Friday, 19 July 2013

The Beginning of Trouble by A.C. Saunders

Something historical today. Here is an extract from "Jersey in the 17th century" (1931), by A.C. Saunders. There is a lot of social history in Saunders, which throws up some quirky details that are often overlooked in the history of Jersey.

With reform of the States just delayed again, it is interesting to note here that "The Constables were to be selected in each parish by those who could freely spend the annual rent of three quarters of wheat", and also that they could be removed from office by the Jurats or Governor; a position which only changed in 1677 when the 3 year election cycle was brought in. But most people could not vote anyway.

There's a lot on the condition of the poor people, which were the majority of the people in the Island. The church at this time was very dictatorial, still very much a legacy of the Calvinist ethos of punishing immorality - which could be for as little as bad language, but could lead to excommunication, the pillory, and public ritual humiliation. The three-fold ritual by this was done in churches is not something I've read in other histories of Jersey, and it gives a real insight into how unpleasant the whole business was, and how it was designed to create a climate of fear and obedience.

There was in the 1970s a small but thriving Greek Cypriot community who had come over to Jersey to find better conditions, and better work - many of them opened restaurants, and I still remember the Kebab Souvla at St Aubin. The reason for their coming was simple: if they stayed they would be peasantry, or shepherds, with a much poorer quality of life, and no opportunities for their talents. The conditions they left behind were very much like Jersey in the 17th century, where opportunities for those intelligent and resourceful lay mostly in emigrating from Jersey, and seeking better fortune elsewhere.

