Norman Channel Island & Guernsey History
It has been considered that the island had occasional visits by hunting nomads as far back as 5,500 B.C. The
tomb found at L’Ancresse has been dated circa 4,500 BC. It is a pre-megalithic grave that must be included among
the oldest in Europe. Other remains of a fertility religion such as Dolmens and Menhirs are dated as far back as
4,000 and 3,000 B.C. The exact date when a permanent settler arrived to the island, probably in the form of a
farmer with domestic cattle, sheep and goats as opposed to the seasonal nomadic hunter has not been completely
During the first centuries (A.C.) the Bailiwick of Guernsey saw the Roman domination and collapse. It was
a part of the administrative unit based on Constantia (Countances), Province of <<Gallia Lugudensis
Secunda>>. The coming of Christianity is attributed to St. Martin de Tours, who died between 396 and 400 A.D.
Le Trepied Dolmen (circa 4,000 B.C.).
After the Roman domination there followed a period of frequent invasions by Norsemen. The Charlemagne descendant
King Louis the Pious suffered severe attacks from Norsemen in the 830s.
The Norsemen caused great trouble to the Frankish King in Normandy (then known as Nuestria). The islands were
ecclesiastically subordinated to the Bishop of Countances from the sixth century, but even this Bishop found it
prudent for about a century to reside in Rouen as the pagan Norsemen so effectively subjugated the Cotentin region
and near islands. It was not until 1049 that effective ecclesiastical control of Guernsey by the see of Countances
could have been established.
The islands come into English possession. The Norman period
In the year 911 Rollo became the first Duke of Normandy and 22 years later the victory of William
<<Longsword>> over Bretons added the archipelago to the Duchy of Normandy. However it was not until the
year 996 that Duke Richard II established effective ducal control over the Islands as the Vicomptes of the
Cotentin, Bessin and Avranchin retained their pagan warlike ways, continued speaking Norse rather than French,
while defying the ducal authority and probably conniving in the piratical attacks for a share of the booty.
In the year 1020 Duke Richard II divided Guernsey diagonally in two halves, granting the east part to Neel, Vicomte
of the Cotentin and the west part to Anchetel, Vicomte of the Bessin. In 1066 Duke William II conquered England
becoming King William I of England. From that moment, the fate of the islands was linked to the English crown
although a number of vicissitudes still had to pass before arriving at the current Islands status.
Oldest conserved document of Guernsey (dated 1060). Six churches pay tithes to an abbady in Normandy. Photo
obtained by courtesy of Guernsey Candie Museum
In 1204 King John lost Continental Normandy. This started a long period of disputes between France and
England over the islands with frequent French raids over the archipelago. It also presented to the Seigneurs to the
alternative of rendering homage to the King of France and thus losing the properties on the island or rendering
homage to the King of England (now no longer Duke of Normandy), and thus losing their Continental
The islands were invaded by the French in 1338, who held some territory until 1345. Edward III of England
granted a Charter in July 1341 to Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and Alderney, confirming their customs and laws to secure
allegiance to the English Crown. Later, King Richard II of England reconfirmed in 1378 the Charter
rights granted by his grandfather, followed in 1394 with a second Charter granting, because of great loyalty shown
to the Crown, exemption for ever, from English tolls, customs and duties.
Also interesting for us, on the lower part of the document over the seal the text "John Blondel Bailiff "
is clearly understandable.
The islands after the King of England Lost the Normandy Dukedom
From 1204 onwards the Seigneurs had the obligation for rendering homage to the reigning English monarch in his or
her capacity as successor of the rights formerly belonging to the Duke of Normandy. This is known as the meeting of
the “Cour de Chefs Plaids” of the Royal Court and takes place at Hilary (later Christmas), Easter and Michaelmas.
On a few occasions such as in 1957 and in 1978, the monarch personally presided at the Ceremony of Homage instead
of His/Her delegate. A summary of the description of the 1957 ceremony as in James Marr's reference (page 85)
follows: <<First came the Bailiff’s procession with the Bailiff in ceremonial robes, then the Queen’s
procession preceded by the Sheriff with drawn sword. After the Greffier had said the Lord’s Prayer, he read the
roll and the Seigneurs answered to his or her name. The Bailiff read a loyal address to the Queen that was answered
by Her Majesty. The Seigneur of Fief the Sausamez as the paramount Seigneur of the island was then called by the
Greffier. Escorted by the Bailiff and the Lieutenant-Governor he approached the Queen, bent and knelt and spoke the
words of homage. The Greffier then called the Seigneur des Eperons [He is not obliged to assist in the yearly
homage sessions but must be present in case of assisting the monarch in his/her feudal obligation to offer a pair
of spurs to the monarch], who touched them as a token of acceptance. The Seigneur then rose and withdrew. The
proceedings closed with the Greffier reading The Grace.>>
In 1254 Henry II annexed the archipelago to the Crown and three years later dropped the title of Duke of Normandy
although the islands continued to be administered as before.
The Ceremony of Homage: Many Seigneurs still swear homage to the crown, directly to the King or to the
King’s representative. It is performed three times a year at the Royal Court after St. Maurus’ day (January 15th),
Easter Chief Pleas (Monday after Easter week) and after the Feast of St. Michael (Monday after Michael’s Day).
