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The Americas

Caribbean Islands

 

Redonda (Lesser Antilles)

The tiny uninhabited island of Redonda lies in the central area of the Leeward Islands, within the Lesser Antilles chain which divides the Caribbean Sea from the North Atlantic Ocean. Redonda sits about eighty kilometres west-south-west of Antigua as a dependency of Barbuda which, in turn is part of Antigua & Barbuda. To the north-west is Nevis, part of St Kitts & Nevis, to the south-east is the British-owned Montserrat, and to the west is the core Caribbean Sea itself.

Redonda is a rugged, uninhabited rock, the remnant of a volcanic cone. It has a surface area of 1.3 square kilometres and rises almost 305 metres above sea level, with steep cliffs on all sides. Caribs first visited several centuries before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, naming it Ocanamanru. Columbus spotted it in 1493, on behalf of what was on the verge of becoming a Spanish empire, during his second voyage to the West Indies. He did not land, but he did name the island for Spain. However, the Spanish Colonies never followed through on the claim, and neither did any other European country.

It was 1872 when Queen Victoria's United Kingdom declared the island to be a British possession within the Americas, incorporating it within the administrative oversight of the colony of Antigua. It remained largely ignored, though, until 1929 when Matthew Philip Shiel (or Shiell - he apparently changed the spelling at some point), a publisher, devised a publicity stunt which involved his father, Matthew Dowdy Shiel. This Irishman who had settled on Montserrat was involved in the transportation field, but he was also a horror and science-fiction writer and one of his son's clients.

He is supposed to have claimed for himself the island of Redonda in 1865, as the 'Kingdom of Redonda'. Part of the legend surrounding this event has Matthew abdicating in 1880 in favour of his son, and the bishop of Antigua crowning Matthew's son, Matthew Philip, as King Philippe I. Shortly afterwards, 'Philippe' left Redonda for London and never returned. He died in 1947 and willed the island and succession to his pretence throne to the poet, John Gawsworth, who claimed it as John I.

This John I handed out titles of 'nobility' to various famous artists. He also tried to sell the island, but the British authorities prevented the sale. According to one source, he resigned in 1966 in favour of Arthur John Roberts, who took the title John II. According to another source, upon the death of John I in the 1970s, John Wynne-Tyson claimed the throne as John II. The title today is disputed, albeit it not especially strongly, while the imagined throne is largely a literary and fantasy interest which, nevertheless, drives a good deal of interest.

The full list of islands which make up the Lesser Antilles chain includes Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Redonda, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago.

Caribbean Islands

(Information by John De Cleene, with additional information from Atlas of the World (Tenth Ed, National Geographic Society, 2015), and from External Links: Antigua and Barbuda (Flags of the World), and Kingdom of Redonda, and Antigua and Barbuda, and Antigua and Barbuda (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Redonda (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and Antigua and Barbuda (New World Encyclopaedia), and Antigua and Barbuda (Rulers.org), and A Short History of Antigua and Barbuda (Studycountry.com), and Redonda Restoration Programme (Flora & Fauna International).)

1865

According to legend, an Irishman who has settled on Montserrat by the name of Matthew Dowdy Shiel claims the uninhabited island of Redonda for his son, who is to receive it on his fifteenth birthday (his free slave wife had only previously given him daughters). Shiel claims that Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom confers the title of king upon him on condition that there are no revolts against British colonial power.

He also claims to be descended from a long line of Irish kings. More likely, he is descended from Irish criminals who had been deported to St Kitts & Nevis in the eighteenth century. He himself is imprisoned in 1914.

The island of Redonda in the Caribbean
Redonda is a rugged, uninhabited volcanic island with a remarkable history (shown here in 2012), globally important seabird colonies, and unique fauna and flora and, in 2016, Flora & Fauna International and partners began taking steps to restore its extraordinary biodiversity, resulting in astounding changes

1865 - 1880

Matthew / Matthew Dowdy Shiel

Pretender. Science-fiction author. Abdicated.

1872

The United Kingdom declares the island of Redonda to be a British possession, although the British Colonial Office publicly admits that this action does not affect the claimed sovereignty of the Shiel family. In administrative terms it is incorporated into the colony of Antigua, and Shiel's spurious claim is generally forgotten. In time up to a hundred and twenty miners inhabit Redonda while they extract phosphates from bird guano deposits.

1880

Again according to legend, Matthew Philip Shiel becomes king of Redonda upon the abdication of his father. He claims to be crowned by the bishop of Antigua, but the precise identity of this bishop is unclear.

1880 - 1947

Felippe I / Matthew Philip Shiel

Son. Pretender. 'Crowned by bishop of Antigua'. Died at 82.

1914

At the outbreak of the First World War, all phosphate extraction activities cease and the island is never again inhabited. The remains of a post office which had been used by the miners are all that is left of their presence.

