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ESCAPE FROM CASTLE CORNET

Introduction / Civil War / Escape / Treachery / Suspicion
Imprisoned / Rations / Peter's Knife / Opportunity / Shots Fired / Lucky Chances

Pierre Careye - link to his biography.

Introduction

Familiarly known as `the Rebel,' Pierre Careye is one of the most notable figures in Guernsey history, if only for his dramatic escape with two others from Castle Cornet just in time to avoid death on the gallows. To understand how the three came to be imprisoned there, and why they were in danger of execution, it is necessary to summarize the events that led to the state of war, that lasted from 1643 until 1651, between the garrison of Castle Cornet and the inhabitants of Guernsey.


English Civil War 1643-1651

As the quarrel between Charles I and his Parliament deepened, the people of Guernsey generally took sides with the Parliament, which, in February 1643 ordered the arrest of the Governor, Sir Peter Osborne, an order that could not be carried into effect because Sir Peter resided in Castle Cornet, the garrison of which was firm in its loyalty to Charles. In the following month Parliament deposed the Bailiff, Jean De Quetteville, whose sympathies were Royalist, and appointed in his stead Pierre De Beauvoir, generally known at that time by his feudal title, Seigneur des Granges, or more shortly `des Granges.' At the same time it dissolved the Royal Court, and centred the government of the Bailiwick of Guernsey in twelve Commissioners, three of whom were Peter, the subject of this memoir; Pierre De Beauvoir, the newly appointed Bailiff; and James De Havilland. In June of the same year Parliament appointed the Earl of Warwick to be Governor of Guernsey and Robert Russel became the resident Lieut.Governor. Thus a Parliamentarian Lieut.-Governor ruled in the Island, while the Royalist Governor, Sir Peter Osborne, continued to hold Castle Cornet for King Charles.


The Escape

A LITERAL TRANSLATION FROM THE FRENCH, WRITTEN BY PIERRE CAREYE, OF THE STORY OF THE CAPTIVITY OF PIERRE DE BEAUVOIR, JAMES DE HAVILLAND, AND HIMSELF IN CASTLE CORNET IN 1643.

An Account of our Captivity and the miraculous deliverance, which God granted us on Sunday, 3rd December 1643, a memorial for succeeding generations to thank the Author for ever.

Treachery

On Saturday, the 21st October 1643, about ten o'clock in the morning, Captain Bowden arrived in the Guernsey roads with his ship, and having dropped anchor at the usual anchorage, he then sent his boat to Fermain Bay, manned by ten or twelve sailors, where the Lieutenant-Governor and the Parliamentary Commissioners met them, and where were gathered several other persons; where having arrived, the coxswain of the boat delivered a letter on behalf of the said Bowden, addressed to the Lieutenant or the Commissioners, in which he desired them to come on board his ship to confer together, on behalf of the Earl of Warwick, our Governor, on certain things which concern the welfare of this State (Island), pretending he was too ill to come on shore. Upon that the Lieutenant-Governor sent Captain Thomas Sippins on board the said Bowden's ship to learn the news and to enquire on the situation in England, but chiefly to desire him to capture a ship which had arrived from Weymouth on Wednesday, the 18th of the said month, laden with stores for the Castle, and anchored near Brehon, out of reach of the land batteries. Captain Sippins, having arrived on board the Bramble, found everything changed, inasmuch as he was kept a prisoner by Bowden, who since leaving the lsland fifteen days ago in the service of the Parliament, having gone to Dartmouth, revolted and gave himself to Prince Maurice, with a promise that he would return to this Island and entrap by subtlety the Lieutenant-Governor and the Commissioners.

Suspicion

When Bowden saw that neither the Lieutenant nor Commissioners had come aboard his ship, he sent his boat a second time to Fermain Bay, manned as before, where the said coxswain not finding them walked to the Lieutenant's house, where Pierre De Beauvoir and I, Peter Careye, were finishing dinner with him, and he brought us another letter from the said Bowden, in which he urgently requested the Sieurs Lieutenant and Commissioners to come on board for the reasons given above, and as regards to the King's vessel anchored off Brehon he would easily capture her. Having considered this together, and to hasten the business Messrs. De Beauvoir, De Havilland, and I decided to go on board and left the Lieutenant's house together for Fermain to take boat. It is to be observed that on the way we had a suspicion of Treachery, often asking among ourselves what was the meaning of these letters, and why Bowden had not come ashore, but God did not allow us to fathom sufficiently to prevent our going, particularly as Mr De Beauvoir, who knew better than Mr De Havilland or I, the officers and crew, as they had brought him over to the Island only fifteen days previously. He assured us that they were men he had found so very upright and loyal that he could not believe they would have the desire to think of such treachery. On that we embarked in a boat belonging to the Island, and arrived on board, where Captain Bowden received us with open arms, and led us to a cabin in which were two of the King's Captains, who showed us their mandate, which they had from Prince Maurice, to reduce the Islands into submission to the King. Then they strongly urged us to help, holding out handsome promises if we acquiesced and threats if we refused, but (thank God) they did not in any way prevail on us. We declared to them that, as long as we lived, we should be faithful to the King and his Parliament: notwithstanding this, they treated us very courteously and with respect.

