Designing from Bones – A Modern Dystopia

Welcome to Designing From Bones, where we use archaeology, myth, mysteries and history to unearth the stories of tomorrow.

This week continues a Special DfB series on unusual historical settings and how we can use them as inspiration for our fiction. If the planet provided a place to build, humans have tried to live there. The strictures of society drive many to compliance, some to crime, a few to rebellion, and in one case, a man to found a nation among the waves.

Birth of a Micronation

The Maunsell fort HM Roughs, now known as Sealand.

During the years between the Battle of Britain and D-Day, the Luftwaffe harassed British shipping in an attempt to cripple the island nation. In response to German bombers attempting to lay naval mines in its southeastern rivers, the British built four observation and combat platforms known as Maunsell forts in 1943. The lightly-armed fighting platforms proved to be an effective deterrent that were abandoned at the end of the conflict.

Skip forward to 1966. Pirate radio host and former British Army Major, “Paddy” Roy Bates, lands on the most distant of the Maunsell forts looking for a safe place to broadcast and “occupies” HM Fort Roughs 6 nautical miles off the coast of Suffolk, England. At the time, the fort sat three miles outside the reach of British territorial waters.

Prince Roy (far right) and the Sealand Royal Family

Due to signal theft by pirate radio stations using these type of naval platforms, the British Government passed legislation in 1967 to make the activity illegal. Nineteen days after the bill came into effect, Paddy Bates, declared his sovereignty from England and renamed Fort Roughs the Principality of Sealand.

Thus was born the smallest unrecognized micronation on Earth. But this is only the beginning of the story because, like the guy in the Don Equis ads – this is the most interesting nation in the world.

Battle for Recognition

Aerial view of the entire Principality of Sealand

The foundation of the Principality of Sealand was summarily ignored by every organized nation on the planet. However, Sealand has suffered many of the same issues that every sovereign state faces in their bids for legitimacy, stability and safety.

Shortly after Sealand declared independence, Ronan O’Rahilly, an Irishman and rival pirate radio host, leading a group of men, tried to storm the rusting shores of the infant principality. They were repelled by Prince Roy and his son, using petrol bombs and light weapons (assault rifles, although visions of eye patches, parrots and cutlass do come to mind).

Ronan complained about the use of firearms during the attempted invasion and the British Navy showed up. Prince Roy and his son Michael fired warning shots at them with a WWII vintage artillery piece for breech of their territorial waters and were arrested. However, the British judiciary dismissed the case stating that they had no jurisdiction over Sealand since it resided in international waters.

The official coin currency of Sealand

In 1974, Prince Roy declared Sealand a constitutional monarchy and issued an adjoining constitution. The micronation generally follows the same laws as England, however, they have their own currency, stamps and passports (which we will look at more deeply in a bit).

In 1977, while Prince Roy and Princess Joan were in England, a German businessman (a lawyer in one account) named Alexander Auchenbach hired German and Dutch mercenaries and stormed the principality by boat and helicopter. The invaders managed to capture Crown Prince Michael and Auchenbach named himself Prime Minister of the tiny empire.

Sealand’s Official Coat of Arms. E Mare Libertas means “From the Sea. Freedom”

Prince Roy returned with a strike force of his own and retook the steel island, capturing the newly-minted Prime Minister and his men, which he then held as prisoners of war. Not long after, the men were released, however, since Auchenbach was in possession of a Sealand passport, Prince Roy charged him with treason and threatened to incarcerate him indefinitely unless a hefty fine was paid ($35k U.S.).

Being that Auchenbach was a German citizen, Germany appealed to England to intervene. England responded that Sealand was not in their jurisdiction and could do nothing to assist the country for which the platform was originally built to protect against (the ironies of this episode are beyond belief). So, not giving up on their prized citizen, Germany ordered their London-based ambassador to travel to Sealand and negotiate for Auchenbach’s release. Two weeks later this poor ambassadors dream mission ended successfully. But that ain’t all folks.

