Review; The Medieval Administration of the Channel Islands 1199-1399 by John Le Patourel (1937) Assessment 9 out of 10

This is a short book. It is perhaps the most learned I have read on Channel Island history, local history seen against European comparators.

The work was based on Le Patourel’s Doctorate at Jesus College, Oxford. He went on to a wider stage writing about medieval England, France and Normandy.

 After reading “The Channel Islands under Tudor Government” by AJ Eagleston, it is the second wonderful book on the Channel Islands I have read and reviewed in a month of Lock Down. The two books are related and not just in their subject matter, as Eagleston’s work was published posthumously thanks to Le Patourel’s work as literary executor.

The first chapter on Sources and Literature can be skipped. It is of specialist interest only but read on…

Mercator’s 1639 map of Jersey

The two fiefs into which Guernsey was divided, Bessin and Cotentin, were held by partisans of King Stephen. Therefore they reverted to being Ducal holdings in 1142 when Geoffrey Plantagenet took Normandy from Stephen.

In the 13th Century ships sailed largely within sight of land. The importance of the Islands was a stepping stone to Gascony. Often those appointed Warden of the Cinque Ports or of the Channel Islands or Seneschal of Gascony held two of the three posts concurrently. Arnold son of John de Contis was Bailiff and then Warden of the Islands. He was a citizen and merchant of Bayonne.

In the 13th Century the Wardens had both administrative and military experience. In the 14th Century the Islands were essential to English operations in Brittany. The Wardens became almost exclusively military men, their essential responsibility defence of the Islands and maintenance of the castle.

There were two possibilities, a Lord of the Islands, to whom effectively the King was alienating part of his domain and a warden or bailiff. Delegates were a sub-warden and bailiff. By 1315 there were separate bailiffs with judicial authority in Jersey and Guernsey.

Otto Grandison (he was a very grand person) had custody of the Islands for life and to his executors for 5 years after his death. He wished to exploit his seigneury and initiated Quo warranto (by what warrant or franchise) enquiries. Islanders objected. Why should their rights be regarded as a franchise to which they had to show title?

Islanders could go to the Bishop’s Court in Coutanches. There were overlapping royal and ecclesiastical jurisdictions. During wartime when islanders couldn’t go to Coutanches this increased the importance of the Dean’s Court. Complexity increased with the Schism of 1378. The English supported Urban, the French Clement. The English attempted to impose Urbanism on the Islands. Provision was made for the Urbanist Bishop of Nantes to administer parts of the Diocese of Coutanches in English hands.

Under Medieval rule a prince could only change a people’s customary law with their consent.

Mont St Michel held two priories in Jersey, about a quarter of Guernsey plus Lihou, Jethou and Chausey. Brecquhou was an appurtenance of the Jersey Fief of Vinchelez.

During the 14th and 15th Centuries Alderney and Sark were undefended as indefensible and suffered accordingly. The Castilian defeat of the English fleet in 1372 was followed by du Guesculin seizing the outer works of Gorey Castle. In the 14th and 15th Centuries government in the Islands was becoming ineffective and in these circumstances royal administration was switching into local administration.

There was growing nationalism in both England and France, the Channel Islands were neither. In the 14th Century England nationality was being defined by an alien’s liability to pay customs. The Channel Islands were playing it both ways, avoiding paying customs but retaining their own customary law, an approach strengthened by papal declaration of their neutrality.

One thought on “Review; The Medieval Administration of the Channel Islands 1199-1399 by John Le Patourel (1937) Assessment 9 out of 10

  1. Well I was going to bypass this – but I didn’t and I am now in a mind to read the book. Fascinating


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