Have you ever wanted to rule your very own country?
If you have, then perhaps this entry will read more as ‘how to’ rather than entertainment. Retired Army General, Major Paddy Roy Bates was one such person: an adventurer. A judge once stated that his behaviour was ‘more akin to that of the time of Sir Francis Drake.’ Bates passed in October of last year, surely without regret, as the founding monarch of Sealand lived one hell of a life.
At fifteen, he lied about his age to go and fight with the international brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Dissatisfied, he went on to fight with the Eighth Army in WWII across the desert theatre in Syria, Egypt and Italy. During his time with the army, Bates was taken captive by the enemy and had a hand-grenade explode in close proximity to his face. Adventure surely followed him wherever he went. When the storm clouds settled over Europe and the men of the red armbands began to crumble and flee, Bates was forced to retire to little old England; to a little old life.
You can take the man out of the adventure, but you can’t take the adventure out of the man. Bates became enamoured with Pirate Radio in the sixties and resigned himself to founding his own station: Radio Essex. He commandeered the above-pictured ‘Maunsell Fort’ known as HM Fort Rough’s, which lies 13 km of the coast of Suffolk in September, 1967 (these structures had been used to protect against German mine-laying ships during the war). Containing 550m of liveable space, albeit not comfortable living, Bates decided to uproot his family and settle on the fort, declaring it to be a sovereign principality.
Lo and behold, the world’s first concrete-slab country was born. A seven-article constitution was written up, a flag created and a royal coat of arms devised, bearing the nation’s surprisingly-philosophical motto: ‘E Mare Libertas’, which is Latin means ‘from the Sea, Freedom.’ Doubtless the motto sounds prestigious, and the flag looks legitimate, but could Sealand really function as a real country?
The nation’s first test came in 1968, in the form of an invasion. Ronan O’Rahilly, the Supreme leader of rival station, Radio Caroline, grew envious of the strategic positioning of Bates’s fort, and aimed to capture it for his own. The would-be invaders were fought off with Molotov Cocktails and Bates even instructed his son to fire warning shots down on them with the antique artillery atop the platform. This fracas earned the family a court appearance, but the High Court held that Britain had no jurisdiction over the fort, something Bates took as de facto recognition from the British Government of Sealand’s independence.
It would seem that minute, youthful, floating nations are the kind most in danger of invasion. Later, in 1978, a coup d’etat was launched by German lawyer, Alexander Achenbach. The German citizen held an official Sealandic passport, and claimed to be the rightful ruler of the nation. Bates and his wife, Joanna I, were lured away from the fort, freeing up Achenbach to mount his assault. Dutch and German mercenaries approached in helicopters and jet-skis, and stormed Fort Rough’s, taking Bate’s son hostage. In a daring rescue that would make Francis Drake himself blush, Major Bates retook his country in the dead of night and expelled the mercenaries. The details of the incident are known only through hearsay and rumour, but what is known is that Achenbach was held to ransom for 75000 Deutschmarks.
After six weeks of imprisonment, a German diplomat from the British embassy secured Achenbach’s release. The fact that a diplomat was sent allowed Bates to once again claim de facto recognition for Sealand. There is, to this day, a rebel government in exile that still claims to rule Sealand through Achenbach’s appointed successor: Johannes Sieger. Because nothing makes a country more real than rebels. Nothing. What would the Empire be without the Rebel Alliance? What would Westeros be without the North? I’ll tell you: Boring.
Having survived conquests and court cases, Bates took to developing Sealand’s economy, which exists under four main categories:
- Novelty goods: Sealand sells passports, royal titles, mugs, t-shirts, licence plates and sundry via its website. One can become an official Baron of Sealand for just under thirty pounds, something ginger crooner, Ed Sheeran did on the 22 December 2012.
- Internet serving: HavenCo, one of the world’s first truly free data servers was set up on Sealand in 2000 by former MIT student, Ryan Lackey and heir appparent, Prince Michael. Taking advantage of Sealand’s utter lack of any form of regulation, the server flourished until Lackey’s untimely departure in 2002. He claims to be owed $220,000 by the Prince.
- Whiste blowers: The implosion of HavenCo has not served as a deterrent to future web-related industry, however, as the heavily-persecuted international whistleblower WikiLeaks has expressed interest in re-located their entire operation to HM Fort Roughs. While remaining coy about negotiations, Bates did state in 2011 that he has been approached by an internet website who want to ‘do business’.
- Miscellany: Sealand also takes bookings for tours and has plans to set up an internet casino in the future. There is also a movie in the pipeline, though it has been put on hold due to funding issues.
But what is Sealand? It is not merely a blunder of the United Kingdom; it is a symbol of one man’s daring, his total faith in himself, his inability to compromise, his right to freedom. In setting up the world’s only dynasty founded in the modern era, his actions were undoubtedly eccentric, but they are nonetheless laudable. Completely free from watchdogs, regulations and ridiculous state intervention, is Sealand the world’s first truly, and I mean truly, liberal nation?
Eoin Molloy (c)