The Minquiers (Les Minquiers; in Jèrriais: Les Mîntchièrs About this sound pronunciation (help·info); nicknamed “the Minkies” in local English) are a group of islands and rocks, about 15 km (9.3 mi) south of Jersey. The Minquiers forms part of the Bailiwick of Jersey.
They are administratively part of the Parish of Grouville.
At low tide, the rock shelf around the Minquiers has a larger surface area than Jersey itself but at high tide only a few of the main heads remain above water.
The largest of these is Maîtresse, which is about 50 m (55 yd) long and 20 m (22 yd) wide and has about ten stone cottages in various states of repair. However, they have no permanent inhabitants, though fishermen, vraic (seaweed used for fertilizer) collectors, yachtsmen, radio amateurs and even sometimes kayakers make summer landfall.
A small company of Wehrmacht soldiers on the Minquiers were among the last to surrender in World War II. A French fishing boat, skippered by Lucian Marie, approached the island of Minquiers and anchored nearby. A fully armed German soldier approached and asked for help saying ‘We’ve been forgotten by the British, perhaps no one on Jersey told them we were here, I want you to take us over to England, we want to surrender’. This was on 23 May 1945, three weeks after the war in Europe ended.
The most significant islands in the group are:
Maîtresse Île / Maîtr’ Île
La Haute Grune.
The etymology of the name is disputed. While some say that the name comes from the Breton language minihi meaning a sanctuary, others such as Victor Coysh, maintain it comes from minkier meaning a seller of fish.
Thousands of years ago, around the time of the Ice Age, when sea level was lower, the Channel Islands were high ground forming part of a plain connecting the European Continent, and southern England.
In 933 CE, the islets, along with the other Channel Islands and the Cotentin Peninsula, were annexed to the Duchy of Normandy.
After William, Duke of Normandy conquered England in 1066, the islands remained united to the Duchy until Philip Augustus conquered mainland Normandy in 1204. In 1259 Henry III did homage to the French king for the Channel Islands. Edward III, in the 1360 Treaty of Brétigny, waived his claims to the crown of France and to Normandy, but reserved various other territories to England, including the Channel Islands.
The 1911 Britannica says that Maîtresse Île “affords a landing and shelter for fishermen.”
In 1950 Britain and France went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for friendly discussions to decide to which country the Minquiers and Écréhous belonged.
The French fished in the waters, but Jersey exercised various administrative rights. The ICJ considered the historical evidence, and in its Judgment of 17 November 1953 awarded the islands to Jersey (as represented by the United Kingdom).
In 1998 there was an ‘invasion’ of the Minquiers by some French on behalf of the ‘King of Patagonia’ in ‘retaliation’ for the British occupation of the Falkland Islands. The Union Jack was restored the next day.
Les Minquiers in literature
Notably, Les Minquiers are mentioned at length by Victor Hugo in his novel Ninety-Three, about the French Revolution. He mentions how treacherous they are, and says that their combined area is bigger than mainland Jersey itself. Hugo lived in both Guernsey and Jersey at various points in his life, and so was familiar with local lore.
The British/French dispute over Les Minquiers is a plot element in Nancy Mitford’s novel Don’t Tell Alfred, as an occasional cause for dispute between the ‘two old ladies’ – France and Britain.
Les Minquiers feature in the seafaring adventure novel The Wreck of the Mary Deare, by Hammond Innes, and its 1959 film adaptation.