Monday 26 January 2009

The Channel Islands- Do They Belong to France?

This has kind of been bothering me since..
Well, since last night when it randomly occurred to me.

So I've decided to make it this week's poll topic.

Oh, the Intelligent Design poll?
Well, thankfully most of you seem to agree it shouldn't be taught in schools as a theory equal in value to evolution. But the size of the minority surprised me. So much so that if I was feeling jadedly cynical, I might think that some ID supporters had 'voted early and voted often'.


What this issue is, is about which country actually owns a place, by right. In this case, the Channel islands.

Because it seems to me that in terms of international law, the actual truth MAY have become obfuscated. I'm not sure. But I think it has been. It's just kind of tacitly ignored, which is interesting.

As a bit of background to non UK readers (and perhaps to UK readers too), it may be necessary to say that there are a number of places around the globe NOT part of the UK, but which are under British rule. They legally belong to the UK in international law. Most of them are a long way from Britain. A post on these obscure places at some point might be interesting, but suffice to say, in international law the status of none of these in dispute. Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, the authority of the UK over these places is legally indisputable.

But there are two curiosities far close to home which don't fit on the list of crown colonies and don't come under the jurisdiction of the foreign office.

One is the Isle of Man. Trying to work exactly what the Isle of Man IS, isn't that easy. It is internally self governing, has its own laws and is not represented at Westminster. But the UK government is responsible for its foreign affairs. But it's not in the EU. Confused?
To be honest, I can't see much to distinguish the Isle of Man from Bermuda or any other self-governing overseas colony. Is it a sovereign state? Clearly not. It's a dependency of the British crown and complicated as the history of that relationship is, the lawful sovereign of the place in international law is clearly the British crown. Technically, if you want to be precise, it is a sovereign lordship owing feudal allegiance to the British crown, but it's sovereign lord also happens to be the British crown since the Earls of Derby sold it to the crown in the eighteenth century.

Strange anomaly that no one much minds, because it means that the Manx people don't have to pay very much tax.

The Channel Islands pose a more interesting question.
The name is confusing. One might think they're stuck in the middle of the channel and therefore part of the British Isles. They're not. They're right by the coast of Normandy. And indeed, in a geographical sense, they belong to Normandy.

And that's where their history starts. As part of the Duchy of Normandy.

So when did that stop then? When did they become British?

Er- well never, actually. The Queen doesn't rule the Channel Islands as Queen. In the Channel islands, she is a Duke. The Duke of Normandy. Yes, you heard right. She is not the Duchess of Normandy, she is the Duke. I could explain why she isn't the Duchess, and if you want to ask me in comments I'll tell you, but we'll be here for ever if we get sidetracked on that right now.

Time was when the English Kings owned much of France. Owned being the important word. They were Dukes of Aquitaine, Gascony and various places. And they ruled these places. France was a feudal state, to a degree England wasn't. The King was a kind of overlord, the ultimate sovereign authority, Dukes and Counts ruled in their own lands as little kings. But they had to do homage to the king as their SOVEREIGN. It just so happened that much of France was owned by another king. The English king.

And yes, it was a curious situation. Two Kings, traditional enemies. One actually has more subjects and more wealth and in practical terms rules more land, but in much of it, he is the feudal vassal of the other who is SOVEREIGN over more people and more territory.

And as you can imagine, neither king was ever really happy. It wasn't a situation either of them liked. The one who had to kneel before the other, or the one who knew that the kneeling one was kneeling to him for land that he, the one being kneeled to could not take away from him.

The situation in the Channel Islands up to 1337 was easy enough. It was all that the English king possessed of the Duchy of Normandy. The French king had regained the rest. And in it, as in Aquitaine and Poitiers and other places, the English king was not a King, but a ruling Duke, owing vassal allegiance to the French king.

In 1337, that changed.

One easy solution to the problem of owing allegiance to the French crown, was if the English king could get the French crown. And in 1337, on the basis of a claim which, for reasons similar to the reason the Queen is Duke and not Duchess of Normandy, meant the claim was poor, Edward III claimed to be King of France.

And thus begun the Hundred Years War.
In fact, it didn't actually last a hundred years, it was a number of wars basically fought over this same issue. The claim of the English kings to be kings of France.