Night having come on, one of the Captains, named Jones, left in one of the ship's boats to go on board the ship from Weymouth to let them know the intention of their coming, but by the providence of God, as soon as the boat approached the ship, they so alarmed those on board that they did not allow them to approach, notwithstanding their assurance that they were friends, but they immediately weighed anchor and set sail for St. Malo; in consequence Captain Jones returned to our ship, and on his way met the boat belonging to the Castle going to the Bramble, which from fear returned, so the Captain declared to Bowden and Simpson. They then decided to leave for Jersey to try and capture the Lieutenant-Governor and Commissioners of that Island, but our Lieutenant, the day we were taken, sent a boat to Sark, Jersey, and St. Malo to give notice of their treachery. On the following Tuesday we returned to this Island with a white flag flying from the stern, and anchored under the protection of the Castle. Then Captain Bowden sent his boat to inform Sir Peter Osborne that we were his prisoners.

In the evening Bowden went with Captain Simpson to the Castle ; they were well received, not only on account of Bowden's secession, but principally because of the prisoners he had on board. Sir Peter told him, he wished to have them under any circumstances, as it was extremely important for the service of His Majesty, and for the reduction of the Island that they should remain prisoners at the Castle: this much displeased the said Captains, more especially as we had offered them fifty Jacobuses to land us prisoners at Dartmouth, nevertheless they were obliged to yield, notwithstanding our said offer and the galling solemn promise that Bowden made us, to take us to England. Towards midnight the said Captains returned from the Castle somewhat displeased, particularly Simpson, as Sir Peter had left him uncovered whilst in his presence, although he was one of the King's Captains.

Imprisoned

The following day, Wednesday, the 25th of the said month of October, Sir Peter sent his boat to Bowden, manned by seven or eight men, under the command of John Chamberlain, who between nine and ten at night made us embark in his boat, and took us to the Castle, landing us on the eastern side, we having to mount a ladder thirty-two feet high. We were received by the Door-keeper, accompanied by a guard of about forty armed men, and from ten to twelve unarmed, between whom were the sons of Sir Peter, the Chaplain, and Mr Andros ; from there we were taken into the Hall, where Sir Peter, to his great gratification, looked at us with Captain Darel, from the Gallery which looks into the Hall. From there we were at once taken to a room in the Dungeon, the lowest but one, a place so much underground and damp, that our hair got quite wet, and where we only saw light through the keyhole. They gave us three candles for the night, three wretched pillows, and a quilt all torn; this we spread on the ground to sleep upon, and it pervaded us with lice.

On it we were sleeping, when towards one or two o'clock after midnight Captains Simpson and Bowden came into our Prison. Bowden seeing our miserable condition, whether from pretence or remorse, heaved a sigh like a bull, and began to embrace Mr De Beauvoir, uttering these very words: `Oh, Gentlemen, do I see you in ys case,' and on that took his leave, and went away with Captain Simpson, whom we thanked for the honourable reception they had given us.

The Careye Tower

The next day, Thursday, at about eleven o'clock, they brought us for dinner some bacon, peas, two biscuits, and about a quart of beer. At about two o'clock in the afternoon they removed a large quantity of old cotton yarn, which was in the room above us, and brought it instead to where we were. That being finished, we were all three moved to the said room above. God in His great Goodness and Providence did not allow that we should be separated, which was the thing we most feared. In this room we had only a small window looking towards the North-East.

The Upper Story in which the prisoners were confined.

 

In the evening they brought us for supper, pea-soup, two biscuits, and about a quart of beer; after we spread on the floor about twenty bundles of cotton, which the Porter had left for us to sleep upon and two days later he lent us two bolsters, which we used the first four nights that we were there, but by the second night he removed the said cotton for fear of our making use of it. Then God put into our minds the idea of escaping, regretting from day to day that we had not made use of the said cotton. We thought of the best means, constantly praying God to guide us par son bon Esprit, and to direct us in his wisdom to try something.

