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(535 AD to 560 AD)
The complete occupation of Gaul by the Romans had been established barely two centuries when the sea-power of various Germanic peoples from the east and south coasts of the North Sea began to make itself felt in the Channel. Powerful on land as the forces of the Roman Empire were, they failed to control the northern seas.
As early as 287 A.D., Saxon and Frank sea rovers ravaged the coasts of Belgium and Armorica.
With the passing of years the activities of the raiders increased. The shores of Roman Britain were assailed. Raids for booty were succeeded by invasions for settlement and conquest. In spite of their lack of organisation and cohesion, these northerners were destined to smash into irreparable ruin the unwieldly edifice built up by the southerners and to plunge most of the then known world into anarchy and barbarism.
By the fifth century a colony of Saxons had long been established in Bayeux and other places in the midst of the Romanised Gauls ; while in Britain, Angles, Saxons and Jutes began to overrun the southeastern and southern coastal districts.
Contemporary with the earlier raids, another invasion ot a totally different character had been insinuating itself into Gaul and Britain. Rome, while losing her temporal empire, was unhiowingly establishing a spiritual one.
At the very moment when Saxons and Angles were brutally pursuing their policy of blood and iron, converts to a new faith were patiently proclaiming a message of peace and goodwill to their fellow men. The new religion, founded by a humble Carpenter from an obscure village of a remote Levantine province had, in the slow course of three centuries, spread north-westwards through the Roman Empire.
In an easterly direction it had little or no success, for among the teeming populations of southern and eastern Asia at least two great religions and a social philosophy had long since obtained dominion.
In the diametrically opposite direction, belief in the old Graeco-Roman gods and their local equivalents was in the wane, and Christianity steadily steadily gained follows among the various Romanized Kelts of Gaul and Britain.
Scarcely, however, had the new faith established itself in Britain, when the triumphant forces of barbarism ruthlessly assailed it and drove back its surviving Keltic adherents into the fasmesses of Cornwall, Wales and Ireland.
The Franks, whose victorious advance through northern Gaul carried them to the borders of Armorica, seem to have been of milder mood than their fierce cousins across the Channel, for they maintained the civic government implanted by the Romans and viewed with no special disfavour the activities of Christian devotees.
Hence, British Christians fleeing from the wrath of the Saxons, found many a haven of rest and refuge along the rugged shores of Armorica.
The man who was chiefly instrumental in bringing Christianity to Jersey was a Saxon from Bayeux named Marculf. Born about 483, he began his career as missionary in 511, after being ordained priest by the Bishop of Coutances, With the permission of Childebert, King of the Franks, he established a religious settlement at Nanteuil on the east coast of the peninsula of the Cotenrin. Hither, his learning and lovable personality attracted numbers of converts, with one of whom we are specially concerned. This was Helier, destined to be the patron saint of Jersey.
As a special chapter is reserved for an account of the traditional life and works of this zealot who strove, like the Buddhist ascetics, to exalt the spirit by depressing the flesh, we will now limit ourselves to his last years and record a few events which appear to bear the impress of historical accuracy.
After baptizing Helier, Marculf selected Jersey's a suitable place for a self-centred recluse to dwell in, and sent him there in the charge of an attendant or keeper named Romard, The two embarked at a little port in the Bay of St. Michael somewhere about 540 A.D. and sailed over to Jersey.
Though the island was said to have then been inhabited by but thirty families, it was too crowded for Helier, who therefore installed himself on what is now known as the Hermitage Rock.
Here indeed was an ideal domicile for such a man, and here Romard left him. On hearing Romard's report, Marculf decided that the Islet would be an admirable site on which to plant a centre of propaganda or monastic colony, so hither, after a few years, he journeyed with Romard.
By this time poor Helier had reduced his vile body to such extreme emaciation and misery that Marculf wept on beholding him.
Soon after this painful meeting, a fleet of sea-rovers hove in sight. The " thirty families " of Jersey, inspired by the energetic Marculf, beat off the leading invaders and the remainder, overwhelmed by the fierce uprising of a sudden storm, perished in the Bay. Two polychrome glass beads of the VIth century were found at low tide near the Islet (see BSJ, 1932). The faithful are invited to recognise in these objects tangible proofs of St. Marculf's victory over the rovers and true relics of the first recorded invasion of Jersey.
Having satisfied himself that the Islet would serve bis purpose, Marculf returned with Romard to his headquarters to consider ways and means. Then, with his plans matured, he sailed over once more to Jersey.
Sad news awaited him. In his absence more rovers had arrived. A companion, leaving the completely enfeebled Helier hiding in a fissure in the rock, had hastened ashore to join the islanders and had thus escaped with his life.
The Saint was less fortunate. Attracted by the cries of scared sea birds, the raiders are said to have discovered the wretched recluse cowering in the cranny and to have murdered him there, but the statement that the companion discovered the decapitated body on the Islet, seems to imply that the Saint also had attempted to escape.
