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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Guernsey

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Myths and Legends
Gautier de la Salle: a "most notorious" henchman

A "most notorious" henchman

There is no doubt that Gautier de la Salle existed, and he did hold a position of responsibility in the Guernsey administration. His name heads a list of Bailiffs of Guernsey dated 1284, but no other written record has ever been found to prove he did hold that particular office. Patent rolls - lists of patents issued - from the 14th Century give us a glimpse of the real de la Salle.

In 1313-14 they say that protection was granted to "Walter de la Salle, a clerk going to the islands of Gerneseye and Jerseye", and in 1319 he is described as a "minister" of Warden Otto de Grandison.
St Peter Port
St Peter Port, home of Gautier de la Salle
© Courtesy of the Guernsey Tourist Board
L James Marr in "A History of the Bailiwick of Guernsey" describes him as one of Otto’s "most notorious henchmen", whose hanging in 1320 (not 1284) was Guernsey’s "outstanding ‘cause celebre’". Thus Gautier was indeed executed, but for very different reasons to those popularised by local legend.

It appears the whole saga began in 1302, with the murder of a monk on the small island of Lihou, off the west coast of Guernsey, by the Prior's servant Thomas le Roer. The Bailiff of Guernsey, Peter le Marchant, set out to arrest le Roer, accompanied by several jurats (legal officials). Le Roer resisted arrest, however, and after a struggle was killed by Ranulph Gautier, one of the jurats, who then sought sanctuary in St Sampson’s church, before escaping to England.

After only a few months, Ranulph Gautier obtained Edward II’s pardon and was able to return to Guernsey, but records show that his troubles were not yet over. Several years after his return, Ranulph was inveigled into Castle Cornet, tortured, and killed, by several of the Warden’s officials, including Gautier de la Salle and William l'Enginour.

The reasons for this are unknown - the only clue we have of any ill-feeling being a record that l'Enginour had previously stolen a silver cup from Ranulf Gautier. Could this be where the silver cups of the legend spring from?

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