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What Should I Know About Guernsey?

Guernsey is located in the English Channel between England and France.
Located just off its shore, Guernsey has been occupied by France.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2014
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Guernsey is a small dependency of the United Kingdom. It covers 30 square miles (78 sq. km), making it the eleventh-smallest nation or territory in the world. It is located in the English Channel, between England and France.

The area was once attached to the mainland of Europe, until rising sea levels eventually turned it into an island nearly 8000 years ago. Neolithic structures can be found throughout the island dating from this period. The Britons eventually settled Guernsey around the time they settled Normandy, imbuing the region with much of their culture.

It then was annexed by the Duchy of Normandy, and in fact the sovereign of England is still referred to in Guernsey as Duke of Normandy. When the Normans seized the English crown in 1066, the area became a part of England. In 1204, France reclaimed Normandy, and the inhabitants of Guernsey chose to remain loyal to England, rather than France. France, however, invaded and claimed the islands for their own. The English reclaimed them the next year, and built fortifications to defend against the French.

The area was considered a valuable strategic base for the English in the event of a future invasion of Normandy, which was a very real possibility throughout the 13th century. For this reason the islands continued to be fortified and a decent-sized military presence was garrisoned there. English control of the islands was confirmed in the mid-13th century at the Treaty of Paris.

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Guernsey was fought over by the French and the English over the centuries. In the late-15th century a Papal Bull declared St. Peter Port a neutral territory, effectively stopping French harassment. In the late 16th century Queen Elizabeth set out a Grand Charter that granted the area a great deal of autonomy, which it enjoys to this day. During the major wars with France during the 16th century, many merchants operating out of the area became privateers, using their closeness to France to prey on French vessels, but in the process renouncing the neutrality granted to them by the Pope. So successful were the privateers against not just French, but Spanish and American vessels also, that Westminster once quipped that Guernsey could be considered one of the world’s great naval powers.

During World War II, Guernsey was occupied by German forces who invaded from mainland France. Germany was determined to hold the island at any cost, and a great deal of resource went into developing incredibly strong defenses, most of which are still in existence throughout the island. A concentration camp was built on the small island of Alderney in Guernsey as well.

Although a dependency of the United Kingdom — a Bailiwick, in fact — Guernsey is self-governing and has a great deal of autonomy. One area where that autonomy is particularly visible is the tax laws, which are very liberal, and has made the territory attractive to a number of banks and insurance companies, helping to bolster the local economy.

The main tourist attractions in Guernsey are points of historical interest. There are a number of historical trails, with both self-guided and tour-guided walks. These showcase locations such as the Castle Cornet, the German Occupation Museum, numerous Neolithic sites, the Priory of St. Mary, and the numerous parish churches spread throughout the region.

Flights arrive regularly in the dependency from both Britain and France, as well as a few other countries in Europe. Ferries also operate regularly from both France and England.

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