Here’s a subject dear to my heart: micronations.
I co-wrote this book with John Ryan and George Dunford, and between us we managed to drum up quite a bit of publicity for a subject that seemed to touch a chord. Here’s an interview with me about the book, over at the fantastic BLDGBLOG.
For this title I wrote the Kugelmugel, Akhzivland, Copeman Empire, State of Sabotage, Gay and Lesbian Kingdom, Romkerhall and Elleore profiles. I also wrote the Redonda, Cascadia, Offworld Colonies and Cybernerds box texts.
Excerpted below is the Elleore profile and the Redonda box text.
Selected material by Simon Sellars from Micronations 1, Lonely Planet Publications, September 2006.
THE KINGDOM OF ELLEORE
Prepare yourself for one of the most quirky and complex stories in this book. A story of of bizarre synchronicity, in fact, and more than a little cultish charm.
The Kingdom of Elleore is the oldest modern-day micronation, having been founded by a group of Danish schoolteachers (known as the ‘Immortals’) on the uninhabited island of Elleore in 1944. Later, when the Immortals delved into the history of the island, they discovered it actually had an ancient lineage, deriving back to 944 and the settlement of a depleted band of Irish monks.
Against the odds, the monks had more than a little in common with the Immortals themselves…
These days Elleore is uninhabited for all but one week a year, when the king and queen invite their devoted citizenry to the island to celebrate the Kingdom – and whatever it stands for.
Good luck finding that out, though: the Kingdom is pretty much off limits to ‘foreigners’, although there are ways and means of becoming a citizen – if you’re a kid (see p000).
In Roskilde Fjord, Denmark.
• Head of State King Leo III
• Capital Maglelille
• Population 263 registered citizens
• Currency Leo d’Or
• Languages Interlingua (an international language along the lines of Esperanto, but based on Latin)
• Website www.elleore.dk
The climate of Elleore is similar to the Danish climate. Winter temperatures can reach 0°C; spring temperatures average 10–15°C; summer 20–25°C; and autumn 5–10°C.
Geography & Wildlife
Elleore’s shape is approximately triangular, with each side of the triangle roughly 400 metres in length. The island is flat with small hills, a lake and a little forest. Birds are the only permanent inhabitants (including a large colony of Mute Swans and a Herring Gull colony) and the national animal is a lion, a creature that holds a very special place in Elleorian lore.
Roskilde Fjord is in fact a bird reserve, which is why the Danish authorities ordered the Elleorians to destroy their castle in 1958 in order to minimise human intervention on Elleore.
Since 1969 the Kingdom has minted coins that have been highly sought after by numismatics. Postage stamps, inevitably, are another sidelight.
Elleore’s history is complex and exists in parallel forms.
First, the pre-history: in 6th-century Ireland, Saint Fintan of Doon founded Clonenagh Monastery. When Fintan died in 603, the monastery continued to operate under his guiding principles. In the 10th century, after persistent harassment from the Roman church, Clonenagh’s monks were forced to make their lives elsewhere.
They initially sailed to the Isle of Man before settling on Amitsoq, a tiny island off Greenland’s south coast. But the harsh conditions took their toll and many died during the severe Amitsoq winters. The last of the party then sailed south, before extreme weather forced them east – to the Roskilde inlet.
They landed on Elleore on 17 February 944 and immediately fell in love, as the island’s landscape reminded them of Ireland in miniature form. One monk declared ‘Hic est elie ore!’ (‘Here is the golden island’), and the name ‘Elleore’ was subsequently coined from ‘elie ore’ (‘golden island’).
The exiles set about building a new monastery, Krune, which was inhabited for a further 600 years. There were more than a few notable monks on Elleore during this time, including the enigmatic Caius (1485–1510), an alchemist and practitioner of black magic who could apparently conjure up storms.
Around the time of the Reformation, the Danes viewed this separate monastic society of Irish renegades with extreme suspicion, eventually attacking the island and burning the monastery down. Surveying the ruins, Oscar, Elleore’s last abbot, said that the Kingdom would again rise from the ashes, some time in the distant future…
Until then, the surviving monks and nuns had no choice but to go to Denmark and marry into the Danish race.
