Otto de Grandison

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Otto de Grandison
Lord of the Isles, 1277-1328

King Henry III appointed his son Prince Edward (later Edward I) as Lord of the Isles, and when he became King, Edward gave the title to his closest friend, Otto (Otho or Otton) de Grandison (1238-1328). De Grandison was Lord for over 50 years but is not believed to have visited the islands until 1323, in the last decade of his long life. As with previous holders of the office, he appointed Wardens to represent him

Influence over administration

De Grandison had a major influence on the future administration of the Islands, however. Earlier in the 13th century Bailiffs had been appointed in both Guernsey and Jersey by the Warden to assist with civil administration. The first warden Philippe d'Aubigné appointed, paid and dismissed his Bailiffs. In about 1290 de Grandison created a clear division of responsibilities, appointing sub-Wardens as his lieutenants to deal with military and administrative matters and a Bailiff entrusted with Judicial duties. It would be centuries later before Bailiffs came to be appointed directly by the Monarch, but this was the foundation of island administration which still exists today, albeit with the addition of elected parliaments for both Bailiwicks.

Arrival in England

A Savoyard knight whose father was Peter, Lord of Grandison, near Lausanne in Switzerland, the young Otto travelled to England, probably in the company of Peter I of Savoy in 1252, certainly not later than 1265. There he entered the service of Henry III and by 1267 was placed in the household of the prince Edward. In 1268 both prince and servant were knighted and in 1271 the latter accompanied his lord on the Ninth Crusade, where he served at Acre that year. According to one source, it was Otto, not Eleanor of Castile, who sucked the poison from the wounded Edward after an attempted assassination. In 1272 Otto was appointed an executor in Acre.

After returning to England, he was employed in Scotland and Wales, where he served as chief justiciar in the north from 1284 to 1294. In 1277 he was granted the Channel Islands as a lordship for life, along with lands in England and Ireland, in reward for his service. He was also employed as a diplomat and gained contacts with most of the sovereigns of western Europe. In 1283 he was briefly in the employ of Edmund Crouchback, the king's younger brother, for dilpomatic work. It was said that no one could do the king's will better, including the king himself.

Second Crusade

He went on a second Crusade to the Holy Land in 1290. At the time of the fall of Acre (1291), he was the master of the English knights in Palestine. At Acre he saved the life of fellow Savoyard Jean I de Grailly, with whom he had served Edward in Gascony earlier. After the fall of the city he fled to Cyprus a poor man, but went on a subsequent pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In 1298 or 1299, Otto, Jacques de Molay of the Templars, and Guillaume de Villaret of the Hospitallers campaigned in Cilicia in order to fight off an invasion by the Mamluks. In 1307, on Edward's death, Otto left England permanently.

He remained in the service of the crown for a while longer, however, for until 1317 he represented England at the Papal Curia. He also continued to have interests in England, for he was in correspondence with John Langton and Walter Reynolds.

Religious foundations

He made religious foundations from his great wealth, probably accumulated as reward for his work, and for these he obtained privileges and priories from the popes through his embassies. He was a benefactor of Vale Royal, an Edwardian foundation, and of Saint Jean de Grandison, where he increased the number of monks after 1288. He founded a Franciscan friary in 1289 and a Carthusian monastery at La Lance in 1317.

At the end of his life he returned to Grandison, which he had inherited from his father and to which he had made recurrent visits throughout his adult life. He never married and was succeeded by his nephew. He had advanced many of his relatives through his embassies, especially in the church. Three of his relatives served as Bishops of Lausanne and another nephew, John Grandisson, succeeded to the Diocese of Exeter. Otto died an old man, aged about ninety, in 1328.


By Letters Patent of 25 November 1275 the King gave his friend control of the Channel Islands, requiring an annual farm of 500 marks. "Rex commisit Ottoni de Grandisono insulas de Gerneseye et Gereseye cum pertinenciis custodiendas quamdiu Regi placuerit, ita guod reddat regi per annum ad scaccarium regis quingentas marcas... ...apud Turrim London, xxv die Novembris"

This 500 marks was payable every year in two portions, half on the feast of St Hilaire (13 January) and the other half on the feast of John the Baptist (24 June).

