Life in Jersey in the 1600s

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Life in Jersey
in the 1600s

By A C Saunders

On the wall on the left hand side as you enter the door of St Helier's Church there is a tablet erected to the memory of the leader of the Parliamentary party in Jersey.

Cy Gist MICHEL LEMPRIERE Bailli de Jersey 1643. 1651-1660

Michel Lempriere

Michel Lempriere, Seigneur of Maufant, was the son of Hugh Lempriere, Seigneur of Dielement, and Jeanne, the daughter of the Greffier, John Herault. He was born about the year 1600 and died in 1671. He became Bailiff under Parliament in 1643, on the death of Sir Philip de Carteret, and later from 1651 until 1660.

In 1643, after the arrival of Sir George Carteret, he fled to England. He returned to Jersey in 1651 when Admiral Blake arrived with his fleet and reconquered the Island for Parliament. He was then reappointed Bailiff and remained as such until the Restoration, when he entered into private life.

He was a strong personality with great ability. He had been educated at Samur, where he matriculated at the Protestant university, and afterwards continued his studies at Oxford. When still in his twenties he was elected a Jurat of the Royal Court, where he formed friendships with Dumaresq, of Samares, and the younger Herault.

For many years there had been a feud between the families of de Carteret and Lempriere, and the greed of Sir Philip de Carteret in making use of his power to seize all the best appointments in the Island did not tend to lessen the inherited hatred of one who, cultured and ambitious, was forced to recognize there was no scope for his great abilities in his native Island. They were two ambitious men waiting for an opportunity to spring at one another and ready to use any advantage to bring about the downfall of the other.

Sir Philip had another hated enemy in Dean Bandinel, whom he had tried to deprive of certain tithes in the Parish of St Saviour, which had been allotted as part of the emoluments of his office of Dean, and here he had made another unscrupulous enemy who would go far in his endeavours to bring about his downfall.

When Sir Philip tried to uphold the sovereignity of his master, Lempriere and his supporters took the side of Parliament and a fight began which was carried on without quarter from either side. It was a fight not altogether for justice, but for place and power, and Sir Philip happened to be the man in power.

The ordinary people cared little or nothing for either Parliament or King, or the injustices which the legislators were trying to reform. It mattered little to them whether King or Parliament ruled over the land. If anything, they were Royalists and knew what they could expect, and did not care to adventure under new rulers they knew nothing about. But the Church had considerable power in the Island, and the Bandinels and Pierre d'Assigny, Rector of St Helier, had become powerful and eloquent enemies of Sir Philip. These men were not too scrupulous in the methods they adopted to set their ignorant congregations against the Royalist Bailiff and Lieut-Governor.

The States of Jersey were constituted by Queen Elizabeth in 1591 and were composed of a Bailiff, 12 Jurats, 12 parish priests and 12 Constables. The Jurats were chosen by the greater part and number of the States, with the approval of the Governor. The Constables were selected in each parish by those who could freely spend the annual rent of three quarters of wheat. It was not until the Order in Council of 1677 that the Constables were elected for three years and relieved of the possibility of losing office at the whim of the Governor and Jurats.

Seigneurs' power

The only power in the land was that held by the Seigneurs, who did not fail to uphold their rights under the feudal system. The ordinary people had to obey the whims of these petty lords and had little or no will-power of their own. The poor people were very little removed from absolute slavery.

They were employed in farming, fishing and knitting, but the cultivation of the land was very primitive and people lived under very miserable conditions. Fortunately the Island was favoured with a good climate, but even with this advantage its inhabitants suffered from time to time the terrible ravages of plagues and other contagious diseases, sometimes compelling the legislators to remove their court away from the town to some more healthy part of the Island. Few people could read, and even those who could took very little interest in anything but their personal affairs and the doings of their neighbours. They had no incentive to work, and the man of intelligence had great difficulty to avoid getting into trouble, as it was so easy in those days to acquire the reputation of being an insolent disorderly person on the pathway to the gallows.

Every inducement of progress was discouraged and the people went through their existence in a state of poverty, ignorance, and discontent. They neglected the cultivation of their land to such an extent that sufficient corn was not grown in the Island to supply the wants of the inhabitants.

There were not enough houses to provide each family with a separate dwelling, hence there was much overcrowding of families together under the most unhealthy conditions. There was no encouragement to shipping, and the only shelters that the Island possessed were a small harbour on the eastern side of the Castle, and another at St Aubin's Fort. There was a shelter for boats near the brook under the Churchyard of St Helier, and an unfinished pier at the Havre Neuf near the Western point of the town hill.

