Administration in the Channel Islands before 1204
Mont St Michel
In Chapter V of Dr C H Haskins' work on Norman Institutious (1918), dealing with the government of Normandy in the reign of Henry II, the author says: "In Guernsey, in 1179, the Court of the Vicomte is still curia regis, and he has an official seal," and he cites as his authority a charter in the possession of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral, which has been printed (1907) in "various collections" of the historical MSS; a document unknown to local historians.
This charter was the original charter of Peter Vivier, confirming the gift of Godfrey Vivier, to the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel, of certain lands in Guernsey, aud it was given in the Royal Court of Guernsey, in the presence of Gilbert de la Hougue, the Vicomte, who seals it with his official seal in the year 1179, and the Vicomte's seal is still attached to it.
How it came into the possession of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter is unknown. It was at Mont St Michel in the year 1309, for it figures on an inventory of Channel Islands charters, now in the Library of Avranches, which was drawn up in that year, and the entry which follows refers to the charter of Baldwin Wac, Lord of the Fief du Comte, confirming the same gift of Godfrey Vivier.
It may have been taken by accident with other documents from Mont Saint Michel to the daughter abbey of St Michael's Mount, Cornwall, and have been brought from thence to Exeter along with another charter of the latter abbey which is now in the pessession of the Dean and Chapter; or it may have come into the possession of Otto de Grandison, the famous Warden of the Isles, at the time of the attacks on our privileges early in the 14th century, and after his death, without issue, have passed to his heirs, and so have come into the possession of a very famous Bishop of Exeter, John de Grandison, Otho's nephew, who died in 1370, and have been left by him at Exeter.
- ”Notum sit presentibus et futuris me Petrum Viuier concessisse et hac carta mea confirmasse Deo et abbatie sancti Michaelis de Monte et monachis ibidem Deo servientibus terram que est de feudo Baldoini Wac in Guenerreio, quam Godfridus Viuier dedit eidem abbatie in perpetuam elemosinam concessu eiusdem Baldoini Vac et Pagani Viuier et heredum meorum, scilicet quinque acras terre apud Herclinroche cum mansura Ricardi filii Willelmi de Rua, quas predictus Godefridus Viuier tenuit iure hereditario, et pro ista connentione tenenda dedit in predicta abbatia concessu heredum meorum lx solidos. Andegauensium per manum Ricardi de Huinilla. Actum est hoc in curia domini regis ill Guonerreio coram Gisleberto de Hoga tunc vicecomite, et quia sigillum non habebam sigillo Gisleberti de Hoga vicecomitis consideratione et asseusu amicorum meorum hanc cartam sigillari constitui. Anno ab incarnatione Domini MCLX decimo nono. Testibus Ricardo de Huiuilla priore de Valo, Petro de Valo, et Ricardoo Mmalesarz sacerdote, Magistro Marcherio, Willelmo Viuier. Petro de Belueier clericis, Willelmo camerario Baldoini Vac, Ricardo monacho, Hugone de Grencesiis, Gisleberto des Ronueis, Gisleberto Postel, Roberto de Haruelant, Willelmo de Hoga, Oliuero de Barneuilla, Willelmo preposito, Gisleberto preposito, Espiarto legato, Willelmo Viteclin, Roberto Malmarchie, Gisleberto Rossel, Gisleberto filio Roberti, Ricardo et Iordauo Viuier, Ricardo Vivier, et multis aliis. [Seal of Gilbert de Hoga appended.]
Baldwin Wac's charter
Before touching upon what, for our constitutional history, are the important points of the charter, the reference to the Royal Court at this early date and the Vicomte of Guernsey, I will first refer to Godfrey Vivier's gift and to the persons named in the document. We have long known of Baldwin Wac's charter confirming Godfrey's gift to Mont St Michel of 5 acres of land at Herclinroche and the messuage of William de la Rue, The original charter is in the Archives de la Manche at St Lo; it is printed in Dupont's Histoire du Cotentin et de ses Iles; and a transcript of it is given in J H Round's Calendar of Documents in France.
