Elizabeth Castle is a castle and tourist attraction, on a tidal island within the parish of Saint Helier, Jersey. Construction was started in the 16th century when the power of cannon meant that the existing stronghold at Mont Orgueil was insufficient to defend the Island and the port of St. Helier was vulnerable to attack by ships armed with cannon. It is named after Elizabeth I who was the queen of England around the time the castle was built.
Elizabeth Castle, as its name suggests, dates from the days of the great Tudor Queen. But its site had long previously been associated with events of local importance, the earliest of which might well be termed legendary rather than historical. Here, about the year 540 AD, came Helier, the Christian anchorite after whom the town is named. He chose as his habitation a lonely spume-sprayed rock south east of the islet, where his reputed bed, a rough niche in the rock, may still be seen. In the same place, some 15 years later, he was discovered by a band of marauding sea-rovers and put to the sword, thus earning a place in the Calendar as Jersey's first Christian martyr and patron saint. The Hermitage, or oratory, which encloses his cell was erected at a much later date, probably in the 12th century.
St Helier was a pupil of St Marculf, to whom is chiefly attributed the conversion of the islanders to Christianity. As the population of Jersey then numbered, we are told, only 30 families, the task was not quite so formidable as it sounds. But the benefits conferred by these pioneers of Christianity were material as well as spiritual. The monasteries which they founded invariably attracted settlers to the district, agriculture and the rudiments of education were taught, and an impetus given to civilisation generally. Shortly after the death of St Helier, St Marculf established a monastic settlement upon the islet, and the agglomeration of peasants' huts which, as a consequence, sprang up in the near vicinity, formed the foundations of the future town of St Helier.
After the death of Marcuif in 558, his work was carried on by St Magloire or Mannelier. In 577 Pretextat, Archbishop of Rouen, as the result of a quarrel with the Frankish King, fled to Jersey and took refuge in the Monastery of the islet. He was the first of the host of political exiles who, throughout history, have found shelter and security on our shores. Jersey's inclusion in the Empire of Charlemagne is disclosed by the records of the Abbey of Fontenelle, which state that the Emperor sent Abbot Gerwold on a diplomatic mission to Augia, as it was then termed, in 790. Towards the end of the ninth century, Norse raiders again descended on the Islet and St Marculf's Monastery was laid in ruins.
In the 12th century, the islet emerges from the obscurity of tradition into the light of documented history. In 1155 William Fitz-Hamon, member of the powerful family owning estates both in Jersey and the Cotentin, founded, on the long-deserted site of Marculf's Monastery, a new abbey, which was named in honour of the hermit who had perished so miserably 600 years before. The Abbey of St Helier was soon richly endowed, the King himself bestowing revenues from several royal holdings in Jersey and various of the island lords following suit; chief among them de Carteret of St. Ouen. But in 1179 St. Helier's abbey was annexed to that of St Mary of the Vow, near Cherbourg, an institution not a third part as wealthy or important. Nevertheless, Cherbourg henceforth became the headquarters of the abbot, and the Jersey abbey was accordingly reduced to the status of a priory.
The Priory Church was later the scene of a historic event, the political significance of which has never been properly recognised but without which they should scarcely have attained the constitutional freedom that is the Jerseyman's greatest pride. It is recorded and generally accepted that their constitution is based upon a Charter granted them by King John. Yet it would seem that, towards the middle of the 14th century, the special rights mentioned therein were already being ignored. The Plantagenet kings frequently sent their itinerant or travelling Justices to the Channel Isles. But these officials, instead of dispensing impartial justice to high and low alike, were apparently more concerned with filling the Privy Purse, and seized upon the most frivolous pretexts to impose heavy fines.