Though geologists have another explanation for the ruddy tint of the Hermitage rock, pious pilgrims for many a succeeding century ascribed it to the blood which was so cruelly shed when Helier gained a martyr's crown.
The following " Life of Saint Helier " is an extract, translated by the Rev. Father Christian Burdo, S.J., from the great work published in Antwerp in 1725 bv the Bollandists and entitled " Acta Sanctorum " (The lives of the Saints).
In this work each month has its own series of volumes. In the 4th volume of the July series, pp. 145-152 deal with Saint Helier. The article is divided into two parts, the first being a critical introduction and the second the " Acta " or Life of the Saint.
The introduction gives a short description of Jersey and quotes the then known authorities who mentioned Saint Helier,
The " Life " here translated was written, in the opinion of the learned Bollandist Fathers in, or after, the Xth century. Three versions of the "Life" existed in 1658, all apparently derived from the same source, the oldest being an ancient and damaged manuscript discovered in the city of Le Mans.
At the time when King Childebert ruled fearlessly over the whole of Gaul, (the savage Queen Brunechilde having perished), there lived among the Easterly people in the town of Tongres a certain nobleman named Sigebard.
He was remarkable for the extent of his possessions and the greater dignity of his birth. According to pagan reckoning he was in all things the mightiest man in those regions.
On attaining an age when marriage is natural, Sigebard espoused a girl named Lusegard whose father was of the tribe of the Bavari and whose mother was of the Suevi. Lusegard was distinguished, as was but fitting, for the nobility of her person, for the uprightness of her character and for the gentility of her descent.
Though endowed with youth and riches Sigebard and Lusegard became sad, for by the seventh year of their married life they were still without a child.
Now at that rime there was a holy man in the city named Cunibert who was much beloved and honoured by Christian and pagan alike. This good man used to visit the home of Sigebard in the hope of turning him from the worship of idols. And Sigebard, desiring a son, implored Cunibert to intercede with God on his behalf, promising that if his prayer were granted, the boy would be dedicated to the service of Our Lord.
The prayer of Cunibert was answered in due course, but the parents failed to fulfil their promise.
When the child reached the seventh year of his age he became sick of an incureable sickness. Sigebard, at the entreaty of the paralytic boy, tardily fulfilled his promise and handed him over to Cunibert. The holy man prayed over the sick child and he became whole again. Then did the Saint receive him as a catechumen, naming him Helier, that is to say Mercy, because by God's mercy he had become whole.
And so the Saint brought him into the church and cared for him and educated him, and they lived each in his own cell a holy and an ascetic life.
Then Helier made a little garden, marking off with a rod a part which he gave to the rabbits to enter as they would. Moreover by his prayers he restored sight to the eyes of a blind child and cured a woman of an issue of blood. Also he saved a man into whose mouth a snake had entered while he slept.
But Sigebard, hearing of these miracles, ascribed them to magic arts and set about to slay Cunibert, hoping thus to win back his own son.
And an angel came to Cunibert in his sleep and warned him. Nevertheless the servants of Sigebard fell upon him and struck off his head. And Helier buried him in the church.
On the night of the day when he buried Cunibert, Helier went forth weeping, distraught and unutterably sad. For six days through pathless woods he wandered from his country, and so came to the city of Therouanne, weary, hungry and full of sorrow. There he rested for two weeks in the house of a widow, who was a servant of God, and thence went to the church of Our Lady nearby where he glorified God by the mortification of his flesh.
For five years he lived there, cruel to his body. For food he had nought but bread and wild herbs. For drink, water. Next to his skin he wore a shirt of goat's hair and his bed was a rude log.
One day, after praying to God, he restored a dead child to life. Fearful of the adulation of the people, he rejoiced when in an ecstacy an angel appeared to him and told him to go to Nanteuil in Normandy, where Saint Marculf was. And thither he went, though sore tempted by the Devil to stay.
And on his way, hard by the river Canche, he miraculously purified a spring of water, which, unto this day is called the Fount of Saint Helier.
Then passing through the land of Ponthieu, he arrived in Normandy and sought for Saint Marculf and found him near Le Val Dun on a hill where was a church dedicated to Our Lady. And in this church on Christmas day, was Helier baptized by Saint Marculf.
Thereafter for the space of three months Helier abode with Marculf in Nanteuil, serving God. And at the beginning of the fourth month Marculf sent Helier to Gersut to live there as a hermit, and he gave him Romard as a companion to go with him to that place.
Then Romard and Helier came to a place called Genest, where from in a small craft, with the help of God, they reached the Island of Gersut, and found there not more than thirty people of both sexes. There were there many rocks, whereof on one was a lame man named Anchetil, whom Helier healed with his benediction. The marks of this miracle are there to this day.*
(* These "marks" probably gave their name to Havre-des-Pas, A chapel, built over them, and called La Chapelle des Pas was finally destroyed in 1814.)
There was also another rock, surrounded by the sea on both sides. And on it Helier cut a hollow in the rock and prepared his couch, one with neither purple nor down. Herein he took his rest as long as he lived.