Auchenbach, bitter over being deposed, returned to Germany and set up a “government in exile” (stop laughing – seriously, I can hear you) that would become a thorn in Sealand’s metallic hide. The rebels (yes, others joined and supported Auchenbach’s claims) continue to pursue their return to power through the efforts of Johannes Seiger, Auchenbach’s successor.

Sealand Passport. Not sure if this is the old one or the new, but they all look pretty much the same except for the color of the cover.

While one could point out the many inherent weaknesses of the Principality of Sealand, the greatest is not what one might expect. You see, the Principality issued passports, but really had no way to enforce the counterfeiting of these documents.

During the early 1990’s, nearly 150,000 fake passports were issued by a Spanish group rumored to be backed by Seiger. At least one of these passports appeared during a crime many of you will have heard of – the murder of fashion designer, Gianni Versace.

Versace’s killer, Andrew Cunanan fled to the houseboat of Tensin Reisnick (a German national living in Miami, FL) after perpetrating his heinous crime. Reisnick happened to have both a fake Sealand passport and fake diplomatic car plates – often boasting of his diplomatic immunity. Believing his friends “political ties” could save him, Cunanan fled to Tensin for protection, only to commit suicide after discovering the deception.

While Sealand was not in any way to blame for this event, Prince Roy revoked all Sealand passports shortly thereafter, even those issued personally. This is the action of a true noble, regardless of the circumstances surrounding Sealand’s claims of sovereignty.

The Greatest Little Nation

For the low price of 30 British pounds one can become a titled noble of the Principality of Sealand. Photo from the Official Sealandgov.org site.

I wish there was time to share all of Sealand’s diverse history, but alas, there is simply too much. The micronation has acted as a data haven and has plans to start an online casino this year. They sell titles (Lord, Lady, etc.), act as a tourist destination, have their own online newspaper (Sealand News) and have a documentary coming out later this year. By the way, the Principality is for sale. For a cool $950 million U.S. you can own your own kingdom complete with constitution and infrastructure. And a piece of artillery. Yeah.

In sports, they are represented in football (American soccer), fencing, had their flag planted on a mountain, have a marathon runner, mini-golf and table football teams, and have hosted skateboarding and Quidditch events. The also have a kung fu fighter, Michael Martelle, who won two silver medals at the World Cup of Kung Fu in 2007.

So, writers, can you see the power of Sealand. This, my friends, is the ultimate Dystopic setting and can easily serve as a template for creating the fictional variety in any genre. Imagine a frontier space station, former watch tower or abandoned ship (in any time frame) taken over and used in the same manner that Prince Roy did with HM Fort Roughs (and yes, I pay him full tribute of title, he has earned it in my estimation). The possibilities are endless and the drama as diverse as your imaginative powers to create.

How would your protagonist or villain or sentient alien squirrel manage and develop their own micronation like Sealand? How would they respond to external threats? Handle foreign diplomacy? What weaknesses would be inherent in their endeavors?

Only you can decide.

Princess Joan of Sealand’s coin. What woman would not want to be immortalized on an official coin?

This marks the midpoint of the series. Join me next week as we take a look a couple of the more unusual places of worship on the planet and the stories they long to unleash.

Peaceful Journeys!

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About Gene Lempp

Gene Lempp is a writer blending elements of alternate history, the paranormal, fantasy, science fiction and horror for dark and delicious fun. He unearths stories by digging into history, archeology, myth and fable in his Designing from Bones blog series. “Only the moment is eternal and in a moment, everything will change,” sums the heart of his philosophy. You can find Gene at his Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, WANATribe, Google+, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.
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17 Responses to Designing from Bones – A Modern Dystopia

  1. KM Huber says:

    Love any day that begins with “Designing from Bones”; as always, I come away with yet another way to see the world, wherever you take us. Just a fine post, Gene.