Rations

As regards our rations we were allowed as follows: On Monday, for dinner, two small half cooked whitings with a little butter congealed owing to the extremely cold weather prevailing, about a quart of beer, and two very small biscuits. For supper, a small dish of gruel and boiled water for soup, two biscuits, and about a quart of beer. On Tuesday, for dinner, peas which were sprouting and rancid bacon, which we sent back as being impossible to eat, biscuits, and beer as usual. For supper, a small basin of pea soup, with the customary allowance of beer and bread. On Wednesday, the same fare as on Monday. Thursday, the same as on Tuesday. On Friday the same as on Monday and Wednesday. On Saturday, for dinner a dish of cheese boiled with stinking grease, beer, and bread as usual, and for supper the same as on Wednesday. On Sunday, for dinner, a piece of salt beef and some bad bacon, beer, and bread as usual, and for supper the same as on Wednesday. But fifteen days after our arrival at the Castle, the allowance of beer was stopped, after which we were only allowed a pint of Gascony wine daily among the three, and brackish well water or rain water diluted with lime, caused by a cannon ball which had been fired from the `Rocque des Chevres' fort, which knocked down part of the wall into the cisterns, which water being obliged to drink, and owing to our having to eat so much salted fish, soup, and peas, our condition became so much changed for the worse that we felt our strength very much decrease, not being able to quench our thirst for the space of a month, which was insupportable to me more than to the two others. Finding myself so much parched with thirst, I was compelled to write to Sir Peter to desire him to allow me a small quantity of beer, in consequence of my serious illness, with which I had been troubled for ten days. He consented, and gave orders that they should give me a pint of beer at each meal; this greatly helped the three of us.As regards our bedding, the first four nights it was made up with a bolster, and part of the time with the cotton under us, after that Captain Darell lent us a bed, mattress, sheets, and counterpanes.

About ten days after our arrival Mr De Havilland proposed to contrive means for us to escape through our window, by use of the cotton which was below us, but this was not immediately resolved upon. However, after having several times implored the assistance of the Almighty, and having maturely thought it over, in the end God put it into our minds unanimously to decide to risk it; then we began to regret we had not hidden the nine or ten bundles of cotton, which had been left for us to sleep upon, in an old chest that was in our room full of old flax, but if we had done so we should have been discovered, because, five or six days after our resolution had been taken, they removed the flax, and afterwards took away the chest; then we knew it was the grace of God not to have put it into our minds to reserve it. After this, another thing supervened which we thought left us entirely without any hope of escape, for the Porter had a strong iron cross-bar put to our window, through which at first we thought, as they did, that it would be impossible to pass, but after having tested at night that our heads could pass, we continued in our resolve to chance it, praying God day and night to bless our scheme.

Peter's Knife

To carry it into effect we commenced, on Thursday, 23 November 1643, to cut the floor with our knives, working about three hours a day, one of us always on the watch, while the other two worked, and on the following Monday, 27th of the said month, we had finished the cutting of the said floor, which we so well put back again that our keeper did not notice it when he brought us our meals. On the same day we made two small holes in the plaster, to see if we had cut straight over the cotton, and if we could reach it, which was done in half an hour. The following morning the Porter with a number of his soldiers opened the door below us, which caused us great alarm, fearing that they would see the holes we had made in the plaster, and what had fallen down through the boring of the said plaster, but, God be praised, they did not notice it.

On the Thursday following, the 30th of the said month, the day of the new moon, about three o'clock in the afternoon, we broke the plaster, and through the opening which we made we drew up fourteen or fifteen bundles of old cotton, of which a part was still good, but a part rotten this we did with the aid of a large nail we found in the room, which we bent and attached to the end of a piece of deal board which was nailed to the head of our bedstead. We concealed the cotton under our bed until after supper, from which we made three lengths. The first of three coils of about nineteen to twenty fathoms to descend from our window to the base of our dungeon. The second, of two coils about ten fathoms, to descend the first wall. The third, the same as the second, to descend the last wall, which we finished about eleven o'clock, at which time, after having implored the protection of God, we prepared to descend, but the stillness of the night did not allow of it; the atmosphere was so clear that we saw the sentries in every direction, and it would have been impossible for them not to see us. The tide having now begun to rise we were obliged to put back our cotton under the bed and retire to sleep, not without great vexation, because of the dread that the next day some one might enter the room under us; this God did not permit.

The following night we were full of hope, but it was as clear as the night before.