At last the islanders decided that these oppressions could no longer be borne. In 1331, just before the next visit of the Justices was due, the chief men of Jersey and Guernsey met together on the Islet. And there, before the High Altar of the Priory Church, they solemnly swore to defend their ancient rights, if need be at the cost of their lives. It was a grave occasion for, in defying the King's authority, they could be accused of rebellion or even of high treason. True to their oath, the island seigneurs, 500 strong, appeared before the King's Justices in Guernsey to plead their cause. The special rights which they claimed were 17 in number, the more important of them being that 12 Jurats should be elected for life, that the Itinerant Justices should hold Assizes only with the cooperation of the Jurats, that the Jurats should have the taxing of fines, and that Jersey should be exempt from all aids and levies.
The ringleaders were arrested and tried, but the jury acquitted them. The Justices, by no means satisfied with this, ordered them to appear at the next Assize, to be held at Longueville in Jersey. Only one attended and he was fined 20 sols. The arrest of the others was again ordered, although history does not record what happened to them. Whatever they may have suffered at the time, they eventually gained their ends, for in 1341 Edward III confirmed by Charter the cherished rights and privileges which they had claimed. As he was then on the eve of war with France, Edward probably perceived the wisdom of retaining the Channel Islanders' allegiance. There are some curious anomalies in Jersey history. King John, from whom the English barons obtained Magna Carta only by armed force, apparently granted Jersey a similar document quite freely and voluntarily. Edward III, who, if not altogether a beneficent ruler according to modern standards was certainly popular in the England of his day, was precisely the monarch from whom Jersey had to wrest a recognition of their rights by rebellion.
On an October morning in 1406 a mixed force of Breton, Norman and Castilian soldiers landed on the islet, in search of martial glory and, as it subsequently transpired, a trifle of booty on the way. Such visitations were frequent during the 14th and 15th centuries, but this raid was different from the rest in that the islanders offered a spirited, albeit vain resistance. Also, as one of the invaders, Gutierre Diaz de Gamez, Standard-Bearer to the Castilian knight Pero Nino, wielded the pen with as great dexterity as the sword, we have been left a particularly full account of it.
Pero Nino had come adventuring out of Spain with his galleys in the previous year and, joining forces with the French Admiral Charles de Savoisy, had spent a profitable summer raiding and pillaging along the south coast of England. Turning homewards, he had fallen in with the Breton knight, Hector de Pontbriand, who, with his charming neighbours, was then planning a descent upon Jersey. The chronicler Gamez enthusiastically credits his master with the leadership of this expedition, but actually it belonged to Pontbriand, who engaged the assistance of Nino and his ships. The following morning the invaders crossed the causeway to find an army of islanders awaiting them on the sands, in battle array. A desperate fight ensued. At first it seemed that the invaders would be overwhelmed, until Nino, espying the Banner of St George, cried "Friends, so long as that flag flies the Englishmen will never surrender."
Then Pontbriand, calling about him some two score brave knights, charged across the battlefield, fell upon the standard's defenders, and tore it down. Resistance slackened. The leader of the islanders was killed: "With my own eyes I saw him, lying at my feet," says Gamez dramatically. Soon the Jersey forces were scattered and flying. The victorious army retired to the Islet for a council of war and a night's rest. Next day they again crossed the bridge and marched inland. To prevent their further depredations, the unfortunate inhabitants were obliged to buy them off with a heavy ransom. Twenty thousand crowns in gold was demanded and part of it collected on the spot, four hostages being taken for the remainder; with the curious stipulation that an additional tribute of 12 lances, 12 battle-axes, 12 bows with arrows, and 12 trumpets, should be paid annually for the next ten years.
Having concluded this very satisfactory arrangement, the invaders sailed off. But this was not the end of their little adventure. When the ship carrying the hostages reached St Malo, Robert de la Heuse, Governor of that town, refused to accept Pontbriand's safe-conduct, and arrested the Captain, one Jacques Devinter, and the four hostages, from whom he attempted to extort another ransom. The Jerseymen indignantly taxed Devinter with breach of faith. Then Pontbriand stepped in and rescued his Captain and de la Heuse promptly brought an action for the recovery of his prisoner. In March 1407 de la Heuse was forced to release the hostages by order of the Parlement de Paris, but it was not until two years later that another decree of the same body finally settled the vexed question of the Jersey ransom.
