The last feudal government in Europe
March 10, 2006 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Democracy comes to the English Channel as the island of Sark, the last feudal government in Europe, is switching to a semi-democratic system. Previously, only the 40 landowners, out of a population of 500, could vote, and the island was ultimately ruled by a lord, the Seigneur. Though the "serfs" were quite happy with the arrangement, the winds of change arrived in the form of the enigmatic billionaire Barclay twins and the European Court of Human Rights. One old Norman law that still remains, however, is the "Clameur de Haro" where any person can demand the immediate end of any action that infringes their rights by yelling "Haro, Haro, Haro" and reciting the Lord's Prayer in French.
posted by blahblahblah (58 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Democracy: Resistance is Feudal
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:21 PM on March 10, 2006


Also, some more on the Clameur de Haro.
posted by blahblahblah at 12:25 PM on March 10, 2006


Thank you a lot of blahblahblah. I learned something new and awesomely interesting. This is great stuff! Would that we had more posts like this!
posted by dios at 12:31 PM on March 10, 2006


Yanni would love Sark... "it's true that husbands can beat their wives as long as they use a stick no bigger than your finger"
posted by zeoslap at 12:34 PM on March 10, 2006


This is very cool. I had no idea. Any relation to Cutty?
posted by bardic at 12:39 PM on March 10, 2006


There goes my favorite item of geopolitical trivia... Excellent post.
posted by stackmonster at 12:39 PM on March 10, 2006


and yes, first rate post, the whole thing is quite fascinating
posted by zeoslap at 12:44 PM on March 10, 2006


wow, fascinating. thank you.
posted by jann at 12:45 PM on March 10, 2006


Cool. Now let's bomb the shit out of 'em.
posted by jefbla at 12:48 PM on March 10, 2006


Why do I have this image in my head:

Oh, come and see the violence inherent in the system! [Haro, haro, haro] I'm being repressed!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:51 PM on March 10, 2006


Cool. Now let's bomb the shit out of 'em.

Please, jefbla, the term is "liberate."
posted by Pollomacho at 12:52 PM on March 10, 2006


I heard the NPR piece linked at "were quite happy" on the radio. It's very interesting.
posted by smackfu at 12:55 PM on March 10, 2006


Thank goodness there's yet another place where two people with huge piles of cash can move into someone else's land, then thwart the desires of a huge group of people who were there first, and who do not have huge piles of cash.

Why, it's positively American.
posted by davejay at 12:57 PM on March 10, 2006


jefbla, pollomacho, davejay: could you please.... pretty please.... leave the petty, derailing political bitchiness out of this thread? It doesn't belong here. Thanks.
posted by dios at 12:58 PM on March 10, 2006


Sark snark?
posted by iamck at 1:00 PM on March 10, 2006


Any relation to Cutty?

Actually, cutty sark was a word in a Scottish dialect for a short shirt. The name of the ship came from the poem "Tom O’Shanter” by Robert Burns where a beautiful witch wore only the short shirt. The figurehead of the ship is the witch reaching for Tom. Probably more than you needed to know, but you asked.
posted by blahblahblah at 1:04 PM on March 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


Sark?
posted by Cyrano at 1:09 PM on March 10, 2006


could you please.... pretty please.... leave the petty, derailing political bitchiness out of this thread?

What are you talking about?

Yes, because I'm the one that inserts petty, derailing, politically bitchy comments into every thread.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:09 PM on March 10, 2006


I'm originally from Jersey (the biggest of the channel islands) and Sark has always been seen as the 'backward' island (the lack of cars being another factor). I guess they're not so backward after all.
posted by ob at 1:18 PM on March 10, 2006


dios, could you please refrain from moderating threads? Take it to MetaTalk, or flag, if you must.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:18 PM on March 10, 2006


Awesome post. I just spent an hour reading up on my Channel Islands history, which then got me all sorts of involved in the British Isles as a whole.

Did you know there were over 6000 islands in the archipelago?

Wikipedia is the ban of all productivity.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:20 PM on March 10, 2006


Great post. Thank you.
posted by huskerdont at 1:22 PM on March 10, 2006


Why is Sark considered Feudal, but, say, Luxemburg is not? If the second link is a link to their constitution, aren't they a constitutional monarchy?
posted by bonecrusher at 1:25 PM on March 10, 2006


Great post, stop shitting up the thread! Seriously! This isn't the place to bitch about American politics!
posted by trey at 1:26 PM on March 10, 2006


If the second link is a link to their constitution, aren't they a constitutional monarchy?
posted by bonecrusher at 3:25 PM CST on March 10


It's weird because they say they are not sovereign, but they are not part of Great Britain.

Their explanation of their government structure is confusing.
posted by dios at 1:28 PM on March 10, 2006


"Given their huge wealth, however, the Barclays are less concerned with this issue than than with legal and constitutional questions."

