Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Travel through Philately - Battle of Jersey

The Channel Islands are an interesting place in the geopolitical sense. Situated close to the European mainland and off the coast of France, historically they had been a thorn and a threat to the French government. One of the islands, Jersey was of strategic importance in any war between England and France due to its proximity to the French coast. And so there would be little surprise that the French would like to take the island away and pack into their own pocket. However the English were aware of that as well, and fortified the island heavily, packing heavy punches into the defenses of the island in order to disabuse the French of that very notion, which is why in history, this Battle of Jersey was the only major attempt by the French to invade the island.

The FDC commemorating the bicentennial victory of the Jersey troops against the French invaders 200 years ago. The stamps are taken from a partial copy from John Singleton Copley's oil painting, The Death of Major Peirson.

The battle occurred on 5 January 1781, when Baron Philippe de Rullecourt led an expedition to invade the island. Officially the expedition was a private affair, and the government claimed no links to it but they funded the expedition behind the scenes. For the government, Jersey had been more than just a thorn in the hide, it had been the operating base for most privateers disrupting merchant ships passing the crucial shipping lane between France and the United States, which supported the American War of Independence. France, engaged in the war as the United State's ally, sought to end the threat Jersey posed to the supply lane.

De Rullecourt succeeded initially in capturing the capital of Jersey, St Helier, and got the governor to sign the Articles of Capitulation, a prelude towards negotiating the surrender of the island to de Rullecourt. However the arrival of reinforcements in the form of Major Peirson, who arrived from the west of the island, turned the tide around. The French expedition leader was killed in the battle (he was fatally wounded and died a day later), but it also claimed the life of the young English major. Peirson was 24 when he died.

The Death of Major Peirson, painted by John Singleton Copley (image taken from Wikipedia).

The battle was short yet bloody, and to the Jerseys at the time, it was momentous. The hero of the battle, Major Peirson, was immortalized in John Singleton Copley's The Death of Major Peirson, a large oil painting completed in 1783 under the expense of the Jersey government. He was further immortalized in current 10 Jersey Pound note in the copy of Copley's painting.

Date of Issue:             6 January 1981
Denominations:           7p, 10p, 15p, 17p
Stamp Size:                33.6mm x 52mm
Printer:                       Hélio Courvoisier SA (Switzerland)
Designer:                    Jersey Post Office

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