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Bailiwick of Guernsey

British crown dependency in the Bay of St Malo, less than 30 miles from the Normandy coast of France

location of Guernsey

satellite view of Guernsey

Guernsey encompasses a total of six islands -- Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, and Lihou. The Bailiwick has a total area of about 30 square miles, with the main island of Guernsey itself covering approximately 24 square miles. The population is about 62,000. Its capital is St Peter Port.


Guernsey and its neighboring islands have been occupied since Neolithic times, and numerous Neolithic structures still exist today.

The Normans gained control of the islands in 933. When William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, defeated King Harold and seized the English Crown in 1066, the Duchy of Normandy and England became one.

Pierre de Preaux, Norman 'Lord of the Islands' since 1200, owned land on both sides of the Channel. He fought for King John against France, but was defeated by King Philip at Rouen. With de Preaux's surrender on June 24, 1204, his Lordship of the Channel Islands technically passed to France. Subjects of the King of France were already occupying the Islands, which then briefly belonged neither to John's England nor to Philip Augustus's conquered Duchy of Normandy. Sensing their economic and military value, Eustace 'the Monk' successfully attacked with some 30 ships, reclaiming the Channel Islands for England in September 1205. Guernsey's fortification began with the building of Castle Cornet at the entrance to St Peter Port harbor in 1206. However, the French soon recaptured the islands, followed by a steady, well-planned English recovery in July 1206. King John appointed Philip d'Aubigny warden of Guernsey in 1207, and also of Jersey five years later. Meanwhile, Eustace had fallen out with King John and settled in Sark. D'Aubigny drove him from the island in 1214, only for Eustace's brothers to occupy all the Channel Islands from 1215 to 1216. Eustace was finally defeated by d'Aubigny, at a sea battle off the south coast of England, and beheaded. An Anglo-French treaty forced the brothers to return the islands to England.

To insure loyalty to the British Crown, King John granted the Islands many of the same rights and privileges they had enjoyed under previous Dukes of Normandy. In return, he continued to govern in his capacity as Duke of Normandy. In 1254, Henry III granted the Channel Islands to his son, the future Edward I, on condition they should never be separated from the English Crown, and so the King (or Queen) of England came to be the legally recognized ruler of Guernsey. British possession of the islands was confirmed by the Treaty of Paris of 1259, and they remain British possessions to this day.

Continued French harassment led to the grant of a Papal Bull in 1481 that made St Peter Port neutral, which was beneficial for trade. This led to a long period of relative peace and, on March 15, 1560, Queen Elizabeth issued a grand charter confirming Guernsey's constitutional status quo set out in previous charters. The Grand Charter is one of a series of English charters and other documents which have safeguarded Guernsey's judicial, economic, and administrative autonomy, which it has enjoyed since the Middle Ages.


flag of Guernsey

As a British Crown Dependency, the Bailiwick is an independent self-governing entity. Islanders pledge their allegiance to the Crown, but not to the British Government, where they have no representation. They cannot be called for military service outside the islands, except to rescue the Sovereign if captured by enemies.

The States of Guernsey is Guernsey's equivalent of a parliament. When constituted as a legislature it is officially called the States of Deliberation. When constituted as an electoral college it is officially called the States of Election. The States of Deliberation consists of 45 People's Deputies, elected from multi- or single-member districts every four years. There are also two non-voting Law Officers of the Crown -- the Procureur and the Comptroller, both appointed by the Queen. The Bailiff presides over the States. Two Deputies are appointed by the States of Alderney to represent Alderney's interest in matters delegated by Alderney to Guernsey under a 1948 Agreement. The Alderney Representatives are full members of the States of Deliberation but are unpaid, and are chosen from the 10 members of the States of Alderney after an Alderney-wide vote. All legislation passed by the States of Guernsey applies to Herm, as it is owned by the island. Some laws and ordinances approved by the States, known as 'Bailiwick-wide legislation,' also apply to Alderney and Sark.


Financial services, such as banking, fund management, and insurance, account for about 37% of Guernsey's economy, with tourism, manufacturing, horticulture (mainly tomatoes and cut flowers), and dairy farming making up most of the rest.

Guernsey has it own stamps and currency. British pounds can be used on Guernsey, but Guernsey pounds cannot be used anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

Other Information

Victor Hugo wrote some of his best-known works while in exile in Guernsey, including Les MisÚrables. His home in St. Peter Port, Hauteville House, is now a museum administered by the city of Paris. In 1866, he published a novel set on Guernsey, Travailleurs de la Mer (Toilers of the Sea), which he dedicated to the island.

Henry Watson Fowler moved to Guernsey in 1903. He and his brother Francis George Fowler composed The King's English, the Concise Oxford Dictionary and much of Modern English Usage on the island.

The Guernsey cow is an internationally famous icon of the island. As well as being prized for its rich creamy milk, which is claimed by some to hold health benefits over milk from other breeds, Guernsey cattle are increasingly being raised for their distinctively flavored and rich yellowy-fatted beef. Butter made from the milk of Guernsey cows also has a distinctive yellow color.

States of Guernsey
Visit Guernsey

King John
Queen Elizabeth
Guernsey Cattle

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Great Britain >> England >> Counties, Regions, Etc., A-Z

This page was last updated on October 26, 2017.