Safe-conduct for Alderney, 1513

20th July 2015
Louis Malet de Graville, Admiral of France

Letter to Monsieur de Pontaumont, archivist of the Société académique de Cherbourg.

'My dear friend, I am taking the liberty of sending you a copy of a document which you might think appropriate to present to our colleagues at the Society. I feel it provides interesting evidence of the relationship between the people of Alderney and those of Basse-Normandie at the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries. It is a document of safe-conduct from the French admiral, Louis Malet, Seigneur de Graville, dated 20 April 1513.  We were then at war with England, but, as had long been the case with the people of Alderney, even though they were  subjects of the English Crown, they were very keen not to be treated as enemies by French soldiers and sailors.'

[The portrait above is of Louis Malet de Graville.]

To those whom it does, may, or shall concern: I, Louis, Seigneur de Graville, Milly en Gastinois, le Boys Mallesherbes, counsellor and chamberlain of our lord the king, and Admiral of France, greet you.

I have received the humble personal supplication of the venerable priest Guillaume Fabien,¹ native of the country and duchy of Normandy, and minister of the parish church of Notre Dame in the island of Alderney (Aunery), on his own behalf and on behalf of the inhabitants of the said island. He has pointed out how in the past, whenever division and war existed between our sovereign lord the king and his old enemy, the English, the said islanders were at peace with and remained in good relations and at one with our said lord the king and his subjects during these aforesaid wars, because they had been used for as long as they have known to pay a levy and tribute (apastir et composer) to the admirals of France my predecessors. They did exactly this in similar circumstances in the case of my predecessor Admiral de Bourbon,² God rest his soul, and seeing that there is open war between our lord the King and his said ancient enemies the English, thus do I demand of them the same levy and tribute. In return I will guarantee them good and loyal safeguard and safe-conduct, to relieve them of the losses and damages they might otherwise suffer, and that they have already suffered because of this war, which has been to the great detriment and ruination of the said island of Alderney.

Therefore I, having taken this into consideration, wishing to maintain the good and ancient usages of the admirals of France my predecessors and to do the utmost in my power to come to the aid of the oppressed, give and grant by means of these documents good and loyal safeguard, safe-conduct and security to the said Fabien, priest, minister of the said island of Alderney, and to all the island’s inhabitants and residents, as far as concerns all the subjects of our lord the King and as far as concerns myself, until the first of January next. The said priest may travel to and from the country of Normandy, to attend to his business at his estates or with his relatives, and so also may the islanders come to Normandy to sell their goods and buy whatever they need, but wherever they arrive in Normandy they must report to our officials on the spot, who will assign them lodgings and people to escort them while they sort out the sale of their merchandise, and who will accompany them to buy the things they need. They may not buy more provisions than the island requires, nor may they take out of Normandy any artillery, powder, weapons, or anything that may be against the interests of our lord the King, or against the public good. Equally they must not do anything during these visits against the interests of our lord the King, and they may not take over to the enemy any news, letters or persons who do not have permission to leave, on pain of arrest and confiscation of their goods and of this said contract of safeguard and safe conduct being terminated. Whereas I make this an order to all ship’s commanders, soldiers, ship’s masters and mates and other sailors, magistrates, officers and subjects of our lord the king, I ask and request His Majesty’s friends, allies and confederates to honour this present safeguard and safe-conduct and license, that they will leave the islanders alone and allow them to please themselves and will use them fairly, without in any way contravening these terms nor opposing them in any way, so that the islanders are not robbed, plundered, raided or brought into the war in any way at all.

And inasmuch as the islanders may have to make use of these documents in several different places, I order and wish it to be understood that upon their inspection, before a judge or notary, under authentic royal seal, [in whatever place], the same status should be given to these documents as is accorded to them here and now; and as proof of this I have had my seal of admiralty placed upon them, dated the 20th of April of the year 1513 after Easter.

By my lord’s order.


Mémoires de la société nationale académique de Cherbourg, 1867, pp. 236-40.

Letter to M de Pontaumont, archivist of the Société académique de Cherbourg.

My dear friend, I am taking the liberty of sending you a copy of a document which you might think appropriate to present to our colleagues at the Society. I feel it provides interesting evidence of the relationship between the people of Alderney and those of Basse-Normandie at the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries. It is a document of safe-conduct from the French admiral, Louis Malet, Seigneur de Graville, dated 20 April 1513. We were then at war with England, but, as had long been the case with the people of Alderney, even though they were subjects of the English Crown, they were very keen not to be treated as enemies by French soldiers and sailors.

[....] The text I am submitting for your consideration has come down to us in the form of a copy certified on 15 May 1513 by the notaries of St-Germain-des-Vaux. On the back of the parchment is written in a contemporary hand, Vidimus du sauf conduyt baillé par mons. l’admyral aux Yslemans. This copy I suppose to have come from the archives of the Baron of Briquebec; it was in the collection of the College of Heralds which has just been sold in Paris, listed in the second catalogue as No. 1000, ‘Vidimus of the letters of Louis Malet, seigneur de Graville &c, councillor and Royal Chamberlain, admiral of France, concerning supplications made by the minister of Notre Dame de l’Isle d’Annery and the inhabitants of that place.’ This document was bought on behalf of the Imperial Library on 7 July 1866.

I remain, sir, as always, yours most sincerely,

Leopold Delisle, Member of the Institute.

Paris, 13 July 1866.

[Bib. Nat. MSS lat. 17,064,254.]


