Showing posts with label UK. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UK. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Micro-est of Micronations?

If you've never heard of Sealand, rest assured, I am not making this up. Sealand is a very real principality located on a very real WWII fortress island seven miles off the coast of the United Kingdom. Not only is Sealand very, very real--they celebrated 50 years of independence last month.

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The nation of Sealand. In its entirety.
During WWII, Great Britain built several fortress islands in the middle of the North Sea. A few of these fortresses were built a little bit outside of Britain's territorial waters, which extended about 3 miles out from Britain's coast in all directions. Construction of these buildings was, technically, against international law. But given that Hitler was intent on destroying most of Europe, Great Britain building small forts wasn't really a big priority.

Luckily, WWII ended, Hitler was defeated, and the island of Great Britain was still around, if a little pockmarked. Not needing them anymore, the military abandoned the fortresses, in the early 1950s and turned their attention to more sensible things, like spying on the USSR. They made efforts to tear down some of the illegal fortresses, but their efforts were halfhearted at best, leaving several fortresses in international waters.

Fast forward to the 1960s. BBC Radio sucks, and pirate radio stations located on these off shore fortresses is the newest fad. Enter Roy Bates, former army major and radio enthusiast. He sailed out to an unused fortress called Knock John, and set up a radio station. He was very popular with the locals in Essex, but not so popular with the local law enforcement. Several years of court battles ensued until British courts declared that since Knock John was inside of their territorial waters, Bates was technically within their jurisdiction, and could no longer broadcast. Roy Bates stormed off in a huff, and abandoned Knock John.

Related image
Prince Roy, Princess Joan, and their daughter Penelope. I've
read nothing to suggest that the children of the prince and
princess were titled, so I have referred to both Penelope 
and Michael by their first names.
However, Britain had not seen the last of Roy Bates. Determined to continue his radio station, Bates set his sights on the abandoned Roughs Tower seven miles off the coast of Britain, technically in international waters. Roy took up residence on Christmas day of 1966. After some thinking and consultation with legal counsel, Roy declared Roughs Tower the independent Principality of Sealand on September 2, 1967, declaring himself and his wife, Joan, the Prince and Princess.

As grandiose as being a prince is, Sealand kinda sucks to live on. It's cold, wet, and in a constant state of disrepair. Additionally, it's difficult to do business on a concrete platform in the middle of the sea. Roy moved back to the mainland, but left his son, Michael, on Sealand to maintain sovereignty of the fortress.

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Prince Michael, reigning monarch
of Sealand since 2012
Now, here's where I have to verge into speculation. Prince Michael hasn't given a lot of interviews, and the official Sealand website is mum on the issue, but an interview from Prince Michael given in 2013 makes it sound very much like he was all alone on this platform in the middle of the sea. He spoke of being ecstatic to escape the boredom of school, but of the loneliness of the open seas, especially the lack of feminine company.

Michael took to sneaking local girls in on the weekends by fishing boat, but his father Roy put a stop to that as soon as he found out. History has proven that this was an extremely wise move, not only for avoiding teen pregnancy, but because Sealand wasn't (and still isn't) always the safest place to live.

Sealand has had a grand total of two armed conflicts, pretty impressive for a country with less than 30 permanent inhabitants. However stressful these conflicts may have been for the tiny nation, both conflicts led to the only two de facto recognitions that the island has.

The first conflict wasn't long after Sealand declared itself a nation. In an act of supreme overreaction, Great Britain declared Sealand the 'Cuba off the east coast of England'¹, and sent out their military to tear down the rest of the fortresses located in international waters. The soldiers were buzzing overhead with helicopters, blowing neighboring fortresses to pieces, filling the air with debris. Soldiers approached Sealand, shouting threats that Sealand would be next. In addition to the threats, some soldiers also shouted some unsavory things to the sixteen year old Penelope, Michael's sister.

Michael, who was only fourteen at the time, took offense to these comments, and shot at the soldiers with his sawed off shotgun. The soldiers took off. Once again verging into speculation, I'm guessing that they were unarmed, given that a whole crew of soldiers can most certainly take one fourteen year old boy. Luckily, the soldiers left Michael and Penelope alone.
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Sealand national flag
They may have escaped the British Army, but Michael didn't escape the consequences of his actions. The minute he stepped back on land, he was hauled off to jail for violating local firearms regulations. A long and complicated court battle ensued, during which the courts had to refer back to statues from the seventeenth century. Eventually, the judge ruled that Britain had no jurisdiction over Sealand, and Michael was cleared of all charges. Sealand claims this as de facto recognition from the British government.

