A 1672 Atlas

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1672 atlas

This article was first published in the 1938 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise. It is a translation of the section relating to the Channel Islands in Johannes Blaev's map of 1672 in the Nuevo Atlas del Reyno de Inglaterra [1]


Further down to the South, no more than twelve miles, there is Caesarea, of which Antonine makes mention. The French abbreviate its name as they did in Normandy for that of Caesaris Burgum, and the Spanish for Caesar Augusta, making the former Cherbourg and the latter Saragossa. The same thing has happened for the Island of Jersey. Gregorius of Tours calls it 'the Island in the sea near Coutances' and he says that Praetextatus, Bishop of Rouen, came there when he was exiled. Papirius Massonius calls it 'the Maritime Island' or 'the Island of the Bay of Coutances', because it is opposite the city of Coutances, which Ammianus for his part calls Castra Constancia and formerly was called Maritonium, as Robert du Mont writes: 'Count of Maritonium, ie of Constancia', unless there has been a textual error, for Maritonium, now called Mortaigne [Mortain] is many leagues from the sea. [2]

This island has 30 miles more or less in circumference and is defended by reefs and banks that are very dangerous for mariners. The soil is fertile: it produces abundant fruit and the fields are covered with cattle; sheep are in great number and many of them have four horns. The climate is healthful and there are no illnesses, save in September a fever which is called Settember; and therefore there is no need for physicians. There is but little timber and for fuel they use seaweed, which they call vraic. This is believed to be the fucus marinus mentioned by Pliny and it is found in these craggy islands in great abundance. They dry it in the sun and so make up for the deficiency of wood, and they enrich the earth by fertilizing it with the ashes. Seaweed is not collected before spring and summer, at a date set by the magistracy. Then they all dash out with great joyfulness, in carts, in feluccas and large boats, and they race to go gather it on the rocks. Notwithstanding these laws and restrictions it is permitted all year long for the poor to collect at their leisure whatever the waves bring up.

Rolling hills

The southern part of the Island is made of gently rolling hills between which are pleasant valleys with lovely brooklets, rich in fruit trees, especially numerous apple trees from which they produce a beverage. Estates and cottages are in great number, and there are twelve parishes.

The many bays afford a safe shelter, surest of all being in the South between the two small towns of St Hilary and St Aubin. It contains an island with stronghold and garrison, cut sheer all round. They say that St Hilary, Bishop of Poictiers, was buried there after dying in exile. The place called after his name and in his memory lies opposite this island, and is considered the most important on account of the stores and also of the Tribunal and Court that are sitting there.

On the Eastern coast facing Coutances a castle defends the Island, built on a precipitous rock; it is impregnable and its pompous and arrogant name is, they say, Mont Orgueil, that is Proud Hill. It owed much to Henry V, who rebuilt it. The fortress and its garrison are under the authority of the Naval Commander, whose original title was Keeper or Guardian, now commonly called the Chatelain. He is the Chief Military Commander of the Island. Under the reign of Henry III he was drawing a pay of two hundred pounds per year.

In the South, though at a good distance, one can see Saint-Malo, a name given in memory of Maclovius, a very virtuous man canonized by the Roman Church. Formerly it went under the name of Diablintum; in an ancient document the city of Diablintum bears the name of Aletum, because in a manuscript of Isidorus Mercator one reads: 'City of Diablintum, alias Aletum.'

The natives of the Island practise fishing with vigour and diligence, and still more agriculture. The country women knit socks which are widely known as Jarsey stockes and bring them a round profit.

As for government and politics it is to be known that the Kings of England send to the Island its Governor; he is the supreme Magistrate with power of appointing a Bailiff or ordinary Chief Justice, who with twelve Jurats, each elected by one of the Parishes, composes a Council or Consistory where civil cases are brought and judged. For criminal cases only seven members are required, and in cases of compensation, equity and arbitration, only three.


Twenty miles to the North-West there is another Island which Antonine calls Sarnia; today it goes by the name of Garnsey and has from East to West the shape of a harp. It is different from, and must not be compared with Casarea neither for size nor fertility. It has only ten parishes. And yet it has this one excellent quality, that there are no poisonous beasts nor herbs there. It is of a rugged nature, being entirely surrounded by reefs and rocks, among which is found that stone which we call Esmeril [emery] with which precious stones are cut and polished; and it is used too by glaziers, oculists and other such artisans for the cutting of glass.

Here too is a well frequented port and an active commerce, the former very convenient and the latter flourishing; for at the eastward end of the island there is a circular harbour able to moor many vessels, and big ones too. Nearby is the small town of St Peter, consisting of a single street, long and narrow. All the place is full of military works and remarkable engines of war. It harbours an extraordinary number of merchants in time of war, because the Kings of England have declared it a privileged spot and that there should be a continuous and unbroken truce there, even with the French as for other nationalities. Even when war is raging everywhere else, this harbour at least is able to carry on its trade and is open to friend and to foe with full security.