This obligation holds only for the 17 seigneurs of certain fiefs at the time (XIII century) that
the obligation began [*].
[*] The fiefs owing suit at Royal Court Chief Pleas are: Bruniaux-de Nermont, Philippes, Sausmarez, Fantome,
Rohais, Blanchelande, Canely, Anneville, Maumarquis, Henry du Vaugrat and Bruniaux. The rest of the fiefs with that
obligation are now held by Her Majesty (Le Roi, Saint-Michel, Saint-Martin, Eveque, Rue-Frairie and
* The Spurs dated 1675 belonged to Fief des Esprons (Spurs). The holder of this Fief had the service of presenting
a pair of spurs to the King every time that H.M. visited Guernsey. Photos taken at H.M. Greffe with permission.
The XIV century was the time for five General Eyre and wars, including a French occupation of the Bailiwick
(1338-1340) and the start of the 100 Years War. This conflict left some effects over the islands including the
Castle-Cornet taken and re-taken by France and England. In 1360 by the Treaty of Bretigny France abandoned the
claims to the islands in return for English recognition of the Bishop of Coutances. This dependence was interrupted
during the Papal schism (1378-1417).
Papal Neutrality to Island Fiefs
In 1483 a remarkable historical document, the bull of Sixtus IV granted neutrality to the archipelago that would
last for over two centuries. In 1496 Pope Alexander VI transferred the Islands to the Diocese of Salisbury. In 1569
Elizabeth I placed the Islands definitively under the See of Winchester. She also authorized the first privateering
adventure in 1598.
The XVII century was the time of the Civil War. The islands declared for parliament in 1642. Castle Cornet remained
royalist until 1651. In 1663 Anglicanism was officially established. The bishop of Winchester appointed John de
Sausmarez as Dean of Guernsey.
The XVII century religious fights had less impact on the archipelago although in 1687 James II appointed a Roman
Catholic as Lieutenant-governor. One year later after a protestant coup the Lieutenant-governor was taken into
custody while Queen Mary was acknowledged.
The XVIII century was the golden era of privateering. In 1756 the Seven Years War started. With the coming of the
French Revolutionary War, the assistance rendered by the privateers to the Royal Navy was so valuable that the
islands were declared to be “One of the Naval Powers of the world”. The opportunities for privateers became even
wider during some more years of the following century with the entry of the U.S.A. as Napoleon’s ally in 1812.
18th Century Grenadier's mitre worn by Thomas Le Patourel. The only known Guernsey Militia example to survive.
Castle Cornet museum.
This period of the turn of the century saw also the construction of Fort George (started in 1780) and the Royal
Court House (1799). It is interesting in our case that 1799 is also mentioned as a time for tension with the
Russian troops quartered at Delancey. Also relevant in our family history is the fact that finally and after almost
one hundred years of British customs attempts for the control of the islands trade, in 1807 the “British Smuggling
Act” was applied to the Islands but not without protest.
The rest of the century was interesting for many reasons including several historical visits. 1829 was the time of
the first visit to the Bailiwick of the Bishop of Winchester. 1846 saw the first visit of a reigning monarch
(Victoria and Albert). From 1855 to 1870 Victor Hugo visited the Island
In 1921 another monarch's visit took place (George V and Queen Mary). From 1940 to 1945 the Islands were occupied
by the Germans. In 1949 H.R.H. Princess Elizabeth visited the island and the Princess Elizabeth Hospital was
opened. 1957, 1978 and 1989 were years of visits by Queen Elizabeth II. On February 25th 1976, the States voted in
favour of abolishing “Congé”. A one-time payment of 50,000 pounds was confirmed later (October 28th) for private
Seigneurs in an attempt to reconcile opposite interests.
In summary, the islands were annexed to the Crown, but were not incorporated into the Kingdom of England then or at
any subsequent time. Trading, and personal relations with Normandy remained very close until well into modern
times. Although the title of Normandy had been surrendered, the King of England continued to rule the islands as
though he were Duke of Normandy, observing their laws and customs and liberties, confirming them by charters of
Today, The Channel Islands fall into two separate self-governing bailiwicks, the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the
Bailiwick of Jersey. Both are British Crown dependencies, and neither is part of the United Kingdom. Guernsey has
roughly 63,026 inhabitants and 23 private Ancient Fiefs.
The Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey are not part of Great Britain, they are not part of the
United Kingdom and neither are they part of the European Union. They are self-governing British Crown
Guernsey and the Channel Islands fall into two separate self-governing bailiwicks, the Bailiwick of Guernsey
and the Bailiwick of Jersey. Both are British Crown dependencies, and neither is part of the United Kingdom. They
have been part of the Duchy of Normandy since the tenth century, and Queen Elizabeth II is often referred to by her
traditional and conventional title of Duke of Normandy.
However, pursuant to the Treaty of Paris (1259), the Queen governs in her right as The Queen (the "Crown
in right of Jersey",and the "Crown in right of the république of the Bailiwick of Guernsey"), and not as the Duke.
This notwithstanding, it is a matter of local pride for monarchists to treat the situation otherwise: the Loyal
Toast at formal dinners is to 'The Queen, our Duke', rather than to 'Her Majesty, The Queen' as in the