&pg=PA6&lpg=PA6&sig=tvagbIw1egCS2MHh4VfeK5WBwzA | id = ISBN 3-11-012631-1 ] The so-called "Constitutions of King John" are the foundation of modern self-government.

The Feudal Age

From 1204 onwards the Channel Islands ceased to be a peaceful backwater and were thrown into the spotlight as a potential flashpoint on the international stage between England and France.

In the Treaty of Paris (1259) the King of France gave up claim to the Channel Islands. The claim was based upon his position as feudal overlord of the Duke of Normandy. The King of England gave up claim to mainland Normandy and appointed a Warden, a position now termed Lieutenant-Governor and a Bailiff to govern in his stead. The Channel Islands were never formerly absorbed into the Kingdom of England, however.

Mont Orgueil castle was built at this time to serve as a Royal fortress and military base. During the Hundred Years' War the island was attacked many times [ Including twice in the 1338-1339 Channel campaign ] and was even occupied for a couple of years in the 1380s. Because of the island's strategic importance to the English Crown the islanders were able to negotiate a number of benefits for themselves from the king. During the Wars of the Roses the island was occupied by the French for seven years (1461-68) before Sir Richard Harliston arrived in the island to claim it back for the English king.

Reformation to Restoration

During the 16th century the islanders adopted the Protestant religion and life became very austere. The increasing use of gunpowder on the battlefield meant that the fortifications on the island had to be adapted and a new fortress built to defend St Aubin's Bay. The new Elizabeth Castle was named after the queen by Sir Walter Raleigh when he was governor. The island militia was reorganised on a parish basis and each parish had two cannon which were usually housed in the church - one of the St Peter cannon can still be seen at the bottom of Beaumont Hill. The production of knitwear reached such a scale that it threatened the island's ability to produce its own food and so laws were passed regulating who could knit with whom and when. The islanders also became involved with the Newfoundland fisheries at this time. [cite book | last = Ommer | first = Rosemary E. | title = From Outpost to Outport | publisher = McGill-Queen's University Press | date = 1991 | pages = pp. 13-14 | url = http://books.google.com/books?id=nrdYUXv817sC&pg=PA13&lpg=PP11&sig=RSHGT0rLzEcp2UDWb58_-ULI-AU | id = ISBN 0-7735-0730-2 ] The boats left the island in February/March following a church service in St Brelade's church and they wouldn't return again until September/October. During the 1640s England was split by Civil War and hostilities spread into Scotland and Ireland as well. Jersey was divided and while the sympathy of islanders lay with Parliament the de Carterets held the island for the king.

The future Charles II visited the island in 1646 and again in 1649 following the execution of his father. It was in the Royal Square in St. Helier on February 17 1649 that Charles was first publicly proclaimed king after his father's death. Parliamentarian forces eventually captured the island in 1651. In recognition for all the help given to him during his exile, Charles II gave George Carteret, Bailiff and governor, a large grant of land in the American colonies, which he promptly named New Jersey, now part of the United States of America. [cite book | last = Weeks | first = Daniel J. | title = Not for Filthy Lucre's Sake | publisher = Lehigh University Press | date = 1 May 2001 | pages = p. 45 | url = http://books.google.com/books?id=FM_BrMaXR2kC&pg=PA45&lpg=PA45&sig=GUW523Ey4gbowY3VBKNu4qA_o80 | id = ISBN 0-934223-66-1 ] [cite book | last = Cochrane | first = Willard W. | title = The Development of American Agriculture | publisher = University of Minnesota Press | date = 30 September 1993 | pages = p. 18 | url = http://books.google.com/books?id=gnqxb5vuTEMC&pg=PA18&lpg=PA18&sig=hqWaBVs6YZHQfdP_8VlOJrst0NI | id = ISBN 0-8166-2283-3 ]

Towards the end of the 17th century Jersey strengthened its links with the Americas when many islanders emigrated to New England and north east Canada. The Jersey merchants built up a thriving business empire in the Newfoundland and Gaspé fisheries. Companies such as Robins and the Le Boutilliers set up thriving businesses.

18th century

The Chamber of Commerce founded 24 February 1768 is the oldest in the Commonwealth.

The "Code" of 1771 laid down for the first time in one place the extant laws of Jersey, and from this time the functions of the Royal Court and the States of Jersey were delimited, with sole legislative power vested in the States.

