The Bailiwick of Guernsey is a British Crown Dependency in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy.
As well as the island of Guernsey itself, it also includes Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou, Burhou, Lihou and other islets. Although the defence of all these islands is the responsibility of the United Kingdom, Guernsey is not part of the UK but rather a separate possession of the Crown Guernsey is also not part of the European Union. Together with the Bailiwick of Jersey, it is included in the collective grouping known as the Channel Islands. Guernsey belongs to the Common Travel Area.
St Peter Port, the island’s capital, is a bustling harbour town, a tapestry of architectural styles that tell the story of the region’s changing fortunes. Here bistros, restaurants and boutiques jostle for your attention, while in the harbour ferries are readied to take you to the sister islands.
Beyond St Peter Port are inspiring walks along the cliff paths, rambles through the rural interior and island’s beautiful beaches.
Rising sea levels transformed Guernsey first into the tip of a peninsula jutting out into the emergent English Channel, then, around 6000 BC, into an island when it and other promontories were cut off from continental Europe.
At this time, Neolithic farmers settled the coasts and created the dolmens and menhirs that dot the islands. The island of Guernsey contains three sculpted menhirs of great archaeological interest; the dolmen known as L’Autel du Dehus also contains a dolmen deity known as Le Gardien de Tombeau.
During their migration to Brittany, the Britons occupied the Channel Islands. Coming from the Kingdom of Gwent, Saint Sampson (abbot of Dol, in Brittany) is credited with the introduction of Christianity to Guernsey.
In 933 the islands, formerly under the control of the kingdom, then Duchy of Brittany were annexed by the Duchy of Normandy. The island of Guernsey and the other Channel Islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy. In the islands, Elizabeth II’s traditional title as head of state is Duke of Normandy.
During the Middle Ages the island was repeatedly attacked by French pirates and naval forces, especially during the Hundred Years War when the island was occupied by the French on several occasions, the first being in 1339.
In 1372 the island was invaded by Aragonese mercenaries under the command of Owain Lawgoch (remembered as Yvon de Galles), who was in the pay of the French king. Lawgoch and his dark-haired mercenaries were later absorbed into Guernsey legend as an invasion by faeries from across the sea.
During the English Civil War, Guernsey sided with Parliament, while Jersey remained Royalist. Guernsey’s decision was mainly related to the higher proportion of Calvinists and other Reformed churches, as well as Charles I’s refusal to take up the case of some Guernsey seamen who had been captured by the Barbary corsairs. The allegiance was not total, however, there were a few Royalist uprisings in the southwest of the island, while Castle Cornet was occupied by the Governor, Sir Peter Osbourne, and Royalist troops. Castle Cornet, which had been built to protect Guernsey, was turned on the town of St. Peter Port and constantly bombarded it. It was the last Royalist stronghold to capitulate, in 1651.
During the wars with France and Spain during the 17th and 18th centuries, Guernsey shipowners and sea captains exploited their proximity to mainland Europe, applying for Letters of Marque and turning their merchantmen into privateers.
The 19th century saw a dramatic increase in prosperity of the island, due to its success in the global maritime trade, and the rise of the stone industry. One notable Guernseyman, William Le Lacheur, established the Costa Rican coffee trade with Europe.
During World War I approximately 3,000 island men served in the British Expeditionary Force. Of these, about 1,000 served in the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry regiment which was formed from the Royal Guernsey Militia in 1916.
The Bailiwick of Guernsey was occupied by German troops in World War II. Before the occupation, many Guernsey children were evacuated to England to live with relatives or strangers during the war. Some children were never re-united with their families.
During the occupation, some people from Guernsey were deported by the Germans to camps in the southwest of Germany, notably to Biberach an der Riß and interned in the Lindele Camp (“Lager Lindele”). There was also a concentration camp built in Alderney where forced labourers, predominantly from Eastern Europe, were kept. It was the only concentration camp built on British soil and is commemorated on memorials under the Alderney’s name in French: ‘Aurigny’. Some 2,200 UK-born islanders were also deported to prison camps in Germany, notably Biberach an der Riß. Among these was Sir Ambrose Sherwill, the President of the States Controlling Committee and de facto head of the civilian population. While Sir Ambrose was Guernsey-born, he had served in the British Army during the First World War.
Guernsey was very heavily fortified during World War II by 4x Russian 305mm guns made in 1911 out of all proportion to its strategic value. There are German defences visible all round the coast and additions were made to Castle Cornet. Hitler became obsessed with the idea that the Allies would try to regain the islands at any price, and over 20% of the material that went into the Atlantic Wall was committed to the Channel Islands. Most of the German fortifications remain intact; although the majority of them are on private property, several are open to the public.
The total area of Guernsey is approximately 25 square miles (63 km2) and it is situated 30 miles (48 km) west of France’s Normandy coast. The population is just over 65,000.
Light taxes make the island an attractive location for the financial services industry and they now account for about 32 of the total income. Traditionally tourism, light manufacturing and horticulture were key industeries but these have been declining in recent years.
Guernsey has its own stamps and currency, and while British pounds can be used on the island, Guernsey pounds cannot be used in the UK.