Legacy of Walter Raleigh

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Legacy of Walter Raleigh

Sir Michael Wilkes

This article by Sir Michael Wilkes, former Lieut-Governor of Jersey, was first published in the 1999 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Jersey's connection with the Crown of England has been a long and proud tradition of unbroken loyalty. Since 1204 and the decision to cast in its lot with the English rather than the French cause, the Island has acted as royal refuge and a loyal Dependency of the Crown.

Tempting prize

Their geographic position has always made the Channel Islands a tempting prize, particularly when viewed from the French coastline only twelve miles distant. As a consequence their protection was considered vital in the Middle Ages and their military security always a cause for some concern. In the early days locally based English and Island militia battalions, backed by formidable sea-power, provided the local garrison.

A Warden was appointed to supervise these forces and defences, such as they were, were constructed throughout the Island. In 1470 the first Governor of the by now separate Bailiwick of Jersey was appointed and deputed to defend the Island from the common enemy, then perceived as the French. Until 1618 the appointment was 'Captain and Governor of our Castle and Island of Jersey'.

Sir Walter Raleigh was among the first of these appointees but did not readily take to island life. Ensconced in the somewhat austere Elizabeth Castle he described the famous fortress as 'cold, damp and no place for a proper man to live in': It is no surprise that, in his three-year term of office, he spent but two months in the Island. It is not difficult to understand the reluctance of those granted the privilege of this appointment to make the hazardous sea crossing from England and endure the privations of a castle-bound existence.


They preferred instead to remain somewhat nearer to the court of St James and in the comfort of their own homes. Thus the custom grew to appoint a local Lieutenant to undertake the Governor's official duties in the Island. With the passage of time the office of Governor was permitted to remain unfilled and the Crown took over the responsibility of appointing the Lieutenant in 1643. The office of Governor was officially abolished in 1854 and the position of the Lieut-Governor, as the Lieutenant became known, was formally recognised. And so it is today.

The primary responsibilities of today's Lieut-Governor are the direct inheritance from his forebears. First and foremost he is the direct representative of the Monarch in the Island, which is itself a Peculiar of the Crown of England. He swears an oath to 'maintain all the jurisdictions, privileges, prerogatives and authorities pertaining to Her Majesty'. In practical terms this involves a number of wide and varied representational duties and such responsibilities as rest with the Crown to this day: for example, the appointment of Rectors to Crown Livings, the supervision of the Crown Estate in the Island and certain ceremonial duties.

His position remains as the Island's Commander-in-Chief but his span of command has shrunk considerably from the heady days when the Island garrison comprised over nine infantry battalions backed with cannon.

Official link

Aside from his representational responsibilities the Lieut-Governor and his staff form the conduit for all correspondence between the Home Office, which holds the responsibility for all Crown Dependencies, and the Insular Authorities. Subjects can be as divergent as EEC legislation on plant diseases, proclamations by the Queen, a multitude of European Conventions and, more recently, the conduct of the financial services industry on the Island. The Island's laws must be ratified by the Queen in Council through the Home Secretary, via the Lieutenant-Governor, who is responsible for what is termed the good government of the Bailiwick. The administrative backing for these responsibilities is provided by the Office of the Lieutenant-Governor led by a private secretary who also acts as permanent aide de camp.

The Lieut-Governor is permitted to attend the States of Jersey when it is sitting, but does not take precedence over the Bailiff in either the States Chamber or the Royal Court. Lest there be any doubt, the Bailiff's chair is set some seven inches higher than that of the Lieutenant-Governor's to reinforce this precedence. By convention the Lieutenant¬Governor does not speak in the Island's parliament except on matters of direct concern to Her Majesty or to exercise his negative voice to end debate in exceptional circumstances. The latter right was last threatened to be exercised in 1854 and almost caused a constitutional crisis.

The Lieut-Governor is directly involved in the appointment of all Crown Officers (Bailiff, Deputy Bailiff, Attorney-General, Solicitor-General and Receiver-General) when these positions fall vacant. In addition, since Jersey acts as a back door for entry into the United Kingdom, he has absolute discretion in controlling both immigration and the naturalisation of foreigners. These powers are now exercised in consultation with the United Kingdom and the Defence Committee and administered by officers of the Immigration and Nationality Department and all Jersey passports are issued in his name.

Social life

As part of his representational duties the Lieut-Governor and his wife traditionally play a large part in hosting Royalty and visiting dignitaries. The newly refurbished Government House on Saint Saviour's Hill acts as the Official Residence and is furnished to fit into the spirit of Jersey as much as possible. On average two or three Royal visitors are entertained each year as well as many London based High Commissioners, Ambassadors and captains of industry.

Each year the Residence is open to all islanders to celebrate the Queen's Official Birthday and numerous military and charity events are held in the grounds throughout the year. Last year over five thousand people visited the house to attend receptions, dinners, or other functions, including visits by local schoolchildren. The present Lieut-Governor is anxious that as many people as possible feel able to visit the house, which is, in every sense, part of Jersey's cultural heritage. The established tradition of placing a visitors' book in the porch of Government House for visiting members of the public to sign is still maintained.

The Lieut-Governor's most important function is to demonstrate and strengthen the well-established link between the Crown and the Island. The Jerseyman's loyalty has never been in doubt and successive Lieutenant-Governors have felt greatly privileged to hold the office and perpetuate the traditional link with the Crown which in 2004 will have lasted for eight hundred years.

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