Have you ever spent a moment thinking about the word “journalist”? Because of modern media, we think of a journalist as someone who reports on news for the public media. But in mid 1600s, a local Jersey man named Jean Chevalier was a journalist in the most basic sense of the word – he began a diary, capturing events in Jersey during the Period of the English revolution – starting in 1643 and continuing until parliamentary forces finally captured the island in 1651. What is so remarkable about this journal is the level of penetrating detail it captured about people and events on the island – providing singular and often quite personal insights into day-to-day and historically significant events alike. I’ve never seen anything like it…
The actual diary of Jean Chevalier is the property of the Société Jersiaise (a compelling historical and scientific organization in Jersey founded in 1873 – and of which I am a proud member!). This remarkable manuscript is one of the “jewels” on display at the Jersey Museum & Art Gallery, located in the historic Merchant’s House in St Helier.
Regarding background on the remarkable diary and its author, I could not improve on this excellent ITV news story: ITV story of Jean Chavalier’s Diary. Another great reference is the “wiki” of Jersey history – see “The Island Wiki” article about Jean Chavalier and “The Island Wiki” article on Chevalier’s diary.
Historical Study of Chevalier’s 1600’s Diary by the Société Jersiaise
Some excerpts of this diary (handwritten with a quill pen in archaic French) were first published in the annual report of the Société Jersiaise in the late 1800’s. Later, in the early 1900’s, the Société Jersiaise had this manuscript of some 400,000 words transcribed “letter-for-letter” into typeset (but still in archaic French) to allow further study without exposing the original delicate manuscript to additional handling. This transcription was published into a set of “fascicules” – a set of booklets, each an installment of the larger work. Finally, these fascicules were translated into English by Major N.V.L Rybot (1876-1961), a retired honored soldier-turned-historian and President of the Société Jersiaise.
When I visited Jersey on my research trip this May (2017), I had the opportunity to meet with many members of the historical chapter of the Société Jersiaise. That evening, I was thrilled to be presented with a copy of the 8th of this set of fascicules – the one containing Jean Chevalier’s account of the 1650 death and burial of King Charles II’s “Lord Keeper”, Richard Lane! I believe they correctly guessed that no one would treasure it more…
When these fascicules were translated into English, the diary Jean Chevalier wrote as a gift to his descendants finally had its chance to be understood for the treasure it is! In fact, it was this document alone that captured the story of what became of Lord Keeper Richard Lane. I’ve always wondered how many other treasures lie within its pages?
When I try to explain the power of this manuscript, I tell people I consider it a calfskin bound “Pompeii”. I don’t think most people realize how much of historical evidence of the lives of our forebears has been recovered from trash pits and cemeteries – because its usually the only place residual evidence of ordinary lives can be found! But Jean Chevalier was clearly a man who was interested in people, both famous and ordinary, and in the “goings on” in Jersey. I often wondered whether Jean Chevalier was also a man of history, and suspected the singular value his narrative might someday prove to be…
In the image of the passage about Richard Lane’s funeral below, you can see the remarkable details captured by Jean Chevalier. He wrote as though to give his great-grandchildren a window into the world around him, painting a picture with details – so they could see what he saw. In this passage, Chevalier thoughtfully describes the funeral procession, the service, and then the honorary musket and cannon fire marking the passage of a man few others would ever describe in any detail.
Note: recall the article of Richard Lane’s heraldic arms (also described in the passage below). That article includes a sketch Chevalier made of Richard Lane’s arms. Its interesting to compare the description and sketch against the photographs of his real arms I hoped to find (and did) on the walls and windows of the stunning Middle Temple Hall in London.
Amusingly, in the middle of this passage, Chevalier includes the potentially disastrous error of one of the seven gun crews ordered to fire a secondary salute from the battlements of the Elizabeth Castle! Instead of firing a charged but unloaded cannon, this crew mistakenly fired a war shot! Imagine their surprise when that cannon recoiled into its restraints – and the looks of horror they must have gotten from the other assembled gun crews as that cannonball streaked over the heads of the people of St Helier and into the interior of Jersey! Its easy to imagine the excited story that must have been told many times over by the woman who (as Chevalier tells it), “great with child”, ducked back into her home as the errant cannonball crashed down into their property in the now-vanished town of Le Coie…
A new clue from Jean Chevalier’s Account of the Burial of Lord Keeper Richard Lane
At the “meet and greet” with the members of the Société Jersiaise, Neil (pictured with me above) had a very interesting thing to tell me about this passage. In the first translation, the burial location was described as “…the end of Saint Helier’s church, facing the tomb of Maximilliam Norreys”. But aapparently, some translation errors had been found from the original Rybot translation, and a second, more rigourous translation is underway. With a mischievous smile, Neil (former President of Société Jersiaise and current trustee with the Jersey Heritage Trust) informed me that prior to my visit, they had taken another look at the translation of the passage of the funeral of “Milord Keeper”, and realized there had been a subtle translation error. What the manuscript really said was that Richard Lane was buried “…at the high end of Saint Helier’s church…”. Amused, Neil let this soak in for a moment before he shared the significance – the “high end” is a statement of status – it means he was buried in the same end of the church as the altar. This significantly reduces the area of the church floor where the burial might have taken place (as illustrated in the annotated floor plan below). I can’t wait to read the new translation of this passage! What a task that must be…
My gratitude to the gracious members of the Société Jersiaise is hard to overstate. It was Anna, who appears to my right in the group photo below, who I first exchanged emails with when I inquired about visiting Richard Lane’s grave at the Town Church. Anna was the one who told me there was no burial record of Richard Lane in the church’s records (which date back to the 1500’s), but on reflection, she recalled a burial described in Chevalier’s Diary that sounded like the man I was seeking. Later, when I requested a copy of that translated passage from the diary, it was Anna who wrote to tell me the surprising news – when reading the translation more closely, she realized Chevalier had provided some strong clues about where he had been buried (see my earlier article on this and also on Maximillen Norreys).
So what’s next? I think the articles written so far provide adequate background on Sir Richard Lane, and I am hoping to work with the Société Jersiaise to get permission to conduct a ground-penetrating radar survey of the floor of the Town Church. I have discussed this project with an archeologist at a significant GPR manufacturer, who feels the right operator and equipment could yield a very interesting map of the burials under the floor of that church. I am planning to contact the archaeology departments at Oxford and Cambridge (both of which have ties to Richard Lane) to propose this as a graduate research project.
I would also like to work with the Société Jersiaise and the Town Church of St Helier and also with the church of St. John the Baptist in Northamptonshire (where Lady Margaret Lane is similarly buried under the floor of the church in their home community) to see whether a sentimental idea might be possible: linked memorials at these churches to Richard Lane and his wife.
Your comments and corrections are gladly welcomed. I admire great writing, but have little choice but to approach this task as one of grinding a workable edge onto a rough blade – with my thanks for your generosity of spirit and firm critique in the meantime!