La Discipline ecclesiastique, 1576 et 1597

Title page of the Discipline Ecclesiastique, Priaulx Library Collection

In 1885 was published the original French text of the Ecclesiastical Discipline for Guernsey, edited by the Reverend G.-E. Lee of the Town Church and published by Thomas Bichard of the Bordage. The Police et discipline ecclesiastique was a set of regulations for the management of the Church and its congregation in the island, established by consensus in 1576 and which, despite the severity of its rules, remained in force until the Restoration in 1660, when Charles II imposed a form of Anglicanism on the island.

During the reign of Mary Tudor, several wealthy and influential Protestants were forced to flee Guernsey on account of their faith. One such was William de Beauvoir, Bailiff from 1538 to 1545 (and for two days in 1563), who went to Geneva, where he was elected Deacon of the Protestant church there under John Knox and Myles Coverdale. His wife Margaret, daughter of Thomas Compton, another Bailiff, accompanied him. He returned to the island in 1559 once Elizabeth had assumed the throne of England; he later became Bailiff again, from 1572 until 1581. Soon after his return, he wrote to the pastors of Geneva requesting a minister be sent to Guernsey to oversee the introduction of a Calvinist 'discipline' to the island. Nicolas Baudouin (a native of Rouen) arrived with a letter of recommendation from Calvin himself, and was welcomed by the islanders. Baudouin established a Calvinist Church, firstly at the old disused Chapel of the Cordeliers (des Frères), and then at the Town Church, with Elders, Deacons,1 a Consistory and a Discipline. The Police et discipline was drawn up at a Synod held in June 1576 in St Peter Port. This independent thinking led the Protestant church in Guernsey during the Reformation to follow a slightly different path to that of England, and was disapproved of by the Queen, and by her loyal Governor, the puritan Thomas Leighton.2 Although the peculiar nature of the Protestant church in Guernsey at this time and for many years to come was formed undoubtedly mostly out of inclination, it also came about partly out of necessity: the elders found it extremely difficult to find French-speaking ministers to preach in the island without recourse to natives of France and Switzerland. The islanders, most of whom could not understand English, also chose or were directed by these ministers to use Calvin's own French prayer book rather than the officially-approved English version.

Reverend Lee3 based his edition of the Discipline upon the 1576 manuscript he had received in 1880 from one of his parishioners in St Andrew. He discovered that this document was more complete than Nicolas Baudouin's copy in the British Museum; it includes a register of the acts of St Andrew's Consistory from 1615 to 1655. (A microfilm and hard copy of the St Andrew's Discipline may be found in the Library). A much fuller version of the text, from the Livres du Colloque, is reproduced in Shickler's Églises du Refuge en Angleterre.5 Various Acts of Court in the following years show that the Church's regulations were not always adhered to. The Discipline was extended in 1597.