Mr John Metivier, who also copied it, thought that Herclinroche might be identified with La Roque Roquelin in the Catel parish, near Le Préel, It was certainly originally on fief du Comte, for Baldwin Wac, the lord of the fief, confirms the gift as overlord, but the land was also on the fief of Peter Vivier and held of him, as he also confirms as overlord in 1179.
We find from the pleadings of a suit tried at the Assizes held in Guernsey in 1299 that the du Viviers held the manor of Le Groignet, on which, we learn, Robert du Vivier had given his daughter, Guillemote, a rente of eight quarters of wheat as her marriage portion, and in 1299 her husband, William Le Gay, sues him for it and for payment of arrears.
It is quite possible that the du Viviers were already in possession of Le Groignet in 1179, and that the land at Herclinroche was originally on this manor. It was a dependancy of fief du Comte, and this would exactly fit in with the double confirmation of Godfrey du Vivier's gift by Baldwin Wac and Peter Vivier. The de Viviers were an ancient Norman family, one of whom, Godfrey du Vivier, witnessed a charter of Robert, Ron of Robert de Courey, in favour of the Abbey of Marmoutier in 1105.
Their name appears frequently in Guernsey documents of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. At the time of the Assizes in 1309 John du Vivier, son of Robert, Seigneur du Groignet, was summoned to show by what right he claimed to have a court for his tenants and the right of chase throughout the island.
The facts narrated in Peter Vivier's charter give us a rather interesting instance of subinfeudations in Gucrusey. They show us, between William de la Rue, the actual owner of the land, and the King the supreme lord, no fewer than three mesme lords, Baldwin Wac, Peter Vivier and Godfrey Vivier.
Baldwin Wac, Seigneur of fief du Comte, who confirms Godfrey Vivier's gift, was the head of a great Norman family, lords of Negreville in the Cotentin and of many other fees. Baldwin was also lord of Bourne in Lincolnshire, and curiously as late as 1280 half a knight's fee in the island of Guernsey still figured among the knight’s fees belonging to the honour of Bourne.
Baldwin's father, Hugh Wac, was the founder of the abbey of Longues in Normandy, and among the lands he endowed it with, in 1168, were certain lands in Guernsey which had formerly belonged to his father, whom Henry II, in his coufirmation of Hugh's gift, calls Geoffrey Wac. This land is the fief de Longues in St Saviour's parish.
How Geoffrey Wac became possessed of fief du Comte in succession to the Earls of Chester who had given their name to it, is unknown. It remained in the possession of his descendants till 1240, when Hugh Wake enfeoffed Baldwin de Vere with it, to hold it of him as half a knight's fee.
Gilbert de la Hougue, the Vicomte, is already known to us, for he was farmer of Guernsey in 1180, and his accounts figure on the great Roll of the Norman Exchequer for that year. He also at the same date farmed the ministerium of Gorroic, one of the three administrative divisions of Jersey at that period.
He was probably a Jerseyman, for he figures in 1156 as witness when the Abbot of Mont Saint Michel, Robert de Torigni, "crossing to Jersey" (Gersie), made Roger, the son of Ranulf, monk, but the name is found in both islands in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries,
Of the witnesses to this charter, Robert de Havilland, we learn from the accounts of Gilbert de la Hougue, had been the latter's deputy in 1179, and in 1180 he accounts personally to the exchequer for the fines which had been inflicted at the late pleas.
He also pays a portion of the very heavy fine of 40 livres for having been present and assisted in compounding a crime of maiming. In other words he had been fined by the Justices for maladministration of justice.
He also figures as witness to a charter of Jordan de Barneville, giving land in Jersey to Benjamin, Abbot of St Helier, some time before 1179. It is hardly necessary to add that he came from a Guernsey family which has held a prominent position in the island down to the present day.
Peter de Belueir, or de Beauvoir, is the earliest member of this old Guernsey family that has so far come to light. He figures amongst the 'clarks' but it does not necessarily follow that he was a priest.
Oliver de Barneville was son of Robert de Barneville, who held a rent of 100 sols angevin on certain lands in Sark, of which he gave 20 livres to the abbey of Montebourg near Valognes about the year 1174, with the consent of William de Vernon, Baron of Nehou, his overlord, the lord of Sark, who had given the church of St Magloire and various tithes and lands to the said abbey.