The second incident happened in 1978. Prince Roy was in negotiations with some Dutch and German men to set up a casino on Sealand. These dudes were some pretty shady fellows, and while Prince Roy was off at a 'business meeting' in Austria, they landed on the fortress, taking Michael hostage and claiming it for themselves.

Michael was released after a few days, and he and his father started their mission to take their country back. They convinced a friend, a stunt pilot for the James Bond films, to fly them in by helicopter. There was no way for the helicopters to land on the platform, so Michael, his father, and two others slid down ropes to reach the fortress. The Dutch and Germans came out to see what was happening, and Michael's gun went off by accident, nearly taking his head off. The usurpers surrendered immediately. They were all kicked out of the country except for German lawyer Gernot Pütz, who also held a Sealand passport (yes, they issue passports). Prince Roy declared Gernot a traitor to the country and, using his power as prince, sentenced Gernot to life on the platform. Luckily for Pütz, the German embassy got a little worried after a few weeks, and went to rescue their citizen. The German ambassador to England went out to Sealand, and Prince Roy released Gernot immediately. Sealand claims this as their second de facto recognition.

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Official Sealand passport. You probably can't travel with
this, but it is an option.
In the 21st century Sealand has retired its warmongering ways. Prince Roy died in 2012, passing his title down to his son Michael. Prince Michael has a son and heir apparent, James, and though Michael and his family no longer live on Sealand, they show no intentions of giving up their tiny country. Smaller than the Vatican by quite a bit, modern Sealand makes most of its income from the sales of passports, titles, and merchandise, as well as being a server haven for VPNs.

The official motto of the country is 'E Mare Libertas', or 'From the Sea, Freedom.' This motto perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Sealand. Dissatisfied with the restrictions in England, Roy Bates left his life for freedom on the high seas, and that's what attracts people to Sealand to this day.²

More on a Similar Topic




Sources
Prince Roy of Sealand
Notes From a Small Island: Is Sealand an Independent Micro nation or an Illegal Fortress?
Principality of Sealand
I Rule My Own Ocean Micronation


¹Despite the fact that Sealand has zero things in common with Cuba. They had no nuclear weapons, they weren't backed by the USSR, they weren't communist. The biggest threat that Sealand posed to England was the threat of causing the English government a minor headache. Comparisons to Cuba were more than a little over dramatic.
²Not that Sealand gets any tourists. It is, as I mentioned, tiny. Only 43,060 square feet, Sealand is a little less than the size of a full acre. I've met people with bigger backyards.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Documentary Review-The Secrets of the Tower of London

Image result for the tower of londonPBS' The Secrets of the Tower of London is a delightful documentary that would have won my heart for the footage of ravens doing raven things to jazzy music alone. But in addition to some awesome raven footage, this film also uncovered some of the little known ceremonies and secrets of the Tower.

This was an awesome film, and I don't want to spoil it, but just to give you an idea of why this is worth watching, let me just give you a short list of awesome things you'll see.
  • Bones hidden in the Tower walls.
  • Gargoyles getting their teeth brushed. (I'm serious)
  • Recently discovered medieval artwork.
  • The ceremony of 'The Queen's Keys'
  • The living quarters of the chief Yeoman Warder
There were also mentions of secret Beef Eater ceremonies, which you bet I will be researching.

There was also a random detour to Tower Bridge. Now Tower Bridge isn't part of the Tower of London, but it's right next door, and apparently it was designed to fit in with its medieval neighbor. The documentary shows much of the original Victorian engineering at work as the bridge raises.

This was a great documentary. If you're looking for something light and enjoyable to watch, I can't recommend this more.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Damn, Girl-Chevaliere d'Eon de Beaumont

The Chevaliere*, or Chevalier, depending on who you ask, d'Eon was one of the most colorful figures of the 18th century. Assigned male at birth, and named Charles Genieveve Louisa Auguste Andre Timothee de Beaumont, the Chevaliere is notable for her service in the french military, for being a spy, and for coming out as a female, and living as Lia de Beaumont in the latter part of her life. She was a free mason, a champion fencer, a lawyer, a decorated war hero, and a celebrated author.

Image result for Chevalier d'eonIt was 1755 and, no surprise, the French were scheming. Relations with England were growing uneasy, and King Louis was attempting to put his cousin on the Polish throne. The Russian Empress, Elizabeth, refused to meet with any French ambassadors, and the French government was actively working against itself. It was this environment that the Chevaliere first got her start.

