Jersey Castles in the Civil War – Hipstamatic Style

Mont Orgueil Castle


I thought I’d continue the historical stalking by sharing a little bit about the two main castles in Jersey, both of which I managed to visit during my recent trip. I have already mentioned one of the castles in a previous post, Elizabeth Castle, in which Charles stayed during both his visits to the Island. The other castle, is Mont Orgueil, which had a much more significant medieval history, but which still continued to play a role in the Early Modern period. This post will look briefly at the significant role both castles played in the Royalist cause early on in the Civil War and then focus a little on Mont Orgueil which I decided to capture with the Hipstamatic App on my iPhone, the results are dotted throughout the post and in the gallery below.

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Jersey did not escape the internecine fighting of the Civil War. The Lieutenant-Governor of the Island, Philip de Carteret, was staunchly royalist. As the dividing lines between Parliament and the Crown grew ever clearer it became apparent that his political enemies on the Island were manoeuvring themselves into the opposite camp. They succeeded early in 1642 in raising grievances against him and de Carteret was forced to travel to London to be tried. King Charles recognised an ally and ensured Jersey’s Lieutenant-Governor was tried in the loyal House of Lords and he was duly acquitted. On his return to the Island Philip brandished a commission from the King to renew Jersey’s defences for the crown. Unfortunately, his enemies were prepared and had already received orders from Parliament for his arrest and thus on 16th February 1643 the civil war begun to play out in miniature on this small outcrop of the realm.

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The two castles of Jersey had arguably already played a significant role in the lead up to war; as highly effective prisons for the most troublesome of puritan dissidents. Most prominent of their ‘guests’ was that lynchpin of protest against Charles I’s religious innovations, William Prynne (he of Early Modern X-Men fame!). Now they became the last refuge of royalism as de Carteret’s enemies rallied the Island for Parliament’s cause. The Lieutenant-Governor fled to Elizabeth Castle in St Helier and his wife, Anne, took Mont Orgueil Castle on the East of the island at Gorey. The siege of the two castles lasted over 18 months until the notorious privateer Sir George Carteret was able recapture the Island for the King in November 1643. While any considerable bloodshed was avoided, the royalists suffered privation in the siege, indeed it would take the lives of both Philip, his wife and their son. Philip became ill and died in August 1643, his wife managing to secretly travel to Elizabeth castle to be at his side. Anne lasted the siege but died soon after the Island was liberated in January 1644.

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Anne’s tale is interesting in that she managed to hold onto the more vulnerable castle of Mont Orgueil for whole time, inspiring great loyalty from her charges. What makes this the more impressive is that the castle was acknowledged at this time to be largely unsuitable for the modern warfare. Chevalier records the later judgement of Lord Hopton in surveying the defences for Prince Charles:

The fortress was open to attack from both sea and land, its dwellings were in indifferent repair, it was ill fortified…

Mont Orgueil had been an impressive medieval castle and much of that grandeur is retained today. At first sight it is a formidable fortification. It seems to rise out of the natural outcrop of rock, the walls merely extensions of the natural defensive contours of the land. Glowering over the crescent bay you can’t help but feel Norman power oozing from every stone. The modern-day restoration of the castle, achieved over the last twenty years is beautifully realised, stripping the castle back to its basic elements where possible and eschewing too many reconstructions. As such you soon realise that the castle we see now owes a lot to Tudor attempts to counter what would eventually lead Hopton to make his remarks, and that was the cannon. As ballistic warfare became more sophisticated, the imposing but slender walls of the medieval castle ceased to be effective. As such the 16th century saw considerable work to make the castle viable against the new weapons. Henry VIII charged Edward Seymour,  the brother of his newest wife, to undertake this work. To do so Edward built a huge bulwark called the ‘Grand Battery’ which was packed full of earth to dampen the impact of any bombardment. The following picture is of a little model they put on the castle roof, I’ve highlighted in red the area built up by the Tudors.

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Tudor fortifications highlighted in red

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The far extent of this fortification can be seen in this picture as well (it shows the far right of the highlighted area):

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Interestingly this bulwark did not face out to sea but to the land, and more specifically to the rather inconveniently placed sister hill, Mount St Nicholas, facing the castle outcrop. By the time of the Civil War cannon sophistication had progressed to the extent that even with these fortifications the castle was ever more vulnerable. This is the context in which Anne became guardian of the castle in defence of King Charles’ cause. That she managed to fortify  this unsuitable pile, to such an extent that the rebellious islanders felt insufficiently bold to mount any serious challenge against it, is testament to her. The sources I’ve been able to track down don’t tell me much about Anne, but letters from her husband seem to show real affection between them and sorrow at being parted. Before his death Philip had even risked his life by sailing to his wife, a scheme that was found out by his enemies and that put him in harms way. Below is an extract from a letter he wrote to his wife which ends on an amusingly teasing, domestic kind of note:

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Sweetheart

…Mr Osborne would fain try his men, as likewise the others, to attempt somewhat before they went, and we sent out with some forty men to attempt the town. Those of the Town had brought their ordinance to the entries, and filled the houses and wall with musketeers; I caused some ordinance to be shot over the town to fright them; the bridge being upon shutting, our men were fain to return. We have had a Cornishman dangerously hurt, Mr Gwinnett slightly hurt in the arm, without offending the bone or any but the flesh, Edward du Boit hurt in the thigh…

Speak to Captain Payne if you will, I will find means to send you some of your men – I know not, but imagine the mutineers, nor any, will attempt you, if you go forth of the castle or come hither – you should try first and take advice. It grieves me to see the ruin of this country; for the castles we fear them not, we have provisions and men enough, but that my boat of beer should not have come from the castle I wonder of, we drink a hogshead a day, and if we cannot have beer, I must twine most of my mine to your castle…

Your loving husband

Philip Carteret

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Despite its limitations, Mont Ogueil held out and having walked around its walls I get a feel for both its strengths and vulnerabilities. I was deeply impressed by the restoration of the castle, which was finished relatively recently and which enables you to get a real feel for the layers in its history. The following gallery hopefully conveys some of the majesty of the place and this sympathetic reconstruction:

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To view the slideshow photos individually you can see them as a Flickr set by clicking here

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One thought on “Jersey Castles in the Civil War – Hipstamatic Style

  1. Hels

    Many thanks. My students are fascinated with the medieval and especially the early modern history of the Channel Islands. So am I!

    The Royalist cause early in the Civil War was a vexed one and in the end, Charles got to the wrong island! I have no doubt that he had originally intended to flee to Jersey, but got to the Isle of Wight by mistake. Alas for poor Charles, the governor of the Isle of Wight was NOT well pleased to see him.

    Reply

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