Henry V's parliamentary Act confiscating the possessions of alien priories does not appear to have been so rigorously enforced in Jersey as in England, and the Priory of the Islet, although bereft of its main sources of income, continued to exist until the beginning of the 16th century. The last Prieur de l'Islet was appointed in 1517, his sole duty, presumably, being to conduct services in the Priory Church, for the monastic buildings had already fallen into disrepair. The Royal Commissioners of 1531 reported that the Priory of St Helier was then en grand decadence, and in 1536 Henry VIII settled the matter by dissolving the smaller monasteries.
The introduction of firearms and the increasing use of cannon had by now rendered mediaeval fortifications obsolete, and under the Tudor monarchs Jersey's defensive system was entirely reconstituted. In 1550 the Council ordered the strengthening of St Aubin's Fort, (commenced in 1542) and the construction of a similar battery on the Islet. Six gunners, maintained by the 12 parishes, were to be posted at each battery. At the same time, all the church bells, save one in each parish church, were taken down and sold, half the proceeds being devoted to the new bulwark on the Islet and half to the remodelling of Mont Orgueil Castle. The Orders with regard to the Islet were not immediately put in effect, for Popinjay's Platte of 1563 shows it as still unfortified. But the failure of the attempt to adapt Mont Orgueil to the use of cannon made some further measure of defence an urgent necessity, and in 1594, as the result of a conference between the engineer Paul Ivy and Governor Sir Anthony Paulet, the Islet was chosen as the position best suited to modern warfare.
Paul Ivy was put in charge of the work on the new fortifications, to which Her Majesty contributed "the summe of five hundred pounds, besides four hundred pounds in value of workmens wages to be bestowed by the inhabitants". In October 1600 Sir Walter Raleigh, then Governor of Jersey, wrote to the Secretary of State: "May it please your honour to receive the knowledge from the bearer, Mr Paule Ivey, what wee have determined for the fort Isabella Bellissima in the Ilett where we have left workmen to finishe as much as this season of the yeare will permitt, and the rest to be don in March following; the charge whereof will be exceeding great, as Mr Ivey uppon his consciens can wittness ... but, however it succeed I will never think of any perry receite till that peece of work be finished, and past the recovery of any enemye, be it but for the name sake wch I have presumed to Christen it by, being before without any demonination at all." It was some time, however, before Elizabeth Castle became generally known as such: the islanders continuing to refer to it as the New Castle or le Chateau de l'Islet. As originally completed, in 1601 it comprised the Keep, built high upon a rock and its surrounding enclosure, now known as the Upper Ward, which contained houses for the Governor and Captain. The arms of Queen Elizabeth, carved in red granite, adorn the entrance gateway. By 1603, a further extension, to cover this gate and command the approach to St Helier's haven, had been added.
Apart from sundry repairs no further work was undertaken at Elizabeth Castle until the reign of Charles I, when, in consequence of the Duke of Buckingham's attack on the Isle of Rho, the French threatened reprisals on the Channel Islands. Accordingly, in 1626 Orders were issued for the fortifying of the land below the Keep, the site of the ancient Priory. This work was supervised by Sir Philip de Carteret, Seigneur of St Ouen, who was soon to take a prominent part in defending the walls which he had built. De Carteret had been knighted by James I at the palace of Whitehall in 1617. He became Bailiff of Jersey in 1626, and in 1634 the Governor, Sir John Peyton, nominated him as his Lieutenant.