Three years after his arrival, he was visited by Saint Marculf, who found him so weak and so emaciated by fasting and long vigils that he scarce could recognise him. And the two Saints when they met, embraced one another weeping, the tears running down their cheeks.
Whilst Marculf was yet in the Island there came a fleet of thirty vessels from the Orkney Islands, and Romard, seeing them, came in haste to Helier, saying : " Father. The robbers and ruffians are upon us."
Then Helier raising his head and opening his weary eyes, beheld the robber boats approaching. Seeking Marculf he took counsel with him and Marculf said " We will meet them with the weapons of God." And so the two Saints prostrated themselves and implored the Almighty to save them and all the people from the robbers. And the wrath of God fell upon the ruffians so that they slew one another. Of three thousand of them none survived to tell the tale. Then rose from their prayer the Saints and glorified God, in that he had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies.
Three days after their deliverance, Marculf and Romard parted from Heher, whom they were to see no more in this world.
But Helier with his companion remained there serving God day and night. He took food but once a week, mortifying his body in order to serve God the more freely. Thus he became so weak tnat he could not walk daily, further than one might cast a stone.
When he had been fifteen years in this Island Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared unto him and said : " Three days hence, 0 Beloved, shalt thou leave this world with a martyr's crown and come unto me."
And the next morning when his companion came over to visit him, he told him what had passed. Then was the companion filled with grief and affliction. Now it chanced on the next day when the wind blew in from the south, that a fleet of ships arrived and a great number of Vandals came from out of the ships and occupied all the Island. And Helier through weakness, but not through fear, lay a-hiding. Then, by God's will, the cries of birds led the Vandals to discover him and one of them, thinking him to be demented, drew his sword and strake off his head. In evidence whereof drops of blood may still be seen upon the rock and will ever remain thereon till the end of time. As for the Vandals, they departed out of the Island and went their way in great fear.
Then came the companion of Heher towards the rock and behold, his beheaded master had borne his severed head in his own hands two hundred paces to a certain land.
(* This can only mean the Islet)
There, in witness of the wonders worked by God for his master, he gave praise to One Who in such wise glorifies His Saints.
In order to arrive at the historic worth of this " Life of Saint Helier," we may compare it with the " Life of Saint Marculf," which is considered by the Bollandists to have been written prior to A.D. 640.
In this " Life " Helier is called Eletus or Helibertus, while Jersey is called Agnus or Agna. Both " Lives " are in agreement on certain points. For example, they both aver that the population of the Island consisted of thirty persons of both sexes.
In the " Life of Saint Marculf " the first invaders are called Saxons. Their attack is thus described :" Seeing so small a number preparing to oppose them, the invaders with loud cries began to disembark, confident that at the first thrust of their weapons the islanders would flee away. Some of them had already landed on the sands. The others were still in the boats when a sudden squall arose and drove them back into the open sea. There, the boats caught in a whirlwind and being unmanageable, broke the one with the other into violent collisions and so perished. Seeing that God was fighting for them at Marculf's intercession, the Islanders took heart and assailed those who had come ashore, slaughtering them one and all."
The " Life of Saint Marculf " also affords information with regard to the principal dates in the life of Saint Helier and leads us to assume that Helier was born between 510 and 520, that he came to Jersey between 535 and 545 and that he was killed between 550 and 56o.
The day assigned for his commemoration is July 16th.
Between the death of Helier and the next great invasion of sea-rovers into northern France, a period of about three centuries elapsed.
The local history of this period, scantily recorded as it is, deals wholly with matters ecclesiastical and advances us from an age of silly miracles and unlovely faqirs into one of normal sequences and alert clerics.
The credit of introducing Christianity into Jersey has always been assigned to the spectacular and unwholesome Helier. The practical Marculf, to whom the credit is really due has received none. No Jersey church or locality perpetuated his memory. And yet it was he who organised and founded the first monastic settlement in the Island. He planted it in the Islet, probably just after Helier's death. The extent and appearance of its buildings are unknown and no record tells us of the number of its congregation. It seems certain, nevertheless, that it functioned as an educational centre and played its part in spreading a doctrine which professed a kindlier outlook on life than that which had formerly prevailed.
The good Marculf died in the Islet in 558. Through the terror inspired by the Vikings his relics were transferred from Jersey to monastery after monastery on the mainland. They found a final resting place at Corbeny near Reims, where they vied with the Kings of France in curing people afflicted with scrofula or " the King's Evil."
Nantes also claimed to possess his relics.
After Marculf came Maglorious, alias Magloire or Mannelier. This saint is noted for his connection with Guernsey and Sark, in which island he died in 575. To save his relics from the pillaging Northmen they were brought to Jersey, probably in the IXth century. Here, his memory, unlike that of Marculf is still gratefully preserved.
As Jersey in turn proved incapable of affording protection to the relics, they were removed in 857 to the Priory of Lehon near Dinan. In 973 they were finally translated to Paris, where they were housed in a great church dedicated to him. Here they lay in the odour of sanctity during the next eight hundred and sixteen years, when the furious exponents of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity scattered them to the winds.
