The first record of a castle being built at Gorey is some 800 years ago at the beginning of the 13th century. King John had lost his continental possessions in Normandy in 1204 and the defence of the Channel Islands became imperative. Not only did the Channel Islands become the front line towards France, but they were also on the trade route between Gascony (still an English possession) and England and vital to the wine trade between the two, and of course the revenues that would accrue to the Crown.
Standing on top of a rocky promontory, and built on earlier defensive structures which probably date back to the Stone Age, Mont Orgueil as it became known as in later life, was the embodiment of power which was clearly visible from France on a clear day. The Castle survived sieges and was never fully taken by force despite numerous attempts. As the art of warfare changed, and the weaknesses in the Castle’s structure became apparent, addition fortifications or armaments were added. But by the time of the 16th century, the Castle, originally designed for the age of bow and arrow, was extremely vulnerable to attack from cannon that might be mounted on Mont St Nicholas immediately to the east. Despite batteries of its own cannons and an impressive new keep having been added to counter the threat, it was, however, all for nothing. Cannon technology continued to advance apace, and the Castle was effectively abandoned by the late 16th century in favour of Jersey’s new artillery fortresses in St Aubin’s Bay – Elizabeth Castle and St. Aubin’s Fort. Gorey Castle had started its decline as a military fortress.
Saved from demolition by the Governor of Jersey, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Castle continued service as the “Old Castle”. It and Elizabeth Castle were later held for the Royalists in the English Civil War until a large Parliamentary force landed and forced the surrender of the troublesome Island and its castles. It has served as a prison, a barracks and a centre of espionage in the late 18th century. Retired to become a ruined ancient monument in the 19th century, it attracted sight-seeing visitors rather than attacking soldiers. However it had one further military role in the 20th century, when it was occupied by the Germans during the Occupation and they added their own modifications. If you want to see at least 3000 years of military history all in one place, this is one of a number of locations in Jersey where you can do that!