And in fact, Edward got peace in about 1360 (or thereabouts) on terms which in fact suited him. Many historians- and I'd agree- suggest he didn't really want to be King of France.
What the peace said was that the King of France could be King of France in any bit of France the English king didn't own. And Edward could be King of France in HIS bit.

So Edward no longer had to do allegiance for his bits of France. He wasn't merely Duke of Aquitaine, he was King of France- well, he was for the purposes of being the King of France in any bits of France where he had to do homage to a French king.

Perfect solution. Kind of.

One could consider this a bit like the two Germanies after 1973. Both kind of thinking they were the real government, but recognising that the other existed. There was the English Kingdom of France, and the French Kingdom of France.

So the status of the Channel Islands in international law, such as it was, was actually quite clear. The King of England held the Channel Islands as Duke of Normandy but they remained subject to the French King, who for the purposes of the Channel Islands, was himself.

This stopped with Henry V. I'm not sure why he decided to gamble the lot and go for all France. But he won. Short term.

His son was crowned King of France. But Joan of Arc of course, led the way for the French to rise up and drive the English out.
The French King of France ended up ruling all France.

Except Calais and the Channel Islands.
In these bits, and only these bits, the English king remained king. But he wasn't King of Emgland there. He was king of France.
A bit like Taiwan still claims to be the Republic of China.

From that time on, all English kings still claimed to be Kings of France. Except after even Calais was lost, the France they were Kings of, was quite small. A few islands off the coast of Normandy.

Now as time progressed, the English kings recognised the French kings for all practical purposes- Charles I even married the sister of one of them- but they still retained the title for political reasons. Charles I still called himself King of Great Britain, France and Ireland. And in the Channel Islands, the King remained Duke of Normandy- but ultimately subject to the King of France. Except here, and only here, the King of France was himself.

Now here comes the bit where- unless I'm very much wrong- it gets confusing.

When James II was deposed, he fled to France. And Louis XIV continued to recognise him as King of Great Britain. As he did his son, up until the treaty of Utrecht. Part of the provisions of that treaty involved a recognition swap. Louis recognised Queen Anne, who in turn dropped the historic claim of the English monarchs to the French throne.

Now as I say, this is where it gets confusing. Because although Queen Anne remained Duke of Normandy- all her successors still used that title officially in the Channel Islands- surely at this point the English crown now owed allegiance to the French Crown for the Duchy of Normandy again?

Though of course, Feudal fiefs of that nature had disappeared in France. It was now a highly centralised monarchy. But technically, one can't help thinking, the Channel Islands had now returned to the French Crown. It was merely they remained the last vestige of a feudal fief. So no one noticed. I'm not aware that the Peace of Utrecht contained any special clause stating that the Channel islands DIDN'T revert to France as a result of Queen Anne dropping her to claim to France, and if it didn't, then sovereignty over the Channel Islands reverted to France and technically, Queen Anne reverted to being the vassal of Louis in them.

What happened then, when the French monarchy was abolished? Does the abolition of a monarchy affect a feudal vassal? Is the relationship between a vassal and a sovereign only applicable to a monarchical situation? Or does the French Republic inherit the rights of the crown in this respect? I don't know, because the situation is unique. Assuming that in 1792 it was correct to say King George III was technically the vassal of Louis XVI in the Channel Islands, it would be the only example of a vassal relationship in existence when a place became a Republic, a situation without precedent. Did the beheading of Louis end the vassalage and make the Channel islands completely sovereign in their own right?

In that case, a parallel would be the Princes of the Holy Roman Empire. They were practically independent rulers, but not sovereign. Ultimate sovereignty was possessed by the Emperor. But on the abolition of that Empire in 1806, the various Dukes and Princes BECAME sovereign. Nothing much actually changed, because each of them had run their own territories as absolute rulers previously. It was just that up till then, they were vassals of an increasingly meaningless Empire. It could be argued that the French Republic inherited everything from the French Monarchy except vassal relationships, because they were purely personal.

I suppose basically, the question I'm asking is this. The Channel Islands are ruled by the Queen, because she is their Duke. What I'm asking is whether the English kings ever became SOVEREIGN Dukes in the Channel Islands.

