Channel Islands

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Channel Islands

Channel Islands, archipelago (2005 est. pop. 156,000), 75 sq mi (194 sq km), 10 mi (16 km) off the coast of Normandy, France, in the English Channel. The main islands are Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark, and there are several smaller islands, including Herm, Jethou, and Lithou; all the islands are dependencies of the British crown. The inhabitants have historically been mostly of Norman descent, but on Alderney the stock is mainly English. In recent years many Britons have moved here, attracted by the favorable tax rates and the pleasant island atmosphere. Both French and English are spoken; in addition, a Norman patois and Norman customs are still maintained by many of the natives.

The mild and sunny climate (35–40 in./89–102 cm rainfall a year) and the fertile soil have made agriculture an important part of the islands' economy. Large quantities of vegetables, fruits, and flowers are shipped to English markets, but dairying is the chief agricultural occupation. The famous Jersey and Guernsey breeds of cattle are kept pure by local laws. Financial services and electronics manufacture are growing sectors of the economy, and the islands are a favorite resort of tourists and vacationers. The chief ports are St. Helier (Jersey) and St. Peter Port (Guernsey). Much of the islands' capital and consumer goods, raw materials, fuels, and foodstuffs are imported.

The islands are divided into two administrative bailiwicks, one of which, Jersey, has more than half the total population. The other, Guernsey, includes all the islands except Jersey. The monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by a lieutenant governor in each bailiwick, is the head of state. Each government is headed by the chief minister, who is elected by the bailiwick's legislature. Jersey's 58-seat Assembly of the States consists of both elected and appointed members. Members of Guernsey's 45-seat States of Deliberation are popularly elected for four years.

Christianization took place in the 6th cent., largely through the efforts of St. Helier and St. Sampson. In the 10th cent. the islands became possessions of the duke of Normandy. At the Norman conquest they were joined to the English crown; they remained under the control of King John and England in 1204 when Philip II of France confiscated the duchy of Normandy. The French attempted unsuccessfully to reestablish control in the 14th cent. and later. In World War II, after the evacuation of some 10,000 military and civilian personnel, the islands were occupied (1940) by German forces.

See study by J. Uttley (1966).

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