The de Barnevilles also held the fief of Jerbourg, now Sausmarez Manor, St Martin's, early in the 13th century, and they became extinct in an heiress, Nicholaa de Barneville, who married Maurice de Lucy, a relative of Geoffrey de Lucy, Warden of the Isles, 1206-7, and again from 1224 to 1226.
He was killed during one of the invasions of Guernsey in the reign of King John, and on 29 January 1230, Henry III ordered that Jordan de Lucy (styled Jordan de Barneville in another letter of 12 June 1231, son of Maurice de Lucy and Nicholaa de Barneville, be given possession of his father and mother's land at Jerbourg (Gerebourg), which had been in the King's custody during his minority.
Espiart the legate (legatus) of the transcript, should read Espiart Legat, the name of a fief in the parish of St Sampson, of which he was probably the owner. This fief was escheated to the Crown as land of the Normans by King John. It seems that a portion of it was granted by Henry III to Ralph Burnet for his services, which now forms the fief of Bruniaux de Nermont, and still owes suit of court at the Court of Chief Pleas.
Gilbert Rossel, or de Rosel, was probably the owner of the fief Rozel, St Peter-Port, which we learn by the Extente of 1274 had been forfeited after the loss of Normandy by a Norman of that name. These de Rosels, Sires de Rosel, near Caen, held other lands in Guernsey, for in 1172 Philippa de Rosel and her husband, Robert Patry, Sire de la Lande Patey, gave to Mont Saint Michel that land in Guernsey which had belonged to Hugh de Rosel, Sire de Rosel, her father.
Master Marcherius, or Master Mark, was one of the witnesses to the charter of Jordan de Barneville, Sire de Barneville, in the Cotentin, giving a caracute of land at Crapodoit in Jersey to the Abbot of St Helier shortly before 1179.
Hugh de Grantais
Hugh de Grantais, as his surname should be spelt, and not de Grencesiis as it is incorrectly transcribed, was of an important Guernsey family, who gave their name to the fief des Grantais, one of the dependencies of fief du Comte.
They seem to have held certain rights over the church of St Saviour, for when Robert de Torigni, the famous Abbot of Mont Saint Michel, visited Guernsey in 1156, he came to an agreement with Ralph de Grentais concerning his claim to fifteen quarters of wheat from the church of St Saviour, which he abandoned to the Abbot in return for twenty sols d'Anjou.
At the same time Robert de Grentais and his son Richard were witnesses to an agreement between the Abbot and Nigel, son of Drogo, whereby the latter and his son Gervase also abandoned all their claims on the same church.
This Robert de Grentais was uncle of Richard, son of Robert Malmarchie, probably a relative of Robert Malmarchie, or Mauxmarquis, who witnesses Peter Vivier's charter in 1179, who restored to Mont Saint Michel, by an undated charter, the land of the Great Mill in Guernsey, by the advice of his uncle Robert de Grentais, which he had unjustly withheld.
These lands were probably on the fief des Grantais, which almost adjoins the King's Mills to the west. Robert Malmarchie was possibly Seigneur of the fief des Mauxmarquis, one of the fiefs still owing suit of court at the Court of Chief Pleas.
William Veteclin was probably the owner of the fief du Vidclio, an arrear fief of fief du Comte, adjoining the fief du Groignet to the south.
Gilbert the prevost is no doubt Gilbert the prevost of the Vale who witnessed the agreement between Robert, Abhot of Mont Saint Michel, and Nigel, son of Drogo, in 1156, as well as that of the Abbot and Ralph de Grentais.
12th century administration
With the help of the Great Rolls of the Norman Exchequer of 1180, 1195 and 1198, the charters of the Abbeys of Cherbourg, Montebourg, Mont Saint Michel, etc, and with the aid of Haskins' Norman Institutions, Powicke's Loss of Normandy, Valin's Duc de Normandie et sa Cour, Stapleton's introduction to his Magnus Rotillus Scaccarii Normannias, Pollock and Maitland's chapter on Norman administration in the first volume of their History of English Law, etc, we are able to reconstruct the Norman administration of Guernsey fairly accurately during the latter half of the 12th century.
