The Controversy Over the True Keeper of the Crown

The following text is from The Leeward Islands Guide by Stephen J. Pavlidis "Lord High Keeper of the Kontroversy Koncerning  Kontenders to the Krown"

"The legend is and should remain a pleasing and eccentric fairy tale; 
a piece of literary mythology to be taken with salt, 
romantic sighs, appropriate perplexity, some amusement, 
but without great seriousness. 
It is, after all, a fantasy.”
 Jon Wynne-Tyson

Leaving Nevis over the stern as you head for Montserrat, you’ll see a large, high island on the horizon, do not confuse this with Montserrat, this is the Kingdom of Redonda and it lies about ten miles northwest of Montserrat.  As shown on the Chart at 16º 56.10’ N, 61º 21.75’ W, will place you approximately ¾ mile west of the ruins of the old dock on the southwestern shore of the tiny island monarchy.  Landing is difficult here as in most places the sheer cliffs of this landmark island plunge almost straight down into the Caribbean.

The Kingdom of Redonda has little to offer the cruiser save a King and a magnificent controversy over exactly who has claim to the throne.  There is a discrepancy concerning the current King of Redonda (there are several claimants to the throne), and with each King there is a different map with different names for the same set of rocks or the same hill.  With that in mind, I’ve labeled some of the topographical features of the island of Redonda the way they are traditionally named, and as for the story of the lineage of the current King (Kings?) of Redonda is concerned, the questions of stewardship and so forth, I’ll leave that to His Majesty’s barristers to settle.  Let me just tell you what I’ve learned, and please, read this as it was written, partly factual and entirely with tongue in cheek.

The Kingdom of Redonda was discovered by Christopher Columbus on the evening of November 12, 1493 on his second voyage to the New World.  Although he never landed on the island, Columbus named the island Nuestra Señora de la Redonda after a church in Cadiz.  Although claimed by Columbus for Spain, no formal act of sovereignty took place until July of 1865 when Matthew Dowdy Shiell, a trader from Montserrat who claimed descent from the ancient Irish Kings of Tara, landed on Redonda and claimed the island as his kingdom.  

Despite strong protests from the King of Redonda and the rest of the Shiell family, Britain annexed the island to take advantage of the rich deposits of phosphates buried beneath the surface.  In 1869, the British government licensed the Redonda Phosphate Company to handle the mining and transportation of the ore deposits located on Redonda with labor obtained from Montserrat.  Soon a jetty and hoist was constructed on the leeward side of the island, several shelters erected, and rain catchment systems installed.  Before long some 7,000 tons of ore per year were being mined and exported, mostly to Germany and the U.S, until the onset of World War I when work halted never to be resumed.  A hurricane later destroyed nearly all the infrastructure and today the island is home to only a few sea-birds and reptiles, some rats, a small herd of goats, and a colony of burrowing owls displaced from Antigua.  Today, Antigua administers the island’s needs, but the Title of Monarch of Redonda has legally been established and must be dealt with.

Matthew Dowdy Shiell had eight daughters with his free slave wife when finally, in 1865, she born him a son, Matthew Phillips Shiell.  Some say this is why Shiell claimed the Kingdom of Redonda, so his son would someday be King (“One day all this will be yours my son.”).  King Matthew abdicated when his son turned 15 and the last coronation in the western hemisphere took place on Redonda on July 21, 1880, when young Shiell was crowned King Felipe by the Bishop of Antigua.  King Felipe immediately dropped an “l” from his last name so it is sometimes seen as Schiel today.  After the completion of his studies on Barbados, the youthful monarch left for England never to return to the Caribbean and his island Kingdom putting the monarchy in exile for over a century.  In 1890, the British government annexed Redonda as a dependency of Antigua, but the British Colonial Office publicly admitted that this action did not affect the sovereignty of King Felipe. 