Despite the efforts of the Governor and his Lieutenant, and their frequent appeals to the Council for aid, it was ten years before the Lower Ward, as it is termed, was completed. Within its stout walls stood all that remained of St Helier's Abbey, the Priory Church, referred to in a report of 1635 as "an old Chapel, very much ruined, but which may be made useful for store-houses." Whilst the Lower Ward was being constructed, a tall and imposing Watch Tower (since demolished) had been added to the Keep, and, to complete the picture, we may add that the ditch between the Gateway of the Lower Ward and the Castle Green which is now the Outer Ward but at that time was unfortified) was spanned by a light wooden bridge.
The stage is now set for the bitter strife and daring deeds of the Civil War, in which Elizabeth Castle, as the seat of government and tactical centre of insular defence, played so high and gallant a part: a small stage it is true but one that did not lack for players, for across it in the next 20 years moved a host of illustrious personages; royalty and statesmen, noble lords and mercenary soldiers, painters, poets and foreign emissaries, with all the busy intrigue of an exiled court and all the noise and colour of the 17th century .
In 1642 a peition was presented to the Long Parliament calling for the arrest of the then Governor and Bailiff Sir Philippe de Carteret on charges of mis-government. The petitions authors were a Committee of several Jurats notably Mr De La Hague, Mr Sammares, Mr Maufant, Mr Bisson, and Mr Hérault. They were joined by an unlikely ally, the Dean of Jersey David Bandinel. The chief charges were those of mis-governance, nepotism and cronyism displayed by Sir Philippe. One aspect noticeably absent from petition are religious differences which came to dominate similar protests in England, this is due in part to Sir Philippe's own faith which in England would have been seen as favourable to parliament. The Dean on the other hand had been an enemy of Parliament, being arrested in 1641 for imposing Episcopal Governance on the island during the 1620's and then jumping bail to return to Jersey. Another key figure Pierre d'Assigny was a Huguenot, given shelter by de Carteret on the island and became minister of the Town Church, against the Dean's wishes who was opposed to d'Assigny and de Carteret's Calvinist views. In spite of this early friendship d'Assigny would become an enemy of de Carteret.
Following the petition, and with the de Carteret name becomming known in Whitehall thanks to the privateering actions of George Carteret (Sir Philippe's nephew) Parliament issued an arrest warrant for Sir Philippe: “By Vertue of an Order of the Lords and Commons in Parliament, Wee doe hereby authorise and require Mr La Hague, Mr Sammares, Mr Maphant, Mr Bisson, and Mr Herault, Justices of the Peace of the Isle of Jersey, them and every of them joinctly, and severally, by the Counsell and helpe of those of the said Island, who stand well affected to the King and Parliament; to the maintenance of the Protestant Religion, the lawes and liberties of the Kingdome, and priviledges of Parliament, to apprehend the person of Sir Philip Carteret, Knight, Lieftenant Governor of the Island.” However he refused to be arrested in the name of Parliament, declaring that "This Island has nothing to do with Parliament but only to the King in Council". From a constitutional perspective this was correct, but de Carteret had made many enemies and they had been pushed towards Parliament by the Kings steadfast support for Sir Philippe. Much of the island rebelled lead in part by a Committee of Jurats which had formed a bloc in the States against de Carteret, the Dean of Jersey and also the firebrand Hugeunot preacher Pierre d'Assigny then Minister of the Town Church. Sir Philippe faced with the militia marching on the town had to flee to Elizabeth Castle while his wife and a son managed to successfully seize the fortress of Mont Orgueil located at the east of the island.
The Parliamentarian faction began the construction of works with which to bombard Elizabeth Castle, the yard of the Town Church was converted into an artillery battery. Under the instructions of Pierre d'Assigny (Minister of the Town Church) further batteries were constructed on the Town Hill, however the population was becoming increasingly reluctant to cooperate with the Parliamentarian leadership. Works were also constructed with which to bombard Mont Orgueil Castle. Modern cannon were received from England, however these were deployed only at the last minute, and also poorly and had little or no effect on breaking the deadlock. The Royalists mounted several skirmishes towards St. Helier and the batteries, however there was very little direct combat in the period most of the fighting being gunnery exchanges at long range with only minimal effect.
