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April 14, 2008

Haro, Haro, Haro! À mon aide mon Prince, on me fait tort!

While still picturesque, the Isle of Sark is to become a good deal less quaint as feudal government is set to come to an end.

Sark, a car-free island about 10 kilometres east of Guernsey, off the coast of Normandy, has broadly held onto its political and judicial systems since Elizabeth I bestowed them on it nearly 450 years ago. The island has been governed by a mainly unelected parliament called the Chief Pleas, traditionally made up of members of landed families. It meets just a few times a year. The seigneur, effectively the lord of Sark, or head landlord, appoints the judiciary and has until recently been entitled to a cut from any property bought and sold on the island, and even to the ancient system of tithe levies. In return, he must maintain an army to keep the island "free of the Queen's enemies".

But locals and modernisers want a fully elected 28-member chamber, and the 600 residents opted for the change in a poll at the end of 2006.

I would have thought Nazi occupation might have demonstrated the piss poor job the seigneur was doing keep the place free of the Queen's enemies and put an end to his feudal privilege sharpish. But such would be to cede the floor to reason.

Related: Old photos of Sark and the world's smallest prison.

Update: More local colour. Particularly eager to ride the Toast Rack, a passenger trailer attached to the back of a tractor.

The tractor (the sole public transport) is tolerated only because life on Sark exists 100ft above sea level, on the plateau above its jagged cliffs. The view of the island from the water is forbidding. But, arriving at the Toast Rack's terminus, the scene is unnervingly bucolic. It is all one can do not to check for television crews hiding behind the low-built stone cottages, so idyllic, so Truman Show is the island.

To the deafening sound of no traffic - transport on Sark is restricted to tractors, bicycles and horse and cart - Guernsey cows moo by picket fences. Under a toy-town, turreted branch of NatWest bank, a signpost points to a variety of exotic-sounding locations with distances given in walking minutes (Little Sark, 50 minutes; Dixcart Bay, 15 minutes; L'Eperquerie, 30 minutes). Cherubic children on bicycles weave along unsurfaced roads, saying "hello" to complete strangers.

According to Wikipedia, Jersey - much as the Isle of Man - is not part of the European Union. This being the case, and assuming Sark does not fall under a different kind of arrangement with the Crown, I fail to see how European human rights law has anything to do with the governance of these polities. Our transnational conventions of thought have come to something when feudalism looks good by comparison.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at April 14, 2008 06:38 AM