It would seem that in the year 1177, and for how long previously we know not, both Guernsey and Jersey had formed one adminiatrative unit, for we find in the Great Roll of 1180 the heirs of William de Courcy accounting for 200 livres angevin, for the arrears of the farm of the Channel Islands (de Insulis) through Robert d'Agneaux, who probably had acted as their father's deputy in the Isles.
He also accounted for certain measures of wheat he had received from the islands, according to the measure of Caen. William de Courcy was ‘’dapifer’’ or Seneschal of Normandy, and one of the favourite ministers of Henry II. He was head of this great Norman family and died, as Robert de Torigni tells us, in the year 1177.
It is obvious that such a great baron, one of the chief judges of the King's Court, can never have personally attended to the duties of chief of the administration of the Channel Islandls, but that these duties were performed by a deputy, the Robert d' Agneaux above-mentioned.
In the same Rolls of 1180 we find that after William de Courcy's death, the administration of the Channel Islands was divided. Jersey was divided into three districts or, as they are called, ministeria, namely, Groceium, farmed by Roger Godel, Crapout Doit, by Richard Burnulf, and Gorroic by the same Gilbert de la Hougue, whom we have seen was Vicomte of Guernsey in 1179.
What title these Jersey ministri bore, we know not; neither do wo know what were their relations to each other, or whether, for judicial purposes at least, there was one central local justice, or if each unit was distinct and was responsible to the Duke for all purposes.
The entries on the Rolls of 1180 rather point to the latter, for we find each fermor accounting separately for the whole revenue of his district, for the fines of the old pleas, the chattels of criminals, the escheated lands of felons, and for fines inflicted on themselves or their deputies for maladministration of justice in their own districts. These all point to three separate administrative units, rather than to a central local authority for the administration of justice for the whole island.
In 1180 Gilbert de la Hougue was still fermor of the vicomte of Guernsey, and for some time at least during the previous year Robert de Haverlant, whom we have seen witnessing Peter du Vivier's charter in 1179, had acted as his deputy, for it is he who accounts for the remainder of the fines from the old pleas, and who also pays a portion of the large fine of 40 livres imposed on him personally for having been present and assisted in compoundiug a felony of maiming, a felony which the Tres Ancien Coutumier tells us was reserved to the King's judgment, ie the Itinerant Justices.
The Great Rolls tell us nothing of the administration of the other islands, but from other sources we know that Herm belonged to the abbey of Notre Dame du Voeu, Cherbourg, and Jethou to Mont Saint Michel. Whether they were under the jurisdiction of the Vicomte of Guernsey, or whether the abbeys possessed full jurisdiction over their tenants at this time, it is impossible to say.
Alderney and Sark were undoubtedly separate units, each under their own overlords. Alderney belonged to the L'Ingenieurs, one of whom, William L'Ingenieur, Lord of Alderney, had given land there to the Abbey of Cherbourg by a charter dated 1122, and later one half of the island was in the possession of the Chapter of the Cathedral of Coutances.
William L'Ingenieur's descendants, Peter and Mayn L'Ingenieur (Ingenator), sold, in 1238, to Henry III, all their rights in 10 livres sterling of land in Alderney which had belonged to their father, another William L'Ingenieur, fur the sum of £10 sterling, and so the island passed to the Crown.
There formerly existed in the archives of the Bishop of Coutances an interesting document, now unfortunately lost, of which an I8th century copy is printed in Berry's History of Guernsey, and another copy is now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. It is stated by Berry to have been drawn up by Hugues de Morville, Bishop of Coutances, and the King's officers, but as this bishop died in 1238 and the King only became possessed of the L'Ingenieurs' portion of the island in November of that year, it is more probably that it was drawn up shortly after, under de Morville's successor.
It is an important document, for it is the earliest detailed account of the constitution of any of the Channel Islands that we possess. It sets out minutely the respective rights of the King and the Chapter, and it would seem by it that the whole island and its revenue were equally divided between them.
