Friday, 27 November 2015

General Review – Part 2 by A.C. Saunders

The final part of A.C. Saunders “History of Jersey in the 17th Century”. I have kept the spellings of quoted text as it stands in Saunders. Saunders quotes from documents as they stand and does not render them into contemporary English, and the spelling is variable and probably largely phonetic.

General Review – Part 2 by A.C. Saunders

It must have been a very anxious place to live in in those days, isolated as it was from the mainland, with very little and irregular communication. On the 8th July, 1693, Lord Nottingham writing to the Governor of Jersey, suggested that it was good for their majesty's service that there should be a very frequent correspondence between Jersey and the mainland so that the Government might know what was going on. The Governor was directed to send the yacht to Southampton at least once in five or six weeks with a report as to the state of the Island. It appears strange that this order should he necessary, seeing that we were at war with France and at any time the Island might be invaded.

Robert Slowley, master of a Privateer was captured and taken to St. Malo, and on the 13th February, 1694, he was able to report that the French were preparing to attack the Channel Islands. They had brought a great number of bombs and mortars from Brest for that purpose. The British fleet was ordered to cruise about the Islands, and the Governor was ordered to give, out of store, a convenient number of small arms and ammunition to the Captains of the several parishes taking care that the arms are duly accounted for, and he was directed to provide Elizabeth Castle with an engine to make salt water fresh, and also a quantity of sea coal.

The people were in a state of great excitement. Rumour followed rumour, and it was reported that the French were fitting out a squadron of ships, and Privateers, and had an army in readiness, only waiting for the necessary galleys to carry them across, and that there were sixty men of war at Brest waiting to support the invaders. The Government sent down additional troops, and ordered barracks to be built, and directed that no Lt. Governor should leave the Island without permission.

But nothing came of the rumours and on the 21st October 1697, the proclamation of peace with France was sent to the Bailiff and brats who were directed to make it known to the inhabitants.

The soldiers stationed in the Island had so abused their powers, that the Privy Council decided that any misbehaving themselves should be tried by a Court Martial consisting of the Governor, Bailiff and four Commissioned officers. A set of regulations were made for their guidance.

Article 1 directed that all officers and soldiers were directed to attend Divine Service, and behave themselves reverently and decently. Anyone using blasphemous language shall have his tongue bored with a hot iron. Article 13 directed, that complaints of non payment of wages, and those who shall assemble together to take " Council among themselves for demanding their pay " the inferior officers shall suffer death as ring leaders of such mutinous and seditious meetings, and the others court-martialled. Article 19 directed, that death should be the penalty of those who molested the persons, or stole the goods, of the Islanders.

Those quartered on the inhabitants, had to be paid for at the rate of twenty-eight pence per week, for board and lodging for each soldier, sergeants being at the higher rate of three shillings and six pence.

During all the century, Jersey was making progress. A new Court House had been built, and schools established. A new prison built at Charing Cross, and the cage for prisoners in the Royal Square was ordered to be abolished. Harbour accommodation was being provided, and scholarships given at Oxford, for promising youths from the Channel Islands.

The Islanders had their quaint customs and laws, and the country people knew a great deal of fairies and witchcraft. During this century women were burned in Jersey for their unchristian like activities.

It was a wonderful little Island, with her feudal propensities. With the poor very poor, and the Seigneurs going out on state occasions, in their coaches drawn by six horses. It was a period when the strong man held sway over his fellows, and owing to the ignorance of the many, rich and poor, a man who had been educated and had seen something of the world, and had sufficient courage to assert himself became a leader in the land of his birth.

These men stood out above their fellows, and it is therefore interesting to note how Jersey, during the whole of the seventeenth century, was under the domination of some dozen men who by force of character, and position, managed to rule their fellows.

Possibly the social history of Jersey was no worse than that of the mainland, but many a good man in Jersey, in the past, has had to follow in a narrow groove because of the difficulties of obtaining a larger sphere for his energy. Those who had sufficient courage to face unknown dangers abroad, had a better chance, and in our colonies, and along the shores of the United States, we often find names of men whose ancestors must originally have come from Jersey. Jerseymen were good sailors and did not lack courage.

Away from the Island, generally speaking, they made their mark, but even when they realised the advantages they were deriving from their adventures, their thoughts always turned to the Island where they had been born in the hopes that before they died, they would be able to return.

And thus we find that Jersey did her part during the seventeenth century. Times were troublesome, and things were tolerated then, which would not be allowed now. People in power, knew not how long their influence would last, and therefore, in order to retain this power they had very little sentiment in dealing with their opponents.

The Civil War had allowed many a worthless demagogue to collect a following, and many a better man had to give way, but Jerseyman have the knowledge that their Castle was the last to uphold the Royal Cause, and in their Square Charles II was proclaimed King long before his subjects called him to the Throne of England.

And thus I have come to the end of my story about Jersey in the seventeenth century-a most important century of our national history, dealing as it does with the beginning of Government by the people, and a fight against those ancient privileges, which had gradually surrounded those who considered that Might was Right irrespective of the rights of their fellow citizens. 

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