The Great Rebellion - Troubled times

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The Great Rebellion:
Troubled times

One of the longest articles ever published in the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise was The Great Rebellion, a 54-page history of the impact of the English Civil War on the Channel Islands by F H Ellis. For the reader’s convenience it has been divided here into a series of separate articles

The Channel Islands played a minor but a not altogether inconsiderable part during the troubled times between the outbreak of the Civil War and the year 1651 when they were finally reduced by Parliament. This part has received little attention from writers on the period, perhaps owing to the fact that the Islands were some distance removed from the centre of the conflict; data also is comparatively scanty for a number of local official records were destroyed after the Restoration.

Island differences

Jersey was mainly Royalist and, under the able and energetic rule of Sir George Carteret, was long a thorn in the side of the Parliament before it finally submitted in December 1651. In Guernsey, on the other hand, the Roundhead element predominated, but here also was a thorn in the shape of Cornet Castle, a fortress which commanded the chief town and harbour and which was stoutly maintained by its Cavalier garrison during a siege which lasted nearly nine years. It surrendered a few days after the fall of Elizabeth Castle in Jersey and was the last of all the Royalist strongholds to haul down the flag.

The two Islands were ruled by Constitutions deriving from ancient laws and privileges which had been confirmed from time to time by Royal Charters. These constitutions were very similar in character though both differed widely from the English system of government.

The administration of justice was vested in the Royal Court which consisted of the Bailiff, who presided, the Procurator, Advocate and Vicomte, all of whom were nominated by the King, the 12 Jurats or justices, who were elected by the people, and a few minor officials.

This Court protected the civil rights of the Islanders and had cognisance of all suits, whether personal or criminal, only cases of treason being reserved to the Crown.

The legislative body or convention of the three estates was a general assembly at which every inhabitant was supposed present either in person or by representative. These States were composed of the Bailiff and Jurats, the Constables and Rectors of the parishes. The Procurator, Advocate and Vicomte were members ex-officio.

The sinecure office of Governor was usually conferred on some courtier who rarely appeared in person, his duties being carried out by the Lieut-Governor who, as representative of the King, held first rank in the Island. He had custody of the fortresses and was commander-in-chief of the militia, but possessed no civil authority.

In 1643 Lord Danby was Governor and Sir Peter Osborne Lieut-Governor of Guernsey, while Sir Thomas Jermyn and Sir Philip Carteret held similar offices in Jersey.

Pleas for help

Both Islands had long suffered from lack of adequate protection for their shipping, whereby trade was seriously affected. There were constant appeals for help, in one of which Jersey complained that her local trade with St Malo was entirely cut off, but these received little or no attention.

James I disregarded the fact that the competition of other powers called for a naval force capable of safeguarding national trading interests, for maritime commercial prosperity is impossible without proper protection for the mercantile marine. The feeble policy of James, convinced of his ability to ensure the tranquility of the world by peaceful inaction, produced disastrous results and at the time of his death the prestige of the Navy had been brought very low and the English merchant fleet was well-nigh non-existent

Richelieu, following the policy of Henri IV, determined to increase the maritime power of France and, relying upon the deterioration of the English Navy, soon found himself strong enough to dispute the right claimed for centuries that every foreign ship should dip her flag at the approach of the English man-of-war. He issued orders to French captains only to do so if the English ship had the advantage of the wind, otherwise she was to be forced to salute the French flag.

Although Charles I understood the value of sea-power better than his father, and took great interest in the Navy, the high hopes of improvement entertained at his accession were never realised because the conduct of naval affairs was allowed to remain in incompetent hands.

After Buckingham's disastrous expedition to the Isle of Re, the Governor of Guernsey was warned of preparations at Havre and Bordeaux and told that French merchants were boasting of the speedy capture of the Channel Islands. The Lieut-Governor of Jersey wrote to the Privy Council that the seas round the Island were infested with small armed vessels from the Bay of Biscay and made urgent appeals for some light cruisers to keep them in check.

Owing to the threatened French reprisals, Lord Danby received permission to strengthen the Island garrisons and in March 1629 he went over with a small squadron and 400 troops for Jersey and Guernsey. The cost of maintenance had to be defrayed by the inhabitants, which was a very heavy toll on their limited resources, but deputations and petitions anent the burden of taxation for the upkeep of the Castles and their garrisons passed unheeded.

Guernsey's complaints

In 1629 there was a piteous appeal from Guernsey complaining that through the combined effects of a severe outbreak of plague and the loss of almost all their shipping during the recent troubles with France, ‘alsoe with taxes for fortiffications and the enterteinement of the soldiers' many of the Islanders were ‘like to perish for want'.

In 1636, when a large Guernsey vessel was taken by Algerian pirates and her crew sold into slavery, the Royal Court besought the King to ransom the captives, offering to cancel all claims in respect of the Castle and garrisons if he would find the money, but once again without avail.

During the same year the King sought to bring the form of worship in Guernsey into conformity with the Church of England but Lord Danby persuaded him that such a change was most inadvisable for with the very strong Calvinistic feeling in the Island it would be sure to rouse determined opposition.

A decree ordering the destruction of the tobacco crops on the grounds that the cultivation of tobacco was detrimental to the King's profits by customs as also to the trade of Virginia was a source of further resentment.

In both Islands the Reformation took root and flourished, especially in Guernsey, where a large immigration of French Protestants had begun as early as the reign of Edward VI and these Huguenot refugees, who were for the most part people of good education, exerted considerable influence over the French-speaking Islanders.

Some of them married members of the leading families and from these marriages were descended a number of men who were destined to play important parts in the coming struggle, notably Peter de Beauvoir and Peter Carey.

In both Islands where feudal conditions still prevailed, personal influence was a powerful factor. During the early part of the reign of Charles I there was no vast difference between the political feeling in Jersey and Guernsey, but before long a great change took place. Though both were determinedly Protestant, the Presbyterian form of worship had obtained very firm hold in Guernsey, and this together with the feeling of resentment engendered by the policy of the English government, led a large majority of the Islanders to espouse the cause of the Parliament.

Religious trends

In Jersey where Episcopalian constitutions had been restored after half a century of Calvinism and where the immense influence of the Carteret family was exerted on the Royalist side, the great majority adhered to the King.

In the reign of James I there had been a good deal of religious dissension in Jersey and at last some of the Islanders petitioned for the restoration of episcopal jurisdiction. In 1620 James Bandinel became Dean and the Prayer Book, printed in French, was used in the Churches; strict observance in all particulars was not enforced on the Clergy and after some little opposition they and their flocks submitted quietly enough.

For some years things went on more or less smoothly and then trouble arose between the Dean and Sir Philip de Carteret, Seigneur of St Ouen, Lieut-Governor, Bailiff and Receiver of the Crown revenues of the Island, an able and honourable man but arrogant and autocratic, and with a disposition to keep all the important offices in the Island in the hands of the all-powerful Carteret family which had been the cause of a petition to Parliament in 1642.

He had befriended Bandinel, who was an Italian of noble birth exiled by religious persecution and had supported his candidature for the Deanery. When, as Receiver of the Crown revenues, he claimed some tithes held by the Dean, it caused the already growing friction between the two haughty temperaments to burst into flame.

The matter was settled in England in favour of Bandinel but he never forgave Sir Philip and from thenceforward he was the leader of a faction of malcontents who were to cause trouble in Jersey for years to come. His chief supporters were Michel Lempriere, Abraham Herault, his own son James Bandinel and Pierre d'Assigny, Rector of St Helier.

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