Elizabeth College has a long, chequered but distinguished history of which it is rightly proud.

Many items in the College’s archives, including copies of The Elizabethan, sports photos and many other documents have been digitised and are available in the Roy Honey Digital Archive.

Click on the tabs to discover more about the College’s history:

Established more than 450 years ago, Elizabeth College was established in 1563 by royal command – an attempt to provide education in Guernsey beyond what we now term ‘primary’ level. The basic aim of Elizabeth I and her ministers was to train priests who would preach in island parish churches according to the principles of the Protestant Reformation. Such was the religious and political mayhem in the island 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 times when, although there was a headmaster on the pay roll, there were no pupils. In 1824, the island’s Lt Governor, Sir John Colborne, set up an enquiry into the state of the College, the result of which was the re-chartering which led to 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.

The College’s portrait collection has been included in the Channel Islands Public Catalogue Foundation and can be viewed here.

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.

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.

There have been a number of royal visits to the College, notably by the Queen in 1957 and George V in 1921. Old Elizabethans have a distinguished sporting record which includes medal-winning performances in recent times in both the Olympic and the Commonwealth Games.

A History of Elizabeth College was 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. Further details including how to order the book at a greatly reduced price are available by clicking the History Book tab above.

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