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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.