The island of Jersey and the other Channel Islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy that held sway in both France and England. Jersey lies in the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel and is the largest of the Channel Islands. It has enjoyed self-government since the division of the Duchy of Normandy in 1204.
The earliest evidence of human activity in Jersey dates to about 250,000 years ago (before Jersey became an island) when bands of nomadic hunters used the caves at La Cotte de St Brelade as a base for hunting mammoth.
It has been an island for approximately 800,000 years and at its current extremes it measures 10 miles east to west and six miles north to south. After Jersey became an island, there is evidence of settled communities in the Neolithic period, which is marked by the building of the ritual burial sites known as dolmens. The number, size and visible locations of these megalithic monuments (especially La Hougue Bie) have suggested that social organisation over a wide area, including surrounding coasts, was required for the construction. Archaeological evidence shows that there were trading links with Brittany and the south coast of England during this time. It would appear that the island was significant enough to inspire large-scale construction projects.
Evidence of occupation and wealth has been discovered in the form of hoards. In 1889, during construction of a house in Saint Helier, a 746g gold torc of Irish origin was unearthed. A Bronze Age hoard consisting of 110 implements, mostly spears and swords, was discovered in Saint Lawrence in 1976 - probably a smith's stock. Hoards of coins were discovered at La Marquanderie, in Saint Brelade, Le CÃ¢tel, in Trinity, and Le CÃ¢tillon, in Grouville (1957).
In June 2012, two metal detectorists announced that they had uncovered what could be Europe's largest hoard of Iron Age Celtic coins, and which may be worth up to Â£10 M, after a search spanning 30 years. It was reported that the extracted mass including soil and the hoard weighed about three quarters of a tonne, and could contain up to 50,000 Roman and Celtic coins. This came after an earlier find of 60 Celtic coins, in the same area, by the same men. It is thought that hoards of coins may have been buried in the island so as to protect them from Julius Caesar's armies which were advancing through France.
In October 2012, another metal detectorist reported a new Bronze Age find, the Trinity Hoard.
Although Jersey was part of the Roman world, very little is known about the island's history until the 11th century. The tradition that the Island was called Caesarea by the Romans appears to have no basis in fact. The Channel Islands, then called the Lenur Islands, were occupied by the Britons during their migration to Brittany (5th-6th century). Various saints such as the Celts Samson of Dol and Branwalator (Brelade) were active in the region, although tradition has it that it was Saint Helier from Tongeren in modern-day Belgium who first brought Christianity to the Island in the 6th century, and Charlemagne sent his emissary to the island (at that time called Angia, also spelt Agna) in 803.
The island took the name Jersey as a result of Viking activity in the area between the 9th and 10th centuries. The Channel Islands remained politically linked to Brittany until 933 when William Longsword, Duke of Normandy seized the Cotentin and the islands and added them to his domain; in 1066 Duke William II of Normandy defeated Harold at Hastings to become king of England; however, he continued to rule his French possessions as a separate entity.
According to the Rolls of the Norman Exchequer in 1180 Jersey was divided for administrative purposes into three Ministeria: de Gorroic, de Groceio and de Crapaudoit (possibly containing four parishes each).
The islands remained part of the Duchy of Normandy until 1204 when King Philip II Augustus of France conquered the duchy from King John of England; the islands remained in the personal possession of the king and were described as being a Peculiar of the Crown. The so-called Constitutions of King John are the foundation of modern self-government.
The Feudal Age
From 1204 onwards the Channel Islands ceased to be a peaceful backwater and were thrown into the spotlight as a potential flashpoint on the international stage between England and France.
In the Treaty of Paris (1259) the King of France gave up claim to the Channel Islands. The claim was based upon his position as feudal overlord of the Duke of Normandy. The King of England gave up claim to mainland Normandy and appointed a Warden, a position now termed Lieutenant-Governor and a Bailiff to govern in his stead. The Channel Islands were never formally absorbed into the Kingdom of England, however.
Mont Orgueil castle was built at this time to serve as a Royal fortress and military base. During the Hundred Years' War the island was attacked many times and was even occupied for a couple of years in the 1380s.
In March 1338, a French force landed on Jersey, intent on capturing the island. Although the island was overrun, Mont Orgueil remained in English hands. The French remained until September, when they sailed off to conquer Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. In 1339 the French returned, allegedly with 8000 men in 17 Genoese galleys and 35 French ships. Again they failed to take the castle and, after causing damage, withdrew.