A note on the text: a Sumptuary law is mentioned as being passed in 1630. Such laws are "made for the purpose of restraining luxury or extravagance, particularly against inordinate expenditures in the matter of apparel, food, furniture, etc." In the case of Jersey, they reinforced social hierarchies by restricting what clothing people could wear, especially if you were poor. It ensured that that people did not dress "above their station".
The Beginning of Trouble
by A.C. Saunders
On the wall on the left hand side as you enter the door of St. Helier's Church you will find a tablet
Cy Gist
Bailli de Jersey
1643. 1651-166o
erected to the memory of the leader of the Parliamentary party in Jersey. Michel Lempriere, Sr. de Maufont, was the son of Hugh Lempriere, Sr. de Dilement, and Jeanne, the daughter of the Greffier, John Herault. He was born about the year 1600 and died in 1671. He became Bailiff under Parliament in 1643, on the death of Sir Philip de Carteret, and later on from 1651 until 1660.             From 1643 he had, after the arrival of Sir George Carteret, fled to England. He returned to Jersey in 1651 when Admiral Blake arrived with his fleet and reconquered the Island for Parliament. He was then reappointed Bailiff and remained as such until the restoration, when he entered into private life. His was a strong personality with great ability and he had been educated at Samur, where he matriculated at the Protestant University, and afterwards continued his studies at Oxford. When still in the twenties he was elected a Jurat of the Royal Court, where he formed friendships with D. Dumaresq, of Samares, and the younger Herault.
For many years there had been a feud between the families of de Carteret and Lempriere, and the greed of Sir Philip in making use of his power to seize all the best appointments in the Island did not tend to lessen the inherited hatred of one who, cultured and ambitious, was forced to recognize there was no scope for his great abilities in his native Island. Here we find two ambitious men waiting for an opportunity to spring at one another and ready to use any advantage to bring about the downfall of the other.
Sir Philip had another hated enemy in Dean Bandinel, whom he had tried to deprive of certain tithes in the Parish of St. Saviour which had been allotted as part of the emoluments of his office of Dean, and here he had made another unscrupulous enemy who would go far in his endeavours to bring about his downfall.
When Sir Philip tried to uphold the sovereignity of his master, Lempriere and his supporters took the side of Parliament and a fight began which was carried on without quarter from either side. It was a fight not altogether for justice, but for place and power, and Sir Philip happened to be the man in power. The ordinary people cared little or nothing for either Parliament or King, or the injustices which the legislators were trying to reform. It mattered little to them whether King or Parliament ruled over the land. If anything they were Royalists and knew what they could expect and did not care to adventure under new rulers they knew nothing about. But the Church had considerable power in the Island, and the Bandinels and Pierre D'Assigny, Rector of St. Helier, had become powerful and eloquent enemies of Sir Philip. These men were not too scrupulous in the methods they adopted to set their ignorant congregations against the Royalist Bailiff and Lieut.-Governor.
The States of Jersey were constituted by Queen Elizabeth in 1591 and were composed of a Bailiff, twelve Jurats, twelve Parish Priests and twelve Constables. The Jurats were to be chosen by the greater part and number of the States, with the approval of the Governor. The Constables were to be selected in each parish by those who could freely spend the annual rent of three quarters of wheat. It was not until the Order in Council of 1677 that the Constables were elected for three years and relieved of the possibility of losing office at the whim of the Governor and Jurats.
The only power in the land was that held by the Seigneurs, who did not fail to uphold their rights under the feudal system. The ordinary people had to obey the whims of these petty lords and had little or no will-power of their own. In fact the poor people were very little removed from absolute slavery.
They were employed in farming, fishing and knitting, but the cultivation of the land was very primitive and people lived under many very miserable conditions. Fortunately the Island was favoured with a good climate, but even with this advantage we hear from time to time of the terrible ravages of plagues and other contagious diseases in the Island, sometimes compelling the legislators to remove their court away from the town to some more healthy part of the Island. Few people could read, and even those who could took very little interest in anything but their personal affairs and the doings of their neighbours. They had no incentive to work and the man of intelligence had great difficulty to avoid getting into trouble, as it was so easy in those days to acquire the reputation of being an insolent disorderly person on the pathway to the gallows.
And so every inducement of progress was discouraged and the people went through their existence in a state of poverty, ignorance, and discontent. They neglected the cultivation of their land to such an extent that sufficient corn was not grown in the Island to supply the wants of the inhabitants.
There were not enough houses in the Island to provide each family with a separate dwelling, hence there was much overcrowding of families together under the most unhealthy conditions. There was no encouragement to shipping, and the only shelters that the Island possessed were a small harbour on the Eastern side of the Castle and another at St. Aubin's Fort. There was a shelter-for boats near the brook under the Churchyard of St. Helier, and an unfinished pier at the Havre Neuf near the Western point of the town hill.
As young men grew up and saw the misery around them they either settled down to the Jersey life, or, if they were intelligent enough, left the Island to seek their fortunes elsewhere. They helped to man the vessels of France and other countries and hundreds of these young Islanders found their way to our plantations abroad, where their services were appreciated and they could find a proper outlet for their individuality. Many men became fishermen and sailors for in those days the waters round the Island abounded with congers and other fish.
Apart from the feudal system the people suffered from the tyranny of the Church. Many of our Parish Churches were filled with aliens from other parts. Bandinel, the Dean, was an Italian, Pierre d'Assigny, the Rector of St. Helier, was a Frenchman, who, a little time before his arrival in Jersey, had been a French monk.
These men having acquired the ecclesiastical power in the Island, used their influence to increase the power of the Church. Church discipline in those days was a matter of vital consideration. The Church had acquired a very great power and the ministers and elders " are to oversee the life and manners of Christ's flock, diligently employing themselves to admonish and reprehend such as are faulty and reconcile such as are at difference." They had the power to forbid unacceptable people to attend the House of God and the Lord's Supper. If anyone disobeyed the pastorial advice and continued defiant, the Church could .excommunicate a man or woman in the .following way.
Suppose a man became defiant and the Church determined to punish him by excommunication then on the first Sunday the people attending the Parish Church (in those days every person had to attend Church) were exhorted to pray for the offender. The name of the offender was not given, and we can well imagine the people at Church watching their neighbours to see whether they had the appearance of guilty persons. On the second Sunday the parson mentioned the name of the culprit but not his crime, and on the third Sunday the person was named, the offence mentioned, and the excommunication was confirmed and the sinner cast out of the bosom of the Church and excluded from public worship or the teaching of the Gospel.
It is needless to point out that people were liable to be judged by the company they kept, and it became a sin to associate with excommunicated people. Life therefore became a burden to the sinner, but if eventually he repented of his sin and asked for absolution, then notice was given to the people the Sunday before he was to be re-established.
On the second Sunday the sinner was brought before the pulpit in some prominent place and there publicly he made confession of his sin and asked pardon of God and man. The threat of excommunication was a great weapon in the hands of the clergy, especially as they considered it their duty to make enquiries into the habits of the several families in their parishes, their lives and conversations, whether they had morning and evening prayer and said grace before and after meals, and, in order to get the real facts of the case they could question not only the neighbours but also the servants of the household.
They could punish people for using bad language. There is a case mentioned of a man being accused by the Church of using blasphemous language who was expelled from one of the Islands with the penalty that if he should return he would he nailed by the right ear to the pilliory for an hour, whipped through the town and deprived of all his goods and chattels.
Thus when the King and State began the civil wars we find Jersey in the hands of some half a dozen people with Sir Philip de Carteret as Lieut.-Governor and Bailiff. The people had no opinions of their own and had to carry out the wishes of their Seigneurs and Rectors. The fear of hell was a great weapon in the hands of ministers in their dealings with the ignorant and downtrodden people.
The ministers gathered in their tithes - even fishermen were not exempt-and eventually the question of tithes became a very vital point in the fight between the King and Parliament,. Dean Bandinel claimed that the Lieut.-Governor had seized certain tithes in the Parish of St. Saviour which had been granted to him as Dean of Jersey by James I., and eventually established his claim to them.
When the struggle commenced in Jersey, we find that the partisanship was more a question of personal enmity than that of right or wrong. It is no wonder that a contemporary writer describes the inhabitants as " not a little affected by a kinde of melancoly surlinesse incident to ploughmen," and to add to this that the " people here are more poor and therefore destitute of humanity ; the children here continually craving almes of every stranger."
And in the year 1630 we find the States passed a sumptuary law by which the position of a person could be recognised by the clothes worn.
We have to credit Archbishop Laud for having taken great interest in the education of the Channel Islands and it is to his efforts that on 1st April, 1636, it was decided that three scholarships at Oxford University should be reserved for students from the Channel Islands.
Sir Philip recommended Mr. David Brevint, Master of Arts at the University of Samur, as a very hopeful young man well suited for one of these posts. The Islanders were very grateful and in 1637 they sent a petition to the Archbishop asking his assistance in seeking to obtain two or three places at Winchester, Westminster, or Eton, for some poor children of the Island to begin their studies so as to be able to proceed afterwards to continue their education at the University. Evidently the petition was not successful, although when first founded, the pupils at Eton College consisted of some twenty-five poor grammar scholars.

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