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Mont Orgueil Castle - Place of interest.

Mont Orgueil Castle - Place of interest.

Whether an island is of strategic importance depends on its location, and the decision will affect the number of defensive measures built to secure it against attack. In the case of Jersey, this begins with the Norman Conquest against England in 1066. The Channel Islands were part of the territories held by William, Duke of Normandy and after his victory over King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in that year, not only did his kingdom now include England, but also extended to the region of Normandy and the Channel Islands.

Building ‘Jersey Castle’
For the next 138 years, the islands enjoyed relative peace until King John of England lost all his territories in Normandy, and France would occupy Jersey twice, between 1204 and 1206 and again between 1216 and 1217. A force was dispatched to recover the island, which was of strategic importance as a maritime base. The first mention appears in a document of 1212, which refers to a new castle being built on Jersey. In 1224, a war between France and England broke out again, and another reference is made to the ‘Jersey Castle’, the progress of which was recorded as “setting walls, improving the wells, making and repairing ditches, and in purchasing eight acres of land in front of the castle gate.”
The castle to which this refers is today known as Mont Orgueil Castle (Mount Pride) or Lé Vièr Chaté (the old castle) in Jersey French. However, it is better known to most tourists in its English form of Gorey Castle, and from its position on the promontory, surrounded on three sides by the sea, it dominates the coastline. Artefacts found on the site prove the location had been used by the Romans around the 1st century AD, which suggests they recognised its importance in securing the maritime routes to the island.

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Repelling the French
By the first half of the 14th century the defences at Mont Orgueil were at such a level that when Jersey was attacked in 1338 by French forces, commanded by Admiral Nicholas Béhuchet, it was able to withstand his assault. The following year the French tried again and attacked with over 50 ships. However, once more the castle held out and the attack failed. France continued to maintain its military intentions towards Jersey into the second half of the century, which was the reason the castle was kept in a state of good repair and defence. In 1373, Bertrand du Guesclin, the Constable of France and second in power after the king, attacked Jersey with over 2,600 men and laid siege to the castle, which resisted all his attempts to capture it. The timely arrival of a relief force from England forced the French to withdraw and for the next 25 years, apart from small-scale attacks, the castle served as a deterrent against further incursions.
From documents, it would seem that news of the strength of Mont Orgueil had spread, meaning that when the island was attacked in 1406 by a Franco-Spanish force, its commander, Pero Nino, decided against attacking the castle. The first official mention of cannon being incorporated into the castle’s defences is in records dating to 1462, but it is safe to assume that “hand gonnes” and other gunpowder weapons were probably in use at the site before that date. In 1470, the Harlston Tower was built for the specific purpose of mounting artillery, by which time the castle had already seen more military activity than several castles from the same period.

Changing fortunes
Over the next 170 years, Mont Orgueil Castle survived many political and social changes, during which time spending on maintaining the castle’s defences fluctuated but resulted in renovation work at the beginning of the 17th century. When the English Civil War broke out in 1642, Jersey declared support for the King but, apart from some skirmishing and some localised fighting through 1643, the island remains a backwater. In 1651, two years after the execution of Charles I, a Parliamentarian force, commanded by Admiral Blake, arrived with 80 ships and finally subdued Jersey with the surrender of Mont Orgueil Castle in October of that year.
From this point the fortunes of the castle decline and in 1693 the defences are declared to be “in a ruinous state”. Over the next two centuries, the castle served as a barracks and coastal defence site until 1907, when the Crown passed it to the States of Jersey. During World War I, the castle served as an observation post. It was later declared a historical monument, and in 1929, the Castle Museum was established.
After WWII, the museum was re-established as Jersey prospered with the return of tourism. Visitors flocked to see the legacy left by five years of German occupation between 1940 and 1945. Millions of tons of concrete had turned the Channel Islands into a fortress on Hitler’s orders and Mont Orgueil Castle bore part of that transformation. The evidence can still be seen today and forms an unusual timeline in military architecture, showing its transition from arrow slits cut into granite, to reinforced platforms for early gunpowder artillery. It ends with concrete to take automatic weapons.
During its time, the castle has been used as a prison, barracks, and even a residence for notables such as Sir Walter Raleigh who, as Governor of Jersey, recommended it as a “stately fort of great capacatye [sic]”.

Much to see
Today, visitors can see so much history concentrated into one site and admire the engineering that went into the development of it. The fact that the Germans recognised its importance and fortified it as an observation platform, and to store ammunition, says much about the decision of the castle’s builders to choose the location, including the fact that the Romans probably chose it for the same reason.
If military enthusiasts have bucket lists of sites to be visited, then Mont Orgueil Castle would surely feature on many. The site has many exhibitions and displays and also hosts re-enactment and living history displays within the grounds. Full details of opening times and events can be found at: www.jerseyheritage.org/visit/places-to-visit/mont-orgueil-castle/

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  • Mont Orgueil Castle - Place of interest. - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Mont Orgueil Castle - Place of interest. - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • Mont Orgueil Castle - Place of interest. - image {image:count}

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