The appointment was initially provisional but appears to have been made perpetual shortly afterwards, probably in 1276. On 24 January 1277 new Letters Patent were issued, releasing de Grandison from the obligation to pay an annual farm for the remainder of his life, and removing any obligation on his heirs for five years after his death.

Revenues from islands

De Grandison was really only interested in the Channel Islands for the revenues they provided him and he is said to have created an oppressive and extortionate regime to make the most out of his position, which, not surprisingly, caused unrest. Much of this was targeted at the Bailiffs and Jurats, as his representatives of justice in the islands.

On 13 February 1328 de Grandison is still recognised as Gardien des Iles but later that year, with Edward III now on the throne, a petition was made to Parliament by the residents of Jersey and Guernsey stating that their gardien "Otes de Graunzon" was dead and demanding not to be left unprotected (sans garde).

While correspondence between England and de Grandison always called him gardien des iles - custodi insularum he is also frequently referred to as seigneur and given that he only visited the island once, had such a remarkable financial arrangement with Edward I, and at least six "lieutenants" are known to have been active on his behalf in Jersey during his period of office, he can effectively be looked upon as Lord of the Isles.


The government of de Grandison was long and oppressive. The documents of the time return frequently to his tyranny and that of his officers. After 1292 the King sent a special commission to the islands because the islanders had complained that "les baillis desdites iles les ont forces et les forcent a faire certain services non dus et non accoutumes, contre la loi et la coutume du pays, et leur ont impose et leur imposent diverses autres grevances injustement" (the Bailiffs of these islands have been forced and are forced to perform services which they should not and to which they are not accustomed, against the law and the custom of the country, and they have imposed on them various other unjust grievances.

In 1299 there was further mention of the abuse of the Bailiffs. In 1319 the King appointed new commissioners, and declared that he had again been informed "quod quidam justiciarii nostri, et alii ballivi et ministri insularum predictarum, per dilectum et fidelem nostrum Ottonem de Grandisono, custodem earundem insularum, in ipsis insulis deputati, injurias, transgresswiones, extorsiones, oppressiones, dampnaque diversa voluntarie et absque causa rationabili eis multiplicter intulerunt, in ipsorum insulanorum predictorum depressionem et depauperationem manifestam"

And several years later islanders sent a petition to the King's parliament demanding the appointment of new commissioners or justiciers to restore their rights against "sire Othes de Granzun", adding that if the justices did the right thing on behalf of the king and the people, Otton would be chased from the islands (et si les Justices facent droit au Roy et au people le dit Sire Othes serroit expellez les Iles).

Otto's neglect

Otto only saw the islands as a source of revenue and his neglect of them equalled his tyranny. On many occasions the King had to appoint deputies. In 1325 Jean de Clyvedon wrote to the King and Parliament reminding them that the care of Jersey and Guernsey had been conferred on him by demand of the islanders, who complained that Otto de Grandison left them unprotected.

In 1327 the King was again informed that Otto left the islands unprotected and that raiders were able to kill islanders, burn their houses and commit "all sorts of crimes". (quamplures malefactores Insulas nostras... de die in diem hostiliter ingrediuntur, homines et gentes nostras Insularum predictarum nequiter interficiendo et incendia domorum et alia dampna et facinora quamplurima ibidem perpetrando}. This prompted the King to appoint two Wardens to defend the islands at Otto's cost.

At his death he left the island fortifications and the King's properties in a bad state of repair, requiring that his assets be sought to pay for necessary repairs. The extension of island revenues to Otto's heirs and creditors for five years after his death was annulled, the King having become a major creditor.


A number of men are shown in lists of Channel Island officials as lieutenants of Otto in one role or another. Some of them are listed as Wardens, although they actually held this appointment, or were simply delegates of de Grandison is not known. Others, about whome little or nothing is known, included Philippe l'Eveque (this may be an error for Pierre Levesque) who was probably Bailiff from 1277-1289 and again in 1309), Pierre d'Arcis (probably Bailiff from 1290-1292) and Raoul Eudes (possibly only had responsibility for Alderney, although this seems unlikely).

Otthers who are shown in lists of Guernsey's officials but may or may not have held office in Jersey include Renaut Dashwell (1282-1288); Sir Stephen Wallard (1288-1290 and 1290-1293); Guillaume de Cosington (1299-1302), who was present along with Denis de Tilbury; John de Newent (1302-1307); Massey de la Court, who is shown as a sub-Warden in 1309 and was three times Bailiff of Guernsey; Pierre de Balmes (1319-1321).