Before the end of the VIth century, the Islet became a place of refuge for its first pohtical exile. Pretextat, Archbishop of Rouen, in serious trouble with the Court, was wounded and thrown into prison in 577. With the connivance of friends he escaped and was painfully hurried across Neustria " to an island of the sea near to the city of Coutances."
Romicer, (Saint Romphaire), Bishop of Coutances, was a party to the evasion and maintained close touch with Pretextat during his eight years exile in the monastery in the Islet of Saint Helier.
Thus early did the connection between the See of Coutances and the islands originate. It matured in the Xth century, when the islands were parcelled out into ecclesiastical divisions called parishes, and endured till well into the XVIth century.
Pretextat's sojourn in the Islet was undisturbed by his enemies, and in consequence, he was able to devote all his energies and experience to the elaboration of the work initiated by Marculf and Magloire. He even composed certain theological treatises there, which he caused to be laid before the Council of Macon, a Council notable for a declaration that the word " man " might be taken to include women.
Pretextat, thinking that his position was by then secure, returned in 585 to Rouen and was promptly murdered in his own cathedral.
The next manuscript of importance to be written on the spot where Pretextat composed his treatise, was penned by Edward Hyde, the Lord Chancellor, one thousand and seventy years later.
To follow the confused and tumultuous events which north-west Europe witnessed in the Vllth, Vlllth and IXth centuries cannot here be attempted.
Four of them, nevertheless, may be mentioned :
(i) the conversion to Christianity during the Vllth century of the Anglo-Saxon kinglets of England who, when not fighting each other continued to wage war against the descendants of the Keltic Britons whom their forefathers had driven into the west.
(ii) the great victory of Charles Martel in 732 near Tours over an invading army of Musalmans from Africa and Spain. Tours is only 180 miles south-east of Jersey.
(iii) the administrative and military successes of the emperor Charles the Great (Charlemagne), the grandson of Charles Martel, (768-814.), who created and consolidated a vast empire and secured his land frontiers from the invasions of various fierce pagan Teutonic and other nations.
(iv) the general maintenance by the Keltic Armoricans of their hold on the Cotentin, the Channel Islands and Brittany.
The surviving records of all these momentous years contain only one direct reference to Jersey. This reference is to be found in the Chronicle of the Abbey of Fontenelle and runs as follows :" The Abbot Gerald (Gerwaldus), was sent by Charles the Great on a diplomatic mission to Augia, an island inhabited by Bretons and adjacent to the coasts of the Cotentin, which latter country was then administered by a governor named Arnwarith."
In Gerald we see a type of cleric which was to become notoriously powerful in later days. This able Abbot served Charlemagne on many important diplomatic missions and was intrusted with negotiations demanding tact, skill and firmness. The object of his journey to Jersey is not stated, but it may be inferred that the Emperor desired first-hand information on this distant frontier of his dominions ; the more especially as a recrudescence of the unwelcome visits of sea-rovers from the turbulent North was making itself felt along the coasts of the Channel.
As the IXth century grew older, the raids increased in ferocity and duration. Just as the Musalmans turned the western flank of Christendom by conquering Spain and invading France, so did the Northmen pierce the flank of the Empire by invading Neustria and Aquitaine. From every monastery standing within sound of the sea, the daily prayer : " From the fury of the Northmen, good Lord deliver us," rose fervently to the high heavens.
The trembling monks of the Channel Islands, finding prayer of no avail, removed their treasures and relics to the mainland while the going was good.
Hence the exodus from the islands of the revered anatomical portions of departed saints, of which mention has already been made.
Of the actual destruction of the first Monastery of St. Helier in the Islet, no details can be given. The ruins of its pillaged buildings must have persisted as shapeless mounds. The monks, we feel sure, perished at their posts.
Tradition alone outlived the calamity and on that tradition, as the next chapter will show, the Monastery of Saint Helier rose again from its ruins.
So much had happened since the great invasions of the Northmen descended on the Channel coasts in the second half of the IXth century, that in recording the resurrection of the monastery ill the Islet of Saint Helier in 1155, we seem to be dealing with an entirely new world.
The virile Normans are now a mighty nation. Their Dulce is Henry II, King of England and Lord of a huge territory stretching from the Cheviots to the Pyrenees. For two centuries they have all been good Christians and have proved their firm belief in the faith by founding and endowing numberless religious establishments wherein priests mutter unceasing prayers for the welfare of their souls.
The new monastic buildings were situated on the flat ground under the lee of the mass of rock on which the Mount or Keep of Elizabeth Castle was eventually to stand.
They consisted of a Church and a number of small contiguous structures which served as dwellings, stores and offices for the monks.
Probably also some of the poorer local people had their humble hutments in the Islet and served the Fraternity in menial capacities or helped them in their fishing and vraic cutting.
Of this long occupation no relics have survived. The entire surface of the Islet has been dug, re-dug and shifted during the course of fortifyings and sieges and no mediaeval pottery, coin, or implement appears to have been unearthed or preserved.