The most interesting clause is that referring to the execution of justice in Alderney. This was also divided, the King's court being held by his prevost, and that of the Chapter by their own prevost, while the six Jurats elected by the people of the whole island sat as judges in both Courts.
This peculiar constitution has no resemblance to any of those of the Norman Communes, and its nearest analogy is to be found in the charters of Laon, and some of the towns of Picardy. At Laon for instance, the 20 echevins elected by the burgesses, judged all causes of the citizens either under the presidency of the King's prevot or of the Bishop's vidame, according as the suitors concerned were the tenants of the King's fief or of that of the Bishop.
Sark belonged in the 12th century to the de Vernons, Barons of Vernon in the county of Evreux and of Nehou in the Cotentin. Between 1160 and 1174 William de Vernon gave the church of St Magloire, the mill, the mill pond, and certain lands and tithes to the abbey of Montebourg, which gifts were confirmed by his son Richard de Vernon by several charters. The latest, dated 1196, is interesting, as it was given by Richard de Vernon when in exile in Sark, and it was witnessed by the prevost of his barony of Nehou as well as by his prevost of Sark.
Let us now see what we can trace of the administration of Guernsey at this period and of the powers of the Vicomte's Court. A Norman official of the 12th century was all things. Whether his title was bailiff or vicomte, he was the one responsible officer for the maintenance of peace, the collection of the Duke's revenue the exercise of justice, and in case of danger or invasion it was he who commanded the array of the people, the militia for the defence of their homes.
If there was a royal castle in his bailiwick or vicomté, it was usually under his command, and he was responsible for its safety and repair, The accounts of the bailiffs and vicomtes in the Great Norman Rolls are filled with entries of sums paid by them for the garrisons, munitions and repairs of the castles under their charge.
It is the complete absence of any such entries in the accounts for Guernsey and Jersey in the Great Roll of 1180 that makes it evident that no royal castles were as yet in existence in our islands at that date.
Of the judicial powers of our vicomte and of the composition of his court we have little definite information, and we can only be guided by what we know were those of the Norman vicomtes generally, by piecing together the few scattered facts that have so far come to light.
There were in the 12th century in Normandy two classes of vicomtes, the great hereditary vicomtes, such as the vicomtes of the Cotentin, of the Bessin, of Avranches, Auge, etc; and the lesser vicomtes, a class of officials of recent creation.
The great vicomtes dated back to the earliest days of the duchy, maybe to the time when, as the old chroniclers tell us, Rollo "roped out" his newly conquered land among his followers. The origin of their name is to be sought in the Frankish vicecomes, for when Rollo and his successors reconstructed the government of the devastated province of Neustria, they adopted, with modifications, the same system of administration that hnd previously existed there.
These modifications were notable ones. The comtes were invariably members of the ducal house, or closely allied to it, while the vicomtes, of whom there was at least one in each county, were ducal officers and not merely, as were the Frankish vicecomes, the deputy of the count, his vice-regent, appointed by him and not by the King.
In this way the Duke of Normandy retained a closer hold over the administration of the duchy and over his great feudatories than did the King of France.
The early vicomtes were chosen from among the chiefs of the Norman host, and at the end of the 10th and early in the 11th century they ranked next to the comte at the head of the baronage. They were in constant attendance at the Duke's great court, and their names figure on most of his charters.
If their office was not hereditary at the first, by the end of the 10th century many had already succeeded in making it so. Their powers were also greater than those of the minor vicomtes under Henry II. The statutes of Lillebonne of William the Conqueror, of the year 1080, tell us that it was to them that the bishops looked for protection from the oppressions of the barons, and though on account of the scarcity of documentary evidence we know little of their judicial powers, it is probable that they held the pleas of the sword in their districts for at least all the lesser infractions of the Duke's peace.
The list of public crimes, reserved by William the Conqueror for his own judgment, contains many, such as assaults on the high road, on pilgrims, on suitors going to and coming from the Duke's court, assaults in the homestead and at the plough, etc, which can hardly have been of sufficient importance to have been tried only by the Great Court of the Duke, presided over by him in person.