Having jointly guaranteed in 1839 to support the neutrality of Belgium, when the country is invaded by Germany, Britain and all its territories and colonies (including Australia, Canada, and New Zealand), France, and Russia are forced to declare war against Germany and Austria at midnight on 4 August. The war occupies most European focus for the next four years.

Curtain Bluff beach on the Caribbean island of Antigua
Antigua was visited in 1493 by Christopher Columbus, who named it for the Church of Santa Maria de la Antigua in Sevilla, Spain, although it was not colonised by Europeans until the arrival of English settlers in 1632

1929

Matthew Philip Shiel devises a publicity stunt in which he identifies his father as the king of Redonda. He also determines that the 'kingship is not to be hereditary, but rather to be passed along to persons in literary fields'. He himself names the poet John Gawsworth (whose real name is Terence Ian Fytton Armstrong) as his successor after the man renews public interest in the 'Kingdom of Redonda'.

1947 - 1966

Juan / John I / John Gawsworth

Pretender. Poet. Abdicated.

1947 - 1966

Having fallen on hard times after the conclusion of the Second World War, for the most part John Gawsworth ('King John I of Redonda') visits pubs in London, has no money, and sells titles of nobility to persons who buy him drinks.

In order to pay off his debts he attempts to sell Redonda but is prohibited from doing so by the British authorities. Among those he ennobles are J B Priestly, Vincent Price, Diana Dors, Dirk Bogarde, Dylan Thomas, Ellery Queen, Dorothy Sayers, Lawrence Durrell, and Henry Miller.

1966 - 1997

Juan / John II / Jon Wynne-Tyson

Pretender. Literary figure. Abdicated.

1966 - 1997

Jon Wynne-Tyson claims the throne as 'King John II' and is unchallenged until a pretender emerges in 1967. The confusion is largely down to John Gawsworth and his habit of selling off the title to anyone who would clear his debts and buy him a drink. It leads to the existence of two lines of succession, although those names which are shown below in black are generally recognised throughout the Caribbean.

The Crown public house on Blackhorse Road, London, 1947
In the Victorian period and right through the twentieth century, the British pub was a focal point of local social life, a source of tall stories, and a place in which people could meet to celebrate, or just drink

Wynne-Tyson actually visits Redonda and plants a flag there which is of his own design. He is accompanied by a notable Antiguan historian, and photographic evidence of the event still survives. The concept of a kingship largely becomes an intellectual exercise though, as the island itself is generally uninhabitable.

1967 - 1987

Juan / John II / Arthur John Roberts

Disputed pretender endowed by Gawsworth.

1989 - On

Leo / William Leonard Gates

Disputed pretender selected by Roberts.

1989

'King Leo of Redonda' takes his role seriously, bound by the terms of his 'Irrevocable Covenant' to 'maintain and extend the Intellectual Aristocracy of the Kingdom, to preserve and develop the Realm itself for posterity and to keep the memories of M P Shiell and John Gawsworth' alive.

As king he is supported in these endeavours by the members of the realm, which in the twenty-first century stretches over three continents. His Redondan Foundation handles press releases and all matters which concern the members of the realm, while also keeping in touch with the current literary executor of M P Schiell's estate.

The aftermath of Hurricane Luis on Antigua in 1995
Hurricane Luis left a trail of destruction across the Caribbean islands after it had passed on 5 September 1995, with three dead on Antigua and millions of dollars of damage done

2000 - 2009

Robert 'the Bald' / Bob Williamson

Pretender, and successor to Wynne-Tyson. Author. Died.

2000 - 2009

Bob 'the Bald' visits Redonda and plants a flag, an operation which becomes a requirement for succession (quite possibly to further negate the legitimacy of the rival claimants). He claims to have an army and navy on Antigua. It is claimed by Michael Howorth that the crown is assigned to him by Bob on the latter's deathbed at his home in Canada.

2009 - On

Michael 'the Grey' / Michael Howorth

Pretender, and claimed successor to Williamson. Writer.

2009

'King Michael' raises the flag on Redonda, following which 'Archbishop' Terrance Bowen crowns him at Fort Charlotte on Antigua. The king receives a gold painted pineapple to represent an orb and a gold painted sugar cane stalk to represent a sceptre. He promises to rule in the tradition of myth, mystery, and fantasy of his predecessors.

2017

Although Redonda is unquestionably of high conservation value, feral goats and thousands of large, predatory black rats have turned much of its surface into a dusty moonscape and left the surrounding marine habitats damaged. Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and partners now begin to eradicate the rats and relocate the feral goats to Antigua.

King Michael 'the Grey' of Redonda
King Michael 'the Grey', centre, with 'Archbishop' Terrance Bowen and John Duffy, 'Lord Plum', the 'chancellor', and with the 'king' holding the golden pineapple and sugar cane which represent his office

The island begins to spring back into life incredibly quickly. In the space of just two years, fifteen species of land birds return to Redonda and numbers of the Redonda Ground Lizard increased eightfold. Signs of green are also gradually appearing and spreading across the flatter areas of this former volcano.

 
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