As there are not any springs in the Islet, the monastic water-supply must have been dependant on stored rain-water. When the Priory Church was blown up in the siege of 1651, the records state that certain cisterns were destroyed with it. There is every reason to suppose that they had originally been constructed by the monks.
It is fortunate that one year prior to this disaster an artist-engraver of considerable skill had come to the Castle with Charles II. This artist was a Bavarian named Wentzel Hollar and it is to him that we owe the only existing pictures of the Priory Church. Small as these etchings are, it is evident that they were made with care and considerable accuracy.
Two arches of the ruined Church survived till about 1730, when they were removed during the reconstruction of the fortifications. They appear in Thomas Phillips' drawing of 1680.
The documents from which the following short history of the Abbey and Priory of Saint Helier is compiled, consist mainly of Royal Charters, Papal Bulls and official letters preserved in various Departmental Archives in France and published by the Societe Jersiaise in the " Cartulaire des Iles Anglo- Normandes," 1924.
The founder of the new Abbey of Saint Helier was Guillaume, son of Hamon, otherwise William Fitz-Hamon, a lord of importance at the court of Henry, Duke of Normandy, who became Henry II of England. He attained high rank in the King's service. In 1166 he was Seneschal of Nantes and in 1172 Seneschal of Brittany. He died in or near 1176.
The compilers of the " Cartulaire " have assigned, on good evidence, 1155 as the date of the founding of Saint Helier's Abbey.
Fiz-Hamon's pious act, performed in honour of in obscure local saint who had perished six centuries previously, a date as far removed from Fitz- Hamon as we are from the battle of Crecy, provides us with a good example of the tenacity of tradition.
The Abbey was well endowed. In 1172, "Henry, King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou " confirms by Charter to the Abbey and to the Canons who serve God therein, revenues derived from the Town Mill, the Marsh of Saint Helier and the patronage of the Church of the Holy Trinity.
In the same year, one Jourdain de Barneville sold to Benjamin, Abbot of St. Helier, various lands in Jersey and on the neighbouring coast of Normandy. The deed of sale was affirmed in the Chapter of the Abbey by Maitre Marcher, and elsewhere by Fitz-Hamon and the Bishop of Coutances.
Envious eyes were cast on these properties and endowments.
It seems that the Order of Saint Augustine had two sections or branches, one of Artois and one of Paris.
The Abbey of Saint Helier belonged to the former branch, while the Abbey of Our Lady of the Vow of Cherbourg belonged to the latter.
The Empress Matilda, mother of Henry II, having decided to restore the Abbey of Cherbourg had appointed Robert, Abbot of Saint Helier, to carry out her wishes. His rule there being guided by the discipline of Artois, excited the displeasure of the Paris section and they, on Abbot Robert's death, hid one of their own discipline appointed in his succession.
The unfortunate upshot of all this unseemly bickering was the amalgamation of the Abbeys in 1179 and the degradation of the Abbey of Saint Helier to the status of Priory. Our Abbey, though three times as rich as the Abbey of the Vow, thus became a dependency, its wealth being absorbed and administered by its superior, under the discipline of St. Victor of Paris.
The event is thus summarised by the chronicler, Robert de Torigny :
" Walter, Archbishop of Rouen was authorised by Our Lord Henry, King of the English, to affiliate the Abbey of Saint Heher in the Island of Gersoi, (which William, son of Hamon had founded), with the Abbey of the Vow near Cherbourg, built by the Empress mother of Henry the King."
The official authority for the merger,if such a vulgar expression be permitted,is set forth in Archbishop Rotrou's Charter of 1179. The Charter which is addressed to the Abbot and Brethren of the Monastery of Saint Mary of Cherbourg, expresses the opinion that that Monastery and the Abbey of Saint Helier are too poor to stand alone. He therefore decides to reorganise them as one flock under one shepherd. To give this effect, he promotes the Abbey of Cherbourg to the position of head-quarters and reduces the Abbey of Saint Helier to the rank of Priory. Benjamin, Abbot ot Saint Helier, was then installed as Abbot of Saint Mary and thus became the first Abbot of the united Monasteries.
On May the 13th, 1180, Pope Alexander III addressed a Bull to Benjamin, Abbot of Saint Mary of the Vow, confirming his appointment and taking the Abbey under his protection. In this document the sources of revenue are mentioned. They include the properties of Saint Helier's Abbey, already detailed, as well as others in England, Scotland, Normandy, Guernsey and Herm. About the same time an addition to local property is recorded.
Renaud de Carteret in his own name and in that of his father, gives and concedes to the Church and Canons of Saint Helier by charter, about one and three-quarters acres of land in the Val de la Mare " for the love of God and for the salvation of my own soul and the souls of my ancestors."
A series of Charters may now be mentioned which confirm the " merger charter of 1179. "
First is the Charter of Walter, Archbishop of Rouen, confirming his predecessor's charter of 1179. It was issued about 1185. Its provisions demand the maintenance of at least five Canons in the Islet.
Second, about 1186, comes a Charter of Henry II.
