Wednesday, March 08, 2006

End of "feudal" government on Sark

Above you should see "La Seigneurie," the home of the hereditary lord of the English Channel Island of Sark. In my Early Modern Europe course I've often talked about how the big-name countries of Europe are really made up of little enclaves with distinct histories, customs, and laws. Sark's a great case of this: very close indeed to the coast of England (but closer yet to Normandy), it is neither part of England nor part of the United Kingdom. It is a lordship founded in the 16th century and dependent directly on Her Majesty Elizabeth II. There is a seigneur or lord and a mostly hereditary parliament (the "Chief Pleas"), whose seats are chiefly allocated to the holders of the original 40 tenements into which the island was divided on settlement.
At least, that's how it worked until recently, when the petty lords of Sark decided, following the advice of human rights lawyers, to bring in universal suffrage. A good portion of the 600 people who live on Sark will now have some say in how things are run. This is being ballyhooed in the media as the end of "feudalism" (see this Telegraph article) but as a medievalist I have to say I admit the term only under protest. (Ask me about my reluctance if you are interested.)

Sark's own website is here.

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