The mouth of the port, in addition to having sheer rocks, is defended. on both sides by strongholds: on the left by the Old Castle and on the right by that called Cornet, facing its partner and perched on a lofty rock which at high tide is surrounded entirely by water. During the reign of Mary of England, Leonard Chambelan, Knight of the Order and of the Golden Spur and subsequently Governor of the Island, sought to fortify with all expedition and care this Island of Garnesey, and his successor, Thomas Leighton, later amplified the defences with new and useful ones. In this castle dwelt most of the time the Captain in charge of the Island and his soldiers of the guard, who according to the law never gave entrance into it to either French or women.

Northward stretches out the peninsula called La-Val, where is a convent of monks, or Priory. To the west and near the sea is a lake, a mile and a half around, containing a great quantity of fish, especially carp, of a great size and of an exquisite flavour.

The inhabitants are not so skilful in agriculture as the Jarseymen, but they are greatly given to seagoing and trading, seeking fortune in these two uncertain occupations. Every man has his little portion of land, and so do they insist on the division of inheritances that the island is all divided into small enclosures. And they do this not only with an eye to utility, but also for purposes of defence.


Both islands are very attractive: orchards, vegetable and flower gardens are so many that from every quarter beams an incessant smile of spring. And so numerous are the apples that they make from them a wine that some call Sifera and that we call Sydra. Those who live there are by origin Normans or Bretons and all speak French, though they do not hold themselves for French because they have a great esteem of the English. Everywhere in the island they make fire with a seaweed that they call vraic, or with coal which they import from England; everywhere there is abundant fishing. In politics they are at one in all parts of the island.


Of old this island and the neighbouring ones belonged to Normandy; but Henry I King of England, having discomfited in the year 1108 his brother Robert, incorporated Normandy and the aforesaid islands under the crown of England. Since that day they have shown constant allegiance to their kings, even when King John, guilty of the death of his nephew and condemned under a sentence, lost the rule of Normandy which he had had as vassal of the Kings of France, or as a feudal subject or as a tributary. When the rest of the province refused him their due homage and their promised fealty, these islands acknowledged him by not quitting the English dominion, even after King Henry III renounced for a sum of money all his rights on the province of Normandy. Always since they have been so loyal and true that they deserve every praise: they were the only ones who remained true to the King of England of all the inheritance and patrimony from his famous ancestor William of Normandy and of the Duchy of Normandy, notwithstanding that the French on several occasions attempted to conquer them, taking exception to the fact that, when all the sea about the coast of France was submitted in all things to their Kings, these islands should submit to the King of England.

It appears from the Royal Archives that under the reign of Edward IV they conquered Garnesey, but the valorous Richard Harleston, Page of the Crown, as in those days the King's gentlemen were called, attacked the invaders and in short order drove them out. As a reward for this act of prowess, the King made him a gift of the Governorship or Captaincy of the Island and of its castle. Again in the year 1249, while England was ablaze with the bloody encounters of civil war and terrible woes fell on the country, that the incapacity of an infant King could neither avoid not make reparation for, Leo Strozza, Admiral of the Galleys of the French King, attacked the Island, but they beat him off again with a loss of many lives and no little dishonour.


In ecclesiastical affairs, the Islands were subject to the Bishop of Coutances in Normandy, until in our own days he refused to abjure the authority of the Pope and of the Roman See as all the English Bishops have done. On that account Queen Elizabeth cut them off since then from the diocese of Coutances and annexed them definitively to Winchester, so that its prelate and his successors on this See might keep the jurisdiction and the pastoral charge over them. Despite this decree, the inhabitants there profess the tenets of Geneva that were introduced by French Ministers, and the Church too is governed like that of Geneva.

In the civil constitution or civil government there are many particularities that I could mention here; I shall put down those which I took from the tablets and records of the Kings, to wit:


King John set up twelve ministers of the Crown, whom they call Crown Jurats, to take cognizance of, and give judgment in the complaints and lawsuits that concern the Crown; which corresponds to the Consiejo de Hazienda in Castile, or to the Iuezes de los hechos del Rey, or more strictly speaking to the Procurators of the Crown as we find them in the Realm of Portugal, or to the Keepers of the Royal Patrimony in Sicily. They have in their guard the rights and privileges of the Crown.

The same King granted that for the security of the natives the Bailiff or Chief Justice may, with the support of the Crown Jurats and with their consent, give hearing to, and judgment in the cases without requiring a new dessaisine (a peculiar word that I cannot understand), within the year after the death of a testator, and for cases of dowry contracts within the same time, etc.

He also decreed that the Jurats may not defer the sentence nor remand the trial beyond a year. And that in all customs and usual rights, if there be a foreigner concerned, a difference be made between natives and foreigners in favour of the Islanders.

Let it suffice for now to mention these privileges and grants. Those who with greater curiosity will give themselves to their study will explain them and add several more. However nowadays they follow the laws of Normandy, at least in most cases.

Notes and references

  1. Copy made in Mafra, Portugal, in the Library of the Palacio National, February 1938
  2. Although references to Jersey as Caesarea persist 350 years after this atlas was published, historians are now generally in agreement that there is no justification for this connection. Although the origin of the name Cherbourg is also by no means certain, a derivation from Celtic rather than Roman words is now generally accepted. See How Jersey got its name
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