Thirdly, on August the 24th, 1186, Pope Urban III confirms by Bull to the Canons of the Monastery of Saint Helier their various endowments.
Nine months later the same Pope addressed a Bull to the Abbot and Brethren of Notre Dame de Cherbourg confirming in turn their possessions, among which is the Monastery of Saint Heher.
Thus we learn that the religious establishment founded in honour of the blessed Helier in the Islet in 1155 only ranked as an Abbey for four and twenty short years. Thereafter as a Priory its importance waned. Served by half a dozen monies and remote from the world, it exercised no political and little piritual influence. During the ensuing centuries documentary evidences of its existence become fewer and finally fail outright. Then at last, in a blinding flash, it emerges momentarily from its agelong obscurity, only to disappear for ever amid the crash of cannon and the groans of stricken men. Nevertheless it is not right to infer that because succeeding generations of Islet monks have left no records, they passed their lives in peace and quiet. The truth is far otherwise. From the commencement of the Xlllth century, the wars between the French and English Kings brought untold miseries to the Islanders. Sudden and cruel raids were of frequent occurrence, and in these, the properties of the Church were often no more immune from pillage and destruction than were the dwellings and fields of the laity.
The subject is dealt with in " The Official Guide Book to Gorey Castle," to which it more properly belongs.
In addition to these military alarms, were the complications caused by the local ecclesiastical administration being in the hands of the King's enemies. This was a matter directly affecting the Islet establishment. The restrictions and confiscations enforced by Edward III and Henry V cannot possibly have been welcomed by the Prior and his Canons, despite the fact that they do not seem entirely to have ousted the influence of the Bishops of Coutances. It remained for the inimitable Henry VIII to settle that matter, and from that date the Priory Church in the Islet began to fall into further decay. There are two episodes, however, directly connected with the Priory and the Islet which justify special notice.
The first happens to be one of the most important political events in the history of the Cliannel Islands and produced what may justly be termed a Declaration of Rights. The men of Jersey and Guernsey, in making this Declaration, were well aware of the peril they incurred, for their action, judged by the standard of the times, amounted to rebellion, if not to high treason against the King's Majesty.
The late E. T. Nicolle, Viscount of Jersey, in his book " The Town of St. Helier " gives such an admirable summary of the affair, that I cannot refrain from quoting it.
" The Assize Rolls of the Justices Itinerant of the reigns of Edward I, II and III are documents of great importance in the study of the early history of Jersey. They give a graphic picture of the condition of the islanders and of the exactions to which they were subjected. The Kings of England took care that these Justices visited the Islands at more than regular intervals, ostensibly for the purpose of rendering justice to poor and rich alike; but in perusing their proceedings one cannot fail to be struck with the fact that the King's revenues and profits were never lost sight of, and the great number of amercements and fines inflicted on the most frivolous grounds, fines which found their way, of course, into the Royal Exchequer, leads one to the inevitable conclusion that there existed under the Plantagenet Kings a very intimate connection between judicature and finance. . . . Money was extorted on the most trivial of pretences. Fines were paid to procure grants and confirmation of liberties and franchises of markets, fairs, free warren, for exemption from tolls, pontage, etc., to obtain justice and right, to delay trials in civil cases, for licence to trade, for pardons for crimes committed, and even for the compounding of felonies. Everything and anything was turned into a source of Royal revenue and profit.
So harassed and exasperated were the Islanders with these exactions and with the disregard paid by the Itinerant Justices to their privileges and franchises, that they formed themselves into an association and pledged themselves at the peril of their lives to defend their liberties and rights.
It was in 1331, just previous to the advent of the Justices. . that a unique gathering of some of the most notable and influential men of the Islands met in the Priory of St. Helier.. In the Priory Church they took a solemn and unanimous oath to defend their rights. Faithful to their oath, they presented themselves in Guernsey at the bar of the Justices to the number of five hundred.
They put forward their complaints and pleaded their cause with a strong sense of the righteousness of their claims."
Nicolle here groups the claims under no less than 17 heads, and continues:
" In presence of such claims and of such a show of independence we must not be surprised that the Justices were somewhat taken back, and looking with great disfavour upon the proceedings, demurred to the demands put forward. The petitioners evidently perceiving this, shouted in the Audience-hall " Yes, Yes, Yes "" in contempt " say the Justices, "of the lord the King, to the terror of the people, and what was perhaps uppermost in their minds at the moment, to the danger of their lives." However, the Justices do not appear to have lost their presence of mind and the Viscount was ordered to arrest the ringleaders as rebels. They were tried, but acquitted by the jury and discharged. The Justices however did not accept this as final and declared in their judgment that the matter was one of their own competence."
The rebels were cited again to appear before the Justices in Jersey, but only one complied and he was duly fined. The arrest of the defaulters was ordered, but with what effect is not known.
The actual result of this determined stand on the part of the Islanders, apart from the personal loss it may have caused to some of them, lies in the fact that on the l8th of July, 1341, Edward confirmed to the Islanders their ancient customs and privileges.
