Off the coast of the United Kingdom, sitting in the southern part of the North Sea between two superpowers sits a tiny, artificial island fort that was placed there to fight the Luftwaffe in World War II. After the war, it was abandoned by the British Military and left derelict, sitting in waters not claimed by any nation at the time. The fort was known as “HM Roughs Tower” and being in international waters, was effectively terra nullus.
On Christmas Eve, 1966, Roy Bates and his family occupied the fortress and declared himself a sovereign nation, the Principality of Sealand. Taking the motto “E Mare Libertas” (From the Sea: Freedom), he set up a working government and decided to live on his own terms. Once the British government discovered the tiny island nation, they moved to prevent the country from getting larger by demolishing the remaining deralict forts. When they moved on Sealand, HRH Prince Roy fired upon the English Vessels.
In the court case over the incident, Prince Roy successfully argued that he was within his sovereign rights to fire upon the tug, and had violated no laws. The court stated that Sealand was not within its Jurisdiction, providing the Principality with de facto recognition by a sovereign nation, and solidifying its independence from outside rule. Even today, after territorial waters have expanded and brought it within the reaches of British Territorial Waters, the court decision still remains in force, and the Royal Navy is prevented by law from removing the tiny island nation from its coastline.
Through a temporary coup de’tat, a massive fire that caused major damage to the fort, and the very struggle of survival itself, Sealand has beaten the odds for over fifty years, standing alone in a world that would swallow it up. It is a beacon of hope to those that believe they can beat the odds, even when amongst giants, and do something extraordinary.
Recently, I had the opportunity to correspond with HRH Michael, the Prince Regent and Head of State of the Principality, who was willing to give a short interview by email.
Doctor Fantastique’s: So why a Principality (as opposed to other forms of Monarchy such as a Kingdom or Grand Duchy)?
Prince Michael: To simplify the law. The Prince’s word is law until better arrangements can be made.
DF: How old were you when you first took over the fort? What was it like?
PM: 14! It was a great escape from going back to boarding school in North Wales. It was a massive adventure for me.
DF: Running a monarchy in a very capitalist manner, as you have, is rather revolutionary for a country. What prompted the monarchy to run Sealand like a business?
PM: It seemed the obvious way for businessmen (ourselves) to deal with the financial needs of our small community.
DF: One of the Products/Services you offer is that of an individual noble title. Lord/Lady, Baron/Baroness, and most recently Count/Countess. What prompted you to start marketing noble titles? Considering your English background, why did you choose “Count” instead of “Earl”? Are there plans to market “Marquise” or “Duke”?
PM: We have considered other titles and may yet issue more. We are not bound by British concepts and prefer to adopt the best of other culture.
DF: What is your opinion of the Steampunk subculture? Are you a Steampunk yourself?
PM: I don’t think I am, although I have always been fascinated by machinery and was brought up reading science fiction [such as] Edgar Rice Boroughs’ books about Mars. You tell me.
DF: While not strictly Steampunk in itself, Boroughs’ Barsoom series had a lot of American “Wild West” themes to it. Considering the time period that it was written in, and that the idealized Wild West can be seen as Steampunk, it could definitely be fit into the genre. Considering your interest in machinery, and the possibility of the extraordinary, I would say if you aren’t Steampunk, you’d fit right in. Who knows? We might find you at a convention someday.
PM: Well you never know. I turn up all over the place!
DF: Sealand is probably the most audacious “do-it-yourself” project that anyone could come up with. Considering Steampunk is filled with “DIYers” and “Makers”, what advice would you give them when starting a major project?
PM: If it’s worthwhile, you have to stick with it. We’re in our third generation now!
DF: Would the monarchy entertain holding an event on the Fort if the Logistics and Safety issues could be worked out?
PM: I would think so.
DF: Does this include conventions held by the Steampunk community? Sealand would perhaps be the ultimate location for people that are part of this maker/DIY culture, and it would be a unique and incredible experience. I apologize in advance if this question gets your email spammed by every convention owner in the world.
PM: Yes, why not? It sounds fun.
DF: Sealand could easily be any Steampunk’s dream, but life independent and sovereign has its own problems. Besides the fire, what hardships have you had to deal with?
PM: Many, many. We have been attacked over the years; we have been blockaded by government; we have run out of food and water; we have dealt with illness and mechanical problems on boats. The list is endless.
Too true. Prince Michael was taken hostage during the failed coup d’etat that ended when HRH Prince Roy, the Sovereign of Sealand, assaulted the island and took it back by force. Although the Prince returned home to find his own defenses turned on him, and having to mount an air assault to reclaim what was his, there wasn’t a single fatality on either side. Prince Roy deported the rebels that had taken over the island and held the former Prime Minister for treason, forcing Germany to sue for his release, which the Prince did as not to tarnish the nation’s reputation.
Although largely ignored by outside governments, Sealand stands as a small but significant bastion of independence in a world where people are often forced to fall in line and do as they are told. Through hardship and strife, the Royal family, and their small but tough citizenry, continue to forge ahead on this small, but significant nation.