Jersey in old documents

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Jersey in old documents

Allusions to Jersey in primary sources not hitherto recorded by the Société Jersiaise - an article by John Poindexter Landers, published in the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise in 1963

Jean Poingdestre

In treating of the origins of place names in the Channel Islands, particularly the names of the islands themselves, Falle based many of his contentions upon the earliest observations of Jean Poingdestre (John Poindexter, 1609-1693, Lieut-Bailiff of Jersey 1669- 1676), made in his work Caesarea, or a Discourse of the Island of Jersey (1889). An examination of both of these sources reveals several references to Jersey which have not hitherto been brought to the attention of the Société. My aim is to reproduce the text and context of the original sources (as well as pertinent passages from FaIle and Poingdestre) wherein such mentions of Jersey and Jersey people are made, as well as to supply a brief commentary.

The first recorded use of the term Caesarea with reference to Jersey occurs in the itinerary generally attributed to Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, wherein we find listed as the islands lying between Gaul and Britain the following: Riduna, Sarnia and Caesarea. Scholars are now inclined to think that this so-called Itinerary of Antoninus, though no doubt enlarged and improved under the Antonines, had its origin in the survey of the Empire begun under Julius Caesar and continued by Augustus.

In speaking of the original island names, Poingdestre observes:

The first thing that I have endeavoured to knowe, are the old names which these islands were knowne by. For what would it availe to read the feates of Julius Caesar in Gallia, unlesse I knew aforehand what part of the world is Gallia; and yt by yt name is understood a Countrey nowe knowne by the name of France. Cambden, I suppose, is the first who hath comitted to writing that Jersey is that Island in the British Ocean, which in Antoninus his Itinerary is called Caesarea, and that Jersey or Gersey (for it is found written both wayes) is but a contraction or corruption of the name, as Cherbourg or Gerbourg of Caesaris burgum; a very good example if Burgum or Burgus were a Latin word neere Caesar's time. Nevertheless his conjecture hath been followed by all others. Neither is it my purpose to oppose it. But I am much at a stand how, if that be true, it came to passe that long after Antoninus it should be called by another name soe different from it that can never have been derived from it, nor contracted or corrupted into it by any means ....
I am apt to believe that Augia was the true genuine name of this Island, and that long before the Romans had any thing to doe in those parts; and yt it was continued among the natives all along the Roman's time, and after their departure, untill the Norman Dukes that the Roman name was revived, but with a corrupt way of pronouncing it.


Philip FaIle, supported and elaborated Poingdestre's thesis in his history of Jersey. With regard to the name Augia, he says:

It is also sometimes mentioned in old writings and monuments by the name of Augia, which the learned Mr Poindextre thought to be the original name of this Island, before the Romans were acquainted with it and called it Caesarea; so that although they, in right of conquest, would needs give it a new name, yet still the old name remained among the natives and neighbours on the Continent, and was in use many ages after. And that thus it has often happened to places and countries upon a conquest, is notorious from all Histories; into which no small confusion and obscurity has been thrown by such plurality of names applied to the same place.

After the gradual decline of Roman authority in the area and the subsequent conquest of Northern Gaul by the Frankish king Clovis, the only sources making specific mention of the islands are various saints' lives and martyrologies. A donation of Childebert, king of France, whereby he gave Jersey and the three adjacent islands to Samson, Bishop of Dol in Armorica (Brittany), refers to Jersey as Augia.

Concerning d' Argentre, Poingdestre says:

What that name was wee may learne from a Donation made of foure of these Islands to Sampson, made newly Bishop of Dol in Britany: wherein this pretended Caesarea is called Augia and in French Augie. This donation is found in the life of that Bishop, which I have seene in written hand very ancient and in Latin; and is attested by Bertrand d'Argentré in his History. If it be asked why this Augia should be Jersey, rather than some other Island; I will quickly take awaye that scruple by the testimony of a certain Fragment taken out of the Abbey of Fontenelles by Du Chesne in the 3rd Tome of his "Scriptores Coaetanei Historiae Francor," which is neere as ancient as Charlesmaigne, concerning Geroaldus one of the Abbots there, Is enim (sayth he) quadam legatione fungebatur iussi Caroli Augusti in Insulam cui nomen est Augia, & est adiacens pago Constantino.