The chief pride of the Jerseyman is his constitutional freedom. Nevertheless he has forgotten that the Islet is his Runnymede.
This episode, though of a more terrible nature than the first, had no permanent results; but having been chronicled by an actual participant gifted with an observant eye and the power of being able to set down in writing what he saw, gives us a rare glimpse of the Islet and the Island in 1406.*
Pero Nino, the hero of this adventure, was a Castilian captain of galleys. Born about 1378, he saw service against the Barbary Corsairs in 1403. In 1405, he joined forces with the French Admiral Charles de Savoisy and raided the south coast of England, pillaging Falmouth and Portsmouth and burning Poole. After wintering in Norman ports, he and the French Admiral resumed their offensive in the Channel. Parting company in the autumn, Nino headed for home accompanied by nine Norman whalers. Somewhere off the coasts of the Cotenrin they fell in with a large fleet of Frenchmen en route to load up with salt at the isle of Batz in Brittany. The leaders of this fleet came came abord Nine's galley and suggested it were a pity to leave the neighbourhood without paying a visit to the rich island of Jersey where much honour and a reasonable amount of booty awaited a man of enterprise such as himself.
The suggestion seemed eminently sound to Nino ; but being a commander who tempered valour with discretion, he decided to proceed to the nearest French port and advertise for a few lusty allies. His call to arms met with an immediate response. Crowds of venturesome warriors flocked down to the concentration, notable among whom was Hector de Pontbriand. And so, with a small army of Castilian, Breton and Norman adventurers all thirsting for loot and glory, he set sail for Jersey.
They arrived in St. Aubin's bay during the afternoon of October the 7th. Gutierre Diaz de Garnez, the banner bearer and chronicler of Pero Nino, now gives us to understand that there were certain elements among the shipmen whose want of discipline was only equalled by their want of intellect. These "men of scanty brain" as he calls them, strictly against orders, went ashore to gather shellfish, for the ride was low.
The Jerseymen, who had for hours watched the approach of the fleet, made the most of this opportunity and charging down the sands drove the shipmen helter-skelter to tneir boats, killing or capturing the laggards.
This easy victory, says de Garnez, misled the Jerseymen as to the real metal of their opponents and was the direct cause of the next day's disaster. Seeing that it was now inadvisable to attempt a landing in force, Nino decided to occupy the Island and elobaret a plan of action for the following day. As there were only a few poor monks and a church in the Islet, .and no Marculf to perform the necessary miracle, the occupation met with no opposition. Nino at once placed piquets and sentries along the northern end of the Islet and dismissed the remainder of his men to their bivouacs. The officers were assembled to discuss the situation. A plan of action was adopted and everyone settled down for the night.
At dawn on the following morning, that is to say rather before 6.30, all weas ready for the gret adventure. The " Bridge " was clear. The tide was a neap tide, due to reach its lowest limit at about 8 a.m. The invaders therefore had plenty of time to effect an orderly advance on a narrow front, their flanks being protected for part of the distance by rough shingle and the sea.
Nino was now placing his men on what the old Chinese Book of War calls " Death Ground." He had ordered his fleet to leave the proximity of the shore and anchor well out in the bay, retaining only his three galleys at hand in case of need. In these, however, he placed a few archers with orders to shoot down deserters mercilessly.
Before issuing from the northern end of the Islet he inspected his troops and satisfied himself that every officer and man fully understood the orders which had been promulgated the night before. The advance then commenced. His opponents meanwhile had had the whole night in which to concentrate on the Dunes of St. Helier, for it was obvious that Nino would have to launch his attack at that point. They had also time to withdraw their non-combatants to the shelter of Gorey Castle, Grosnez Castle and the great Earthwork at Trinity and to prepare those strongholds for a determined defence. In this breathing-space the islanders were fottunate, for as a rule raids descended on the island with but a few hours warning.
Only thirty-three years previously the brutal Bertrand du Guesclin had suddenly fallen upon them and with his accustomed ferocity had burnt up the countryside, slaughtered the people and forced the defiant garrison of Gorey Castle to purchase their freedom at a heavy cost.
Now, however, they were able to mass their men at a spot where every tactical advantage lay in their hands. They had but to stand firm on the crests of the sand hills and overwhelm their adversaries with a storm of arrows as they foiled upwards, and then, at the critical moment, to charge either or both flanks of their enemy with their two hundred horsemen.
Unfortunately the skirmish on the sands of the previous evening had given them a false estimate of the enemy and as we shall see they cast all their advantages to the winds and suffered a crushing defeat.
