Castle Cornet, St Peter Port

Has been described as a Certain Masonry Castle, and also as a Certain Artillery Fort

There are major building remains

NameCastle Cornet, St Peter Port
Alternative NamesChateau-Cornet; Cornet Rock; Castle Rock; castri de Gerner'; Corneyt
Historic CountryGuernsey
Modern AuthorityGuernsey
1974 AuthorityA
Civil ParishSt Peter Port

Castle Comet is built upon a rock which stands in the sea a little less than half a mile from the east coast of Guernsey, opposite the town of St. Peter Port. Until the building of the present harbour and breakwater, this rock could only be reached on foot at low spring tides, that is for a few hours at each tide on three or four days in the month. The site offers many advantages. The castle walls could not be mined; they were not subject to battery until guns of sufficient weight could be mounted on ships or fired with sufficient range and accuracy from the coast of Guernsey; nor could the castle be besieged unless effective control of the surrounding seas were established. On the other hand, though a castle so situated might be very strong in itself, and while it might do much to protect shipping lying at anchor in the roadstead of St. Peter Port, it could do little to influence events in the island beyond. On two occasions, from 1340 until 1345 and from 1643 until 1651, Castle Cornet was held for some years against hostile forces established in Guernsey; while on several occasions, as in 1294, 1336 or 1372, the Island was overrun while the garrison of the Castle looked on helplessly.

Until the early years of the thirteenth century, while the Channel Islands were attached politically to the neighbouring coast of France, they had no strategic, political or economic importance, and there is very little evidence of any fortifications there. Indeed, in 1248, twenty-three Guemseymen said on oath, in a context that clearly refers to the time of King John’s accession and before: "At that time there were no castles in the Islands.” But when the king of France had annexed Normandy to his domain and established his suzerainty over Brittany, and yet left the Channel Islands in the possession of the king of England, their fortification became a matter of immediate necessity

The earliest reference we have to defensive works in Guernsey can be assigned to the year 1206 and although it is difficult to be sure until all the evidence both archaeological and documentary has been more closely studied, it would seem that the medieval Castle Cornet was built in a series of campaigns over a period of rather less than fifty years from that date, and that it retained its essential form, with additions and modifications in detail, until the sixteenth century.

The plan of the medieval castle was naturally moulded to the shape of the rock on which it was built. This rock is roughly triangular in plan with its apex pointing somewhat to the east of south. From the southern point it rose steeply to a height of about a hundred feet above the mean sea-level, and there was another summit of about the same height in the centre. The central summit was crowned by a great cylindrical tower, the donjon or keep; the southern summit carried a square tower. La Tour Carree. Between the two towers lay the southern or inner bailey; to the north lay another bailey with the main entrance to the castle, protected by a barbican, at the north-east extremity. The plan may thus be shortly described as one of two baileys, with a round keep standing astride the partition wall dividing them, a plan very similar to that of Pembroke Castle in South Wales. Nothing is at present known of any buildings or defences that may have stood outside these two baileys during the Middle Ages ; but it is unlikely that there were none, for what appears to have been the principal well of the castle lay outside the main walls on the eastern side and a considerable area was left unenclosed to the north where an enemy might have effected a lodgment.

The history of the medieval castle is not lacking in incident. Although there is no record of an attack upon it in 1294 or in 1336, when Guernsey was raided by the French, the garrison must have been standing to. But when Admiral Behuchet captured Guernsey and the lesser islands in 1338, he secured the Castle as well; and though English forces recovered the Islands in October 1340, following their naval victory at Sluys, the French were able to hold out in Castle Cornet until 1345; and they were in it again for a few months in 1356-7 When the Islands were raided and partly occupied between 1372 and 1377 and during the raids and invasions of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the Castle seems to have held. Its inability to shield Guernsey from attack, shown clearly in many of these incidents, is not likely to have diminished its importance in the eyes of the government which paid the expenses of its maintenance and the wages of its garrison ; for as long as it was politically and economically necessary for England to keep open the sea route from London and Southampton to Bordeaux and Bayonne, the roadstead of St. Peter Port was used by hundreds of ships annually, and it could have been used by none if Castle Comet were in enemy hands. On occasion, it seems, the Castle could do more than watch over the shipping tied up in St. Peter Port; for at the time of the Crecy campaign a party of household troops stationed there sailed out and captured a number of Spanish ships off Guernsey. Thus while the medieval Castle had its fair share of sieges and excitement, the less spectacular but constant protection offered to shipping was probably more significant. When the first tower designed for cannon was built c. 1435-7 it was built at the north-western extremity of the castle where it commanded both the inner roadstead and the approach to the Castle over the beach from St. Peter Port.

Castle Cornet, as it stood in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, clearly sufficed for medieval needs, though these were many. In addition to its military and quasi-naval functions, it provided a residence for the warden of the Islands, when he was in Guernsey, a centre for his administration and a prison.

...

