Abjuration in the Channel Islands

One day in the mid-1450s, as mariner John de Nermont of Guernsey later recounted, gentleman Simon le Cauf le younger came to him demanding money; John refused, and Simon attacked him. John responded in self-defence, killing Simon. John ran to sanctuary in St. Mary’s church in the king’s castle (Ste-Marie-de-Castel?), and there “he abjured the isle” before the bailiffs of Guernsey and the twelve jurats.

Ste Marie de Castel church, Guernsey. Source

Guernsey – one of the Channel Islands, nearer to France than to England geographically – had long been under Norman/English rule although it was separate from the kingdom of England. The legal regime of Guernsey and the other Channel islands was a mélange of Norman and French customary law and English law. It’s interesting to note that they used abjuration with a twist: there were no coroners who usually administered abjurations, so the abjuration oath was sworn before other comparable legal officials (bailiffs and jurats).

It’s also interesting that he abjured the isle rather than the king’s realm more broadly. Could he go to England? Hard to know. In any case, the king pardoned Nermont of the homicide so in his case it was never tested.


Karl Shoemaker drew my attention to another Guernsey case almost precisely a century earlier: in 1355, a couple of pirates took sanctuary in a Guernsey church and then abjured to France. When they got on the boat that was to take them to Normandy, however, they found the crew had less-than-friendly intentions (maybe pirates were not their favourite people). Halfway to the Norman coast “they were made to exit the boat,” Karl dryly writes – into the sea. The crew was later pardoned.

CPR 1452-61, 233; Shoemaker, Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages, 142 (citing CPR 1534-58, 202).

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