King Felipe, Matthew Phillip Shiell, became a popular novelist in his new home, England, with some thirty novels to his credit.  His best-known work, a science fiction piece entitled The Purple Cloud, eventually became a movie starring Harry Belafonte.  In later years, while living in retirement in Sussex, King Felipe was “discovered” by a young poet, Terence Ian Fytton Armstrong, better known by his pseudonym John Gawsworth.  Gawsworth persuaded publishers to reprint some of Shiell’s earlier works, which resulted in renewed income for King Felipe from the resultant royalties.  In 1936, sensing his own mortality, King Felipe named Gawsorth as his successor as the third King of Redonda and later, in 1938, drew up a will leaving Gawsworth his copyrights and making him his Literary Executor.  When King Felipe died in 1947 at the age of 82, the monarchy passed out of the Shiell family and Gawsworth took the title of King Juan.  Since the jurisdiction of Redonda was no longer in the control of the owner of the Title, by law the monarchy became Incorporeal Property, thus it passed along with Shiell’s estate to its executor, John Gawsworth, and here begins the controversy and confusion of the Royal Redondan lineage and what is known as the Almadondan Period.  I’ll try to follow the timeline and explain the events of the coming years by way of what facts I have been able to dig up, and as you will see, here begins the considerable confusion as to who is the true King of Redonda.

One thing can be said of King Juan’s rule; the Redondan aristocracy grew by leaps and bounds.  Wishing to commemorate King Felipe, King Juan developed an Intellectual Aristocracy of the Realm granting titles of nobility to his many friends, acquaintances, and a few folks who would be kind enough to buy him a drink (it is said that there are more Redondan Dukes than English Dukes registered with the Knight Herald).  After World War II Gawsworth fell upon hard times and spent much of his time in the Alma Tavern in Westbourne Grove, West London.  Here His Highness held court and in return for buying the monarch a drink it was often possible to receive a Dukedom or Knighthood inscribed on the back of a coaster or napkin.  King Juan’s Redondan Peerage was made up of Dukes of the Realm such as J.B. Priestly, Vincent Price, Diana Dors, Dirk Bogarde, Dylan Thomas, Ellery Queen, Dorothy Sayers, and Lawrence Durrell.

In 1954, King Juan drew up an Irrevocable Covenant with his friend and patron, W.R. Hipwell.  This covenant granted the Title of King of Redonda to Hipwell upon King Juan’s death, and in succession to Hipwell’s son, David, the 4th and 5th Kings of Redonda.  In 1958, desperately in need of a positive cash flow and following a quarrel with Hipwell, King Juan advertised in the personal column of The London Times, a “Caribbean Kingship with Royal Prerogatives-1,000 guineas”.  Soon the dust was flying and several offers of £100,000 were reportedly tossed around with a Count Bertil Bernadotte sending along £50 as a down payment for the Realm.  The threat of a legal injunction by the Hipwells caused King Juan to withdraw the Title from sale thus restoring the rights of the Hipwell’s to the monarchy and King Juan’s reign continued at the Alma Tavern.

When W.R. Hipwell died in 1966, predeceased by his son David, the Irrevocable Covenant of 1954 became null and void.  On October 20, 1966, King Juan had a new Deed Of Irrevocable Covenant was drawn up by a law professor, Alan Fogg, bequeathing the Title upon the Monarch’s death to King Juan’s friend, Arthur John Roberts (then known as the Grand Duke of Hardwick de Redonda).  There is some speculation as to the state of King Juan’s mental state at this time, but according to Professor Fogg, King Juan was at that time pursuing a “…deliberate policy of abstinence and…was in full possession of his faculties.”  A few months later King Juan abdicated and Roberts assumed the throne on February 17, 1967, the twentieth anniversary of King Juan’s accession.  The new Monarch took the name King Juan II and began his reign as the fourth King of Redonda and in most circles of Redonda Royalty is recognized as the true King of Redonda at this time.

The new King moved from London, kept a low profile, and soon the whimsy that surrounded the throne through the years of King Juan I began to ebb.  Gawsworth’s health deteriorated and he relied heavily on his old friends and the new King for support and succor.  In September of 1970, Gawsworth, King Juan I, passed away in a Kensington hospital following an operation.  In his will, Gawsworth left his literary estate, and that of Matthew P. Shiell’s to be administered jointly by two friends, Dr. Ian Fletcher and Jon Wynne-Tyson, now this is where the Royal confusion really begins.  Now I will tell three tales, one follows King Juan II to the man who claims to be the current King of Redonda, King Leo.  Another tale will describe one of the many claimants to the throne, Max Leggett, and the final tale will be that of Jon Wynne-Tyson and King Robert The Bald, the man most people in the Caribbean, and certainly most cruisers, considered the true King of Redonda.