Bullcrap. They're just pissy because they aren't being allowed to do whatever they want.
posted by madajb at 1:29 PM on March 10, 2006


All the channel islands have a very odd relationship with the UK. They have their own governments, Jersey and Guernsey have their own money, and raise their own taxes but they are still part of the UK (but not part of the EU.)
posted by ob at 1:34 PM on March 10, 2006


No, Cyrano: Sark.
posted by barnacles at 1:39 PM on March 10, 2006


Dios, it has to do with why the Queen is the sovereign. They are not part of the UK or Great Britain but are possessions of the Crown. The Queen has posession of them by virtue of the fact that she holds the Duchy of Nomandy, not because she is the sovereign of Great Britain. That's why they have a governmental system separate from the UK but still are under the protection of the Queen.
posted by lackutrol at 1:55 PM on March 10, 2006


So if somehow that Duchy were transferred to me, for example, I would be responsible for the defense of the islands. The Queen is sovereign just because whoever happens to be the monarch of Great Britain is also the Duke or Duchess of Normandy.
posted by lackutrol at 1:59 PM on March 10, 2006


Fascinating stuff, ob. My memory snippets from a recent visit are:
* they are the remnants of the Duchy of Normandy
* they occasionally have UK laws extended to them, but Westminster cannot legislate for them
* their money has "States of Guernsey" and "States of Jersey" as the issuing authority*
* Guernsey is really pretty boring, particularly on Sunday, where it's like a provincial town fifty years ago
* They have a divided "insiders" v. "outsiders" property market that is logical, but also deeply bizarre

Never been to Jersey, though. Any better?

[* Banknotes are called fiat money by economists I know. Fiat = "let it be so" and it seems more like wishful thinking in the case of the Luxembourgs, Jerseys and Guernseys than in the case of the UK. Of course, lu, jj and gg are filthy rich, so who's laughing now? /derail]
posted by athenian at 2:04 PM on March 10, 2006


Fantastic post.
posted by ruwan at 2:05 PM on March 10, 2006


(Remember how the Queen of England used to be Empress of India? That doesn't make England part of India, does it? It's the same deal here: a single monarch has inherited multiple titles, granting rulership over multiple countries.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:16 PM on March 10, 2006


She's Queen of Canada and a fair few other places, too. According to the Palace website, her official title is: 'Queen Elizabeth II by the Grace of God, Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith'

But there's even a Royal Titles Act (1953). More (much more) here.

And, for balance, the campaign for the abolition of the monarchy.
posted by athenian at 2:25 PM on March 10, 2006


Excellent post. And obviously we need to adopt the "Clameur de Haro" for MetaFilter.
posted by languagehat at 2:36 PM on March 10, 2006


Athenian, Jersey is much the same except that it seems to be less built-up.

Jersey is even more of a financial center than Guernsey, indeed Jersey is one of the most important places in the world for 'offshore banking' (indeed it's the main industry, tourism used to be, but most Brits would rather fly to Spain or Greece where they can guarantee themselves warm weather).

The housing system works in the same way. It's designed to stop over population, I mean Jersey is the biggest island and it's only 9 miles by 5 miles, and there are more than 80,000 people, so there's a problem there.

You're absolutely right, the islands are crown possessions. If William the Conqueror hadn't umm... conquered, the islands would be French. Oh, that reminds me of one last thing, the local language is called Jersey Norman French (Jerrais is it's proper name) and it differs slightly from the form of Norman French that's spoken in Guernsey
posted by ob at 2:40 PM on March 10, 2006


I believe the post is factually incorrect. From the wikipedia article on Sark:
Until 8 March 2006 the composition of Chief Pleas consisted of the 40 tenants plus 12 Deputies of the People (elected by universal adult suffrage for a mandate of three years).
The story was also on As It Happens Wednesday night (probably at the end of part 2).
posted by Chuckles at 2:41 PM on March 10, 2006


Oh great post, btw!
posted by ob at 2:54 PM on March 10, 2006


I believe the post is factually incorrect

Haro, Haro, Haro!
posted by languagehat at 2:55 PM on March 10, 2006


There was an amazing film of Mervyn Peake's story Mr Pye on British TV starring Derek Jacobi many moons ago. Anybody else here see it? It's one of those fuzzy amazing TV memories of my early teens.

(No, not MrMoonPie...)
posted by klaatu at 2:59 PM on March 10, 2006


Awesome post! Thank you!
posted by roguescout at 3:00 PM on March 10, 2006


I thought davejay's point was a good one. The Barclays move in and then demand that the place change for them.

"Excuse me, I don't like the way this place is run and demand that you change it."
"Uh, why TF did you come here, then?"

