Sark Powers of Fief Seigneur
Sark, like Alderney, developed a constitutional status largely independent of Guernsey but unlike Alderney it did
not lose any sovereignty to Guernsey following the Second World War.
In the 13th century Sark was a Crown Fief in the care of the Warden of the Isles (the predecessor office to the
Lieutenant-Governor of the Bailiwick of today). The Bishop of Coutances had the right to appoint the priest
of Sark's church. Justices visited and dispensed justice. The Prevot was the local Judge assisted
Sark suffered French invasions during wars between the English and the French. Its population was ravaged by
the Black Death of 1348.
It is clear that during the 14th century Sark was part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Governors exercised shooting
rights. If there was a permanent community during some decades of the 14th century it was sparse and
lacked any degree of permanency.
It is said by Ewan De Carteret in The Fief of Sark that in the 15th century Sark had been abandoned to rabbits
and pirates and there was no attempt to resettle it.
In July 1549 a substantial French naval force arrived off Sark, 200 men landed and occupied Sark and formed a
garrison there. They were further reinforced. As the garrisons in Guernsey and Jersey had insufficient
forces to displace them the French remained there. In 1553 Sark was repossessed with the assistance of a
Flemish Corsair and then subsequently abandoned. In the early 1560's the English were yet again at War
with the French and were worried about the defences in the Channel Islands. Helier de Carteret, the Seigneur
of St. Ouen in Jersey proposed that he should be entrusted to populate and defend Sark.
The Fiefdom of Sark was granted to Helier de Carteret by Royal Commissions in 1563 and this was confirmed by Queen
Elizabeth I in 1565. One of the conditions of the grant was that Sark should be continually inhabited by 40
armed men. Letters Patent of James I in 1612 provided that the 40 tenements (as the land division areas were
named) should each remain in undivided ownership. The tenement owners had a seat in Sark's legislative
assembly known as the Chief Pleas. This right ceased when the constitution was revised in 2008.
The annual rental fee due to the Sovereign for the Fief was payable to the Queen's Receiver in Guernsey. Even to
this day an annual nominal sum is paid to Her Majesty's Receiver General in Guernsey by the Seigneur of
The inhabitants soon after the grant by Queen Elizabeth proceeded to elect from amongst themselves a Bailiff and 12
Jurats in imitation of the Courts in Jersey and Guernsey but this was seen in Guernsey as an attempt in effect to
set up an administration based on a Jersey system independent of Guernsey. Sir Thomas Leighton, the Governor of
Guernsey regarded that as usurpation.
A Royal Commission was appointed. It arrived to hear evidence in 1579. The Royal Commission did not
agree with Helier de Carteret's intentions and Sark remained within the Bailiwick of Guernsey with the Royal Court
of Guernsey as Sark's superior court.
However an Order in Council of 1583 established a Court with 5 Jurats, locally chosen by the inhabitants. It
was ordained that the Sark Court would have similar powers to that in Alderney. It was further confirmed that
appeals would be to the Royal Court in Guernsey as the superior court. The Court could also assemble 3 times
each year to sit as a Court of Chief Pleas with a power to make Ordinances.
There were some difficulties in the 1600's and in 1672 an Order in Council displaced the Jurats and the Royal Court
was given power to appoint the Judge known as the Seneschal but by a further Order in Council in 1685 the power of
appointing the Seneschal was vested in the Seigneur of Sark.
Sark - The Powers of a Fief Seigneur
By the mid 1800's it is clear that the Seneschal had a very limited criminal jurisdiction to deal with petty
offences with a power limited to imposing a small fine. Cases requiring a more severe punishment were dealt
with before the Royal Court in Guernsey.
The Court of Chief Pleas by the mid 1800's comprised the Seigneur, the Seneschal, the Priest, the Greffier
and the Tenants, as owners of the tenements.
Ordinances were passed by the Chief Pleas for maintenance of the roads, rates were imposed for the maintenance of
the poor and there were ordinance making powers for the purposes of local taxation and police. After
Chief Pleas had voted the Seneschal requested the assent of the Seigneur. If the Seigneur withheld his assent
then the majority of the Tenants could appeal to the Royal Court of Guernsey. The Royal Court had a limited
power to annul an ordinance if it was contrary to superior law.
The Chief Pleas also had power to appoint 2 police officers, the Constable being the senior of the two, and the
Vingtenier who would succeed him the following year.
The Court of Sark, the Seneschal's Court, had an unlimited power to deal with civil cases.
Sark's population did not evacuate in June 1940. Its administration and Court functioned throughout the
German Occupation and so the state of Sark, following Liberation on 10th May 1945 was totally different to that
which confronted Alderney. There had been no significant despoiling and destruction of buildings in Sark.
Most of the population had remained. Records had not been lost and title to land and boundaries were clear.
The administration and Court had functioned throughout the German Occupation and so had the Chief Pleas, the