Feudalism in the Bailiwick of Guernsey
(Based mainly in Mr. James Marr book :
“The History of Guernsey. The Bailiwick's history” The Guernsey Press Company Ltd. Braye Road Vale Guernsey.
Copyright James Marr, 1982 & 2001). In order to attract setters and compensate them for the pirate risks a
special status was given to the peasants. They had only minor obligations of service and modest payments. A
peculiar system of feudalism without serfdom was thus established.
The noble title of Seigneur (Feudal Lord) came at that time. In most of
the cases the Norman Seigneurs were absentees. During the feudal period, the Seigneurs were the pivot of the feudal
system in the different Christian kingdoms.
They had the power in their fiefs, appointed courts, appointed officers, conferred awards,
collected taxes for the King and dispensed justice, including the power to inflict death in their courts.
The Seigneur on Guernsey ruled his feudal estate as CHIEF among his principal tenants, who formed
his Seigneurial Court and administered justice, within the limits of his jurisdiction under his representative, the
Senechal or President
The Seigneurial courts have been meeting regularly in Guernsey until the XIX century. After the
turn of that century the courts nearly disappeared.
At present time only the Seigneur of Fief de Blanchelande (now the Bailiff, ex-officio) and the
Seigneur of Fief Le Comte continue to hold their feudal courts.
It was tradition that the court and officer members were from the fief. Meetings usually took place
within the fief territories. The Court appointed “chefs de bouvée”, who were responsible for the collections of
dues in designated areas (bouvées).
Considering the fiefs as a whole, (3) three phases could be considered in the evolution:
1) The first phase came with the original grant of the two parent fiefs about 1020 followed by
grant of sub-fiefs to Norman knights.
2) The second phase was dominated by Geoffrey of Anjou’s ascendancy in Normandy, and the origin of new
fiefs especially those created from previous waste areas of Fief du Cotentin.
3) The third phase started after 1204 as the result of King John's loss of Continental Normandy and the
corresponding title of Duke. The lands of the Seigneurs that declared for Philip Augustus of France returned to
King John and many of them were redistributed to local families.
As usual in the medieval times, the Anglo-Norman society was only interested in territorial power.
To every grant of a feudum nobile, or feudum dignitatis, a jurisdiction was always annexed.
The titles of nobility given at that time were the feudal titles of Lord (Seigneur). In 1265 Henry
the III King of England, initiated the creation of nobles by Writ of Summons.
(Barons) In 1388, King Richard II introduced the creation of Barons by Letters Patent. However, as
the Anglo-Norman isles of the Channel are not part of England, there are no Norman titles by Writ of Letters
The only true Norman titles are the feudal titles by tenure (Seigneurs). That is
not to say that a Seigneur of the island or other person from the Channel Islands could not have a title of
nobility granted by an English monarch or by other foreign fount of honours; however it will never be a Norman
title of nobility.
There were three ranks of Seigneurs.
1) The highest rank was entitled to the symbol of a dovecote.
2) Next rank was allowed a “Tourelle”
3) and the lowest rank was symbolised by pigeon-holes cut in the gables.
A number of obligations devolved upon Seigneurs although no Guernsey fief was large enough to impose the duty of a
knight service on its holder, all Seigneurs had to pay an annual relief and the Seigneurs had to pay suit of
service in the King’s Feudal Court.
Additionally some fiefs had some other obligations, such as keeping under strict guard any prisoner
of the King convicted of a minor offence (Anneville), or perform the office of cup-bearer to the monarch
(Sausmarez) or to provide a pair of spurs (Eperons).
Villains also had obligations such as the payment of the Congé (when the land changed hands)
Seal of Fief Le Comte and "bag" age not later than mid 13th Century. Copy in resin at Archives Nationales, Paris.
Courtesy of H. Lenfestey, Seigneur of Fief Le Comte.
Prerogative orders in council: Were (and are) based on the powers exercised by the English Crown.
Acts of Parliament: An Act of Parliament does not apply automatically to the Island but only if the
Island is expressly named therein or because it must apply by necessary implication. An Act of the Parliament which
applies to the Island is transmitted by the Clerk of the Privy Council through the official channels to the Royal
Court for registration in Records.
Insular legislation: There are two forms of insular legislation, namely Laws and Ordinances. Law
originates in the passing by the States of a Project de Loi or Bill. This has no force of law, until having been
transmitted by the Bailiff through the Lieutenant-Governor to Her Majesty in Council, it receives the Sanction of
the Sovereign or refused sanction.