And if the absence of cars is part of its charm, they're not doing the place any favors with their helipad, are they?
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:01 PM on March 10, 2006


I really, really, really hope that Haro, Haro, Haro becomes a new meme. And quick, because when I get drunk tonight I know I am sooner or later going to try to work this into a joke/spectacle.
posted by Falconetti at 3:06 PM on March 10, 2006


A helipad is a small price to pay for no cars.
posted by Chuckles at 3:06 PM on March 10, 2006


( flashback (
) flashback )

We used to visit the channel islands when I was a wee nipper, The Isle of Wight, Guernsey, Jersey, Hull and Sark etc. IIRC Sark had probably the nicest beaches that I have ever been on, beautiful white sands, clear of tourists and all that. Wonderful to visit as a child; I remember playing "war" in the deserted WWII bunkers on Guernsey (the channel islands being the only UK territory occupied during the war). The Germans in fact built a concentration camp in Alderny, something I certainly didn't know at the time and few in England know to this day.

( flashback (
) flashback )

Oh, and blahblahblah - thanks for this awesome post - great subject and a grand selection of links.
posted by longbaugh at 3:21 PM on March 10, 2006


Wow, no offence, blahblahblah, and thanks for your marvellous links on Sark but that Tam O Shanter English 'translation' given above is an abomination. Even the first line is translated incorrectly. But you're right about the cutty sark. It was the short chemise or shift worn by the prettiest of the witches. Here are a couple of glossed versions. Not perfect either, but they're the best I can find at the moment. BTW 'Tam O Shanter' is never referred to as 'Tom' O Shanter. Ack! Thbbbt!

Sorry, I return you to your regularly scheduled discussion of Sark.
posted by Flitcraft at 6:04 PM on March 10, 2006


Chuckles, the Barclay's private helipad has no relation whatsover to the absence of cars on Sark.

However, after reading more widely, I retract the remark "they're not doing the place any favors with their helipad". Apparently they've done precisely that, sometimes providing Sark with the use of a helicopter for emergency purposes.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:32 PM on March 10, 2006


I admit, I haven't been reading much about the place. The interview from Wednesday night was cool, and based on the content of that interview the "only 40 landowners ... could vote" line seemed problematic.

I did read enough to figure out what languagehat meant though :)
posted by Chuckles at 6:47 PM on March 10, 2006


Awesome post.
posted by posadnitsa at 7:06 PM on March 10, 2006


haro haro haro!
posted by moonbird at 8:50 PM on March 10, 2006


Has anyone mentioned yet that this is an awesome post? Because I would like to be the first.



D'oh!
posted by maryh at 8:55 PM on March 10, 2006


Fascinating FPP, thank you blahblahblah. Never heard of Sark before and it amazed me there was anywhere feudal left in Europe. Islands often are mysterious places with dark politics, interesting family histories, unusual financial survival strategies or loopholes and all kinds of unlikely secrets. It was fun to learn more about the Channel Islands.

Thanks klaatu, as a huge fan of Derek Jacobi it's great to learn about Mr. Pye but couldn't find it either as a DVD or VHS, oh well. Think I'll read the book.
posted by nickyskye at 10:04 PM on March 10, 2006


I have to say that it's fun to read links and a discussion about a channel isle. It's been a while since I've even thought about the uniqueness of these tiny places and a while since I was back home. Living in New Jersey, I normally say that I'm from London (where I lived for all of my adult life, but I was born and my parents still live in Jersey). It seems that it's way to weird for people to deal with this answer when they ask me where I'm from: "Well... I'm from Jersey... OK you know that this is called NEW Jersey, right? Well there's a place that's just called Jersey..."
posted by ob at 11:32 PM on March 10, 2006


This is the first thing I thought of:



Sark is even a world of lords in it.
posted by Target Practice at 11:32 PM on March 10, 2006


ob wrote, OK you know that this is called NEW Jersey, right? Well there's a place that's just called Jersey.
Until this thread I never knew the parallel between the original Carteret in Jersey and Carteret in New Jersey.
posted by nickyskye at 11:46 PM on March 10, 2006


'Tam O Shanter' is never referred to as 'Tom' O Shanter.

No, of course not, because the original poem is called Tam O Shanter. But it makes perfect sense for the translation to render the first name "Tom," because Tam is a nickname for Thomas, and that makes it clear. Chill, dude, the translation isn't stealing your horses or watering your beer. It's just there for people who don't feel like hacking their way through the Scots.
posted by languagehat at 5:56 AM on March 11, 2006


languagehat: 31432 - Pedantry: 0
posted by Space Coyote at 7:10 AM on March 11, 2006


It's pretty gorgeous, too.

thanks for such a fantastic thread, everyone. Especially athenian and longbaugh.
posted by jann at 8:48 AM on March 11, 2006


« Older A Government with No Military and No Territory :...   |   Keep an Eye on Khuzestan Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments