History of Elizabeth College

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Further details including how to order the book are available here.

Elizabeth College was established in 1563 by Elizabeth I’s royal command to train priests according to the principles of the Protestant Reformation. Such was the religious and political mayhem in Guernsey at the time that Elizabeth’s hope was a forlorn one.

The first headmaster, Adrian Saravia, was a friend of Elizabeth’s chief minister, William Cecil. A distinguished academic, Saravia found the islanders to be brutish and lawless and reported back to Cecil that it was impossible to teach the islanders anything. He branded the local lawmakers as ‘cheats and liars’ and soon gave up his post. He returned to England and later became one of the translators of the King James Bible.

For two and a half centuries, the school tottered on the brink of extinction. There were many times when the school had no pupils, although the Principal continued to draw his salary. In 1824 Guernsey’s Lt Governor, Sir John Colborne, set up an enquiry into the state of the College, the result of which was the re-chartering and a renaissance of the school. A new building was commissioned – the largest civil construction project the island had ever known. It remains the centre of College life today and its outline still dominates the St Peter Port skyline.

During the 19th century, the school catered for many boys whose parents were employed by the British government in far-flung outposts of the British Empire. A number of those same boys themselves followed distinguished colonial careers. In the same era, the College was noted for its ability to prepare boys for entry into the army and naval colleges on the mainland. The record of Old Elizabethans in the two world wars and other major conflicts of the past two centuries is wholly exceptional – no fewer than four Old Elizabethans have been awarded the Victoria Cross. Old Elizabethans have a distinguished sporting record which includes medal-winning performances in recent times in both the Olympic and the Commonwealth Games.

Ahead of Guernsey being occupied by German forces in 1940, the entire school was evacuated to Derbyshire and spent five years ‘in exile’. Boys had little or no contact with their parents during the occupation of the island. The College itself was used by the occupying German forces as a headquarters building and the official liberation announcement was made to cheering crowds from the steps of the school in 1945.

The College has enjoyed the support of the States of Guernsey since its establishment in 1563 and continues to grant a fee subsidy to all Upper School pupils. This ‘General Grant’, along with the States-funded special places, enables Elizabeth College fees to be held at an affordable level, around 30% lower than the average for UK independent schools. The College provides an excellent education to many of Guernsey’s children at a lower cost to the Guernsey tax payer than the State sector can provide.

A History of Elizabeth College was recently published in celebration of the 450th anniversary. This beautiful and comprehensively researched book covers the founding of the College in 1563, the 1824 re-chartering and College’s exile to escape the WWII German occupation of Guernsey, as well as many other fascinating events in the life of Elizabeth College.