Simanaitis Says

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CALAIS, THE CHANNEL ISLANDS, HENRY VIII, AND THE NAZIS PART 2

YESTERDAY, HILARY MANTEL’S The Mirror & the Light inspired me to learn more about the Pale of Calais, an English outpost across the Channel during the time of Henry VIII. Today, in Part 2, we visit another English outpost, the Channel Islands, one of which is within 10 miles of France (and some 50 miles distant from England).

Across the English Channel/La Manche. Off the coast of Normandy, some 200 miles southwest of Calais, lie the Channel Islands, an archipelago of islands, seven of them inhabited.

A Papal bull in 1483 had decreed that these islands, the principal ones, Jersey, Guernsey, and Alderney, should be neutral during times of war. Even before Henry VIII, they were under English rule and, through the Council of 1569, they were brought formally into the diocese of Winchester.

Image of the Channel Islands from Google maps.

A Complex History. The Channel Islands got caught up in the British Civil Wars, 1639–1651. Jersey was a Royalist refuge for King Charles II; Guernsey favored Parliamentary causes.

According to Wikipedia, “Charles II gave George Carteret, Bailiff and governor [of Jersey], a large grant of land in the American colonies, which he promptly named New Jersey….”

As described here at SimanaitisSays, the year 1797 was the last time the British Isles were invaded. On the other hand, during World War II, its Channel Islands were deemed indefensible and left to be occupied by the German Army. Alderney had the only Nazi concentration camps on British soil.

A Postwar Guidebook. My Ward Lock Red Guide—The Channel Islands includes Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, Alderney, Herm, and Jethou (pronounced Jet-ho). The suffix “ey” comes from Old Norse ey “island.” The “hou” comes from Old Norse holmr “inlet.”

My hardcover edition is undated, but its context suggests the late 1950s. Its maps are particularly well executed.


The guide describes, “St. Peter Port, the capital of Guernsey, a small town of some 16,799 inhabitants, is situated mid-way on the east side of the island. It is a quaint place of granite and red-roofed houses raising in terraces from a large harbour. The streets are narrow, some of them cobbled, and there are many picturesque buildings. Though quaint, the town can offer all the usual holiday facilities.”

St. Peter Port, Guernsey.

“Sark, the smallest island in the archipelago, did not suffer greatly from the war, although she, too, had to endure the presence of unwanted guests. Here the visitor will find all the quaint customs and wonderful scenery which has ever lured the traveller to this, the last feudal community in the world.”

Observes the guide, “Were it not for the fact that venomous reptiles do not exist in this, or indeed in any of the Channel Islands, and that the population is more numerous, Sark might easily be mistaken for the Garden of Eden.”

The guide’s introduction summarizes, “The natural beauties and unrivalled coast and country scenery of all the Islands are changeless…. The islanders have turned their backs on the bitter past and face the future with confidence. Prosperity has returned, and only a keen eye can detect relics of a black page in their history.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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