Jersey History

Links with the Crown:

Victor Hugo’s famous quote that the Channel Islands are small portions of France which have fallen into the sea and have been swept up by England is, in the very broadest sense, true.  Jersey was part of the Duchy of Normandy at the time of the Conquest and the language and many of the laws and customs of the Island are inherited from those early years.  When King John lost Normandy, Jersey opted to remain loyal to the English crown – a loyalty that has been unswerving over the centuries, notwithstanding the constant threat of invasion.  The Island’s castles and forts and proof of that threat, as are the 18th and 19th Century Conway and Martello towers built during the Napoleonic wars.  Other fortifications have now become part of the landscape:  stark reminders of a tragic period in Jersey’s modern history – the German Occupation during World War II.

Jersey’s loyalty to the Crown was sorely tested during the English Civil War.  Immediately after the execution of Charles I, Jersey was the only place to proclaim his son Charles as King.  The Island authorities then remained Royalist throughout the subsequent war which in turn led to many hardships for islanders and the loss of the Abbey at Elizabeth Castle when the islet was attacked from the town and the store of gunpowder exploded.

Queen Victoria was one of the few monarchs who visited Jersey – and she seemed to love the Island.  It was she who pronounced, after a visit to the Island in 1859, that the large bay south of Mont Orgueil Castle should be called the Royal Bay of Grouville.  King George VI and Queen Elizabeth paid an early visit to Jersey after the World War II occupation by the Germans, and the king spoke specifically about restoring the Island’s customs and Government – things that actually depended solely on our relationship with the Crown.  It is therefore no accident that two of the 2007 Jersey Heritage Holidays concentrate on this very special relationship.


The government of the Island used to be in the hands of the Rectors and Constables of the twelve parishes and the Jurats – twelve elected magistrates who also tried criminals and settled disputes – the three ‘estates’ which became known as The States of Jersey.    Nowadays the Jurats act solely as judges and are not involved in the government of Jersey which is carried out by a democratically elected body of 53. The Island has recently moved from government by committees to Ministerial Government, with a Council of ten Ministers led by a Chief Minister.  Apart from the Constables of each parish, the States is made up of 12 Senators who have an island-wide mandate and are elected for six years and 29 Deputies, who are elected by their parish for a three-year term of office.  The Bailiff, who is appointed by the Crown, presides over the States and the Royal Court.  The Lieutenant-Governor (the Queen’s representative), the Dean, the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General are also appointed by the Crown.  They sit in the States and are entitled to speak but not to vote.

Jersey is divided into twelve parishes and each parish into vingtaines (or cueillettes in St Ouen).  The head of each parish is the Constable who also heads the parish honorary police, assisted by Centeniers, Vingteniers and Constable’s Officers.  One of their responsibilities is the bi-annual branchage inspection.  The roads of each parish are inspected to ensure that land-owners have cut their roadside banks and trees and hedges are trimmed to a stipulated height to allow the free passage of farm vehicles and other forms of transport.


At least eight of the twelve parish churches existed before 1066 and all are rich in history.  Even after the separation from Normandy, for political as well as religious reasons, Jersey remained part of the diocese of Coutances.  After the Reformation the Island became staunchly Calvinist and most of the rectors were French Protestants.  It was not until the reign of James I that Anglicanism became the accepted religion.  During the 18th Century, the Methodist movement, which started among the troops, spread rapidly.  Aided by a visit from John Wesley, the religion gained many converts and there are now many Methodist chapels in the Island.  With the influx of French royalist refugees, Roman Catholicism returned to Jersey, though under sufferance, and was reinforced with the immigration of many French and Irish labourers.
















Places of Interest

Mont Orgueil Castle,  which towers over the harbour at Gorey, was built in the thirteenth century to protect the island against the French.  This jewel in Jersey's crown is one of the best preserved castles in Britain and one of the most photographed sites in the island. It makes the perfect back-drop for medieval drama and re-enactment with spectacular views over the island and across the sea to France.

Jersey was defended by Elizabeth Castle, a spacious fortress built on an islet in St Aubin's Bay, for 300 years from the Civil War to the German Occupation. Give yourself plenty of time to explore this site, where you will find several exhibitions and military collections as well as the rocky home of the sixth century hermit, St Helier.

A visit to the award-winning Jersey Museum is an excellent introduction to any stay in Jersey. Here you will find the real history, traditions and culture of the island explained in a way that is both exciting and understandable. Voted the "most outstanding tourist attraction to open in the British Isles" in 1992 by the Guild of Travel Writers and winner of the British National Heritage IBM Museum of the year award 1993-94, this Museum has something for all the family.

Set in the historic harbour area of St Helier, the Maritime Museum takes as its theme, the sea and our relationship with it. It reflects the experience of islanders and Jersey's Maritime heritage, both contemporary and historic. Each of the three areas has a different emphasis - the elements, the boats and the people.  In the same converted 19th Century quayside warehouses can be found the highly-acclaimed Occupation Tapestry, which was made by the people of Jersey to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Liberation and  which is possibly the greatest community project undertaken in Jersey.   The Tapestry consists of twelve panels and tells the story of the occupation of the island during World War II by the Germans. (The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles which were occupied during the war). There are audio guides available as well as an audio-visual presentation.

You can get close to 300 years of Jersey's rural heritage at Hamptonne Country Life Museum, a collection of farm buildings and meadows. The site is brought alive by talkative characters from the past demonstrations of by-gone skills, guided tours and plenty of small animals. Give yourself plenty of time to explore the buildings and stroll around the kitchen garden and meadows.

La Hougue Bie is a Neolithic ritual site which was in use about 6,000 years ago. It is one of the largest and best preserved passage graves in Europe. Although it is generally referred to as a tomb, we know that it had a much more complex role than simply a place in which the dead were buried. Like a modern church it had a number of different ritual and ceremonial functions which were carried out in it and around it throughout the year.

Jersey War Tunnels tells the true story of the Occupation of Jersey during World War Two. It is one of the Island's most popular tourist attractions as well as an important site of heritage conservation and interpretation.  Walk along the very tunnels which were once trodden by German soldiers; discover what the Occupation was like from the perspective of all those who lived through it; visit the War Trail to see how nature is reclaiming land once used as an artillery battery or sit in the Garden of Reflection and contemplate those islanders killed during the conflicts.  Jersey War Tunnels has something for everyone.

Over the centuries there have been as many as 47 watermills situated on the 14 Island streams.  Few survive today, but one, Le Moulin de Quétivel, has been restored as a working mill by the National Trust for Jersey.  There were also a number of windmills of which four still survive, albeit without their sails (although St Peter’s Mill, now a shop and restaurant, has a non-functional set).  These mills belonged to the Crown, or the Lord of the Manor (Seigneur) and were of vital importance both to the farmers for grinding their corn and to the owners as a source of revenue.



Contact: Email: Beth Lloyd or telephone 00 44 (0)1534 862099