Jersey — History and Culture
The Bailiwick of Jersey has a unique history. A vestige of the Dukedom of Normandy, it has been British Crown dependent for almost a thousand years, though is separate from the UK. Occupied by the Germans in WWII, today the area is a major banking and tourist center, retaining many historic forts and excellent museums.
People have been on Jersey for thousands of years as is evident by the la Hougue Bie Neolithic tomb. It has had somewhat of a volatile history as the Romans, Vikings, pirates, and smugglers all took up residence here, and frequent bouts occurred between the English and French rulers.
Normandy reigned through the early 1200’s and the language today, Jèrriais, harks back to this period, along with the division of the island into parishes. The war between King John of England, the Duke of Normandy and France in 1066 saw the loss of Normandy, but the loyalty of Jersey, granting the Channel Islands special status.
There was always a threat from France, so forts were built up around the island, including the stunning Mont Orgueil Castle on the east coast and Elizabeth Castle in St Helier in the south. The French managed to take Mont Orgueil in 1461 and started the Battle of Jersey in 1781 by marching to Royal Square in St Aubin’s Bay.
In more recent times, Jersey once again became occupied by outsiders when the Germans invaded in WWII. This was the only part of the ‘British Islands’ that was ever under siege. They built fortifications around Jersey and Guernsey, and the War Tunnels are preserved as a popular museum and attraction. The Occupation Tapestry depicts Jersey’s eventual liberation.
Today, Jersey is booming as a solid finance center, remains outside of the UK (yet Crown dependent), and enjoys enviable tourist figures. Jersey locals are high earners and coupled with a duty-free status and no inheritance tax, which makes for a healthy lifestyle.
Ongoing struggles with France over the centuries have imparted a blend of language and culture on Jersey that make it somewhat unique. The island has more of an affinity with England and tends to be more upscale, but avoid referring to locals as either English or British. Some consider themselves Normanic and are typically pro-Europe.
Jersey’s culture can be seen through its artisans, who churn out an array of traditional crafts. There are a myriad workshops from leather works to pottery, the Jersey cow, sweaters, bread, and flowers. A number of food and flora festivals can be enjoyed in spring and summer when shows, fairs, concerts, and sports really show off the island.