Methodism arrived in Jersey in 1774, brought by fishermen returning from Newfoundland. Conflict with the authorities ensued when men refused to attend Militia drill when that coincided with chapel meetings. The Royal Court attempted to proscribe Methodist meetings, but King George III refused to countenance such interference with liberty of religion. The first Methodist minister in Jersey was appointed in 1783, and John Wesley preached in Jersey in August 1789, his words being interpreted into the vernacular for the benefit of those from the country parishes. The first building constructed specifically for Methodist worship was erected in St. Ouen in 1809.

The 18th century was a period of political tension between Britain and France as the two nations clashed all over the world as their ambitions grew. Because of its position Jersey was more or less on a continuous war footing.

During the American Wars of Independence there were two attempted invasions of the island. In 1779 the Prince of Orange William V was prevented from landing at St Ouen's Bay; on January 6, 1781, a force led by Baron de Rullecourt captured St Helier in a daring dawn raid, but was defeated by a British army led by Major Peirson ("see the Battle of Jersey"). A short lived peace was followed by the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars which, when they had ended, had changed Jersey for ever. In 1799-1800, over 6000 Russian troops under the command of Charles du Houx de Viomesnil were quartered in Jersey after an evacuation of Holland.

The first printing press was introduced to Jersey in 1784.

19th century

The livre tournois had been used as the legal currency for centuries. However, it was abolished during the French Revolutionary period. Although the coins were no longer minted, it remained the legal currency in Jersey until 1837 when dwindling supplies of livres tournois and consequent difficulties in trade and payment obliged the adoption of the pound sterling as legal tender.

The military roads constructed (on occasion at gunpoint in the face of opposition from landowners) by the Governor, General George Don, to link coastal fortifications with St. Helier harbour had an unexpected effect on agriculture once peace restored reliable trade links. Farmers in previously isolated valleys were able to swiftly transport crops grown in the Island's microclimate to waiting ships and then on to the markets of London and Paris ahead of the competition. In conjunction with the introduction of steamships and the development of the French and British railway systems, Jersey's agriculture was no longer as isolated as before. The new transport links also saw the arrival of the first tourists.

The number of English speaking soldiers stationed in the island and the number of retired officers and English speaking labourers who came to the islands in the 1820s saw the island gradually moving towards an English-speaking culture.

Jersey was the 4th largest ship building area in the 19th century British Isles [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/jersey/3345299.stm BBC Tourisme schooner plans unveiled] ] , building over 900 vessels around the island. In the late 19th century as the former thriving cider and wool industries declined, island farmers benefited from the development of two luxury products - the Jersey cow and the Jersey Royal potato. The former was the product of careful and selective breeding programmes; the latter being a total fluke.

The anarchist philosopher, Peter Kropotkin who visited the Channel Islands in 1890, 1896 and 1903 described the agriculture of Jersey in "The Conquest of Bread".

The 19th century also saw the rise of tourism as an important industry, which reached its climax in the period from the end of the Second World War to the 1980s.

20th century

English was first permitted in debates in the States of Jersey in 1901 and the first legislation to be drawn up primarily in English was the Income Tax Law of 1928.

Emotionally, the 20th century has been dominated by the Occupation of the island by German troops between 1940 and 1945 [cite web | last = Bellows | first = Tony | title = What was the "Occupation" and why is "Liberation Day" celebrated in the Channel Islands? | publisher = Société Jersiaise | url = http://www.societe-jersiaise.org/whitsco/liberat1.htm | accessdate = 2006-10-24 ] which saw about 8,000 islanders evacuated, 1,200 islanders deported to camps in Germany and over 300 islanders being sentenced to the prison and concentration camps of mainland Europe (it depended on Neuengamme). 20 died as a result. The islanders endured near-starvation in the winter of 1944-45, after it had been cut off from German-occupied Europe by Allied forces advancing from the Normandy beachheads, avoided only by the arrival of the Red Cross supply ship "Vega" in December 1944. Liberation Day - May 9 is marked as a public holiday. The Channel Islands were the only British soil occupied by German troops in World War II.

The event which has had the most far reaching effect on Jersey in modern times, is the growth of the finance industry in the island from the 1960s onwards.



*"Balleine's History of Jersey", Marguerite Syvret and Joan Stevens (1998) ISBN 1-86077-065-7

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