Because if not, then the Queen is a vassal of Jacques Chirac in those islands and technically, France is within their rights under international law to just walk into the Channel Islands and say the Duchy is abolished.

Anyway, what do you think?
Are the Channel Islands part of France or not?

Poll's in the sidebar.

Have your say!


Anonymous said...

I don't think they are part of France, just as they aren't part of the United Kingdom. Question is -- are they part of the British Isles?

Anonymous said...

(1) What do you expect from ID politics?

(2) Um. would that make Prince Phillip the Duchess?

(3) Do you mean a vassal of Nicolas Sarkozy? Actually, I think that she would never de facto serve as anyone's vassal.

(4) Sounds to me like one of those things that are fudged, but seems to have worked out okay over the years. If it ever becomes an issue, I'm sure the Times of London will cover it:-)

Anonymous said...

By that logic you might as well say England is a part of France.

Except there is no French king of France for the Queen of England to owe fealty to.

And besides what about right of conquest? Or re-conquest anyway. As in WWII? *raised eyebrow*

Anonymous said...

The Channel Islands are not part of the EU either.
In fact parcels sent from the UK require a customs declaration, even though the Islands receive and send mail 1st/2nd class exactly the same as the rest of the UK.

And what were the Barclay twins doing trying to become Kings of Sark?

In answer to the poll.. they should be French, but we would never give anything to the French without a fight, so they are English.

Anonymous said...

Steve- They aren't part of the British Isles geographically, they're not counted as such.

Thing is, they're part of Normandy, which is part of France. It's just whether they LEGALLY are part of France.

X-Dell- This is so. Though the Creationists are funnier. Have you seeen that Carl Baugh?

I guess it would. Though actually, hmmm. You have the same problem when you have Lady Mayors- their partner isn't a mayoress. Not sure what vthey are, actually.

The Byzantine Emperor Irene, was Emperor not Empress as well.

Yes, it is Sarkozy now isn't it?
My bad.

It wasn't uncommon at one time for kings to be vassals of other kings, not for their kingdoms, but for other territories. George III, after all was the vassal of the Emperor Joseph II, because he was Elector of Hanover also.

I think it is kind of a Fudge, yes. I'm trying to think of others which kind of stand out of a similar nature.
One that often occurs to me, though not related, would be if anyone in Hereford actually shot a Welshman with a crossbow for wondering round the Cathedral grounds and pointed out that the law technically allows them to do so.

Anyway, I've just noticed, I haven't done my three hours longbow practice this month under supervision of the local clergy. I hope I don't get arrested!

Moggs- Not really, the English crown was always an 'Imperial crown', by which I mean it was outside the Roman Imperium. The French crown, on the other hand wasn't until Philip IV decided it was. The Kingdom of Sicily was a papal fief though.

Ireland, was actually a papal fief, technically. It was granted to Henry II by the Pope, so he owed allegience to the pope fore Ireland. Quite how the Pope acquired that right in the first place, is kind of convoluted. It goes back to one of the high kings back in the eleventh century dieing in rome and the Popes claimed he bequethed ireland to the Pope.

Bill- Didn't they sack everyone? Rather a grim tale of woe all round. Though of course, it kind of underpinned how voting in a capitalist society works, only there it was pretty naked 'Vote for us or all be jobless'.

I wonder how long peculiariaties like the Channel islands will last? I think once it was Ok living in places like them, low taxes, no real threat, etc. But look at Liechtenstein. The current prince seems to run it as one big corporation. One wonders if the people in these tiny countries might start to feel the damgers of being the equivalent of pocket borough states.

Anonymous said...

Crushed, You "wonder how long peculiarities like the Channel islands will last".

As long as the residents prefer to stay relatively free I figure.

The trouble for most of us is there is no frontier to go to to get away from the likes who figure they are better fitted to run our lives than us.

Anonymous said...

I'm late to vote here but I do see that I am not the only one to vote yes.
On the other hand I have to agree that one commenter who said why give the French anything without a fight.

The Old Scientist's family came from Jersey way back and while Jerseyites are within spitting distance of France they are very English. His surname is very distinct and there is a town in France with the same name, very close to St Malo, where you leave France for Jersey so I am sure they came from France originally.