The States exercise legislative power by way of Ordinance. It was exercised by the Royal Court
until 1948 when the powers and functions of a legislative nature were transferred to the States by the Reform
(Guernsey) Law 1948.
Ecclesiastical legislation: The Church of England in Guernsey is part of the Diocese of Winchester,
having been finally transferred from the Diocese of Coutances by an Order in Council of 11th March, 1569. The Dean
of Guernsey and the Rectors are appointed by the Crown.
Guernsey Offices: The offices held in Guernsey are:
1) Crown appointments:
A) Lieutenant-Governor (a Governor was appointed in earlier times as an honour “Governor”, but he usually lived in
England, requiring the need for a Lieutenant-Governor). The Lieutenant-Governor is Her Majesty’s personal
representative in the Bailiwick and is appointed by the Sovereign by Royal Warrant under the Sign Manual.
B) The Bailiff is the Island’s chief citizen and representative. The Bailiff is appointed by the
Sovereign by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm and holds office during Her Majesty’s Pleasure
subject to a retiring age of seventy years. He is President of the States of Election, President of the States of
Deliberation, President of the Royal Court, President of the Court of Appeal and head of the administration.
C) Deputy Bailiff: Same as the Bailiff, acting as Bailiff in absence, incapacity or vacancy of the
D) Lieutenant-Bailiff: The office of the Lieutenant-Bailiff rest on the power, conferred in the Letter Patent
appointing the Bailiff, to appoint a deputy or deputies. The Royal Court is presided over by the Lieutenant-Bailiff
in the absence of the Bailiff and the Deputy Bailiff. The practice is for the Bailiff to appoint four
Lieutenant-Bailiffs, one for each quarter of the year.
E) The Greffier: is Clerk in the Royal Court and Clerk to the States.
F) The Sheriff: Appointed by the States Appointments Board and may not be dismissed from office
otherwise than by Her Majesty. The Sheriff is responsible for executing judgments and sentences of the Royal Court
and of the Magistrate’s Court. The Sheriff is an officer of the Royal Court and of the Magistrate’s Court and the
States of Deliberation and the States of Election.
G) The Sergeant.
H) Receiver-General (collection of dues to the Crown) are other crown appointments.
The Law officers of the crown, Appointed by the Crown by Royal Warrant under the Sign Manual, are:
1) the Procureur (Attorney-General) and II) the Comptroller (Solicitor General).
2) The Jurats.
The twelve Jurats are appointed by the States of Election, after due election.
The Courts: The Royal Court sits as a Court of Chief Pleas, a Full Court, an Ordinary Court, or as the Court of
There are also: The Court of Appeal, The Magistrates’s Court, The Ecclesiastical Court and the
States of Guernsey (States of Deliberation, they are the legislature and the government of Guernsey).
Other Fief Powers
Each fief produced periodically (one each generation usually) the “Livre de perchage”, a publication where the
different lands were described and owners identified. The “Livres de perchage” constitute one of the most singular
references in Guernsey history [A complete report of the dates of “Livres de Perchage” may be found in Appendix II
of “The fiefs of the Islands of Guernsey. By A. H. Ewen. La societe Guernesiaise. Report and transactions. Offprint
1961]. This “Livre de perchage” was compiled by a “Douzaine” of (12) tenants of the fief appointed by the Seigneur
and sworn in by the Royal Court. The interval between successive revisions was supposed to be 20 years although
many times it was greater.
The “Livre de perchage” included properties, owners and extensions of lands (bouvées).
A residual of the old uses still remains nowadays and if land or property change hands in Guernsey
the conveyance must include the name of the fief where the property is located.
The Seigneur was also entitled to payment for his permission (congé) when property on the Fief
changed hands for payment. This payment now goes to the Crown (see above history).
Constitutional Position of the Channel Islands
According to with Sir John Loveridge, Bailiff of Guernsey from 1973 to 1982, “the Channel Islands,
of which the Bailiwick of Guernsey forms part, occupy an unusual position in Her Majesty’s possessions for they are
not part of the United Kingdom nor are they sovereign states or colonies...
They are part of Her Majesty’s possessions with insular legislatures, judiciaries and executives,
but Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom is responsible for their defence and international
Some Remarks on the Constitution of Guernsey, One of the
Channel Islands ...
By Thomas Fiott De Havilland