Sark Legends – The Pirates of Sark
During the 100 years war the Sarkese suffered from the ravages of the Plague as well as numerous attacks by the French and Scots. Believing the island to be impregnable, the English sent only six archers and one soldier to defend it. This proved completely inadequate, and eventually it was abandoned altogether. Pirates and wreckers soon took advantage of the deserted island, lighting beacons during stormy nights to lure lost ships onto the surrounding rocks. These outlaws became such a menace that in 1356 a group of merchants from Rye and Winchelsea decided to take matters into their own hands.
The traders sailed to Sark where they anchored in one of the bays and called up to the sentries on the cliff top above. Claiming that their captain had died at sea, they sought permission to bury him in the hallowed grounds of St. Magloire’s chapel. Finally persuaded by the promise of a generous reward, the pirates agreed, on condition that the men landed unarmed. The merchants rowed ashore with the coffin and were searched on the beach for any hidden weapons before climbing the 300-foot cliff, drawing the coffin up with ropes behind them.
Eventually they were escorted to the ruined chapel where the pirates allowed them to hold a brief service in private. Once inside the merchants broke open the coffin, armed themselves with the swords and longbows hidden inside, and burst out of the building to slaughter the Islanders. The only survivor was an old woman who was baking bread at the time of the attack. Snatching a loaf from the hearth she ran to the Coupee and climbed down the Jersey side, hiding in the Convache Chasm where she existed on her half-baked loal until rescued by a Guernsey fisherman.
Although entirely plausible, the story’s similarity to the Wooden Horse of Troy has led historians to question its authenticity. The legend has been current for at least four hundred years as Walter Raleigh refers to it in his History of the World, using the plot to describe how a group of Flemish corsairs recaptured the Island from the French in 1553.