They had also the defence of their districts committed to them, and thus we find in the reign of Duke Richard II, Nigel I, Vicomte du Cotentin, gathering around him the barons of the Cotentin and repolling the Saxon invaders under King Ethelbert. Under William the Conqueror their powers were already beginning to be curtailed.
After the revolt of the vicomtes of Lower Normandy, which ended in their defeat at the battle of Val-es-Dunes, even after Nigel, Vicomte du Cotentin, had received pardon and had had his lands restored to him, for many years Duke William retained the vicomital powers in the Cotentin in his own hands, and appointed first Eudes Capella, and later Robert Bertram, as vicomtes, and only restored them in about 1072, to Nigel's son, Nigel III.
Further towards the end of his reign he created new vicomtes, such as that of Orbec. This process was continued by Henry I, Geoffrey and Henry II, until at the end of the 12th century we find Normandy covered by a network of new vicomtes and bailiwicks.
The old hereditary vicomtes, such as the Vicomtes du Bessin, Avranches, and others, were reduced to the rank of great territorial magnates, enjoying certain dues from their old vicomtes, it is true, but receiving them from the ducal officials, who were rcsponsible for the administration of their districts to the Duke alone.
As the power of the Duke increased owing to the administrative changes introduced by Henry I by the institution of the Court of the Exchequer, and by Henry II, of trial by sworn inquisition of neighbours as an alternative to the old judgments by battle or ordeal, and by the institution of Itinerant Justices, who travelled all over the duchy at fixed periods, to judge all the cases reserved for the king's judgment, and to supervise the administration of the local courts of the bailiffs and vicomtes, the powers of the latter were greatly restricted and they became, as we find them in the Tres Ancien Coutumier of 1199-1200, minor officials whose local courts possessed only a restricted jurisdiction.
Guernsey Royal Court
Let us now see what traces of this system of administration we can find in Guernsey under Henry II and his successors before the loss of Normandy. Our new charter of 1179 provides us with the key to many puzzles. It proves the existence of a Royal Court in Guernsey at that date, a curia regis presided over by a vicomte.
Guernsey was therefore a vicomté at the end of the 12th century. As to the composition of the Court, we have no information; neither, unfortunately, have we any Norman documents to help us, but it is thought by Chesnel and others that the Vicomte's Court was a feudal court in which the tenants-in-chief, the notables of the district, sat as assessors under the presidency of the vicomte as they sat in the courts of the Anglo-Norman Sheriffs of the period. One is tempted to see in the names of some of the witnesses of Peter Vivier's charter, Oliver de Barneville, Espiart Legat and Robert Malmarchie, at least, the tenants-in-chief of the fiefs of Jerbourg (now Sausmarez, St Martin's), Legat (a portion of which is now Bruniaux de Nermont), and Mauxmarquis, which still owe suit of court at our Court of Chief Pleas.
The jurisdiction of our Guernsey Vicomte's Court we cannot suppose to have been greater than that of the other vicomtes in Normandy. The court of the vicomte at the end of the 12th ccntury was a court of minor instance, and the pleas of the sword lay outside his farm and were reserved for the judgment of the Itinerant Justices or, in certain localities, to that of a specially appointed local officer.
This is shown by Henry II's charter to the Vicomte of the Oximin, informing him that he had exempted the lands of Robert Marmion from the jurisdiction of the vicomte's own court, but not from the pleas of the sword, felonies affecting life or limb, which belonged to the bailiff of Falaise. At the end of the 12th century, we gather from the Tres Ancien Coutumier, the vicomte held pleas of only minor importance. He arrested and held in prison malefactors accused by twelve knights or persons worthy of credence, he received the writs of the ducal chancery and executed the preparatory proceedings in matters reserved for the judgment of the Justices of the Assizes, carried out their sentences and collected the fines inflicted by them.
