Vale sword highlight at Government House reception

Fri 08 Dec 2023

Some Vale history was made this week when Guernsey's Lt-Governor, Lieutenant General Richard Cripwell, invited island douzeniers to a Christmas Reception at Government House. Among those attending was Dean of the Vale Douzaine Rosemary Henry – who took a sword with her at his request for the occasion.

His Excellency with Ms Henry and Sir John Doyle's sword

The reason is because it was no ordinary sword, but one previously owned by an earlier and very famous Lt-Governor of Guernsey, Sir John Doyle, whose vision and leadership in the 1800s is regarded as helping prevent an invasion of the island by the French, hostilities having resurfaced between Britain and France.

One of his more dramatic defensive decisions was to drain the Braye du Valle, at that time a tidal channel that ran from Grande Havre to the Bridge, to prevent French troops from using the North of the island to launch an attack on the rest of Guernsey.

The contractor for the work was Thomas Henry, Ms Henry's great, great, great grandfather, whose efforts so impressed Sir John Doyle that he presented Mr Henry with one of his swords in recognition of his work – a tremendous honour and a significant gift at that time.

The weapon has remained in the family since 1808 and Lt-Gov Cripwell was fascinated to see it and learn of its amazing history. He made a point of meeting guests while holding it before explaining something of its past.

The picture above, taken specially for the Vale Parish website by Major Marco Ciotti, Secretary and ADC to the Lt-Governor, was posed in front of a portrait of Doyle possibly wearing the very sword (pictured right) that was presented to Thomas Henry.

Ms Henry said: "A piece of history had been hiding in the attic all these years and had I not found it by chance, a fascinating story and a real piece of Guernsey's past would not have been discovered."

Vale Senior Constable Richard Leale said His Excellency had been very interested in the story behind the sword and joked that perhaps it ought to return to Government House for safekeeping!

He added that the Vale Douzaine had been pleased to receive the invitation to the Christmas Carols reception at Government House as it was part of a programme by His Excellency and Mrs Cripwell to visit all the parish offices this year to understand better the work that they do. 

"I think we all appreciated the interest that has been shown in the largely voluntary work that the douzaines do throughout the year and the reception was a very nice way of expressing that," he said. 

The portrait of Major-General Sir John Doyle hanging in Government House



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