In July 1373, Bertrand du Guesclin overran Jersey and besieged Mont Orgueil. His troops succeeded in breaching the outer defences, forcing the garrison back to the keep. The garrison came to an agreement that they would surrender if not relieved by Michaelmas and du Guesclin sailed back to Brittany, leaving a small force to carry on the siege. Fortunately for the defenders, an English relief fleet arrived in time.
The French would not succeed in capturing Jersey during the Hundred Years' War, but did capture Mont Orgueil in the summer of 1461, allegedly as part of a secret deal between Margaret of Anjou and Pierre de BrÃ©zÃ© to gain French support for the Lancastrian cause. The island was held by the French until 1468, when Yorkist forces and local militia were able to recapture the castle.
Because of the island's strategic importance to the English Crown the islanders were able to negotiate a number of benefits for themselves from the king. During the Wars of the Roses the island was occupied by the French for seven years (1461â"68), until, after the failure of an attempt to attack the French, Sir Richard Harliston arrived in the island to claim it back for the English king.
Reformation to Restoration
During the 16th century the islanders adopted the Protestant religion and life became very austere. The increasing use of gunpowder on the battlefield meant that the fortifications on the island had to be adapted and a new fortress built to defend St Aubin's Bay. The new Elizabeth Castle was named after the queen by Sir Walter Raleigh when he was governor. The island militia was reorganised on a parish basis and each parish had two cannon which were usually housed in the church - one of the St Peter cannon can still be seen at the bottom of Beaumont Hill.
The production of knitwear reached such a scale that it threatened the island's ability to produce its own food and so laws were passed regulating who could knit with whom and when. The islanders also became involved with the Newfoundland fisheries at this time. The boats left the island in February/March following a church service in St Brelade's church and they wouldn't return again until September/October. During the 1640s England was split by Civil War and hostilities spread into Scotland and Ireland as well. Jersey was divided and while the sympathy of islanders lay with Parliament the de Carterets held the island for the king.
The future Charles II visited the island in 1646 and again in 1649 following the execution of his father. It was in the Royal Square in St. Helier on 17 February 1649 that Charles was publicly proclaimed king after his father's death (following the first public proclamation in Edinburgh on 5 February 1649). Parliamentarian forces eventually captured the island in 1651. In recognition for all the help given to him during his exile, Charles II gave George Carteret, Bailiff and governor, a large grant of land in the American colonies, which he promptly named New Jersey, now part of the United States of America.
Towards the end of the 17th century Jersey strengthened its links with the Americas when many islanders emigrated to New England and north east Canada. The Jersey merchants built up a thriving business empire in the Newfoundland and GaspÃ© fisheries. Companies such as Robins and the Le Boutilliers set up thriving businesses.
By the 1720s a discrepancy in coinage values between Jersey and France was threatening economic stability. The States of Jersey therefore resolved to devalue the liard to 6 to the sou. The legislation to that effect implemented in 1729 caused popular riots that shook the establishment. The devaluation was therefore cancelled.
The Chamber of Commerce founded 24 February 1768 is the oldest in the Commonwealth.
The Code of 1771 laid down for the first time in one place the extant laws of Jersey, and from this time the functions of the Royal Court and the States of Jersey were delimited, with sole legislative power vested in the States.
Methodism arrived in Jersey in 1774, brought by fishermen returning from Newfoundland. Conflict with the authorities ensued when men refused to attend Militia drill when that coincided with chapel meetings. The Royal Court attempted to proscribe Methodist meetings, but King George III refused to countenance such interference with liberty of religion. The first Methodist minister in Jersey was appointed in 1783, and John Wesley preached in Jersey in August 1789, his words being interpreted into the vernacular for the benefit of those from the country parishes. The first building constructed specifically for Methodist worship was erected in St. Ouen in 1809.
The 18th century was a period of political tension between Britain and France as the two nations clashed all over the world as their ambitions grew. Because of its position Jersey was more or less on a continuous war footing.
During the American Wars of Independence there were two attempted invasions of the island. In 1779 the Prince of Orange William V was prevented from landing at St Ouen's Bay; on 6 January 1781, a force led by Baron de Rullecourt captured St Helier in a daring dawn raid, but was defeated by a British army led by Major Francis Peirson in the Battle of Jersey. A short lived peace was followed by the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars which, when they had ended, had changed Jersey for ever. In 1799-1800, over 6000 Russian troops under the command of Charles du Houx de Viomesnil were quartered in Jersey after an evacuation of Holland.
The first printing press was introduced to Jersey in 1784.
The livre tournois had been used as the legal currency for centuries. However, it was abolished during the French Revolutionary period. Although the coins were no longer minted, it remained the legal currency in Jersey until 1837 when dwindling supplies of livres tournois and consequent difficulties in trade and payment obliged the adoption of the pound sterling as legal tender.