Fast forward to 1834, when the Danish historian Frederik Barfod helped to found a progressive school for young boys. At this school the teaching was free and the program subsequently proved to be very successful, so much so that in 1938 the school’s language teachers formed a society, Societas Findani, devoted to preservation of the school’s underlying philosophy. The society was named after none other than Saint Fintan, who also taught free of charge.
The Findani founders, who came to be known as ‘the Immortals’, grew their goals far beyond a mere secret society – they yearned to form a separatist Findanian State. The first step was to find land, which they did, in the form of the uninhabited island of Elleore.
In 1944 the Immortals bought Elleore from the Danish government and the Kingdom of Elleore was born. Amazingly the Immortals had no prior knowledge of Elleore’s settlement by the disciples of Saint Fintan. It was only later when they began to research Elleore’s history that they found it was inextricably linked to their sacred saint – Fintan himself.
Like the monks before them, they’d inadvertently found their ‘Golden Island’ and in 1946 they set about building the castle Braadeborg. However, in yet another very vivid echo of the past, this was destroyed in 1958 by ‘foreign invaders’; the people, disillusioned, once again left the island to return to Denmark.
In 1964 a revival of interest ensured a return to Elleore and in 1975 the government purchased a 45-sq-m tent from a Swedish army depot and anointed it as the City Hall of Maglelille.
Now, every year, the big tent hosts Elleorian Week and the Kingdom is alive once again with eccentric people baring their teeth and curling their hands like fangs in imitation of the Lion that Ole shot, all those years ago..
The Lion, the Director & the Minister of Defence
In 1907 Elleore became famous as the setting for Denmark’s first feature film, The Lion Hunt, directed by Ole Olsen. Part of the plot revolved around two fully-grown German male lions that kill a goat and an old horse before they, too, are killed by the filmmakers – all of it captured on film. The film created a huge stir in Denmark: Olsen was tried for animal abuse, although he was acquitted, and the Minister of Defence, some guy named Alberti, banned the movie from being shown in theatres. This became news worldwide, eventually leading to Alberti’s resignation.
To this day there are Elleorians who believe that this controversy led to the Immortals purchasing Elleore, while others adhere to the theory that it was purely by chance that they came by the island. Whatever, the lion is now a symbol of Elleorian culture and can be seen on crests, medals, the coat of arms and all kinds of official documents.
People & Culture
For most of the year Elleore is uninhabited – except for one week in summer, when hordes of Elleorians descend on the island for Elleorian Week. As the Elleorians love to say, they are simply returning to their island after ‘a 51-week holiday abroad’. During the week the big tent is erected and the City Hall of Maglelille is set in motion. Chefs prepare three-course meals; young Elleorians study at one of three ‘Universities of Elleore’ and play all manner of games; while the elders get down to earnest historical research or administrative tasks.
At all times, Elleorians have a deep knowledge and respect for the culture of the monks who lived on the island centuries before them. Especially revered are the works of Caspar Tromphett (1583–1653), known as the ‘Shakespeare of Elleore’ – these days, his plays are performed during Elleorian Week at the ruins of Braadeborg Castle. Another major event is the Court Ball, held annually by the Royal Couple at Kildegaard Castle in Hellerup, north of Copenhagen, to which all Elleorians are invited.
Elleore’s entire population is also enrolled in the Air, Land and Maritime Forces, enabling a ‘300% level of military preparedness’ (so they say).
Finally, it’s forbidden to take the book Robinson Crusoe onto Elleore, as the Kingdom believes it gives a ‘distorted and false impression of how life is on a small island’.
‘For Every Man, a Motto’
The Immortals proclaimed their first king Erik I, whose motto was ‘Let us help one another’. Each subsequent king has had their own motto, including King Leo the 1st (‘Seriousness and Merriment’); Erik the 2nd (‘Faith above Trust’); Leo the 2nd (‘Hope to the Sea’); and the current King Leo the 3rd (‘With Lion and People for the Kingdom’). Erik the 2nd’s wife, by the way, was known as Queen Lilian the Happy One, leading one to wonder whether Monty Python took Elleore as their inspiration for their ‘Happy Valley’ episode (you know, the one with the happy Princess with the Wooden Teeth).
• A Kingdom of No Comparison (1991). This book took ’17 years and three computer systems to finalize’ and features pictures and essays written by prominent Elleorians.