Great Roll of 1180
The Great Roll of l180, as we have seen, shows us Robert de Haverlant, the deputy of the Vicomte, Gilbert de la Hougue, carrying out this last duty and accounting for 36 livres 19 sols 5 deniers, the remainder of the fines of the old pleas. The vicomtes and baillis were required by an ordinance of 1159 to hold their court once a month, and they sat with their justices in the larger Assizes, where they are sometimes specifically called justices, Further, the vicomte was closely supervised by the Itinerant Justices. It was their duty to see that he had done justice to the poor, had done no ill to the innocent, aud had received no bribes to condone robbery or other misdeeds. If he had done any of these things, the "Tres Ancien Coutumier" tells us, heavy fines and even imprisonment awaited him.
If the vicomte's jurisdiction in criminal cases was small, it was equally so in regard to possessary cases, cases concerning the possession of land. In early Norman times, for all disputes between the tenants-in-chief there was only one court, the Great Court of the Duke, and the case was determined by battle, or in exceptional cases the Duke might order certain of his barons to hold an inquisition on the matter and give judgment on their report.
Under Henry I and Geoffrey of Anjou this latter form of procedure was frequently resorted to, and these inquisitions gradually developed early in the reign of Henry II into regular assizes, held by specially appointed justices, and not only the tenants-in-chief but all free tenants, no matter of whose lord, when sued for their free tenements, could refuse trial by battle in their lord's court, and by obtaining a writ from the King or his chancery, they could transfer the suit to the King's court, where it would be tried by the inquisition uf a jury of neighbours, who had knowledge of the facts, and the case would be judged locally by the Itinerant Justice.
Jury of recognition
This jury was styled the jury of recognition, and it could only be summoned by a King's writ for a trial before the King's justices, but if the Duke thought fit he might order the bailiff or vicomte to summon the jury and try the suit in his own court. In this case it was the King's writ that made the vicomte capable of judging a case that was beyond the competency of his own court.
The sale of these writs was a fruitful source of money to the King. The suitor paid just what the greed of the King demanded, or the wealth of the suitor allowed, for there were no fixed court fees in those days. We have an instance for Guernsey early in the reign of King John, in 1201, when we find William La Canelly paying the King 60 livres angevin, so that a suit concerning some land in Guernsey, which he claimed from Matilda de Languetot and her son Henry, might be tried before the King in the King's Court.
We can trace the visits of the Itinerant Justices in Guernsey in the reign of Henry II on two occasions. The Inquisition held in 1241 refers to the Assizes held in Guernsey by Ralph de Valemont, who had then enfeoffed certain tenants with ownerless land. This Assize has been erroneously stated to have been held in the reign of Geoffrey of Anjou by some of our historians, who were led astray by the statement of the author of that famous 17th century forgery, La Dedicace des Eglises, which represents Castle Cornet as having been built by Ralph de Valemont in the reign of Geoffrey.
Ralph de Valemont, however, was a baron of the Norman Exchequer under Henry II, and his name figures on several charters passed before the Court of the Exchequer at Caen, in the pregence of William Fitz Ralph, the Seneschal of Normandy, between the years 1174 and 1194. Again, the fines inflicted on Robert de Haverland, Gilbert de la Hougue's deputy, and the farmers of the Jersey ministeria, in 1180, for having been present and consenting to the compounding of cases of maiming, and for settling a suit without the consent of the Justices, can only have been imposed by a superior authority to that of the court of the incriminated local authorities, that is by the Itinerant Justices, who had probably visited the isles in 1179 or early in 1180.
In the infliction of these fines we see the Justices carrying out locally the duties imposed upon them according to the Tres Ancien Coutumier, to enquire - "que li visconte e li sergent n'aient mal fet en leur baillies envers les innocenz e que il n'oient recelé larrons e autres malfeteurs par deniers qui leur aient este done, e que il n'oient fet pas celeement d'omecide qui soit etainz par le serement de xij chevaliers del visué. E se il truevent que tel chose oit este fet il la doivent fere amandes lealment et fermement." The Tres Ancien Coutumier states that the Assizes were held once or twice a year in each vicomté at the end of the 12th century. It is doubtful if they could have been held so frequently in our islands.
In the following century they were held every three years, and early in the reign of Henry III this triennial visit of the Itinerant Justices is referred to as an ancient custom, and probably it was in existence before the loss of Normandy.