Chapter 9: Baptism
  • Holy Baptism will be administered in Church after the preaching of the Word of God, before the Blessing.
  1. Fathers of children, provided they are not away from the island, must assist the godparent in person in the presentation of the child, and promise to instruct the child, as they are obliged to do.5
  2. It is not acceptable for anyone who has not attended the previous Holy Communion, or who is banned from attending, and does not solemnly undertake to attend the next one, to present a child. If a person is not known to us he must bring evidence of attendance.
  3. The Minister must be notified of an upcoming baptism in good time.
  4. The Ministers will not accept pagan or idolatrous baby names, or names by which God is known in the Scriptures; or holy titles, such as Angel, Baptist, or Apostle.
  5. Each Parish must keep a Baptismal Register, with the names of a child's father, mother, and godparents, and the date on which the child is baptised; and Registers of Marriages and Deaths likewise; all of which Registers must be carefully kept.
Chapter 10: The Holy Supper
  1. The celebration of the Holy Supper of Our Lord Jesus Christ6 will be held four times a year; at Easter, or the first Sunday in April; the first Sunday in July; the first Sunday in October; and the first Sunday in January. It will take place after the sermon, which will be on the subject of the Supper, (or will at the very least touch on the Supper at the end).
  2. This is the order that will be followed: the Table will be placed in a comfortable position near the pulpit; communion will be taken in order, while seated, which is as it was in the earliest church, or standing, as is the custom in some Churches; men first, then women; and no-one may leave the meeting until the People's graces and blessing have taken place.
  3. Anyone who wishes to take communion at the Holy Supper will be catechised first by the Minister to justify their faith. They should know the Lord's Prayer, the Articles of Faith, and the Ten Commandments, or at least the gist of them; and they must abjure the Pope, the Mass, and all idolatry and superstition.
  4. No-one who has not reached the age of discretion, whose behaviour and conversation is held in bad repute, or who will not undertake to obey the rules of the Discipline, will be allowed to attend the Holy Supper.
  5. If someone has been accused of a crime, that person will be encouraged not to attend the Holy Supper, until he has been exonerated.
  6. No-one from the other parishes will be allowed to take part in the Supper without references from their Minister, or of one or two Elders, in parishes where there is no Minister.
  7. Those who refuse to be reconciled one to another will be banned from the Supper.
  8. A minimum of a fortnight's notice of the next Supper will be given to the People, to give them time to get ready.
  9. In addition to the first Doctrinal examination that takes place before taking communion at the Holy Supper, everyone must be again catechised at least once a year, at the convenience of the Parish Ministers.
Chapter 12: Marriage
  1. Promises of Marriage will take place in the presence of parents, friends, guardians, or masters of the parties and with their agreement. A Minister or Elder or Deacon must also be present; they will only accept the pure and simple promises, and calling upon God's name. The presence of a Minister or one of the Elders or Deacons is also necessary for those who are of age, in order for the promise to be valid; and no one may break such promises. Secret or frivolous promises have no legal validity.7
  2. Children and minors under guardianship may not make Promises of Marriage without the consent of their fathers and mothers, or their guardians.
  3. If the fathers and mothers are so unreasonable as to refuse to agree to such a very holy thing, the Consistory will advise them as to the best course of action; if the parents disagree with this advice, they may appeal to the court.
  4. People who have been married before owe their parents the honour of not remarrying without having first sought their advice; if they fail to do this they will be Censured.
  5. Betrothed couples must undertake to their parents to get married within three months of making their promise; or within six months, if they are away from the island. If they fail to do this, they will be Censured.
  6. No Stranger may become engaged without the permission of the Governors, or their Lieutenant.
  7. Degrees of Consanguinuity and Affinity according to God's Law, must be diligently adhered to. [There follows an extensive list, which appears not to have been strictly adhered to in certain cases.]
  8. The Banns will be published on three consecutive Sundays in the Church of the parish in which the couple intend to live. If couple marry in another parish, they will not be prevented from marrying if they present evidence from the Minister who published their Banns.
  9. To avoid abuse and profanation of the Day of Rest, and considering the obvious contempt for the Word of God that is shown at wedding celebrations, it has been decided that it is best that weddings no longer take place on Sundays, and that they should therefore take place on preaching days, as they only occur during the week.
  10. If anyone wants to object to the marriage Banns, they should apply first to the Minister or one of the Elders, who will arrange for the person to appear at the next Consistory, to explain the reasons for their objection, upon which the Consistory will make judgment; and if there is an appeal, it will be sent on to the Colloquy for its consideration.
  11. If any couple has cohabited before their marriage, they will not be legally married unless they admit their wrongdoing. If the fact of their cohabitation was well known in the community, they will have to admit it in front of the whole congregation; but if the cohabitation was not common knowledge, the Consistory will deal with it.
  12. Marriage Promises from Widows who wish to remarry will only be accepted if six months have elapsed after the death of their late husband. This is to promote honesty and proper behaviour, and to avoid several difficulties.

From the original Discipline

Chapter 14: Burial
  1. Bodies may not be taken into or buried inside Church, but must be buried in the cemetery set aside for the faithful.
  2. The parents, friends, neighbours of the deceased, and anyone whom the relatives wish to ask; and even Ministers if it is convenient for them, as members of the Church, and brothers, rather than as a duty, the same applying to the Elders and Deacons, will accompany the body, to support the moral integrity of the burial; no sermon or prayer will be made, and no bell will be rung, nor any other ceremony.
  3. The dead may not be buried without the permission of a Minister.
  4. The bodies of those who are excommunicated may not be buried amongst the faithful without an Order of the Court.

1The Churchwardens were originally known as Trésoriers; in the 16th century they were called Collecteurs ('du Trésor', that is, of church funds), as they were responsible for administering the money received from parishioners as poor relief; they are also referred to in records as 'Procureurs' or 'Attorneys' of the Church. In the Calvinist period the title Trésorier passed to the lesser post of Deacon, or Diacre, who assisted the Churchwardens, and the Churchwardens were then known as 'Anciens,' or Elders. The Anciens also fulfilled a religious function. In 1632 the title Trésorier was restored to the Churchwardens; the Deacons then became known as Collecteurs. In 1662 the titles of Ancien and Diacre were dropped altogether, the Churchwarden Trésoriers, formerly Anciens, being officially known from then on as the Curateurs du Trésor. The deacons remained as Collecteurs. See Priaulx, T. F., 'Les Pauvres', Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society, XXIV (2), Summer 1968, pp. 32 ff, and 'The Ecclesiastical side of Parish administration', QRGS, XXIV (1), Spring, 1968, p. 3.

