I really wanted to understand more about the 1600s Jersey diarist, Jean Chevalier. His journal (a legacy gift to his own familial descendants) has become an unmatched window into his times. It is also the crown jewel of the Société Jersiaise, and the only credible historical document to tell of Sir Richard Lane’s fate while in exile with King Charles II during the English Civil War. But who was Jean Chevalier? How credible were his observations? I finally found a book that promised to tell me…
I have come to characterize Chevalier’s diary as a “parchment Pompeii”. You might ask how the scratchings of an observant, well-connected, and eloquent Jerseyman’s pen can be compared to the results of the fourth pyroclastic flow of Vesuvius? I would answer that some of the richer insights into the lives of other times come from the smaller, more mundane details – the sorts of details that those living in that time would have thought trivial – the sorts of mundane details that seldom survive ancient times. In that sense, the rushing wall of superheated gravel that sealed Pompeii into a time capsule gave us an unrivaled window into the breakfast-time lives of citizens of the Roman Mediterranean in 79AD. In that same way, the “evening news – flavored with town water well gossip” feel of Chevalier’s accounts have a remarkable way of capturing the events of Civil War Jersey with an unusual inclusion of humble actors, emotional scenery, and descriptive detail that provides a similarly striking window into this extraordinary time in Jersey’s history.
There are relatively few sources of information about Jean Chevalier, but I did find a new one: “Jean Chevalier and His Times.” This 1936 book was written by an honorary librarian of the Société Jersiaise named Arthur Charles Saunders. It includes a solid biography of Jean Chevalier (the best I’ve encountered) and a summarized version of Jean Chevalier’s diary. Unfortunately, you can’t buy a copy of this book anymore, and there is no digital version of it online.
But, I was able to find copies of it in a few public libraries in the United States. None of them, however, were anywhere near Colorado! Which brought me to try something I’d heard of, but had never used before: the “interlibrary loan program.” This remarkable program allows you to gain access to volumes from anywhere within the system (public libraries, university libraries, etc.) for free. They are sent to your local library and you check them out there. All you need is a valid library card and the willingness to wait a couple of weeks! So, I filled out the forms. A few weeks later, I got my notice and picked it up at the library in Highlands Ranch! Wow. What a cool program – and what a fabulous last-ditch resource for hard-to-find books!
Although I had ordered it from the Michigan State University Library, the copy I received had been shipped from the San Francisco Public Library System. So I assume that the library in Michigan couldn’t locate their copy and arranged for someone else to send theirs instead.
I had planned to skim the book, looking for a few relevant facts, but wound up reading it cover to cover in a weekend. This is an interesting, very well-written book, which does a good job of distilling the stories in Chevalier’s Diary. I learned a great deal about the politics and customs of the time, and even a bit more about Jean Chevalier himself!
Interesting new information from this book :
- I actually found out more detail about the man who gave the sermon for Richard Lane’s funeral, Dr Byam. Apparently, Dr, Byam was the chaplain to the garrison at the Elizabeth Castle, and was said to have been a great scholar at Exeter College, Oxford. He had fled to Jersey after nearly being arrested raising men and horses in support of King Charles I. In a great irony, he ultimately had to surrender in Jersey to the same man who had tried to arrest him in England!
- I discovered the correct name of a mis-named trial manager I have been researching for the “Trial of Strafford” painting investigation, Mr. William Strode. Mr. Strode was an orator at Oxford and a member of Parliament. I discovered separately that he was also the MP who proposed that any who attempted to represent Lord Strafford in that trial (i.e. Richard Lane) should be charged as conspirators in the same treason!
- I found more detail about the bequest of Smith’s Island to Sir George Cartaret and his effort to take possession of that territory in the New World. Although that island was to be re-named “New Jersey” when it was claimed, it never was– the ship was intercepted by a ship of the Parliament, and its passengers arrested before they made it to the New World. Today it is known as Smith’s Island, Maryland. Correction noted.
- I found more background on Edward Hyde (aka Lord Clarendon), who was Prince Charles’ chief advisor. Apparently, when then King Charles II (in exile) left Jersey in 1650, Lord Clarendon and several other advisors did not believe they would be well received outside of England and asked to stay behind. After all, he had built a house within the grounds of the Elizabeth Castle. He did stay for over two years before being summoned to serve the still-exiled King Charles II in France.
- I found significant background on the people and the politics of Jersey, including the prosecution of a number of people for sorcery. Those found guilty of sorcery (most were) met an awful end.
- I found out more about why Jean Chevalier had such access to information and people in Jersey. He was a “Vingtenier” of the town of St. Helier. This position was a trusted (and vetted) volunteer member of the local constabulary (the police).
- I realized that the man responsible for the woodcut engravings documenting the trial of Strafford in 1641 was in Jersey during the visit of King Charles II in 1649-50. Wenceslaus Hollar also produced drawings of the Elizabeth Castle in 1650 that capture the ancient priory and possibly Edward Hyde’s house (both destroyed the following year). How interesting that the same artist who was there at the moment Richard Lane began his involvement in the English Civil War in 1641 was also there with him in Jersey in 1650 in the last months of his life…
In the picture above created by Hollar, I have highlighted the ancient priory around which the Elizabeth Castle was later constructed. A year after King Charles II’s departure (and Richard Lane’s death), Parliamentary forces finally took the island of Jersey. As they were surrounded, the last stand of the royalist forces took place at the Elizabeth Castle. The English set up a large mortar in the mount on the East side of St Helier, and its third round found the priory–the basement of which was being used as a magazine store for gunpowder. The resulting (spectacular) explosion utterly destroyed the priory and Edward Hyde’s house (thankfully, he was not home at the time). Shortly after this, terms of surrender were agreed. The open combat of the English Civil War had come to a close.
All in all, this book turned out to be very much worth getting and reading. Ironically, I didn’t get any of the things from it I had hoped to–instead, I found answers to a handful of questions I didn’t expect I would ever resolve…excellent.
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!