30th December 1671

Castle Cornet is struck by lightning

Castle Cornet was the official residence of the Governor of Guernsey until 1671 (some sources say 1672) but a freak bolt of lightning put an end to that practice when it struck and destroyed the castle’s keep.

Lord Hatton, who was Governor at the time, was lucky to escape with his life as the strike also destroyed several living quarters and killed Hatton’s wife, mother and several members of his staff. The Governor himself is said to have been blown out of the castle, still in his bed, and lodged on one of the high outer walls. In total, seven lives were lost and the keep (or Great Donjon, as it was known), Great Hall and chapel were entirely destroyed. Castle Cornet’s keep has never been rebuilt.

As a result of the loss of life, the Court announced that the following Wednesday would be observed as a day of island-wide fasting during which all inhabitants would be required to attend church to ask for mercy. Anyone who disobeyed would be punished.

Ready to blow

If it seems remarkable that lightning could cause such damage to a stone tower, it should be remembered that the keep was also used to store gunpowder, which was ignited by the charge. A single bolt of lightning can contain up to one billion volts of electricity.

The exact wording of the Court’s ordnance on the matter is solemn in the extreme:

…by the instrumentality of Divine Providence and during the night of Sunday 30th December last, the Powder Magazines situate[d] in the great tower of Castle Cornet were ignited by a terrible lightning flash from heaven; through which the tower was wrecked, the exploded portions also totally wrecking all the buildings and out-houses erected on the Castle… considering the extent of the loss experienced the inhabitants have arrived at the conclusion that God’s wrath is much incensed against them owing to the[ir] iniquities…

The position of Governor of Guernsey was abolished in 1835 following the death of Sir William Keppel the previous year.


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Other events that occured in December