    Karen

  2. I swear sometimes you are making this stuff up. Fascinating. Thanks, Gene!

  3. This is awesome! I hadn’t heard about this. Very cool. Great post.

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Karen: “I come away with yet another way to see the world” – that, my friend, is exactly the way I feel when researching and writing these post and precisely what I want to share with all of you. Nail on the head. Thanks 🙂

      Renee: Truth is stranger than fiction, so the saying goes. Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

      Lisa: Actually, I hadn’t heard of them either until researching this series, but I knew instantly that I had to write about Sealand once I found it. Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  4. Amazing…seriously I would have never known had you not written about it. So cool! Luv the post Gene…as always a highlight of my day!

  5. Hmm… I highly doubt any of my characters will create micronations like Sealand. Then again, some do have schemes involving body parts and—um, can’t say more than that. 😉 Great post, Gene. You always make us think!

  6. Interesting. So I guess any ambitious, well-armed person could start their own little kingdom if they are tenacious enough. Good to know.

    Another really interesting post, Gene.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  7. Truly marvelous, Gene. I remember listening to several different pirate radio stations when I was growing up. Most were on boats just outside territorial waters, but it was harmless rebellious fun. If you’ve ever seen Red Dwarf this place could make a brilliant location for a parody of that comedy (if that isn’t to confusing).

    I’m getting very tempted with a lordship…

    Cheers!

  8. Excellent post! One wonders what might have happened, apropos micro-national ambition, had the Brits ever got “Project Habbakuk” going. I suspect ice skating would have been the national sport by defaulf… 🙂

  9. prudencemacleod says:

    I know I’m late getting here, but it was well worth it. OMG, Gene, you have outdone yourself this time. You find the most amazing things; a boatload of ideas stream from this one. Great work as always.

  10. lynnkelleyauthor says:

    Wow, you’re not kidding about all the irony involved in this escapade! You can’t make this stuff up. Truly amazing. I can see a movie about this someday. I wonder how much the titles of “Lady” and “Lord” cost. We’ve got Mother’s Day this Sunday and Father’s in June. Talk about a unique gift! Haha! Well done, Gene. This is an awesome post.

  11. Home run post, Gene. So much irony, it pressed my shirt. Heh. Heh.

    The whole situation reminds me of that Clara Barton quote: “I defy the tyranny of precedent.” Sometimes, to change everything, all it takes is one person to demand change and pay any price to make it so.

  12. Pingback: Blog Treasures 5~12 | Gene Lempp ~ Writer

  13. Jenny Hansen says:

    I’m with Nigel…I might need a title! I’m thinking Princess Cowbell…or do I have to settle for “Lady?”

  14. alberta says:

    so which pirate station was it – I listened to many in my youth – great story – and yes he can be prince – there has to be a beginning to a royal line – guns at dawn – fantastic:)

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Natalie: Thanks!

      August: Thank you!

      Patricia: Yes, I suppose you could, although the political nature of the planet is a bit different these days. Perhaps an used oil rig – just be ready for a delta force response 🙂

      Nigel: I have seen Red Dwarf and agree that this would be a good alternate setting for just such an adventure.

      Matthew: Good point and it would be entertaining to see ice skating as a “battle royale” event 🙂

      Prudence: Thanks!

      Lynn: They actually have a documentary in process at the moment but a made for TV special (drama) would be great fun.

      John: Since we know each other IRL, you know I totally agree on the “power of one” principle. Sealand is one of the greatest real life examples of this in my opinion – truly an inspiring gift to the rest of us.

      Jenny: …or should I say The Esteemed Baroness Cowbell. Yes that does have a nice “ring” to it 🙂

      Alberta: It was called Radio Essex. I couldn’t find a specific dial in although it broadcast at 1353 Khz if that helps – from Nov 7, 1965 until sometime in mid 1967.

  15. Pingback: Mind Sieve 5/14/12 « Gloria Oliver

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