In treating of religion of the island of jersey, FaIle writes:

These Islands were then under the Kings of France, who had lately embraced Christianity; and Childebert, son of Clovis, made a gift of them to St Samson, for an augmentation of his small Diocese; as we learn from d'Argentré, who affirms that he himself had perused the Writings of that Donation. A cest Archeoesque Childebert donna quelques Isles et Terres en Normandie; Rimoul, Augie, Sargie et Vesargie, qui estoient Isles en la Coste; car je trouve cela aux vielles Lettres. (D'Argentré, Hist de Bretagne, Liv 1, Ch XXVIII, fo1 114) That Augie was an ancient name of Jersey, has been shewn in the entrance of this Work. The other three therefore must be Erme, Sark and Guernezey, as some affinity remaining in the names plainly enough indicates."

Gregory of Tours

Gregory of Tours makes an interesting reference to Jersey in his Historia Francorum. In the following passage he is speaking of Praetextatus, a bishop, who was accused by the Frankish king Chilperic of theft for the purpose of bribing the king's enemies to kill him and enthrone his son Merovech. On the petition of the king the bishops of the realm condemned Praetextatus to degradation from the clerical state and exile to an island which by its geographical description is to be identified beyond doubt with jersey:

Cumque haec altercatio altius tolleretur, Praetextatus episcopus, prostratus solo, ait ':' Peccavi in caelo et coram te, o rex misericordissime; ego sum homicida nefandus; ego te interficere volui et filio tuo in solio eregere. Haec eo dicente, prosternitur rex coram pedibus sacerdotum, dicens: Audite, o piisime sacerdotes, reum criminis sacribilem confitentem.' Cumque fientes regem elevassemus a solo, iussit eum basilicam egredi. Ipse vero ad metatum erat quaternio novus adnixus, habens canones quasi apostolicus continentes haec: Episcopus in homieidio adulterio, et periurio depraehensus, a sacerdotio divillatur. His ita lectis, cum Praetextatus staret stupens Berthramnus episcopus ait : 'Audi, 0 frater et coepiscope ; quia regis gratiam non habes ; ideoque nee nostram caritatem uti poteris, prius quam regis indulgentia merearis.' His ita gestis, petiit rex, ut aut tonicam eius scinderetur, aut centisimus octavus psalmus, qui maledictionibus Scarioticas continet, super caput eius recitaretur, aut certe iudicium contra eum scriberetur, ne in perpetuo communicaret. Quibus condicionibus ego restiti, iuxta promissum regis, ut nihil extra canones gereretur. Tunc Praetextatus nostris rap tis oculis, in custodia positus est. De qua fugire temptans nocte, gravissime caesus est; in insola maris, quod adiaeet eivitati Constantini, in exilio est detrusus.

In his chronicle of Rollo and his descendants, the Norman poet Wace, himself a native of Jersey, speaks of the De Carteret family and its participation in the conquest of England. They, together with many other feudal families then represented in Jersey, are thus exalted:

De Meaine le vieil Giffrei,
E de Bohon li vieil Onfrei,
De Cartrai Onfrei e Maugier,
Qui esteit nouvel chevalier,
E de Garene i vint Willemes,
Mult u sist bien el chief li helmes-
E li viel Hue de Gornai,
Ensemble od lui sa gent de Brai.!

It is appropriate that the de Carteret family, who were thus mentioned by Wace, and who were among the first Normans to settle in Jersey, should have brought the name Jersey to America - another indication that, of all words, place names are the most tenacious and enduring.

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