Former Kings

This document is from the pen of King Bob the Bald

The island of Redonda has been known ever since Columbus as a marker for ships and lately yachts sailing up and down the Eastern Caribbean. But very few people have landed as the island's sheer cliffs plunge straight down into the sea. Ferocious surf and swells pound the one boulder-strewn beach.

Nevertheless, there has been a Kingdom of Redonda for 118 years!

The story began in 1865 when a quarter-Irish Montserratian trader named Matthew Dowdy Shiell was sailing his ship past a lump of rock near home named, by Columbus, Nuestra Señora de la Redonda. His Free Slave wife had already presented him with eight daughters and finally a son was born. Shiell was, of course, over the moon about this so being partly descended from Irish kings and a romantic sort of gent he promptly annexed the island so that his newly born son, Matthew Phipps Shiell, could one day become King of Redonda.

On his fifteenth birthday the boy was crowned King Felipe I of Redonda by the Bishop of Antigua. He promptly elected to drop one "l" from his name. Ten years later the British Government officially annexed the island declaring it to be a dependancy of Antigua. But the act of annexation was also declared not to have affected the sovereignty vested in Shiel, and the British Colonial Office tacitly admitted his claim.

For several years while Matthew studied and settled in London some people moved onto the island and mined the extensive guano and phosphate deposits left by centuries of boobies. Matthew became a well-known writer with some thirty novels to his credit. One of them, THE PURPLE CLOUD is still an undisputed classic of modern science fiction. It was much later made into a film starring Harry Belafonte.

King Felipe died in London in 1947 and was succeeded by the poet John Gawsworth who was crowned King Juan 1.

Gawsworth carried on with his remarkable reign until he in turn died, some say of drink, in the year of Our Lord 1970, at the age of 58. The reign was tempestuous by any standards and the King ruthlessly took advantage of his exalted rank. Whenever the royal purse fell short of funds for another glass of burgundy the King would flog a title or two.

During King Juan's stormy rule the Redondan aristocracy grew exponentially, the bar bills at the Alma pub held at bay. Among the many notables even more ennobled by Juan were Fabian of the Yard, Diana Dors, Dirk Bogarde, Victor Gollancz, Dorothy Sayers, Ellery Queen, Dylan Thomas, Edith Sitwell, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, and J.B. Priestley. After three State Papers were issued (1947, 1949, 1951) royal sozzlement set in and and he started hurling Knighthoods around like confetti. Thus the Kingdom fell kerPlonk into what became known as the Almadondan Period.

In 1958 King Juan advertised in the personal columns of The Times a "Caribbean Kingship with Royal Prerogatives - one thousand guineas". Now this was going too far for the successor the Grand Duke of Basalto who saw his future monarchy slipping away. Several solicitors were immediately at war and offers of £100,000 for the title were reported. Count Bertil Bernadotte even sent a crisp £50 note to secure an option! But, in the end, King Juan settled for the small but continuous liquidity to be gained at the bar of the Alma. As a result there are at least nine claimants to the throne and more Redondan dukes than are registered with the Knight Herald of England.

On his death bed in 1970, his sobriety controlled by a ferocious ward sister, the King appointed as his (and M.P. Shiel's) literary executor the publisher Jon Wynne-Tyson. Along with this appointment, unknown at the time to Jon, came the succession to the Redondan throne. Jon accepted his role as the third monarch with great reluctance and has kept a low profile ever since. Describing his kingship Jon (or King Juan II) concludes "The legend is and should remain a pleasing and eccentric fairy tale; a piece of literary mythology to be taken with salt, romantic sighs, appropriate perplexity, some amusement, but without great seriousness. It is, after all, a fantasy."

In 1984 Wynne-Tyson wrote and published SO SAY BANANA BIRD, a novel in which Antigua and its sattelite anonymously featured. He spends time promoting the idea of Redonda as being a symbol of all the unspoiled places that should be spared the attentions of man, and there may yet be a poetry prize sponsored by him.

"Who will be the successor when you abdicate, Your Majesty?" I asked the Reluctant Monarch during tea, while obsequiously buttering His toast. "I've drawn up a short list and at No.1 is a very rich Spaniard who recently bought all the regalia from Sotheby's" he replied "As well as the literary executorship of Gawsworth's work and Matthew Phipps Shiel. I barely refrained from asking why he'd sold all the royal gear - after all, it belongs to the nation, doesn't it? But instead said "What? You should be ashamed of yourself. Thousands of lives and millions of pounds sterling were spent kicking the Spanish out of the Caribbean and now you're planning to give a bit of it back?"

"Oh, heavens" he replied "I didn't think of that".

I thought the next king should be a keen skipper like Matthew Dowdy Shiell: a tall, stately, incredibly wise and handsome, poetic sort of bloke with remnants of a family castle in Ireland, owner/skipper of a square-rigged ship, living within sight of Redonda on a good day, clearly descended from other kings from another time right back to Arnulf Bishop of Metz in AD643... Great Leaping Leprechauns - sounds exactly like me! Robert the Bald was one of my ancestors. So, after he'd gone back to Blighty on the great silver boobie I wrote to the King right away and asked to be included on the Short List, mainly because I am only 5'6".

By return I received a letter from His Majesty: here I quote his very words: "You should prepare your square-rigged schooner, drive her downwind to Redonda, plant your flag, give an inflammatory speech to the boobies; that you are now the supreme ruler; and that furthermore you intend to resurrect old man Shiell's territorial claim, which means that Antigua has no right of possession and must pay you retrospective taxes for all the help that Redonda has given the tourist industry. Be worthy of the Realm".

We have bowed humbly to most of his suggestions and so We hereby announce to the world that on May 31st of this year onboard the square-rigged topsail schooner "Sir Robert Baden-Powell" We sailed to the island with sixty-two loyal subjects, planted the new flag, and declared Ourselves to be the fourth monarch, King Robert the Bald.

Thus a new Kingdom, friendly to all, especially Cuba, Bhutan, and the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, has appeared in the Caribbean. We intend to be an easy-going, benevolent monarch, strict but fair. For a modest fee not even approaching princely We will be available to launch boats, nudist beach clubs, and bar mitzvahs...

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