The military roads constructed (on occasion at gunpoint in the face of opposition from landowners) by the Governor, General George Don, to link coastal fortifications with St. Helier harbour had an unexpected effect on agriculture once peace restored reliable trade links. Farmers in previously isolated valleys were able to swiftly transport crops grown in the Island's microclimate to waiting ships and then on to the markets of London and Paris ahead of the competition. In conjunction with the introduction of steamships and the development of the French and British railway systems, Jersey's agriculture was no longer as isolated as before. The new transport links also saw the arrival of the first tourists.
Two railways, the Jersey Western Railway in 1870, and the Jersey Eastern Railway in 1874, were opened. The Western railway from St Helier (Weighbridge) to la CorbiÃ¨re and the Eastern Railway from St. Helier (Snow Hill) to Gorey Pier. There has never been a connection between the two railways. Buses started running on the island in the 1920s and the railways couldn't cope with the competition. The Eastern railway closed in 1926 and the Western Railway in 1936 after a fire disaster in 1936.
The number of English speaking soldiers stationed in the island and the number of retired officers and English speaking labourers who came to the islands in the 1820s saw the island gradually moving towards an English-speaking culture.
Jersey was the 4th largest ship building area in the 19th century British Isles, building over 900 vessels around the island. The banks on Jersey, guarantors of an industry both onshore and off, failed in 1886, even causing strife and discord in far-flung societies.
In the late 19th century as the former thriving cider and wool industries declined, island farmers benefited from the development of two luxury products - the Jersey cow and the Jersey Royal potato. The former was the product of careful and selective breeding programmes; the latter being a total fluke.
The anarchist philosopher, Peter Kropotkin who visited the Channel Islands in 1890, 1896 and 1903 described the agriculture of Jersey in The Conquest of Bread.
The 19th century also saw the rise of tourism as an important industry, which reached its climax in the period from the end of the Second World War to the 1980s.
Elementary education became obligatory in 1899, and free in 1907. The years before the First World War saw the foundation of cultural institutions, the Battle of Flowers and the Jersey Eisteddfod. The first aeroplanes arrived in Jersey in 1912.
In 1914 the British garrison was withdrawn at the start of the War and the Militia were mobilised. Jersey men served in the British and French armed forces. Numbers of German prisoners of war were interned in Jersey. The influenza epidemic of 1918 added to the toll of war.
In 1919 Imperial measurements replaced, for the most part, the tradition Jersey system of weights and measures; women aged over 30 were given the vote; the endowments of the ancient grammar schools were repurposed as scholarships for Victoria College.
In 1921 the visit of King George V was the occasion for the design of the parish crests.
In 1923 the British government asked Jersey to contribute an annual sum towards the costs of the Empire. The States of Jersey refused and offered instead a one-off contribution to war costs. After negotiations Jersey's one-off contribution was accepted.
The first motor car had arrived in 1899 and by the 1930s competition from motor buses had rendered the railways unprofitable, with final closure coming in 1935 (except for the later German reintroduction of rail during the military occupation). Jersey Airport was opened in 1937 to replace the use of the beach of Saint Aubin's bay as an airstrip at low tide.
English was first permitted in debates in the States of Jersey in 1901 and the first legislation to be drawn up primarily in English was the Income Tax Law of 1928.
Following the withdrawal of defences by the British government and German bombardment, Jersey was occupied by German troops between 1940 and 1945. The Channel Islands were the only British soil occupied by German troops in World War II. This period of occupation saw about 8,000 islanders evacuated, 1,200 islanders deported to camps in Germany and over 300 islanders being sentenced to the prison and concentration camps of mainland Europe. 20 died as a result. The islanders endured near-starvation in the winter of 1944-45, after the Channel Islands had been cut off from German-occupied Europe by Allied forces advancing from the Normandy beachheads, avoided only by the arrival of the Red Cross supply ship Vega in December 1944. Liberation Day - 9 May is marked as a public holiday.
The event which has had the most far reaching effect on Jersey in modern times, is the growth of the finance industry in the island from the 1960s onwards.
On the 26 June 2012 it was reported that a hoard of approximately 70,000 late Iron Age and Roman coins had been found in Grouville.
On July 5, 2012, a fire broke out at a gas holder in St Helier.
In October 2014, a 21 year old was arrested on terrorism related charges. Police report that copies of Inspire magazine were found in his possession and he is accused of posting bomb making details online.
- Balleine's History of Jersey, Marguerite Syvret and Joan Stevens (1998) ISBN 1-86077-065-7