An entry in the Great Rolls of 1195 shows how exactly the administration of the Channel Islands conformed to all changes introduced in Normandy. The previous year, 1194, had seen in England Hubert Walter, the Justiciar's great inquiry into escheats, an inquiry necessitated by the death of many of the tenants-in-chief at the crusade in the Holy Land with Richard I, and also in consequence of Prince John's rebellion.
In Normandy we find in the Great Roll of 1195, traces of a similar inquiry made by specially appointed escheators for various districts. The accounts of Thomas de Brikeville and Gaufrid Sire Home, escheators for the bailiwick of Coutances contain an entry of the expenses of Herbert, the clerk, Richard de Osolville and Richard Bervuche sent to the Channel Islands to hold an inquisition as to escheats. Also Gaufrid Sire Home and Thomas de Brikeville account for the remainder of the straw from the island of Sark for the previous year, when Sark and all the other lands of Richard de Vernon were in the King's hands, on account of his having joined Prince John's rebellion.
Further, in the Great Rolls of 1198 we find Robert de Sainte-Mere-Eglise, then vicomte of Guernsey, accounting for the outgoings of the lands of Baldwin Wake, which were in the King's hands by reason of the minority of his heir, showing that at this time the privilege claimed by the people of the island in the reign of Edward I and recognised by him, that the King had neither ward nor marriage in Guernsey, did not yet exist, so far, at least, as regards ward of his military tenants. Nor for the matter of that did it exist in the reign of King John, or in the early part of that of Henry III, for between 1198 and 1253, fief du Comte was three times in the King's hands by reason of the minority of its heir, and the fiefs of Jerbourg and Le Canelly once.
In conclusion I think the evidence we now possess proves that the administration of Guernsey at the end of the 12th century was identical with the rest of Normandy. We were a vicomte administered exactly as were any of the others of Normandy, and the jurisdiction of the Vicomte's Court was as restricted, and his administration was subject to the same control by the Itinerant Justices as were those of the Norman vicomtes.
We have proof of two visits of the Itinerant Justices; one, in the Assize held by Ralph de Valemont, and the other by the fines, in the Great Roll of 1180, inflicted on various officials in Guernsey and Jersey, for maladministration of justice. Further we find by the Roll of 1195 that any new inquiry, like the one into escheats, was extended to our islands.
We were therefore part and parcel of the duchy for all administrative purposes, and there is nothing to show that we, as yet, possessed any such important privileges as judgment by twelve Jurats elected by the magnates of the people or exemption from the Duke's writs. Of course we already possessed local franchises and liberties with regard to trade, to weights and measures, and to feudal usages and servitudes; but so did each district and even each fief in Normandy possess rights and customs peculiar to their local circumstances.
The only important privileges we can positively claim as existing in Guernsey at the latter end of the 12th century are those of exemptions from all military service out of the island in the host, or the array, except under the personal command of the Duke of Normandy if necessary to reconquer England, and exemption from all feudal aids and tallages, in return for a yearly payment of 70 livres tournois.
These privileges are stated by the jury at the Inquisition held in 1248 to have been enjoyed in the time of the Kings, ie of John, Richard and Henry II. The possession of such privileges in the 12th century, however, gives us no right to assume that we were also possessed of the right of election of our Jurats and other communal privileges, especially as the same jury in 1248 positively asserts that it was King John who instituted 12 Coronor-Jurats after the loss of Normandy to guard the pleas of the Crown, and further authorised the Bailiff, with the assistance of the Jurats, to try various minor possessory cases without a King's writ.
In the 12th century only very few, less than ten, important towns in Normandy were possessed of a Commune, and the jurisdiction of their civic courts was not nearly so great as ours in 1248. Until the loss of Normandy there was no reason for such an out-of-the-way locality as the Channel Islands to possess such privileges. Afterwards we became an important outpost of a hostile country, guarding the communications between England and Gascony. It was at this period, moreover, the common policy, both of John and of Philip Augnstus, to grant privileges of self-government to the frontier towns of Normandy, Gascony and Poitou, to gain over the inhabitants to their sides.