Louis Malet was himself a Norman, a seigneur whose family claimed to have been ennobled by Julius Caesar; the progenitor of the family served under Rollo. Graville, their family seat, is only six miles from Le Havre. He died in in October 1516. The aggressor here was Henry VIII, who had been raiding the Channel; Louis XII responded in February 1513 by appointing another Norman, Guyon Le Roy, the new commander for the French fleets in Normandy and Brittany. Le Roy is well-known today for having founded Le Havre, just a few years after this, at the King's instigation. The background to this letter of safe-conduct and a similar one for the inhabitants of Guernsey, given by Guyon Le Roy on 27 March 1513, can be found in Thornton, T., The Channel Islands, 1370-1640, The Boydell Press, 2012, pp. 65-6, in the Library, and in H Bourde de la Rogerie, 'The Accounts of Thomas Guille, &c,' Report & Trans. Soc. Guern. IX (3) 1923 pp. 224 ff.

The Guernsey safe-conduct did not apply to residents of Castle Cornet, in other words, to the garrison, as is made clear by an letter from the French Admiral, presumably Louis de Graville, to the Captain of Guernsey, dated 2 April 1513. The Admiral is quite clearly livid. He had taken a messenger from the Captain into custody on board his ship. The Captain wrote to him, pointing out that he would have been quite within his rights to have arrested the Admiral's representative in his turn. The Admiral writes back, refuting this: the Frenchman had a safe-conduct, but the Captain's man had none, and what is more, he had threatened the Admiral in his own ship, much to the Admiral's disgust. The Admiral, whose tone is threatening to say the least, seems to have been much exercised by an accusation from the Guernsey side that he was prone to taking bribes. He was having none of it and told the Captain he could have his man back for a pecuniary ransom of two nobles.

Three earlier safe-conducts are known to have been issued, in 1450, from Francis 'the well-beloved,' Duke of Brittany, and the Admiral of France, Prigent de Coëtivy (who died soon afterwards in the same year) at the end of the 100 Years' War; one each to Jersey, Guernsey, and Sark. The account-books of Thomas Guille, King's Receiver in 1451, list the purchase of a safe-conduct (possibly for Sark) from the Duke of Brittany. The safe-conduct for Jersey was published in 1906 in L de Trémouille's Prigent de Coëtivy, Amiral et bibliophile, p. 66, 'Ensuyt l'apointment que demandent les habitans en l'Isle de Gersy à l'amiral de France.' In this, the admiral promises to ensure the islanders' safety in France, Brittany, Normandy and the rest of the King of France's territory, and to make recompense for any damage caused to them in these places. Fishermen may move around freely from one island to another, and may not be taken prisoner while exercising their trade, and will be freed if they are driven to land in Brittany or Normandy. Interestingly, if any Jerseymen should be forced to take up arms against France by the King of England or any of his officers, the safe-conduct will still apply to the remainder. The islanders may freely travel to buy and sell their goods from one island to another, and to England, providing they have with them a copy of the document with an authentic seal; and if any enemies attack the island they may defend themselves against them without breaking the terms of the safe-conduct.

There was an agent at Mont-St-Michel, in this case the admiral's right-hand man, Robert de Préaulx, who sold these safe-conducts; to individuals, to fishing boats and trading vessels, of any nationality, as well as to desperate islands. They were very expensive.³ The revenue from such grants formed a large part of the issuing dignitary's income; some historians have seen in them a lead up to the granting of the islands' neutrality in 1483.4 Neutral or not, the islands still seem to have needed similar documents thirty years later.


¹ Sara Du Plain, wife of Jean Fabien, died in Alderney in 1675 aged 102 years and 6 months [Biggs, E., 'Alderney's Church registers,' Alderney Soc. Quarterly Bull., March 1971, p. 13]. There were also Fabiens in Guernsey in the 17th century (see Ecclesiastical Court I).

² The Library has in its collection one such safe-conduct for Guernsey, Sark and Herm, a letter under seal dated 25 February 1472, from Louis de Bourbon at Valognes. The protection was to extend to the following 15 April. Transcriptions of Guille's account books are in the Library. TMW de Guérin, in his fascinating 'Some old documents,' Rep. & Trans. Soc. Guern. 1914, p. 163, reproduces and discusses a letter dated 26 March 1480/1, which existed as an 18th-century copy amongst Sir Edgar MacCulloch's MSS. 

It is an act of an assembly of representatives of the people of Guernsey appointing attorneys to represent and act in the name of the community concerning certain engagements, or obligations, entered into some time previously, between the people of the islands and the Admiral of France. What these were we unfortunately cannot tell, as the document was either torn, or illiegible, at the spot containing this information, which was left blank in the copy. 

There appears to have been some disagreement between the admiral and the islanders over the terms of a previous understanding, to which the islanders consider themselves no longer committed, and which they are appointing two influential and important men to sort out with the Admiral or his representatives. De Guérin is particularly interested in this letter because it gives a detailed account of the constitution of the assembly making the appointment, and is 'tempted to think' that this is a meeting of what in those days corresponded to our modern States; the assembly differed from that of a previous document dated 1429, and he speculates that there may have been some 'reform of constitution.' (This aspect of the act is further discussed in Ogier, D., The government and law of Guernsey, Guernsey: States of  Guernsey, 2012, pp. 34-5.)

³ 12 ecus were taken from the fee-farm of Sark for the safe-conduct. 35 écus were paid 'to the Admiral of France on behalf of the Lord of the Isles (?dominus) for safe-conduct for this island, for last March,' and then, in 1451 (under the new Admiral, Jean de Beuil) the cost seems to been 250 écus from the Lord's income, plus 40 provided through order of the Bailiff and jurats (from Thomas Guille's Account Books.)

4 See the Library's collection of documents under seal for a letter from the Duke of Brittany, Francis de Montfort, announcing to the islanders the publication of the Bill of Neutrality. Given at Rennes 20 November 1484.