Worse than Turks: Adrian Saravia on Guernsey, 1564

A letter from the first headmaster of Elizabeth College, a native of Artois, written in 1564/5 to the Secretary of State, William Cecil.

I will write to you, not for the sake of praise, because a Christian knows that he owes all to God, but I have to write to you concerning religion. I lived three years in England, but I never found there the character of the Islanders, but here I find what Epimenides says of the Cretans.1

The people are made of fraud, more lying than the Cretans and have neither faith nor religion: they would utter a thousand perjuries rather than inconvenience a friend. As to religion, there are only three or four people in the island who attend service, and if an ecclesiastic goes into the country he is greeted with jeers and laughter, and often has dirt thrown at him. They are worse than Turks2 and the Jurats all connive at this.

Robbery and slaughter are committed with impunity, there being no laws, and the decisions of the judges various, and everybody is at law in some court. The Jurats treat the people like sheep, unrestrained by fear. The people are so inert that they had rather live poor and idle than rich by labour. They have a place fit for merchandise which might bring them great wealth if they would; by heaping up the stones on the foundation thrown by nature they could make a safe harbour for ships. The governor exhorts them to it and offers them a fourth part of his own revenue towards the expense, but I know not whether the slow bellies will do it.

It is very important for England to retain these islands; for if the French held them they could do great damage to the British Ocean: yet lately when an attack was expected, all was confusion. The Governor held the citadel but the captains appointed for other parts, some stayed at home through fear, others rambled about uncertainly, calling vengeance on the Huguenots, whom they blame for everything bad. Things were very different when I was in King Philip's camp. Had the enemy come, he would not have been repelled, though the nature of the place renders this easy if the places of descent are strongly guarded. Instead of resisting the enemy they turn to sedition. I grieve to be compelled to write this of the people among whom I live.

As to Queen Elizabeth's School none of the things promised is done, all is put off: the barbarous people hate letters. I have only ten boys of the island, all the rest are English. If I were made free of England, I would prefer living there in the lowest position to remaining here, even if my salary were increased threefold.

An extract from W Rolleston's account of Elizabeth College in Transactions of the Société Guernesiaise, 1926, X (1), p. 63. The letter is given by Rolleston in translation from the original Latin.

For Saravia himself, see Hodges, G. F. and Rolleston, W., 'Adrian Saravia, First Headmaster of Elizabeth College', Report and Transactions of the Société Guernesiaise, 1933 XII (1), pp. 57 ff. Edith Carey transcribed an extract from An Inventorie taken of Mr Doctor Saravia his goods late Prebendarie of Canterbury ye 1st day of February 1812 and praised by those whose names are underwritten,in her MS Journal of Jane Marie Barlow &c., in the Library.

1 'All Cretans are liars.' See also Edith Carey's notebook, Letters of Adrian de Saravia &c, in the Library [Staff].

2 John Le Pelley, in Transactions Soc. Guern. 1947, XIV (2), p. 164, is rather more robust: 'Sometimes the uproar is so great that he is compelled to give up the sermon begun, nor does their insolence stop there, for more than this, they fill the pulpit with dung and foulness. I would expect nothing better from the foullest sows.'