Sir Philippe de Carteret and Elizabeth Castle

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Sir Philippe de Carteret and
Elizabeth Castle


By 20th century historian A C Saunders

The castle is surrounded by water at high tide

As you walk from the town towards St Aubin, you see on your left, about three quarters of a mile from the shore, an islet on which our forefathers first built an abbey, and subsequently a castle. The castle we see today, although now only a historical monument to be visited by people who are willing to pay the entrance fee, has a most romantic and historical past.

In a storm, and on a dull day, it presents to the onlooker a most forbidding appearance as the waves dash against the rocks, and the spray is driven from one side of the islet to the other. When the weather is fine, and the sun shines on the golden sands in the little bays around the rocks, the castle presents a most charming picture.


Dumaresq of Saumares, writing in 1668, states that in olden times the intervening space between the castle and the shore was meadowland, on which cattle could be seen grazing, but nowadays the only walkable connection between the islet and the mainland is the causeway which, open at low tide, gradually gets covered as the tide rises. And as we look towards the castle, our memories recall incidents of by-gone days, and we can understand what a wonderful story those walls could tell.

Before the castle was built, the islet had an ecclesiastical history of its own. Tradition tells us that "St Helier lived and was murdered here". The Hermitage is visited each year by hundreds of strangers who view with a shudder the uncomfortable quarters, which in those early days were considered as helpful towards the beatification of any great saint.

With that aim, martyrs were found willing to renounce the luxuries and often the necessaries of a sinful world in the hope that by their example weaker brethren might be induced to live a better life. Whether much good was done by the example of their restricted lives it is impossible to say, but doubtless in those primitive times the man who had sufficient character and determination to lead the simple life of a hermit often found a goodly following of admirers. Many a lusty man who believed that might was right had sometimes a subconscious admiration for the man, who, rightly or wrongly, was willing to sacrifice himself for his opinions.

Thus we find that from a simple cell, a monastery was built by another saint named Marculf. This monastery was destroyed, and in 1125 another was built and held by the monks of the order of St Augustine, and was connected with the monastery of Cherbourg.

Gradually the monastery lost its importance and most of the buildings fell into a state of decay. About the middle of the 16th century the possibilities of the islet being used for defence work gradually dawned upon those in authority in the Island. We hear of the de Carterets being very busy in pushing forward the fortifications of great engineers visiting the Island and submitting reports; and we hear of Sir Walter Raleigh writing a long letter about the advantage of the position of the "Fort Isabella Bellisima in the Islet " and the necessity of continuing the defence works which had partly been built.

Edmund Toulmin Nicolle, the late Viscount, in one of the many delightful lectures he gave on Jersey says:

"Some defensive works were commenced at the Islet as early as 1551. In this year an Order in Council directed that the bells in every church (one from each excepted) should be taken down and sold. Half the proceeds was to be employed on Mont Orgueil castle and half on the Bulwarks of the Islet and Fort St Aubin."

The Engineer Paul Ivey was sent down in 1594 to complete the fortifications, and forced labour was made use of and the parishes were directed to provide cider and beer for the men so employed. By an Act of the States of 6 May 1594 the Governor and two Jurats were appointed to supervise the operations.

Sir Philippe de Carteret

Sir Philippe de Carteret had taken great interest in the fortification of the castle, little knowing at the time that here, surrounded by enemies, he was to spend the last months of his life when the castle consisted of the Upper Ward and Keep and the Lower Ward. The castle green was then unprotected by bulwarks. Fort Charles was not built until 1646, and it was not until 20 years later that this fort was connected with the Lower Ward by ramparts.

Sir Philippe de Carteret had returned from England with full powers to act in the King's name, and by a commission from Parliament dated 1642, Michel Lempriere and the other named Commissioners were ordered to arrest Sir Philip and bring him to London to answer for such "conspiracies, oppressions and other causes which may be objected against him".

This Commission was signed by Manchester, W Say and Seale, Ph Stapleton, John Pym and John Hampden, and the commissioners were further directed to oppose by force "all tumults and factions in the Island which may arise in favour of Sir Philippe" and all Officials of His Majesty's loving subjects were directed to forbear to obey the command and authority of the said Sir Philip.

But Sir Philippe was Lieut-Governor, Bailiff, and Procureur, and the people were more or less indifferent to the claims of either side. The clergy however supported the parliamentary party and did not hesitate to use any method to further their aims.

Dean Bandinel was de Carteret's bitter enemy, and so was Pierre d'Assigny, Rector of St Helier, although he owed his position in the Island to Sir Philip and at one time was so friendly with the Knight that the Seigneur of St Ouen and his wife were godfather and godmother to Philippe, the son of the Rector. These men left no stone unturned in order to defame the character of the Bailiff, and worked on the fears and superstitions of the ignorant people in every possible way.

Thus a large proportion of the people followed the lead of Lempriere, Bandinel and D'Assigny. Sir Philip ordered his Commission to be read in the Parish Churches, and directed that people should take the oath of allegiance to the King, but it was one thing to issue the order, and another to see it carried out ; and it is evident that, through the influence of the Parliamentary Leaders, it was a very unpopular measure and many people refused to make the necessary declaration. The clergy spread abroad the suggestion that their religion was in danger, and that the King and his followers were anxious to return to their Roman allegiance.

States meeting

At the meeting of the States on 16 February 1643, Sir Philippe laid before that body a commission from the King requesting all loyal subjects to assist him in the defence of the Island. Then came that memorable meeting in the following month when Sir Philippe communicated to the States a Commission from the King relating to the defence of the Island. Rumour had been busy in the meantime, and Sir Philippe knew that the Parliamentary leaders had authority from Parliament to arrest him and take him to London.

So when he attended the States he was supported by 30 to 40 soldiers who held guard over the entrance, and he had no sooner read the King's Commission, when Michel Lempriere rose and endeavoured to read the order of Parliament to arrest Sir Philippe. It was an act which required considerable temerity on the part of Lempriere, for nearly all the Jurats were on the side of the Lieut-Governor.

After trying to read the order of Parliament which he was not allowed to do, Lempriere made for the door in order to go to his friends, but was stopped by one of the soldiers and he was forced to return to his place in the chamber amidst the shouts and insults of the Royalist party. Shortly afterwards news was brought to Sir Philippe that the countrymen were marching towards the town in order to arrest him and he decided to proceed with his soldiers to Elizabeth Castle where he, at that time, was in residence.

Had Sir Philippe been a stronger character, he would have seized the opportunity of taking along with him Michel Lempriere, and the few who supported him in the States, and kept them as hostages until the troublous times had passed, and possibly have tried to persuade them to change their views by those means then used throughout the world.

His wife was at that time at Mont Orgueil Castle with sufficient force to defend the castle against the Parliamentary party. But the opportunity was lost and for the next few months Lempriere, Bandinel, D'Assigny and others had full control of the Island, except the two castles defended by the Royalists.

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