Channel Islands

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La Grève, Jersey
Location of the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are an archipelago of British Crown Dependencies in the English Channel, off the French coast. The islands have a total population of about 158,000 between the eight inhabited isles and the total area of the islands is 75 square miles.

The Channel Islands are not parts of the United Kingdom and are considered the remnants of the Duchy of Normandy which was once one with the Crown of England.

The Channel Islands are spoken of together and share much of their history and culture, but they are not a single political unit; they comprise two separate bailiwicks, each of which is an autonomous Crown dependency:

The two bailiwicks have been administered separately since the late 13th century. They have separate laws, courts, and legislatures, and separate Lieutenant-Governors representing the Crown. The politicians of Guernsey and Jersey consult together regularly but act independently of each other. There is no common newspaper or radio station between the island, but there is a common television station, (ITV Channel Television), and common BBC local television news (BBC Channel Islands News).


The Channel Islands and adjacent coast of France
The isles of Jethou, Herm and Sark on the horizon from Jersey

The inhabited islands of the Channel Islands in order of population are:

There are also many uninhabited islets, includinf the Minquiers, Écréhous, Les Dirouilles and Les Pierres de Lecq (the Paternosters), part of the Bailiwick of Jersey; and Burhou and the Casquets lie off Alderney.

The language of the islands used to be Norman-French, in a series of localised dialects, but the names of the islands show another origin; the Norse language of the Vikings. In general the larger islands have the suffix -ey and the smaller ones have -hou; these are believed to be from the Old Norse ey and holmr, respectively.

The very large tidal variation provides an environmentally rich foreshore around the islands, and some sites have received Ramsar Convention designation.

The waters around the islands include the following:

  • The Swinge (between Alderney and Burhou)
  • The Little Swinge (between Burhou and Les Nannels)
  • La Déroute (between Jersey and Sark, and Jersey and the Cotentin)
  • Le Raz Blanchard, or Race of Alderney (between Alderney and the Cotentin)
  • The Great Russel (between Sark, Jéthou and Herm)
  • The Little Russel (between Guernsey, Herm and Jéthou)
  • Souachehouais (between Le Rigdon and L'Étacq, Jersey)
  • Le Gouliot (between Sark and Brecqhou)
  • La Percée (between Herm and Jéthou)

The highest point in the islands is Les Platons in Jersey at 469 feet above sea level.


La Gran'mère du Chimquière, Statue menhir, Saint Martin, Guernsey


Mankind strode the islands when they were not yet islands but attached to Europe; the earliest evidence of occupation has been dated to 25,000 years ago. The islands were freed from the continent in the Neolithic period. Numerous dolmens and other archaeological sites extant and recorded in history demonstrate the existence of a population large enough and organised enough to undertake constructions of considerable size and sophistication, such as the burial mound at La Hougue Bie[1] in Jersey or the statue menhirs of Guernsey.

Early historical period

Evidence for Roman settlement is sparse, though they knew the islands and undoubtedly set foot on them. In the 6th century Christian missionaries visited the islands; traditionally they were evangelised by Samson of Dol, Helier, Marculf and Magloire among others. From the beginning of the 9th century Norse raiders appeared on the coasts. Norse settlement succeeded initial attacks, and it is from this period that many place names of Norse origin appear, including the modern names of the islands.

From the Norse to the Britons

The Norse created a duchy in northern France. The islands were annexed to the Duchy of Normandy in 933. In 1066, Duke William II of Normandy became King William I of England, and thereafter the islands were within the dominions of the Kings of England. In the period 1204–1214, King John lost his domains in northern France, including mainland Normandy, to King Philip II of France, but he retained the islands. In 1259 John's son King Henry III surrendered his claim and title to the Duchy of Normandy, while retaining the Channel Islands, and since then, the Channel Islands have been governed as possessions of the Crown separate from the Kingdom of England and its successor kingdoms of Great Britain and the United Kingdom.

The French attacked the islands in 1338. In 1372 Owain Lawgoch (grand nephew of Llywelyn the Last) attacked Jersey and Guernsey in 1372 in French service, and in 1373 Bertrand du Guesclin besieged Mont Orgueil.[2] Jersey was actually occupied by the French in the Wars of the Roses from 1461 to 1468. In 1483 a Papal Bull decreed that the islands would be neutral during time of war. This privilege of neutrality enabled islanders to trade with both France and England and was respected until 1689 when it was abolished by Order in Council following the Glorious Revolution in Great Britain.

The islands were brought under the Diocese of Winchester by an Order in Council of 1569. The Bishop of Winchester had little authority in the island in fact as the islands had turned overwhelmingly Calvinist and the episcopacy was not effectively restored until 1620 in Jersey and 1663 in Guernsey.

Sark in the 16th century was uninhabited until colonised from Jersey in the 1560s. The grant of seigneurship from Elizabeth I of England forms the basis of Sark's constitution today.

Over a dozen windmills are known to have existed in the Channel Isles. They were mostly tower mills used for grinding corn.

During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, the islands were divided: Jersey was strongly Royalist and Guernsey Parliamentarian. Charles, Prince of Wales took refuge on Jersey in 1646 and 1649–1650. Though Guernsey was was for Parliament, and strongly Presbyterian, Castle Cornet was the last Royalist stronghold in the British Isles to surrender, on 15 December 1651.[3]

In the 1800s, moneyed Frenchmen fleeing the revolution came to the islands; many of the town domiciles existing today were built in that time. In St Peter Port, a large part of the harbour had been built by 1865.

