12th December 1851

Victor Hugo flees France and Napoleon

Guernsey’s most famous resident neither was born on the island nor died there. Yet his 15-year association with St Peter Port resulted in some remarkable creative works, the championing of human rights and a legacy from which the island’s tourist trade had been benefitting ever since. Victor Hugo has repaid Guernsey’s hospitality many times over.

The French poet and novelist had long been a supporter of both the monarchy and the French system of government, which put him in good company until, on 2 December 1851, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) staged a coup and seized power. Hugo had been one of the leaders of an insurrection against Napoleon, so he had no choice but to flee for his own safety.

In the first instance, he crossed the border to Belgium and took refuge in Brussels, but the following year he went to Jersey, where several other exiled French nationals, sympathetic to his cause, were already based.

Expulsion from Jersey

Unfortunately, in expressing solidarity with those expelled exiles in October 1856, he was expelled from Jersey. The exiles had set up their own newspaper and reprinted in it some satirical comments about Queen Victoria’s visit to Paris. The fact that the comments had originally been printed in a London publication was not considered adequate defence.

Fortunately for Guernsey, Hugo didn’t look far when choosing his next refuge. He chose Jersey’s close neighbour and made Hauteville House in St Peter Port his home for the next 15 years. He returned to France when Napoleon III finally lost power in 1870. His reputation at home was fully restored before his own death and he was given a state funeral. Many French towns and cities now have roads named in his honour.

Hugo wrote many of his best-known novels while exiled in Guernsey, including Les Miserables and Toilers of the Sea. The house is now owned by the city of Paris and open daily to visitors.


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Other events that occured in December

French fishing boats prepare to invade 1st
Two cargo ships collide on their way to Guernsey 2nd
Guernseyman Herbert Le Patourel wrongly thought killed 3rd
A Guernsey funeral takes place in Cornwall 4th
Guernsey steamship SS Rossgull is wrecked 5th
The Guernsey Tapestry is completed 6th
Air UK Fokker overshoots Guernsey runway 7th
Naftel’s paintings go on display 8th
Guernsey and Jersey newspapers agree to merge 9th
Sark holds its first election 10th
Beau Sejour opens for business 11th
Victor Hugo flees France and Napoleon 12th
Explorer Edmund Kennedy is speared to death 13th
Author Mary Ann Shaffer is born
Herm bribery case comes to court 14th
Alderney’s evacuees return to their island 15th
Guillaume de Beauvoir appointed dean of English Church in Geneva 16th
Castle Cornet surrenders to Guernsey 17th
Telex, phones and telegram cables go quiet 18th
Guernsey shipwreck results in starvation 19th
Channel Islands Securities Exchange founded 20th
G-COBO has a bumpy flight 21st
Guernsey struck by an earthquake 22nd
William Hedley Cliff buys Jethou 23rd
Wombles author Liza Beresford dies 24th
Asterix is discovered in St Peter Port harbour 25th
Guille and Alles lease the Assembly Rooms 26th
The Red Cross saves Guernsey from starvation 27th
Operation Hardtack targets the Channel Islands 28th
Ebenezer Le Page author GB Edwards dies 29th
Castle Cornet is struck by lightning 30th
Guernsey Police makes the world’s first underwater arrest 31st