Islanders' statement

In 1333, five years after de Grandison’s death and following a particularly long period of misgovernment, the islanders made a statement to the Kings Bench in England in which they stated that the Islands were part of the old Duchy of Normandy, they regarded the King as Duke and the law used in the Islands had always been the Custom of Normandy tempered by local custom.

This seems to have achieved the desired effect because by 1368 England no longer attempted to interfere in the legal system of the Islands. If something happened in the Islands then the case had to be heard in the Islands. The only time it went to England was if it was an appeal to the Sovereign.

Royal Patronage

Othon de Grandison was born in 1238, in the castle of Grandison in Switzerland. His father was Peter, first Lord of Grandison.

Sent to England

In 1252, at the age of 14, Peter sent his son to England to cement peace between the two countries. Known in the English records as Otto, he was made a page to the Court of King Henry, became a friend and confidante of his son, Prince Edward, and was knighted by him in 1268. With his new title, Otto accompanied Edward on the Crusade that lasted from 1269 to 1271 in the Holy land, and saved his master's life.

Edward began heading for home when his father died in 1272, but it was to be two years before he was crowned King. Three years later Otto received his reward; the Channel Islands were given to him for life in 1277.

He never had time to visit his new possessions. That same year, Llewellyn, Prince of Wales, refused to recognise Edward I's sovereignty and war broke out with the Welsh. Otto fought alongside his King and when the Welsh were beaten in 1284, a strong hand was required to keep the peace. Edward appointed Otto as Chief Justice of Wales for the next ten years.

After a while he managed to hold his Welsh position in absentia, appointing others to do the work for him. He had always administered the Channel Islands this way. One of the reasons being that, because of his conduct on the Crusades and his proven diplomatic skills, he was appointed by the Pope as the Papal Legate for Basel and the Emperor of Germany gave him the castle and town of Laupen.

Otto fought in another Crusade and was present at the defence of Acre in 1290, which failed. The Saracens destroyed the city and massacred the inhabitants, and he was forced to flee to Cyprus. During this period he was reputed to have accompanied the Holy Shroud of Christ to Europe.

Unpopular officials

During all this activity in Europe and the Middle East, the Channel Islands had to contend with an English-French war in 1296 and Otto's officials made themselves unpopular with the locals, commandeering supplies, knocking down houses to fortify castle walls and breaking up fishing boats to build palisades. A flurry of petitions were sent to the King and the Assizes of 1299 were the records of the English judges (the Eyre) that Edward sent to hear the complaints of the Islanders.

Otto had a hand in picking the judges; Henry, Prior of Wenlock, was his nephew and throughout the first Eyre and succeeding ones in 1304, 1309 and 1320, very few of the Islanders' complaints were addressed and many of them were fined heavily for bringing the cases to court. Most of the money ended up in Otto's treasury, rather than that of the King.

Edward II succeeded his father in 1307 and Otto retained all his privileges. This King was much too busy dealing with the Scots to bother keeping an eye on the Channel Islands.

By the time of the fourth Eyre, both Jersey and Guernsey had petitioned Edward II to have Otto removed, complaining of extortion and imprisonment without trial by his officials.

This time some of the judges were local men and Otto's officials found themselves in trouble. Gautier de la Salle was condemned to death during this Eyre for executing a man who had returned to Guernsey with a King's Pardon for an old offence. Otto became alarmed that he was losing control of his possessions and visited the Islands for the first, and only time, in 1323 with a bodyguard of knights and crossbow men. He was 85 years old and still active.

Fear of reprisals

His appearance during the fifth Eyre intimidated the Islanders and the previous court judgments were all overturned. The Islanders lived in fear of reprisals.

In 1327 Edward II was deposed and murdered. His son, Edward III, ascended the throne and soon became embroiled in his father's war with the Scots.

In 1328 Otto travelled to Avignon in France to assist some friends who were under siege. There he was attacked, robbed and killed.

When the news reached the Pope it was ordered that his body should be placed in the Cathedral at Lausanne and a tomb was built, carved with a lifesize statue of the knight.

Lord of the Isles
Predecessor Successor
Prince Edward
Otto de Grandison
Edward, Duke of York
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