Tuesday, 6 September 2011

An island divided dividing islands

The English Civil War pitted fathers against sons, brothers against brothers in the bitter conflict between King and Parliament that divided the country. The enmity spread far beyond the borders of England. Although routinely referred to as the English Civil War, its effects were felt in Scotland, Ireland and England’s overseas colonies.

Even the Channel Islands would succumb to intrigue and division. Jersey, the largest of the islands, remained in the hands of the Royalists under George de Carteret. It became a place of refuge for the future Charles II, as recounted in an inscription: “he has been twice received in safety when he was excluded from the remainder of his dominions ... during the fury of the civil wars.”

Given the rivalry between the islands, it is perhaps no surprise that Guernsey sided with Parliament. Well, most of Guernsey. Castle Cornet, overlooking St. Peter Port and under the Governorship of Peter Osborne, remained loyal to the King. One explanation for the people of Guernsey’s anti-Royalist sentiment was the high proportion of Calvinists on the island.

The fortress and town would exchange intermittent cannon and musket fire for the best part of a decade, riddling both the castle and waterfront with shot and damaging many buildings. Castle Cornet survived amidst its hostile hinterland by receiving supplies from neighbouring, and Royalist, Jersey. By the end of the Civil War, the castle would be the last point of Royalist resistance in the British Isles, finally succumbing to Parliamentary forces on 17 December 1551 (Jersey’s Elizabeth Castle surrendered on 12 December 1551).

Jersey was rewarded for its loyalty on the Restoration, with Charles II presenting a sumptuous Royal Mace to the Bailiff of Jersey on 28 November 1663. Guernsey was left to implore Charles II for his “gracious pardon” for having “quitted their dutys to obedience to their native Soverain”. Clemency was granted on 13 August 1660. 

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