• The Chronicles of Krune Monastery. This is a thorough history of the monastery, ‘available in every Elleorian bookstore’ (wherever these stores may be – in the Big Tent, perhaps?).
Places to Stay
Camping is the only option. There’s no electricity or water on the island.
Things to See & Do
Visit the ruins of Krune Monastery, or the large stone that was laid when the monks first landed; it’s inscribed with the legend, ‘Hic est locum’ (‘This is the place’). Elleorians call the stone ‘Anstødsstenen’ (‘The Stumbling Block’) and today it’s been moved slightly to the south of its original location.
There’s a museum in Jyllinge, near Roskilde, that contains Elleorian relics.
Getting There & Away
The ‘state’ boats Elfin and Sealion make the journey during Elleorian Week. Note that while only Elleorians have permission to camp on the island, it’s forbidden for anyone to land on any of the fjord islands during the bird-breeding period (from April 1 until July 15).
At any other time Elleore is private property. You might try asking for an appointment to visit, but this is rarely granted to non-Elleorians. If you just want to take a look at the Kingdom, try the Sagafjord boat (www.sagafjord.dk; adult/child DKK89/39), which traverses up and down the fjord – twice past Elleore. During Elleorian Week the islanders salute the boat and the boat salutes them with gunshots. Mind your head.
The other way to visit is to take out citizenship, and that can be done one of two ways. For the first you’ll need to be 12 and enrolled at Kildegaard School (one of the original schools founded by the Immortals); all Kildegaard 12-year-olds are given the chance to enrol in the Land Forces’ Under-graduation Course, effectively an introduction course to Elleorian culture. After that the pupils can decide whether to become citizens or not.
The second way is a bit more accessible: you’ll need to be recommended by at least two citizens.
KINGDOM OF REDONDA: They can write but they can’t rule
In the late 1800s, mariner and entrepreneur Matthew Dowdy Shiell landed on the uninhabited Caribbean island of Redonda and declared it to be his personal kingdom, claiming that Queen Victoria had granted him the title of king on the condition that Redonda did not revolt against England. Shortly after, the British annexed the island for its phosphate resources and that was the end of independence, if not of kingly accession.
In the 1940s Shiell’s son, Matthew Phipps Shiel (he dropped the second ‘l’ from his surname before styling himself King Felipe I) sold the title in the 1940s to John Gawsworth (King Juan I). Then Gawsworth offloaded the title, and that’s where it all went haywire. No one seems to know who owns it now and it’s beyond the scope of this book to explore further, except to say that at one stage there were as many as six Men Who Would Be King.
Today there are three claimants to Shiel’s title of any real note, and all of them – in true micronational fashion – seem to be having a laugh at stuffy real-world attitudes more than anything else.
Meet Claimant No. 1: King Robert the Bald who, in his official history of Redonda, writes that ‘[during] King Juan’s stormy rule…royal sozzlement set in and he started hurling knighthoods around like confetti’.
Claimant No. 2, King Leo, in turn writes: ‘The impostor King Robert the Bald has had the gross impertinence to set his “claim” on the Internet, thereby…gratuitously insulting the present King from a distance of three thousand miles. Mon Dieu! Quelle situation! Do have a look! PS: Bob can be insulted via his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org’.
And finally, Claimant No. 3, Spanish author and academic Javier Marìas (King Javier I), bestows ‘royal Redondan titles’ on celebrities including Francis Ford Coppola.
But even if we can’t agree on who’s king, let’s at least agree that Redonda is undoubtedly the most literary entity in micronational history. During his day, Matthew Phipps Shiel was a significant (if erratic) novelist of fantasy and science fiction; John Gawsworth was a respected (if drunken) poet of ‘neo-Georgian verse’; Javier Marìas has written books on Redonda and has even established a Redondan literary prize that’s worth a few thousand euros; and even bald old King Bob claims to have written eight books, describing his latest collection of short stories as ‘[mostly] nonsense so it’s a very light read’.
• www.redonda.org The website of King Leo’s Redondan Foundation
• http://www.antiguanice.com/redonda King Robert the Bald’s website
• http://www.javiermarias.es/REDONDIANA/reinoderedonda.html Redino de Redonda, Javier Marìas’s site