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Bailiwick of Jersey - History

The name is of Old Norse origin, but the meaning of the root "Jer(s)" is uncertain; the "-ey" ending means "island". The name of Jersey is said by some to be derived from the Celtic word Gersiic'; 'Ger signifying near, si forest, and ic river; from its being near or opposite to the river Couësnon, which anciently ran through the forest of Sciscy.

The history of Guernsey may be divided into six periods. The first embraces from the original settlement of the Island to the establishment of the Normans in the province of Neustria, since called Normandy, AD 892. The second from that period during the first six Dukes of Normandy, from Rollo to the death of Duke Robert, father of William the Conqueror, AD 1036. The third extends to the decease of Richard I. King of England, AD 1199, while the fourth period, from King John, who surrendered the Duchy, to the end of the reign of Richard II AD 1399, the last of the Saxon line of British sovereigns. The fifth division commenced with the reign of Henry IV running through the houses of Lancaster and York and the union of the two families, to the death of Queen Elizabeth, in 1603. And the sixth, from the Union of the two Crowns in James I to Queen Anne, when the Union of the Kingdoms took place; and from that period to the present year.

Before navigation and commerce were arrived at any degree of perfection in the southern parts of Europe, these Islands were of such small consequence and so little known, that we find them very rarely mentioned by ancient historians. The oldest records of the Island, it is supposed, were at Coutances and Mount St. Michael's, in Normandy, as the monks and most of the clergy retired to France when Henry VIII seized on the abbey lands and ecclesiastical revenues in Guernsey.

The Island was in the rude state of nature, covered with wood and overrun with briars, when visited and surveyed by the Romans about the year 17 BC, when Octavius Augustus, then Emperor, who appointed a governor over it. In this uncultivated state it continued till about the year 962 AD, when the lands first began to be cleared and improved.

Guernsey, as well as the neighbouring Islands of Jersey, Alderney, and Serk, was subject to the Kings of France, from the establishment of that Empire, down to the year 887 AD; when, on ceding the province of Neustria to the Normans by Charles (surnamed le Gros), twenty-ninth King of France, and which cession was confirmed five years after by Charles III (called Charles the Simple) to Rollo, the chief or leader of the Norman rovers, who, from their own names, Normans, Northernmen, or Men of the North, called it Normandy; these Islands became a part of that Duchy, and so continued since, being at this day, in all public acts, termed Part or Parcel of the Ancient Duchy of Normandy.

On the conquest of England by William, seventh Duke of Normandy, in 1066, they were annexed to, and became part of, the domain of the crown of Great Britain: that is to say, his Britannic Majesty ruled over them as Duke of Normandy; and notwithstanding England had long since lost all her other Norman possessions, such has ever been the unshaken loyalty and fidelity of the inhabitants, that the Islands are still subject to the king of England, as Duke of Normandy, under the ancient Norman laws established by that truly renowned legist, Rollo the first Duke.

When Philip II King of France, attempted to wrest the whole Duchy of Normandy from King John, in 1202, by virtue of an act of the parliament of Paris, on pretense that John had basely murdered his nephew, Arthur Duke of Brittany; the brave Islanders disavowed the unlawful act of the French King; and after he had taken possession of the other part of the Duchy, they not only despised his summons to surrender, but bravely repulsed two different armies sent to reduce them to obedience, and kept firm and stedfast to their legal sovereign, John, King of Great Britain and Duke of Normandy.

The Reformation was heartily welcomed in the islands ; and under the influence of French pastors, the form of worship adopted was *he Presbyterian. The greatest severity was exercised in the maintenance of the new ecclesiastical discipline. In 1554 one Richard Girard was flogged through tho town of St Helier's for defendiLg the doctrine of the mass; in 1576 several persons were thrown into prison by the royal court for not having taken the communion, and they were not to be liberated till they could repeat the commandments and the Lord's prayer; rnd in 1597 it was enacted that all persons should attend divine service morning and evening under the penalty of a fine.

By William of Orange the neutrality was abolished in 1689, and during the first American War there were two unsuccessful attacks on Jersey. In 1767 an attempt was made to introduce the English custom-house system; but it proved practically a failure, and the islands throve on smuggling and privateering down to 1800. Since then their history had been one of quiet progress, with no more serious disturbance that can arise from local rivalries.

The island of Guernsey was honored, for some years, as the residence of Victor Hugo, one of tho most eminent of tho modern French pools and litterateurs. Hugo had previously resided for some time in Jersey.

The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles under German control during the conflict, and there remains plenty of evidence of their stay; coastlines are dotted with well-preserved fortifications built by German soldiers, and museums recreate those dark days with gripping exhibits. The occupation began on 19 June, 1940, when the British Government decided to demilitarise the Channel Islands, effectively leaving them undefended. Although Winston Churchill was reluctant to lose control of the Crown’s oldest possession, the islands offered no strategic benefit to Britain. On 9 May 1945 - just 1 day after Winston Churchill declared the end of war and that “our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed” - HMS Beagle arrived in Jersey to accept the surrender of the occupying forces. Swastika flags were taken down and replaced by the Union Jack to cheering crowds. Guernsey was also liberated the same day.

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Page last modified: 28-06-2017 18:31:26 ZULU