The twentieth century

German fortification on Alderney

During the Second World War the Germans seized the islands: they were the only part of the British Commonwealth to be occupied by the German Army]] during the War. There was time before the Germans landed for an evacuation of civilians (though many young men had already left to join the British armed forces): 6,600 out of 50,000 left Jersey whilst 17,000 out of 42,000 left Guernsey.[4] The population of Sark largely remained where they were;[5] but in Alderney, the entire population, save for six persons, left. Thousands of children were evacuated with their schools to Great Britain. Those left settled down to what began as a calm occupation, but which was to become cruel. On empty Alderney, the Germans built four slave-labour camps in which over 700 people out of a total prisoner population of about 6,000 died; due to the destruction of documents, it is impossible to state how many forced workers died in the other islands.

There was considerable hunger and privation during the five years of German occupation, particularly in the final months, after France had been liberated but the islands had not, when the population was close to starvation. Over the five years, more than 2,000 Islanders were deported by the Germans,[5] Jews were sent to extermination camps; partisan resistance and retribution; accusations of collaboration; and slave labour (primarily slavs brought to the islands to build fortifications),[6] and 65,718 landmines were laid in Jersey alone.[7] The end of the occupation came the day after Germany's unconditional surrender, on 9 May, though the garrison in Alderney did not surrender until 16 May. The first evacuees returned on the first sailing from Great Britain on 23 June, but many had difficulty reconnecting with their families after five years of separation.

After the liberation of 1945, reconstruction led to a transformation of the economies of the islands, attracting immigration and developing tourism. The legislatures were reformed and non-party governments embarked on social programmes, aided by the incomes from offshore finance, which grew rapidly from the 1960s.[8]

The islands decided not to join the European Economic Community when the United Kingdom joined, and consequently enjoy a thriving economy.


Sea festival advertised in Dgèrnésiais

Christianity was brought to the islands around the 6th century; according to tradition, Jersey was evangelised by St Helier, Guernsey by St Samson of Dol, and the smaller islands were occupied at various times by monastic communities representing strands of Celtic Christianity. At the Reformation, the islands turned Calvinist under the influence of an influx of French-language pamphlets published in Geneva. Anglicanism was imposed in the 17th century, but the Non-Conformist tendency re-emerged with a strong adoption of Methodism.

The Norman language predominated in the islands until the 19th century, when increasing influence from English-speaking settlers and easier transport links led to Anglicisation.[9] There are or were four main dialects or languages of Norman in the islands:

  • Auregnais (Alderney, extinct in late 20th century)
  • Guernésiais or Dgèrnésiais (Guernsey)
  • Jèrriais (Jersey)
  • Sercquiais (Sark, an offshoot of Jèrriais).[10]

Victor Hugo spent many years in exile, first in Jersey and then in Guernsey, where he finished Les Misérables. Guernsey is the setting of Hugo's later novel, Les Travailleurs De La Mer (The Toilers of the Sea).[11] A "Guernsey-man" also makes an appearance in chapter 91 of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick.[12]


The annual "Muratti", the inter-island football match, is considered the sporting event of the year, although, due to broadcast coverage, it no longer attracts the crowds of spectators, travelling between the islands, that it did during the 20th century.[13]

Cricket is popular in the Channel Islands. The Jersey cricket team and the Guernsey cricket team are both Associate members of the International Cricket Council. The teams have played each other in the Inter-insular match since 1957. In 2001 and 2002, the Channel Islands entered a team into the MCCA Knockout Trophy, the one-day tournament of the Minor counties of English and Welsh cricket.[14]

Each of Guernsey and Jersey has a team that competes in the Commonwealth Games and both islands have also been enthusiastic supporters of the Island Games. Shooting is a popular sport, in which islanders have won Commonwealth medals.[15]

Guernsey's traditional colour for sporting and other purposes is green and Jersey's is red.[16]


This statue of a crapaud (toad) in St Helier

The main islanders have traditional nicknames:[17]

  • Guernsey: les ânes ("donkeys"): the steepness of St Peter Port streets required beasts of burden, but Guernsey people also claim it is a symbol of their strength of character, which Jerseymen traditionally interpret as stubbornness.
  • Jersey: les crapauds ("toads"): Jersey has toads and snakes, which Guernsey lacks.
  • Sark: les corbins ("crows"): crows could be seen from the sea on the island's coast.
  • Alderney: les lapins ("rabbits"): the island is noted for its warrens.

See also

Outside links


  2. Bertrand du Guesclin: The Black Dog of Brittany, copyright 2010, accessed 31 October 2010.
  3. Portrait of the Channel Islands, Lemprière, London 1970
  5. 5.0 5.1 The German Occupation of the Channel Islands, Cruikshank, Oxford 1975 ISBN 0192850873
  7. German Fortifications in Jersey, Ginns & Bryans, Jersey 1975
  9. The Triumph of the Country, Kelleher, Jersey 1994, ISBN 0-9518162-4-1
  10. La Grève de Lecq, Roger Jean Lebarbenchon, 1988 ISBN 2905385138
  11. "Trail of the unexpected: Victor Hugo’s Guernsey", The Independent, 3 July 2010.
  12. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (St Botoph Society edition, 1892) pp. 381–384.
  14. Minor Counties Trophy Matches played by Channel Islands
  16. "Non-FIFA National Teams Colours". 28 November 2006. Retrieved 21 August 2010.