Review: Jersey 1204; the Making of an Island Community by JA Everard and JC Holt (2004) Assessment 8 out of 10

Scholastic local history edging onto the European stage.

“Jersey 1204” was commissioned by the States of Jersey in 2004, from two eminent Cambridge Medievalists. Publication marked 800 years since Jersey’s establishment as a separate jurisdiction, a continuity which almost nowhere else, except Guernsey, can claim.

Two different scales are applied. At a large scale this is a study of dynastic conflict, at a smaller scale how such conflict affected Jersey’s landholdings, economy, administration, law, separateness and ecclesiastical organisation.

The Channel Islands formed part of Normandy, when William, as Duke of Normandy, conquered England and from 1066 to 1154 they were part of the Anglo-Norman Realm. This was expanded, as the Angevin Realm, following Mathilda’s marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou, to include Anjou, following Henry 1’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, to include Aquitaine and, by conquest, to include Brittany.

The separate jurisdictions, within the Angevin Realm, were not run as a single territory. Instead each jurisdiction followed its local customs, in accordance with Medieval practice, united as a Realm by their common ruler.

Jersey’s 12 parishes were established in the 11th century, under Duke William, around the parish churches, some based on earlier religious sites, all within the diocese of Coutances in Lower Normandy. Abbeys in Jersey were all established by, and subject to, Norman mother houses, at St Clement, Noirmont and Lecq by the wealthy Abbey of Mont St Michel. Tenants in chief were Norman aristocrats, whose Jersey estates formed only a small fraction of their overall holdings. Tithes from Jersey churches were paid to Abbeys in Normandy, from four, St Peter, St Helier, St Brelade and St Clement to the Abbey of St-Saveuer-le-Vicomte, established by the powerful Vicomte family, lords of St-Saveuer-le-Vicomte and with holdings in Jersey.

Documents refer to agriculture, cereals and water mills in Jersey, indicating its relative wealth. This is confirmed by a Norman Exchequer roll of 1180 from Caen, showing that Jersey made a significant contribution to Ducal revenues.

The situation changed in 1204 when Philip Augustus, Capetian King of France, seized Normandy and Anjou. Fighting on the mainland, the French had the advantage of interior lines. The Angevin Realm united by sea routes, retained maritime superiority. This enabled it twice to recapture Jersey, in 1206 and 1217, after temporary occupation by the Capetians.

The Angevin Realm, was reduced to its most geographically disparate parts, England, partly conquered Wales and Ireland, Brittany and Aquitaine. The Channel Islands gained a new importance as landfalls between these disparate parts.

Reacquisition of Jersey by the Angevins was followed immediately in 1206 by construction of the substantial fortress of Mont Orgeuil on Jersey’s east coast, facing the mainland of Normandy, and becoming the seat of military and government power. Warders of the Channel Islands were appointed by the English king. They served at the same time in office in Brittany or Aquitaine, able to visit the Islands en route from England.

In the new circumstances, Norman Tenants-in-Chief, with larger holdings on the mainland, were cut out of Jersey land tenure, elevating the status of the Jersey under-tenants, who now held their tenancies directly from the Crown. Thus Jersey tenants of the powerful Vernons of Néhou were enfeoffed in the Jersey fiefs of Orville, Morville and Anneville.

Despite Jersey’s proximity to the Norman coast, this and retention of Norman customary law and privileges, assisted the Angevins in retaining Jersey’s loyalty.

A hardback in elegant cover papers, the book runs to 188 pages plus Notes, Further Reading, Index, Maps, Royal Genealogies, a List of Wardens of the Channel Islands and 43 illustrations, 28 in colour.

Recommended, but reading it requires concentration.

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