Castle Cornet, as it appears today, is predominantly a Tudor fortress. The Tudor constructions masked and the explosion of 1672 partly destroyed the medieval castle, and subsequent modifications are less obvious. (Le Patourel 1958)

Not scheduled

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid Reference
Latitude49.4529685974121
Longitude-2.52624011039734
Eastings0
Northings0
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Photograph by Malcolm Butler. All rights reserved
Photograph by Malcolm Butler. All rights reserved
Photograph by Malcolm Butler. All rights reserved
Copyright Rob Cabo All Rights Reserved
Copyright Rob Cabo All Rights Reserved
Copyright Rob Cabo All Rights Reserved
Copyright Rob Cabo All Rights Reserved
Copyright Rob Cabo All Rights Reserved
Copyright Rob Cabo All Rights Reserved
Copyright Rob Cabo All Rights Reserved
Copyright Rob Cabo All Rights Reserved
Copyright Rob Cabo All Rights Reserved
Copyright Rob Cabo All Rights Reserved
Copyright Rob Cabo All Rights Reserved

Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.

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Books

  • Thornton, Tim, 2012, The Channel Islands, 1370-1640: Between England and Normandy (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) passim
  • Cox, G.S., 2012, Guernsey's medieval castles: the Raymond Falla memorial lecture 2012 (Guernsey: Toucan Press)
  • Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Late Medieval Siege: 1200-1500 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 120 (sieges 1338, 1345)
  • Barton, K.J., 2003, The Archaeology of Castle Cornet, St Peter Port, Guernsey (Guernsey Museum Monograph 7)
  • Salter, Mike, 2001, Castles and Old Churches of the Channel Islands (Malvern; Folly Publications) p. 11-7
  • Saunders, Andrew, 1997, Channel Defences (London; Batsford/English Heritage) p. 122
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 544
  • Colvin, H.M., Ransome, D.R. and Summerson, John, 1982, The history of the King's Works, Vol. 4: 1485-1660 (part 2) (London) p. 448-50
  • Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1976, The history of the King's Works, Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London) p. 603-6
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 159-60
  • < >Le Patourel, J., 1958, The Building of Castle Cornet (Royal Court of Guernsey) < > (contains many transcriptions of primary sources) limited preview
  • Timbs, J.and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 1 (London) p. 533-4
  • Tupper, 1851, The Chronicles of Castle Cornet (Guernsey) online copy
  • 1826, A Guide to the Island of Guernsey, Alderney, and Serk (Guernsey: J.T. Cochrane) p. 1-6 online copy
  • Grose, Francis, 1787, The Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 6 p. 175-9 online copy

Antiquarian

  • William Camden, 1607, Britannia online copy
  • Popinjay, Richard, 1570, A Chart, or Bird's Eye View of Chateau-Cornet, and other Islets between Sark and Guernsey British Library online gallery
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1909, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 4 p. 186 online copy

Journals

  • John Le Patourel's excavation notes are held in the Channel Islands collection at Leeds University (Online information)
  • Clark, Kate, 2008, Valuing the Heritage of the Channel Islands (Kate Clark Associates for Jersey Heritage) online copy

Guide Books

  • Guernsey

Primary Sources

  • Stenton, D.M. (ed.), 1942, The Great Roll of the Pipe for the eighth year of the reign of King John, Michaelmas 1206 (Pipe Roll 52) (Pipe Roll Society Publications 58) p. 59
  • Stamp, A.E. (ed), 1927, Calendar of Close Rolls Henry III (1251-53) Vol. 7 p. 54 online copy (requires subscription but searchable) [alternative online copy > https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE59599] (repairs to castle in 1252)
  • 1902, Ancient petitions of the Chancery and the Exchequer ayant trait aux îles de la Manche, conservées au "Public Record Office" à Londres (Jersey: Société Jersiaise) p. 69 online copy (incomplete - pages 42-50 missing!)
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1913, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1367-70) Vol. 14 p. 60 online copy
  • Dasent, J.R. (ed), 1890, Acts of the Privy Council Vol. 1 1542-47 p. 168
  • Dasent, J.R. (ed), 1891, Acts of the Privy Council Vol. 3 1550-52 p. 46, 227
  • Dasent, J.R. (ed), 1892, Acts of the Privy Council Vol. 4 1552-54 p. 69
  • Dasent, J.R. (ed), 1893, Acts of the Privy Council Vol. 6 1556-58 p. 118
  • Lemon, R. (ed), 1856, Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, 1547-80 p. 93
  • Green, M.A.E., 1870, Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Elizabeth, 1601-3 With addenda 1547-65 p. 454, [484-5 > http://extra.shu.ac.uk/emls/iemls/statepapers/1601-03/Scan0484.pdf]
  • SP15/13, No. 75 (Survey of 1567) The National Archives reference (calendared in Green, M.A.E. (ed), 1871, Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Elizabeth Addenda 1566-79 p. 30 [online transcription > http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=60827])
  • E101/90/1 (Survey of 1374) The National Archives reference

Other

  • < >O'Neil, B.H. St. J., 1952 (rev edn 1981), The History of Castle Cornet, Guernsey (Guernsey: GP Printers) < >