As young men grew up and saw the misery around them, they either settled down to the Jersey life, or, if they were intelligent enough, left the Island to seek their fortunes elsewhere. They helped to man the vessels of France and other countries and hundreds of these young Islanders found their way to plantations abroad, where their services were appreciated and they could find a proper outlet for their individuality.

Many men became fishermen and sailors for in those days the waters round the Island abounded with congers and other fish.

Tyranny of the Church

Apart from the feudal system, the people suffered from the tyranny of the Church. Many of the parish churches were filled with aliens from other parts. Bandinel, the Dean, was an Italian, Pierre d'Assigny, the Rector of St Helier, was a Frenchman, who, a little time before his arrival in Jersey, had been a monk.

These men, having acquired the ecclesiastical power in the Island, used their influence to increase the power of the Church. Church discipline in those days was a matter of vital consideration. The Church had acquired a very great power and the ministers and elders "are to oversee the life and manners of Christ's flock, diligently employing themselves to admonish and reprehend such as are faulty and reconcile such as are at difference".

They had the power to forbid unacceptable people to attend the House of God and the Lord's Supper. If anyone disobeyed the pastorial advice and continued defiant, the Church could excommunicate a man or woman.

If a man became defiant and the Church determined to punish him by excommunication, on the first Sunday the people attending the parish church (in those days every person had to attend church) were exhorted to pray for the offender, whose name was not given.

On the second Sunday the parson mentioned the name of the culprit but not his crime, and on the third Sunday the person was named, the offence mentioned, the excommunication was confirmed and the sinner cast out of the bosom of the Church and excluded from public worship or the teaching of the Gospel.

People were liable to be judged by the company they kept, and it became a sin to associate with excommunicated people. Life therefore became a burden to the sinner, but if eventually he repented of his sin and asked for absolution, notice was given to the people the Sunday before he was to be re-established. On the second Sunday the sinner was brought before the pulpit in some prominent place and there publicly he made confession of his sin and asked pardon of God and man.

The threat of excommunication was a great weapon in the hands of the clergy, especially as they considered it their duty to make enquiries into the habits of the several families in their parishes, their lives and conversations, whether they had morning and evening prayer and said grace before and after meals, and, in order to get the real facts of the case they could question not only the neighbours but also the servants of the household.

They could punish people for using bad language. There is a case mentioned of a man being accused by the Church of using blasphemous language, who was expelled from one of the Islands with the penalty that if he should return he would he nailed by the right ear to the pilliory for an hour, whipped through the town and deprived of all his goods and chattels.

Fear of Hell

When the King and State began the civil wars Jersey was in the hands of some half a dozen people with Sir Philip de Carteret as Lieut-Governor and Bailiff. The people had no opinions of their own and had to carry out the wishes of their Seigneurs and Rectors. The fear of hell was a great weapon in the hands of ministers in their dealings with the ignorant and downtrodden people.

The ministers gathered in their tithes - even fishermen were not exempt - and eventually the question of tithes became a very vital point in the fight between the King and Parliament. Dean Bandinel claimed that the Lieut.-Governor had seized certain tithes in the Parish of St. Saviour which had been granted to him as Dean of Jersey by James I., and eventually established his claim to them.

When the struggle commenced in Jersey, we find that the partisanship was more a question of personal enmity than that of right or wrong. It is no wonder that a contemporary writer describes the inhabitants as " not a little affected by a kinde of melancoly surlinesse incident to ploughmen," and to add to this that the " people here are more poor and therefore destitute of humanity ; the children here continually craving almes of every stranger."

And in the year 1630 we find the States passed a sumptuary law by which the position of a person could be recognised by the clothes worn.

We have to credit Archbishop Laud for having taken great interest in the education of the Channel Islands and it is to his efforts that on 1st April, 1636, it was decided that three scholarships at Oxford University should be reserved for students from the Channel Islands.

Sir Philip recommended David Brevint, Master of Arts at the University of Samur, as a very hopeful young man well suited for one of these posts. The Islanders were very grateful and in 1637 they sent a petition to the Archbishop asking his assistance in seeking to obtain two or three places at Winchester, Westminster, or Eton, for some poor children of the Island to begin their studies so as to be able to proceed afterwards to continue their education at the University. Evidently the petition was not successful, although when first founded, the pupils at Eton College consisted of some twenty-five poor grammar scholars

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