Kingdom of Redonda

Simon Sellars Micronations, Travel

Simon Sellars: Micronations

LEFT: King Robert the Bald. RIGHT: King Leo.

Simon Sellars, ‘Kingdom of Redonda’, originally published in John Ryan, George Dunford & Simon Sellars, Micronations: the Lonely Planet Guide to Home-made Nations, Footscray: Lonely Planet Publications, 2006, p. 108.

Simon Sellars

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: bob@xxxxx.xx’.

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’.

Further Reading
• The website of King Leo’s Redondan Foundation
• King Robert the Bald’s website
• Redino de Redonda, Javier Marìas’s site