25th December 1857
Seigneur proves to be a real-life Scrooge
The Temperance Hall was in uproar over the behaviour of the Seigneurs. As Deputy Vickery told the members of the Anti-Feudal League who were gathered there, the Seigneur of St Clement “introduces himself by windows, breaks doors and ploughs over land where wheat has been sown and shows vegetation. And such atrocious conduct can only be stayed by three Clameurs de Haro.”
But one Seigneur in particular – the Seigneur of Collette des Augrès, Lord Godfray – was seemingly worse even than this in his treatment of Mrs Bond. She was deaf, too old to work, and widowed, yet Godfray had demanded that she pay him £30 in the form of wheat dues and given her a deadline of just one week, at a time when any normal person would have taken three years to pay that much.
A changed character
Lord Godfray had undergone a significant change during his lifetime. He had originally been a reformer who had railed against Jersey’s Seigneurs when he’d had very little money himself, even when he had been practicing law. But, as he acquired wealth and then became a Seigneur himself, his attitude changed and he demonstrated much the same behaviour as those against whom he had previously campaigned.
This particular story began on Christmas Day 1857 when the widow, Mrs Bond, was expecting to receive a few pounds of rent from her tenant but, instead, discovered that Lord Godfray and his son had taken possession of her house, and demanded that her tenant pay them the rent, rather than Mrs Bond. He justified this on the basis that as her husband had died, the house should be his – the Seigneur’s – whatever Mr Bond’s will had said about the property passing to his wife.
“Can anyone imagine anything more cruel than the conduct of the high and mighty Lord?” asked G Harney, editor of the Jersey Independent, which reported on the case in depth in its 6 January 1858 edition. “We all know who Lord Godfray is: he is the largest landed proprietor in the Island; he is Seigneur of innumerable fiefs; he is one of the first Advocates of the Royal Cort, and commands the most extensive businesses; he is besides Treasurer of the States, and a wealthy banker.”
In short, asked the paper, can anyone understand why he would make such demands for what would amount to such a paltry sum to a man such as himself.
It could only have been because he wanted to get his hands on her house. Had she not been able to pay, she would have been declared bankrupt and, despite having been a Jersey resident for 30 years, would have been banished from the island as a pauper.
As a result, her supporters demanded that the League hold a collection in her benefit so that the Seigneur’s demands might be satisfied, whether they were just or not, and she could sleep soundly in her house. It raised eight pounds, fourteen shillings and nine pence. Certainly not enough to satisfy the demand in its entirety, but a contribution, nonetheless.
A long-running battle
That wasn’t the end of the matter, though. The case of Lord Godfray and Mrs Bond appears in the local papers throughout the following year as the matter went to court. Mrs Wood’s advocate argued that by seizing not only her own house but the house she was leasing he’d taken both her home and her means of paying the rent demanded, and that Godfray should not only make financial restitution, but also pay damages of a not-inconsiderable £100.
Godfray refused to plead either guilty or not guilty on the somewhat tenuous ground that the action against him had been addressed to his first name and surname, rather than his official title, and that the claim should therefore be rejected by the court. The Bailiff agreed with the technicality, and the case was thrown out.
A further collection
There was another collection to the widow’s benefit the next Christmas, raising another £5, and the matter eventually returned to the court. Sadly for Mrs Bond, the outcome was not what she would have wanted. In June 1860 – more than two years after Lord Godfray’s Christmas day demand – the Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph reported that “the Commis-au-Greffe (Mr Orange) read the judgement, which concluded by stating that the defendant [Godfray] had produced a number of precedents confirming him in his right to enjoy the property of the husband of the plaintiff [Bond] for a year and a day, and that the Code of 1771 recognised this right of the Crown and the Seigneurs, therefore that the plaintiff had failed to substantiate her claim. In consequence the defendant was discharged from the suit, and the plaintiff condemned to the costs.”
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