"What can he tell that treads thy shore? No legend of thine olden time, No theme on which the mind might soar High as thine own in days of yore."--The Giaour.--BYRON
In the beginning of the eighth century Guernsey was a favoured spot. Around, over the Continent and the British Isles, had swept successive conquests with their grim train of sufferings for the conquered; but these storm-clouds had not burst over the island. The shocks which preceded the fall of the Roman Empire had not been felt, nor had the throes which inaugurated the birth of Frankish rule in Gaul and Saxon supremacy in Britain, disturbed the prevailing tranquillity. Occasional descents of pirates, Northmen from Scandinavian homes or Southmen from the Iberian peninsula, had hitherto had a beneficial effect by keeping alive the martial spirit and the vigilance necessary for self-defence. In the third century three Roman ships had been driven on shore and lost; the legionaries who escaped had established themselves in the island, having indeed for the moment no alternative. When their commander succeeded in communicating with Gaul he suggested a permanent occupation, being secretly influenced by tales of mineral wealth to which he had lent an ear. Disillusioned and recalled, he was followed by a sybarite, whose palate was tickled by banquets of fish of which he wrote in raptures to his friends at Capri and Brindisi. This excellent man, dying of apoplexy in his bath, was replaced by a rough soldier, who lost no time in procuring the evacuation of a post where he saw with a glance that troops were uselessly locked up. From this time nothing had been heard of the Romans; their occupation had lasted forty years, and in another forty the only physical traces of it remaining were a camp at Jerbourg, the nearly obliterated tessellated pavement and fragments of wall belonging to the sybarite's villa, which occupied the site in the King's Mills Valley where the Moulin de Haut now stands, the pond in the Grand Mare in which the voluptuary had reared the carp over which, dressed with sauces the secret of which died with him, he dwelt lovingly when stretched on his triclinium, and the basins at Port Grat in which he stored his treasured mullet and succulent oysters. The islanders were of one mind in speeding the parting guests, but the generation which saw them go were better men than their fathers who had trembled at the landing of the iron-thewed demi-gods. Compelled to work as slaves, they had learnt much from their masters; a knowledge of agriculture and of the cultivation of the grape, the substitution of good weapons and implements of husbandry for those of their Celtic ancestors, improved dwellings, and some insight into military discipline,--these were substantial benefits which raised them in some respects above their Continental and British neighbours, among whom patriotism had, on the disappearance of the civilization of the Romans, revived the more congenial barbarism. Arrivals among them of Christian monks, scanty at first, more frequent since the landing of S. Augustine in Britain, had also had a certain effect. The progress of conversion was, however, slow; the people were bigoted, and the good fathers were compelled, as in Brittany, to content themselves with a few genuine converts, wisely endeavouring rather to leaven the mass by grafting Christian truths on the old superstitions than to court certain defeat, possible expulsion or massacre, by striving to overthrow at once all the symbols of heathenism.
The island was larger in extent than it is at present, as, in addition to the Vale district, the islet of Lihou, Vazon Bay, and the rock group known as the Hanois formed part of it. It is with the events that altered this configuration that the following legend deals.