With the capture of Jersey's only two fortresses, the island fell to the royalist cause within the year and, following the death of Sir Philippe in 1643, his nephew George Carteret, took over operations for the royalists. In order to fund the military presence in the island, Carteret took to privateering. Along with his privateering exploits, George Carteret also sought to imprisoning Parliamentarian supporters and confiscating their property in order to fund the royalist expenses. However this alone was not enough, the Royalist cause by 1645 becoming increasingly desperate was in urgent need of revenues, this meant more unpopular taxation. A new Court House in the Royal Square was also constructed as a symbol of Royal Power prominently displaying the arms of both Carteret and the King.
The Prince of Wales, the future Charles II, was given sanctuary on the island of Jersey in 1646 and again in October 1649. Charles II was publicly proclaimed king after his father's death (following the first public proclamation in Edinburgh on 5 February 1649) in the Royal Square in St. Helier on 17 February 1649. Charles' visits also led to unwelcome changes in the nature of the island's religion; with the initial rebellion the Church had reverted back to its Presbyterian/Calvinist state, but with the Royalists regaining control this was reversed. These changes were branded by contemporary critics as "papist", the Jersey Church was brought closer to that of the Caroline one which "greatly scandalised the people". Combined with the large numbers of Catholic soldiers also on the island, the population was becoming disgruntled and Carteret's regime was becoming more autocratic and oppressive. Even Royalists who criticised Carteret's methods were not safe from persecution, as is the case with the Reverened le Cloche of St Ouen and his wife who disagreed with piracy and accused Carteret of being Godless. Similar views are shared by a fellow if moderate Royalist, Jean Chevalier in his journal.
With Jersey being the last royalist stronghold in the British Isles (as well as the effects of de Carteret's raids on shipping), a Parliamentarian force of 2,200 men, under Colonel James Heane and naval commander Robert Blake, was commissioned in 1651 to retake the island. The Parliamentarians landed to the west of the island at St Ouen's Bay and managed to defeat the royalist force assembled to meet them in a short confrontation. The Royalist forces were heavily demoralised, having been forced to march up and down the bay under fire from Parliamentary ships who were sailing around to disguise the point of their landing. Support for Royalism on the island was also far lower than it had been in 1643 when the Parliamentarian faction was ousted from power. Many were unwilling to fight, the majority of the island was apathetic to the Royalist cause, contemporary chroniclers point to Carteret's dictatorship, changes to the religion and war weariness as a primary cause. Many of the Royalist forces were routed before any heavy fighting could take place, the majority of casualties were sustained by the cavalry who stayed longer, though even these were light. The Royalist forces were forced to retreat to their strongholds on the island. The Royalist garrison at Mont Orgueil, surrendered on amiable terms to Col. Heane, faced with the prospect of modern artillery being deployed on Mont St. Nichols, and with no prospect for relief the Old Castle would not have held for long, and the struggle would have largely been futile.
Elizabeth Castle, as a modern fortress, surrendered seven weeks later, after a protracted siege, on 15 December 1651. The Parliamentarian forces were forced to deploy heavy mortars in order to bomb the fortress into submission, several batteries were constructed, the Town Church was converted into a guardhouse. The Parliamentarian bombardment of the castle destroyed the medieval abbey church in the heart of the castle which was being used as a storehouse for ammunition and provisions. Having lost many of his supplies, and powder and with no hope of relief due to the Parliamentarian naval presence there was no hope of repelling an enemy attack. Sir George Carteret surrendered to Col. Heane of the Parliamentarian forces on similar terms to that of Mont Orgueil. He and the other Royalist defenders were granted permission to withdraw to the continent. It is said that de Carteret and Heane departed amicably. In recognition for all the help given to him during his exile, Charles II gave George Carteret, Bailiff and governor, a large grant of land in the American colonies, which he promptly named New Jersey, now part of the United States of America. In 1668, or shortly afterwards, King William's Gate was constructed, which is located between the Outer Ward, and Lower Ward.
