Mont Orgueil – “a fort of great capacity”

There has been a defensive site here for over 2,000 years; from the Iron Age right up to the Second World War. In the earliest incarnation, the fortification would have simply been a ‘Castle of Refuge’, one of five in Jersey that provided temporary protection whenever rampaging invaders landed.

The site is ideal, here is a spine of rock protected on three sides by cliffs and the sea.

The castle was started in the early part of the 13th century. When King John lost his lands in France, the Channel Islands and particularly Jersey was thrown into the front line of a war zone. Normandy, which is visible about 14 miles away, was one of these territories. So where better to put a huge castle than within sight of the French coast?

The castle that we see today was started at the beginning of the 13th century, when King John lost his lands in nearby Normandy. Suddenly Jersey, only 14 miles away from France, was thrust into the frontline of a war zone. Of all the places in the Channel Islands to erect a formidable castle, here at Gorey, within sight of the French coast was a natural choice.

The advent of gunpowder heralded the castle’s demise; Mont St.Nicholas, the hill that faces the castle, provides the perfect place for attackers to array their artillery.

Brave attempts were made to defend Mont Orgueil; the Grand Battery – the huge outer wall that overlooks the green, and the Somerset Tower – the tallest part of the castle that dominates Mont St.Nicholas, were built specifically to mount cannon. Despite all this, the castle was unable to keep pace with cannon technology and it was decided to build Elizabeth Castle in St.Aubin’s Bay. Had it not been for Sir Walter Ralegh, who described it as ‘a fort of great capacity’ and said it was ‘a pity to cast it down’ it is likely that much of what we see today would have been reused in Elizabeth Castle.

©Arthur Lamy

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