The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Channel Islands

Alternative meaning: Channel Islands of California

The Channel Islands are a group of islands off the coast of Normandy, France, in the English Channel. They comprise two separate bailiwicks: the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey.



Major articles: History of Jersey, History of Guernsey

The Islands were annexed to the Duchy of Normandy in 933. In 1066 the Duke William the Conqueror invaded and conquered England, becoming the English monarch. Since 1204, the loss of the rest of the monarch's lands in mainland Normandy has meant that the Channel Islands have been governed as separate possessions of the Crown.

The bailiwicks have been administered separately from each other since the late 13th century, and although those unacquainted with the islands often assume they form one political unit, common institutions are the exception rather than the rule. The two bailiwicks have no common laws, no common elections, no common representative body - although politicians consult regularly. There is no common newspaper or radio station, but size of population required a common television station, Channel Television.

During the Second World War the islands were the only British soil occupied by Germany.


Major articles: Politics of Jersey, Politics of Guernsey

Both the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey are British crown dependencies, but neither is part of the United Kingdom. They have been part of the Duchy of Normandy since the 10th century and Queen Elizabeth II is often referred to by her traditional and conventional title of Duke of Normandy. However, pursuant to the Treaty of Paris (1259) she is not the Duke in a constitutional capacity and instead governs in her right as Queen.

Neither bailiwick has representation in the UK Parliament, possessing its own self-governing parliament, but may request that Acts of the UK Parliament be extended to either or both bailiwicks, by Order in Council, after local consultation. The Islands are not part of the European Union.

The islands' governments are responsible to The Queen in Council. In 2001 responsibility for links between the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man and the Crown passed from the Home Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Department (replaced 2003 by the Department of Constitutional Affairs).

Their citizens hold British passports, which bear the words 'British Islands, Bailiwick of Jersey' or 'British Islands, Bailiwick of Guernsey', as opposed to 'United Kingdom'. Under the Interpretation Act 1978, they are deemed to be part of the British Islands, not to be confused with the British Isles, of which they are also historically considered a part.

Both bailiwicks are members of the British-Irish Council, and Jèrriais and Dgèrnésiais are recognised regional languages of the Isles.

The legal courts are separate, but there is a joint court of appeal. Among the legal heritage from Norman law is the Clameur de Haro.


The inhabited islands of the Channel Isles are Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, (the main islands) Jethou, Brecqhou (Brechou) and Lihou. All of these except Jersey are in the Bailiwick of Guernsey, but the Minquiers and Ecréhous, uninhabited groups of islets, are part of the Bailiwick of Jersey. Burhou lies off Alderney.

(There is another small island Chausey, south of Jersey - not generally included in the geographical definition of the Channel Islands. It is owned by France, and although popular with visitors from France, it is rarely visited by Channel Islanders as there are no direct transport links from the other islands.)

The very large tidal variation provides an environmentally rich inter-tidal zone around the islands.


Tourism is the major industry in the smaller islands (with some agriculture). Jersey and Guernsey have, since the 1960s, relied on financial services. Guernsey's horticultural and glasshouse activities have been more significant than in Jersey, and Guernsey has maintained light industry as a higher proportion of its economy than Jersey. Jersey's economy, since the 1980s, has been substantially more reliant on finance.

Both bailiwicks issue their own banknotes and coins, and operate independent postal administrations with their own postage stamps. Banknotes and coins of both bailiwicks circulate freely in all the islands alongside UK coinage and Bank of England and Scottish banknotes, but postage stamps can only be used for postage in their respective bailiwicks. See: Guernsey Pound and British banknotes#States of Jersey Notes

Each of the three largest islands has a distinct vehicle registration scheme:

  • Guernsey - simply a number, up to five digits;
  • Jersey - J followed by up to six digits, vanity plates are also issued;
  • Alderney - AY followed by up to five digits.


Main article: Culture of Jersey

Culturally, the Norman language predominated in the islands until the 19th century, when increasing influence from English-speaking settlers and easier transport links led to anglicisation.

Victor Hugo spent many years in exile, first in Jersey and then in Guernsey where he wrote Les Misérables. Guernsey is also the setting of Hugo's later novel, Les travailleurs de la mer (The Toilers of the Sea).

The annual Muratti, the inter-island football match, is considered the sporting event of the year - although, thanks to media coverage, it no longer attracts the crowds of spectators travelling between the islands that occurred during the 20th century.

Channel Island sportsmen and women compete in the Commonwealth Games for their own island, and the islands have been enthusiastic supporters of the Island Games. Shooting is a popular sport - islanders have won Commonwealth medals in this discipline.

Guernsey's traditional colour for sporting and other purposes is green, and Jersey's is red.

The main islanders have traditional animal nicknames:

  • Guernsey: donkeys - the steepness of St. Peter Port streets required beasts of burden, but Guernsey people also claim it is a symbol of their strength of character
  • Jersey: crapauds (toads in French and Jèrriais) - Jersey has toads and snakes that Guernsey lacks
  • Sark: corbins (crows in Sarkese, Dgèrnésiais and Jèrriais) - crows could be seen from sea on the island's coasts
  • Alderney: lapins (rabbits) - the island is noted for its warrens

Christianity was brought to the islands around the 6th century; according to tradition, Jersey was evangelized by Saint Helier, Guernsey by Saint Samson of Dol and other smaller islands were occupied at various times by monastic communities representing strands of Celtic Christianity. At the Reformation, the islands turned Calvinist under the influence of an influx of French-language pamphlets published in Geneva. Anglicanism was imposed in the 17th century, but the non-conformist tendency re-emerged with a strong adoption of Methodism. The presence of long-term Catholic communities from France and seasonal workers from Brittany and Normandy added to the mix of denominations among the population.

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Dependencies: Faroe Islands | Gibraltar | Guernsey | Jan Mayen | Jersey | Isle of Man | Svalbard

Last updated: 02-07-2005 08:33:44
Last updated: 05-03-2005 09:00:33