During the Seven Years' War, French prisoners were kept at the island. Perhaps the most well known was Jean-Louis Le Loutre. Abbé Jean-Louis Le Loutre (September 26, 1709 – September 30, 1772) was a Catholic priest and missionary for the Paris Foreign Missions Society. Le Loutre became the leader of the French forces and the Acadian and Mi'kmaq militias during King George's War and Father Le Loutre’s War in the eighteenth-century struggle for power between the French, Acadians, and Mi'kmaq against the British over Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia and New Brunswick). Le Loutre escaped to Quebec through the woods in 1755. In the late summer, he returned to Louisbourg and sailed to France. His ship was seized by the British in September 1755, and Le Loutre was taken prisoner. After three months in Plymouth, he was held in Elizabeth Castle, Jersey for eight years, until after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) that ended the Seven Years' War.
The castle was next involved in conflict in the late 18th century, this time it was with the French. French troops under Baron Phillipe de Rullecourt landed in St Helier on 6 January 1781, and the castle garrison was marooned. The governor Moise Corbet was tricked into surrendering to the French, but the castle garrison under Captain Mulcaster refused to surrender. The French were eventually defeated by troops under Major Francis Peirson at the Battle of Jersey. Both Peirson and de Rullecourt were killed during the battle. The perceived vulnerability of the Island led to the construction of Fort Regent on Le Mont de la Ville, purchased by the British government from the Vingtaine de la Ville overlooking the Town. Fort Regent became the site of the main British garrison.
A two-story barracks hospital building was constructed in the early 19th century. A plan to link the castle to the mainland as part of an ambitious harbour project in the 19th century was abandoned. A breakwater linking L'Islet to the Hermitage Rock on which the Hermitage of Saint Helier is built remains, and is used by anglers. The British government withdrew the garrison and relinquished the castle to the States of Jersey in 1923. The States then opened it to the public as a museum. During the Second World War the Germans, who occupied the Channel Islands, modernised the castle with guns, bunkers and battlements. After the Liberation, the castle was repaired and was eventually re-opened to the public. Each year, on the Sunday closest to St. Helier's Day, 16 July, a municipal and ecumenical pilgrimage is held to visit the Hermitage. As part of the pilgrimage an open-air service is held within the castle. Other cultural events, such as concerts and historical re-enactments are also held from time to time. Click here for a calendar of what's on.
Payment is on arrival, by cash (Sterling or Euro notes accepted), credit/debit card (not Diners Club or American Express). Organised groups: 15% discount for groups of 6 or more adults or seniors. Please book in advance here.. The castle is reached on foot along a causeway from West Park slipway in St Helier. Visitors can either walk at low tide or catch the pirate-themed Castle Ferry (small charge applies) at high or low tide. Public parking is available in Patriotic Street, the Waterfront or in parking bays off Victoria Avenue. All bus routes terminate at Liberation Station which is a short walk away. A coffee shop is on the premises – members receive 10% with their voucher (found in your voucher pack). Jersey Heritage gift shops, selling gifts, souvenirs, books and toys are located at Elizabeth Castle and in the Castle Ferry kiosk. Unfortunately the site is not suitable for people with mobility impairment. No dogs allowed, except guide dogs. Hearing loop available at reception and a portable hearing loop is available for groups if requested in advance.
Location : Elizabeth Castle, St. Aubin's Bay, Jersey JE2 3NU
Transport: Poole Ferry then causeway or Castle Ferry.
Opening Times : 29 March to 29 October, Daily, 10:00 to 17:30
Tickets Castle Only : Adults £11.25; Children (6 - 16) / Students £7.70; Seniors £10.15.
Tickets Castle + Ferry : Adults £13.95; Children (6 - 16) / Students £10.35; Seniors £12.85.
Tel: 01534 723 971