Jersey's people are made kings of their castles

Click to follow
Britain has finally decided that two great castles, built on the Channel Island of Jersey to keep French invaders at bay, are no longer needed.

The ownership of Mont Orgueil Castle and Elizabeth Castle is to be transferred from the Crown to the people of Jersey today when Lieutenant-Governor General Sir Michael Wilkes, the Queen's representative on the island, hands over the keys of each castle to the Bailiff of Jersey, Sir Philip Bailhache.

Sir Michael will be accompanied at the two ceremonies by a guard made up of members of the Company of Pikemen and Musketeers which forms part of Britain's oldest regiment, the Honorary Artillery Company. Their usual role is to provide a bodyguard for the Lord Mayor of London on ceremonial occasions.

Mont Orgueil - Mount Pride - which overlooks Gorey Harbour on Jersey's east coast, is an imposing mediaeval castle in an excellent state of preservation. Built in the 13th century to defend the island after King John lost Normandy, which is just 14 miles away across the sea, it was successfully occupied by the French on several occasions over the following centuries.

Elizabeth Castle was built at the end of the 16th century half a mile out to sea from St Helier, which was rapidly developing as the island's centre of trade. The castle was built on a rocky outcrop where the Belgian hermit Helier lived in the sixth century before he was murdered by pirates.

Like Mont Orgueil, Elizabeth Castle was used as a residence by the island's governor. One of the first to live at Elizabeth Castle was Sir Walter Raleigh, who flattered Queen Elizabeth I by renaming the castle Fort Isabella Bellissima. It was Raleigh who secured a future for Mont Orgueil by blocking plans to demolish it, Elizabeth Castle having taken over the defensive role. The most recent invaders of the castles were the German forces who occupied the Channel Islands during the Second World War; both now feature gun emplacements, bunkers and observation towers built by captive, mainly Russian, labour.

Earlier this century the maintenance of the castles was handed over to Jersey, and, following an approach by the island authorities, the Queen recently agreed to the transfer of ownership.

Over the centuries the castles have seen visits by Charles II, Queen Victoria and King George V. Today, however, the castles' military duties as defenders of the realm come to an end, leaving them to face the more welcome annual invasion by tens of thousands of less regal visitors.