As I mentioned earlier, the reign of King Juan II brought about an abatement of the whimsy that surrounded the throne during the Gawsworth (King Juan I) years.  Rumors of Gawsworth’s last years created more confusion as to the true nature of the Royal lineage and in 1982 an Open Letter was issued by the Solicitor-General Of The Realm, Professor Fogg, clarifying the legality of the Title, the descent to the current King, and dispelling all false claims to said Title, and this Open Letter has never been legally challenged.  King Juan II eventually retired to Shropshire, where in 1989 he drafted another Irrevocable Covenant which named William Leonard Gates, a former member of the Royal Court of King Juan  I and an old friend, as the successor to King Juan II.  Gates was crowned King on October 26, 1989 and became King Leo, the fifth King of Redonda.

 King Leo is bound by the terms of his Irrevocable Covenant to “maintain and extend the Intellectual Aristocracy of the Kingdom, to preserve and develop the Realm itself for posterity and to keep the memories of M.P. Shiell and John Gawsworth” alive.  The King is supported in these endeavors by the members of the Realm, which currently stretches over three continents.  His Redondan Foundation handles all matters concerning the members of the Realm, press releases, and keeps in touch with the current Literary Executor of M.P. Schiell’s estate.  The Foundation also organizes the annual meetings, parties, and the Discovery Day Banquet in November.  For more information King Leo has his own website, the “official” website of Redonda at www., where you can get a regular update of current Redondan affairs as well as a history of the island and view copies of archived records relating to the Royal lineage; there’s even a photo of King Leo on the site.

One claimant to the Throne of Redonda is Max Leggett of Toronto.  It seems that Gawsworth lived for a few months with Leggett’s parents in 1950, before Max was even born.  Leggett’s claim is based upon a verbal promise Gawsworth allegedly made to Leggett’s parents when Leggett’s mother was pregnant with Max.  Leggett claims that Gawsworth promised his mother that if she had a boy, he would be the next King of Redonda.  When challenged, Leggett was unable to produce any supporting evidence and his claim is considered to be baseless.

The other primary claimant is Jon Wynne-Tyson of Sussex, and if you recall, he was named Joint Literary Executor of Schiell’s and Gawsworth’s estates in 1970 as per Gawsworth’s will.  In 1980, thirteen years after the passing of Gawsworth and the succession of Arthur John Roberts to the throne as King Juan II, Jon Wynne-Tyson revealed how Gawsworth asked him to be King from his hospital deathbed.  Wynne-Tyson encouraged a local writer and sailor, Robert Williamson, to “…prepare your square-rigged schooner, drive her downwind to Redonda, plant your flag, give an inflammatory speech to the boobies; that you are now the supreme ruler; and that furthermore you intend to resurrect old man Shiell's territorial claim, which means that Antigua has no right of possession and must pay you retrospective taxes for all the help that Redonda has given the tourist industry. Be worthy of the Realm”.  So Mr. Williamson landed on Redonda on May 31 with 62 loyal subjects aboard the square-rigged topsail schooner Sir Robert Baden-Powell and immediately planted the new flag and declared Himself to be the new Monarch, King Robert The Bald.  King Robert The Bald is also a well-known author; his first book was entitled Bunk and his new book contains 140 of his short stories and cartoons. 

It has been suggested the Jon Wynne-Tyson encouraged Williamson to claim the title to prevent it passing to a well-known Spanish author, Javier Marias of Madrid, to whom Wynne-Tyson eventually passed on the Literary Executorships in 1997.  Marias was under the impression that along with the executorship came the Title and named himself King Xavier I of Redonda.  Some also suggest, by some I mean King Leo’s supporters, that Jon Wynne-Tyson never had any real claim on the title and that Marias and Williamson are imposters in Kingly robes.  In a side note, Marias bestowed upon Francis Ford Coppola the title of Duke of Megalópolis.

The Passing of King Robert the Bald

When on August 27th 2009 the King of Redonda, King Robert the Bald died peacefully with his family at his side in Canada.  King Robert’s Royal Daughter, Tamara, said that her father “...set sail on his final voyage and into uncharted waters.  He did so with heart in hand a true explorer's determination.”

The newest claimant to the throne of Redonda is Michael Howorth, a travel writer who assures the realm that he inherited the kingdom from King Robert upon the Royal deathbed.   Howorth was required to visit the island and raise his standard, so he flew to the island by helicopter and adopted the title King Michael the Grey.

Howorth, a British yachting writer, was crowned King on Dec. 11, 2009, in a ceremony at Fort Charlotte, Antigua.  Where the realm is headed now is anybody’s guess...all I can say is:

Long Live The King!

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