That Was Jersey
Local history for everyone
Jersey lies close to France, while owing allegiance to the English sovereign. As England and France have frequently been at war during the last thousand years, Jersey’s position has made her vulnerable, particularly around the coast of Grouville nearest to France.
In the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, there were eight planned attacks on Jersey by the French. Only one of these succeeded (in 1461) when Pierre de Brézé came to the island; his success was ended when Vice-Admiral Richard Harliston (remembered still by the Tower at Mont Orgueil named for him) arrived with his fleet in 1468, and by working with the de Carterets of St Ouen, laid siege to the castle, defeating the French soldiers. These were days of romantic and dangerous actions, and stories abound of loyalty and intrigue. The most serious threat to the Island came in 1781, and it was this invasion that led to the Battle of Jersey.
The French and English were at war, and the French thought that the capture of Jersey would be a good military (or political) move. Baron de Rullecourt landed at La Rocque, early on January 6th. He and his army were unchallenged as they moved towards St Helier: those responsible for coast defence at La Rocque had concentrated on their Christmas festivities and were not at their posts.
De Rullecourt and his small army marched into St Helier and took over the Market Place (now the Royal Square). He ordered the Island’s Lieutenant-Governor (Moses Corbet) to surrender; Corbet was deceived by the Baron’s description of his army and he believed there were thousands of trained men who had overthrown the town and would soon take the whole island. He surrendered.
The Island was not so easily won. Captain Mulcaster at Elizabeth Castle had refused to surrender. Major Peirson marched his regiment to the edge of the town, joined up with other confused groups of soldiers who had been told not to fight, and led his army down from Gallows Hill (Westmount).
The Battle of Jersey took place in the Royal Square. It was short but fierce, and both military leaders were fatally wounded in the fighting. As Peirson died, Lieutenant Dumaresq urged the saddened soldiers to finish off the battle. Jersey had survived an invasion force, and retained her independence.
Following the Battle, the States of Jersey wrote to the Major's father to express their gratitude for his son's courage and sacrifice.
For more information on Major Peirson, go to People, and look at the St Helier section.
This copy of the document is reproduced here "Courtesy of the Jersey Archive".
A larger copy of this document, giving scope for more detailed study, is available here.
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There is no evidence that the artist John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) ever visited Jersey. His painting of the climax of the Battle of Jersey is well-known within the Island, but only occasionally does it receive wider interest. A copy was painted by William Holyoake (1834-94); this was purchased by the Island in 1866, and hangs in the Royal Court. The original painting is in the care of the Tate Gallery.
This copy of the painting is reproduced here "Courtesy of the Jersey Heritage Trust, Société Jersiaise Collection". A larger copy of the painting, giving scope for more detailed study, is available here.
To see the larger copy, you may need to adjust your browser settings. Go to Tools/Internet Options; choose the Advanced tab; go to Multimedia, and uncheck "Enable automatic image resizing"; apply, and OK.
La Croix de la Bataille, at the top of Grouville Hill, commemorates a more mercenary invasion in the fifteenth century. A Spanish nobleman made his career looting and plundering coastal areas. He landed in 1406 at St Helier Hermitage. His men were involved in fights and skirmishes which were inconclusive until after the last battle which was fought on the top of Grouville Hill, giving it the name of Blood Hill.
There have been other attempts to land in Jersey. Les Minquiers is the local name for an area of islets and rocks to the south of Jersey. At low water the area exposed is larger than Jersey, but at high tide, there remains a much smaller area, with a small group of houses. These were used as a base for Jersey fishermen. There has often been argument over ownership of this area, resulting in a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 1953 that the Minquiers are part of Jersey; they are included in the parish of Grouville.
Following de Rullecourt’s landing at La Rocque, the next foreign invasion force would be the German army, who stayed for 5 years in what became known as The Occupation (1940 - 1945).
The 20th century saw two wars known as "world wars" due to the fact so many nations were involved in them. The First World War was also known as the Great War, taking place from 1914 until 1918; it was hoped that as a result of that war, there would be peace in Europe for a long time. Sadly this hope was not fulfilled, and in 1939 the Second World War started, lasting into 1945.
During both of these world conflicts, there were people from Jersey serving the British sovereign (King George V in the Great War, and King George VI in the Second World War) and serving in the Armed Forces and in other ways. Jersey also contributed to the Great War by housing a Prisoner of War camp at Blanches Banques on the dunes of St Ouen's Bay. There is still some evidence of huts and habitation from that period. More detailed information on all aspects of the Great War and its impact in the Channel Islands is available from the Channel Islands Great War study group.
During the Second World War, Jersey was invaded and occupied by Germany and people who were trapped in Jersey then were unable to leave and had to remain for the duration of the Occupation.
There are memorials in the Island listing those who were killed in the wars; the Remembrance Day Service held each year remembers these people, and usually takes place by the Cenotaph in St Helier. The Cenotaph is a memorial to people who are buried in other places.
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