The Chevaliere was sent with the French diplomatic mission to Russia under the guise of a lowly secretary. The truth of her mission, however, was much more complex than that. d'Eon was there as part of le Secret du Roi--Louis' secret spy agency that was so secret, most of the French government didn't know about it. At the time of the Chevaliere's service, the group was dedicated to helping Louis put his cousin on the Polish throne, essentially giving France control of Poland. d'Eon's mission was to get the good will of Empress Elizabeth. There was just one problem, the Empress refused to see any of the French diplomats.

So the Chevaliere and the people back in Versailles put their heads together, and came up with a brilliant idea. d'Eon would be disguised as a woman, and infiltrate the court of the Empress that way. The idea was that Empress Elizabeth would be more open to speaking with a female French diplomat. They were absolutely right.

Seven years later the Seven Years War is going poorly for France. d'Eon left Russia to serve as a dragoon in the French army. She was the Secretary to the French ambassador, and she must have been very helpful at the peace talks between France and Britain, because she was later awarded the honor of the Order of St. Louis, which, I have been told, is a big deal.

After being decorated, d'Eon was sent to London to assist the current French ambassador to England, the Comte de Guerchy. Unfortunately, the pair did not get on. d'Eon's overspending, and her insubordination made her a liability, and she was recalled by the French government in 1763.

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Had the Chevaliere returned to France as ordered, she most likely would have been thrown in the Bastile or worse. That was an unattractive option for d'Eon, so she decided to blackmail the French government. d'Eon was still a member of le Secret du Roi, and was in possession of certain sensitive information. Since the end of the Seven Years War the French had given up their ambitions in Poland, and were working towards an invasion of England. The Chevaliere threatened to expose the duplicity of the French government if they didn't assign her a pension, and let her live in peace.

The French government was, understandably, a tad uneasy about this arrangement, and were delaying their decisions. To hurry them up, and show that she meant business, the Chevaliere published her first tell-all book, filled with secret correspondence she had received as a spy. She promised that more would follow.

France quickly acquiesced to her demands, and d'Eon became an overnight celebrity. Her book was incredibly popular, but it was the mystery surrounding her gender that really had the English people hooked. See, the Chevaliere continued to dress up in women's clothes, even after quitting the court of Empress Elizabeth. She maintained a sense of mystery about her gender, to the point where people made bets about whether or not she was a boy or a girl. d'Eon herself refused to say.

After fifteen years in England, France reached out an olive branch. d'Eon would be allowed to return home on the condition that she assume the role and appropriate clothing of her gender. the Chevaliere jumped on the opportunity, and went back to France.

However, the transition was difficult for her. She wanted to keep her dragoon's uniform as a symbol of political power, and to maintain the same amount of political influence that she had before. The French government wasn't too keen on this. Several times she was forceably dressed in female clothes, and her political opinions were consistently ignored. She was, essentially pushed to the side, and in 1785 she moved back to England.

d'Eon was able to live off her pension for a while, but in 1789 the French monarchy was abolished, and the Chevaliere was left without a source of income. To support herself, she gave swordsmanship exhibitions, wearing her Cross of St. Louis, and branding herself as an Amazon. The English people welcomed her back with open arms, but as the Chevaliere grew older she grew increasingly more isolated. When an injury made her stop fencing in 1796 she moved into a flat with another old woman, and rarely left her home after.

Image result for Chevalier d'eonAfter her death it was, of course, discovered that the Chevaliere possessed male genitalia. This news, of course shocked the world. Most people believed the Chevaliere to be female, and there had even been court cases that confirmed this, the most convincing argument being that the Chevaliere said she was female.

And there is a large amount of evidence saying that the Chevaliere truly identified as a woman, and that it wasn't a guise she adopted for social and diplomatic purposes. The Chevaliere experienced a religious awakening in her later life, and affirmed that not only did she believe herself to be a woman, but that God had told her she was a woman.

Historian's today waver about d'Eon's sexuality, but d'Eon knew d'Eon best. If she said she was a woman then she was a woman, and while today's gender politics are very different from gender politics of the past, the fact remains that d'Eon identified as a woman, and that identity should be respected.

Gender identity aside, d'Eon was an amazing woman. She was a talented and capable diplomat, and excellent writer, and a colorful person.

*A note on pronouns: since the Chevaliere maintained that she was a woman for most of her life, I have used feminine pronouns to refer to her here. No one would know the gender of the Chevaliere better than the Chevaliere herself, and on while the Chevaliere hasn't appeared to me in a dream saying that she prefers she/her pronouns, it is reasonable to assume that female pronouns are the appropriate pronouns to use when writing about her.

More on Similar Topics




Sources
Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont
d'Eon, the Fresh Face
Charles, chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont
The Incredible Chevalier d'Eon, Who Left France as a Male Spy, and Returned a Christian Woman
The Chevalier d'Eon