On Saturday night, at low water, as we prepared to lower our first rope, the weather being very favourable as it was so dark, suddenly the Porter commenced to arouse the soldiers, and to double his guards, thinking that Mr. de Sausmarez' and the two Captains of the King's ships which were stationed at Pereche would arrive that night at the Castle. He placed a guard at the half moon under our window where we, of necessity, would have been obliged to pass. This caused us inexpressible grief, and left us entirely without any hope of escape as the tide was rising, and in great perplexity we decided to go to bed.

Opportunity

On Sunday morning, 3 December, a day that posterity should never forget to thank the Almighty for, the weather was remarkably serene. At about ten o clock we saw from our window the above-mentioned two King's ships approaching the Castle, and Mr de Sausmarez, who embarked in one of the boats, and arrived about noon at the Castle, where he was received with great joy and acclamation by the soldiers, who hoped by the arrival of the ships easily to take the island; this we also feared greatly, on account of the great dissensions which we knew prevailed there; which fear overcame us so much, the feeling of misery into which we saw our poor Island ready to fall, that it made all three of us weep bitterly, and all the more because it was impossible for us to assist them. Mr De Beauvoir was the first who proposed that we might attempt to escape by the lower door, which was not immediately decided upon among us because of the difficulty and the human impossibility which we foresaw; nevertheless after dinner and having implored the help and assistance of God, we unanimously resolved to attempt it, and all three at once took our ropes of cotton and fastened one to the pillar, which was in the middle of our room, and passing one end through the hole we had made, with which we slid down into the lower room, where having got down and listening at the door we heard the sound of soldiers all around us.

The Careye Tower -  current view.

Afterwards Mr De Havilland took an iron bar which was there and began to break away the hasp of the lock; this was done at the moment that the bells of the Town Church had ceased ringing for evening prayers. Mr De Beauvoir going out to look over the wall, to see if any person were on the platform of the rampart of the Careye Tower, observed our keeper, Nicolas Stinquer, leaving the said Careye Tower, and coming with head lowered, which made us retire to our hole, where having waited about a quarter of an hour, we again went out, and finding the road clear, we ran to the first cannon, facing the West, where having fastened our rope, and Mr De Beauvoir going the first to lower himself down he saw below three persons who were on guard. This made us quickly unfasten our rope; then Messrs De Beauvoir and De Havilland wanted to return to our room, but I prevented them from doing so, and made them come to the South of the said platform of Careye Tower, from whence we descended the first and second wall, the guards who were stationed in that quarter having, by the providence of God, quitted their posts and retired to smoke with the sentry who was posted near the Porter's garden.

When we had descended the second wall, we ran along close
to the bank without anyone, all this while, giving the alarm.

From the door on the right they came out.

 

Shots Fired

The first who perceived us, when near the causeway from the Castle, was John Chamberlain, who was above the Gate, and he at once cried out: `Fire, fire, the prisoners are escaping.' Immediately they discharged on us the Cannon, some loaded with heavy shot, others with small, which fell around us without injuring us, God be praised, and thus at a slow pace, not being able to go quicker we arrived by the South steps on to the roadway, where being recognized, some carried the news into the Church from whence every one came out to meet us, and receive us with cheers and innumerable expressions of joy. For which God be eternally blessed as the one founder of such a miraculous deliverance.

Lucky Chances

What is chiefly miraculous and remarkable in this deliverance is that the sentries at the SouthEast and at the South, from whence we lowered ourselves, by the providence of God, had left their posts immediately before our descent, and had gone to the sentry stationed at the West, so much so that, thank God, they did not see us, which would have been impossible to avoid had they kept their quarters. Also as we were running along the platform of the Careye Tower to descend the walls, as we have been since informed, there was a young Norman Squire, who saw us escaping but thinking it was his cousin, who with two others, were prisoners, that were escaping, said nothing, and thus we were not discovered. Further, when we were seen on the Castle beach and the order was given to fire and kill us, it is remarkable that the guns missed fire six times, during which we had time to get away from the said beach. If they had fired while we were there, in all human probability it would have been impossible to escape being hit, as the small stones could not have failed to hurt us. Lastly we must remember the information of Captain Sippins, who had since escaped from Jersey, and who told us that as soon as we had escaped from the Castle, Amice Andros came to see the said Sippins, and assured him that if we had delayed another half hour we would all three have been hung, as he had brought an order from the King to that effect. This statement was confirmed to us by other persons, to whom the said Andros had himself confirmed it.

To God alone be the Glory - Amen.

The Signature of Pierre Careye

The Seal of Pierre Careye