As far as numbers are concerned, the Jersey commander probably mobilised as many as 1500 foot soldiers and 200 horsemen. De Gamez's estimate of 3000 would give the island a population of about 20,000 persons, which is excessive. Their discipline was poor. As individuals they were, no doubt, hardy and brave ; but they had no knowledge of concerted action or of orderly mass movement. Nino's force on the other hand was a compact body of some 1100 fighting men. It was officered by men of experience who were working on. a well considered plan. On issuing from. the Islet, Nino, addressing his troops, summed up the situation thus :"My friends, you are now in the country of your enemies. See. There they are in battle array awaiting you. Many they are, but you have the better of them in valour and in strength. Behind you is the ocean. To flee is to perish in the waters. To surrender is to die at the hands of the pitiless English. Let each of you therefore play the man and fight for victory, honour and glory. Behold, how rich their land is. There it lies for valiant hearts to tonquer. In the name of Saint James our Patron, stand to it like heroes. ''
Confident in victory, with the banner of St. George waving over them, the Jerseymen on the dunes eagerly awaited the order to charge.
And then the advance began. In front went the wall of great shields or pavises manned by archers and crossbowmen, and supported By light-armed skirmishers or " pillards," The wall was marshalled into two sections, each of sixty shields. It covered the front and flanks of the " battle," Each section was commanded by a chosen man-at-arms. Forty paces behind the pavisade came the main body or " battle." It was composed of about one thousand heavily armed men, Casrillians, Normans and Brctons, all afoot under their respective knights, whose positions were marked by their own personal standards.
In the midst of the leaders was Nino in full armour, but helmetless. By his ride de Garnez carried his banner. Thus they came step by step over the Bridge, the pavisade advancing and halting and the " batttle " conforming to the movement.
The engagement opened with an advance of the Jersey horsemen. Led by an English Imight they threatened halF-heartedly to envelope the left flank of the invaders ; but being received with a hail of quarrels from the pavisade, withdrew back to their own advancing first line.
When Nino saw this force surge forward to the attack, he caused his trumpets to sound and advanced his whole force slightly to meet it. The movement seems to have been carried out with precision and a moment later the English were on them. Their advance rapidly lost all sense of cohesion and degenerated as it drew near into a sort of dervish charge. Horse and foot intermingled came hurtling down the sands in mad uproar. Ranks were broken and formations lost. A shouting and infuriated mob rolled like a vast wave towards the pavisade, broke upon it and recoiled, stricken by a storm of quarrels, darts and stones. Then the pillards rushed out to capture riderless horses and slash at the fallen.
The first onslaught had failed, but now came on the second line in good array. This was composed of the " battle," a thousand well-ordered men-at-arms, fairly under control in serried ranks. This force burst through the already shaken pavisade and brought the rival " battles " face to face.
Such was the fury of the onslaught that for a few terrible moments Nino thought that all was lost. But let us quote the eyewitness :" When the battles met, some fine spear-thrusts were exchanged and many fell on both sides. Then dropping their lances, the combatants took to their axes and swords and a fierce melee commenced. There could be seen helms stricken from breastplates ; here, body-armour broken from limbs, or weapons falling from dying hands. Men grappled body to bodv or staggered about slashing at each other with their daggers. Many sank senseless on the sands, while others vainly strove to rise, with blood gushing from their wounds."
The combat was so furious and the melee such, that even the victors could scarce stand upright. So brave indeed were both sides and so desperately did they fight, that had not Nino kept his head,in every sense of the words, few would have survived to tell the tale.
Nino, however, observing that the banner of St. George still waved above the Jersey centre, though many a knight's standard had already fallen, decided to make a supreme effort to overwhelm it. " As long," cried he " as that banner flies, so long will the English refuse defeat. We must capture it or perish." By some means he detached Hector de Pontbriand and fifty men-at- arms from the " battle " and entrusted to them this desperate business. De Garnez, too, was in the thick of it, for he says, " Here were some fine cavaliers " who met the sudden stroke without flinching. But down went the banner of St. George and down went " The King's Receiver." '* I saw him fall dying at my feet," writes de Garnez. And that settled the issue of the combat.
For now the English wavered and broke. Tearing away in a wild " sauve qui peut " they cast offhelms, harness and shields in order to flee the quicker. So exhausted were the victorious men-at-arms that pursuit was not possible. Wounded, dying, gasping and groaning, they remained rooted to the spot amid the debris of the struggle. Only the shipmen, the pillards and the archers went forward into the country pillaging and burning fearlessly.
Nino now reformed his main body and occupied the line of dunes. Then mounting a number of knights on captured horses he rode off to round up the wild men who had gone a-pillaging. Meanwhile the galleys were able to approach on the rising tide, and on Nine's return the weary force was embarked in them and ferried back to the Islet, where, de Garnez says, food was being cooked against their arrival. The remainder of the day was spent in recuperating from the excitement and fatigues of the morning. Wounds and contusions were tended and the dead buried.
The leaders again held a council of war and plans for the morrow were settled.
Early on Octoher the 9th. Nino and his men evactuated the Islet and left the poor monks to resume the quiet routine which had been so suddenly and so rudely shattered.
The invaders now marched off inland. There was no more fighting.
A delegation of island notables met Nino within sight of the " ville " or great Earthwork, and after a good deal of haggling accepted his terms.
Nino returned to the neighbourhood of the " Bridge " in the afternoon with his hostages, his gold, his booty, and his glory. And as night descended on the island he had ravaged, he was once again out at sea, heading for Brest.