2 For William de Beauvoir, see Carey, Edith, Social life in Guernsey in the sixteenth century, Guernsey Society, 1920, p. 23. For Nicolas Baudouin, see Marr, James, Guernsey People, Chichester: Phillimore, 1984, pp. 8 ff. Baudouin had moved to Jersey, leaving there in 1584. The ensuing troubles between the Bishop of Winchester, represented by Louis de Vic, and the island's ministers are documented in Eagleston, A. J., 'The Quarrel between the Ministers and the Civil Power, 1581-5,' Report and Transactions of the Société Guernesiaise, XII (1936), pp. 480 ff., and Spicer, A., 'Presbyterian disorders - the state of religion in Guernsey, 1582,' ibid. XXII (1989), pp. 638 ff.

3 Rev George Edward Lee, MA, FSA (1852-1912). Lee quotes a manuscript in the British Museum containing a partial copy of the Discipline, made by the Greffier, Nicolas Berny, to which is appended:

This copy of the Regulations was collated from the original, written out by me as official greffier at the Guernsey Synod of 28th, 29th, and 30th of June, where it was received and signed on its final pages with the seals of Messrs the Governors Amies Poulet, Thomas Leigthon; Helier de Cartereth, Philippes de Cartereth, G. Beauvoir, H. Beauvoir, N. Sammares, N. Martin, N. Trohardy, N. Careye, Jean Delacourt, Persival Wiborn, Art. Wak, Pierres Henry, N. Berny greffier, N. Baudouin, Jean Quesnel, Edouard Herault, Maturin Loumeau, S. Alix, N. le Duc, Jacques Godard, Marin, Chrestien Machon, Olivier Mesnier, Guillome Bonhomme, Th. Blondel, B. Harel, Cosme Brevin and several others both Ministers and Elders of Guernsey, Jersey, and Sark. The original document remains in the hands of Monsieur the Governor of Guernsey, wherefore I have made this faithful copy, as explained above, in the presence of Mr Simon, Mr du Gravier, and Mr Trefoy, signed it and sealed it on the 6th of July 1576, and delivered it to M. Nicolas Baudouin. N. BERNY (Cotton MS) [From the French].

It is interesting to note that some of the Ministers who took part in the Synod were from Jersey; the MS in question is, according to a note in the Library MS Colloque, 'A Tract entitled, 'Police et Discipline Ecclesiastique pour le règlement des Eglises de Guernesé, Gersé, Sark et Origni, comme elle a été faite en Synode à Guernesé le 18 juin 1576: Cottonian MSS Caligula E VI 106 324,'. Nicolas Berny was ministre de Vitré en Bretagne, returned 1577, (godfather to Susanne de Kegarvon, 1569, Town Church registers).

4 Baron F. de Shickler, Les Églises de Refuge en Angleterre, 1892, Vol. III pp. 311 ff. 'Pièces justificatives et complementaires: Iles de la Manche.' For a detailed history of the Reformation in Guernsey, see Ogier, Darryl M., Reformation and Society in Guernsey, Woodbridge: Boydell, 1996.

5 The English Canons of 1603/4, which were the laws upon which Guernsey's Ecclesiastical Court tended to base its actions, stipulated that parents could not act as godparents to their own children. Our researchers have found many instances where this injunction was blatantly disregarded, and indeed does not appear in the Discipline. A Guernsey-printed French translation of the Canons from the early 19th century is available in the Library. See the case of Elizabeth Le Cocq. For given names in Guernsey, see Salzman, J., 'Christian names in XVII Century Guernsey,' Quarterly Rev. Guernsey Soc., XI (1) Spring, 1955, pp. 14-15

6 The Cène: Calvin believed Holy Communion to be one of the most important elements of the Christian service, and advocated weekly communion; this was, of course, highly contentious amongst Protestants and the Council in Geneva merely increased the number of Communion Suppers from three annually to four; in this Guernsey followed the ways of the Reformed Church in Geneva, rather than those of Calvin himself.

7 For example, in the Colloque of March 16th, 1591: 'concerning the so-called marriage between Pierre le Roy and Janette Cheminet, the assembly is of the opinion that it cannot take place against the wishes of le Roy's father, who has a compelling reason to withold his consent. And the said Pierre and Janette are notwithstanding forbidden to consort with or meet up with each other any longer, on pain of arrest and impeachment.'