We have earmarked today for a trip to Mont Orgueil (pronounced ur goye) Castle, overlooking Gorey Harbour. We arrive as the castle opens, so are in time for a free conducted tour. Our guide, Daniel, takes us up twisting slippery stairways, down and round through a maze of rooms. We are very glad that we joined this tour as we learn much that we would never have found on our own. I strongly suspect that we would also have missed several of the rooms, as the periodic redevelopments of the castle have left it with a tangle of intertwined corridors, staircases and chambers. Here are some random things that we were told. I am taking no responsibility for the accuracy of the same!
There has been occupation on this site since Neolithic times but what remains dates from the thirteenth century or later. In 1204, King John lost control of Normandy to Philip II of France. The Channel Islands, which were part of the Dukedom of Normandy and thus joined to England since the Norman Conquest, opted to remain with England rather than Normandy. This made them the frontier during conflicts between France and England and thus fortifications were needed. We examine the murther (or murder) holes over the portcullis. Traditionally, these would be used to drop anything from boiling oil to dead animals onto the invading enemy. Mont Orgueil’s situation gave its occupants another option, boiling up shellfish to make quicklime, which would burn when it came into contact with the sweaty bodies of those attempting to enter the castle. The only antidote was urine. In order to provide a well within the middle ward in case of siege, they had to dig through nineteen metres of granite.
Mont Orgueil’s role as a frontier fortress was particularly important during the 100 years’ war, which bizarrely didn’t last for 100 years at all but from 1337-1453. In 1461, Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, intrigued to return Jersey to the French but the French failed to capitalise on this and they were chased out in 1467. Henry Tudor was exiled to Jersey and spent time at Mount Orgueil, before his victory at Bosworth.
At various times in history, the castle has been the seat of island administration. In 1549, John Thynne was Captain of the castle and he oversaw many of the Tudor improvements. Thynne was also responsible for building Longleat House. Modifications to the castle kept in line with developments in weaponry. Lead from roofs of dissolved English monasteries, such as Glastonbury, were used in the castle. Henry Cornish was another captain during the time of an absentee governor. He was responsible for installing three breech loading cannons. By the end of the reign of Elizabeth I, the castle was deemed to be obsolete, as it was not suitable for defence against attack by cannon from the sea. It was to be demolished but Walter Raleigh persuaded Elizabeth I to leave it intact, whilst building Elizabeth Castle as an effective replacement for defensive purposes.
In 1634, the Puritan William Prynne had his ears cut off and was to be imprisoned for life for remarks that were deemed to be insulting to Queen Henrietta Maria. He was kept as a political prisoner at Mount Orgueil, where he was well treated by the governor Sir Philip Carteret. He was pardoned by Charles II. The castle was then used as a prison for three of those who had signed Charles I’s death warrant. Jersey was Royalist during the English Civil War and Jersey was the first place to proclaim Charles II as king in February 1648/9, just a month after his father was executed. Charles II rewarded leading family the Carterets, with land in the new world, now known as New Jersey. Three altar stones have been found at the castle. One is now in Trenton, New Jersey. Between 1562 and 1660 there were sixty six witchcraft trials on Jersey; half were put to death, mostly by hanging and strangling. I can’t quite work out how one can be both hanged and strangled but don’t shoot the messenger. During the Napoleonic era, Phillipe D’Auvergne used the castle as his headquarters for a spy network against France.
There are a number of fascinating art installations in the castle. One is a modern representation of the Medieval wounded man, which illustrated various possible battle wounds. In theory this was supposed to be encouraging, as the claim was that these wounds could be cured. I feel that this might be more off putting than encouraging but this was the era when John Bradmore successfully removed an arrow that had become embedded in the skull of the future Henry V. I guess they kept stressing the successes and conveniently ignored the failures. There is an unusual hologram of the queen, executed by artist Chris Levine in 2004 and an impressive sculpture showing the English and French Medieval Royal Families.
A very interesting historical interpreter is braving the rain and he tells us about Medieval weaponry, whilst undertaking his leather work. We are introduced to the Bec de Corbin (crow’s beak), a new one on us. This is a long metal pole with a spike and a multi-pronged hammer, designed for penetrating armour; you wouldn’t argue with someone wielding one of those. It was a shame about the drizzle, although my Niagara Falls poncho came into its own. The potential of a damp Mont Orgueil exhausted, we returned to the apartment to relax.