On August 27th 2009 the King of Redonda, King Bob the Bald died peacefully with his family in Canada.
In the words of his daughter, Tamara, King Bob “set sail on his final voyage and into uncharted waters. He did so with heart in hand and a true explorers determination.”
The history of the Kings of Redonda is an interesting one.
Redonda is located about 30 miles to the south west of Antigua and 13 miles north west of Montserrat. It is a 1,000 foot high rocky island characterised by sheer cliffs
Redonda is a precipitous and forbidding island circled by the cliffs which fall almost perpendicularly for nearly a thousand feet into the sea beneath the summit which is located on the western side. Redonda is a remnant of a volcanic cone and is one of the smallest islands in the chain of the Lesser Antilles. It is one and a half miles long by half a mile wide with the highest peak, King Juan’s peak, being 971 feet high.
Redonda was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second journey. He claimed it for the Spanish crown naming it Santa Maria la Redonda, but he did not land on the island. In the 1860s the island became a British possession. The Caribs called the island Ocanamanru and it is thought that weary prehistoric seafarers migrating or trading between the islands used Redonda as a way station.
During the ensuing decades, the phosphate deposits of the island were mined with an annual yield of up to 7,000 tons. Only during this time was the island inhabited with a population of 120 in 1901. Mining operations ceased during the First World War and Redonda has been uninhabited ever since.
Redonda is also known worldwide for its curious catalogue of whimsical ‘Royal Characters’ created by famous literary figures. There have been several 'Kings' of Redonda and numerous pretenders.
It all started in 1865, when, allegedly, a Montserratian ship-owner, Matthew Dowdy. Shiel apparently descended from a long line of Irish Kings, decided to crown his son, Matthew Phipps Shiel, a king. with the help of the Bishop of Antigua. The Bishop of Antigua at the time was William Walrond Jackson and, unfortunately, there is no mention in any of his writings of a ‘coronation’ on Redonda.
Other writers mention a Bishop Semper but no such Bishop seems to have existed although there was a Semper family in Montserrat but none of them men of the cloth. Furthermore, it is possible that Matthew Dowdy Shiel was the illegitimate son of William Shiel and, rather than the descendant of Irish kings, more likely the descendant of Irish convicts deported to St. Kitts from whence they came to Montserrat. By whatever means he rose to the title, in 1929, some 49 years after his supposed coronation, Matthew Shiel claimed to be King Felipe of Redonda. Later, he became well known as a science fiction writer.
In 1936, a succession took place making the Irish poet, John Gawsworth, King Juan I. The ‘title’ of King is not hereditary and appears to have been passed from one incumbent to another as a result of literary connections.
It is at the abdication of Juan I in 1967 that ‘history’ becomes somewhat confused. John Gawsworth – King Juan I, made several attempts to sell the title, at least three advertisements appeared in the Times and he may have offered it for sale by other means.
King Leo’s claim is through one of these sales or covenants and is the only claim to come through a different lineage from the other three claimants. King Leo asserts that John Gawsworth’s successor was not Jon Wynne-Tyson (Juan II) but Arthur John Roberts (also Juan II). King Leo also adds an additional King, that being the father of the original King. Jon Wynne-Tyson asserted his claim to the title by planting his flag on King Juan’s Peak thereby negating King Leo’s lineage.
Of the four current claims to the title one, Max Leggate, can be dismissed as being completely without foundation. The two most vociferous claims seem to come from King Bob Williamson ‘The Bald’ and King Leo the First (www.redonda.org) but, if anything in this story can be claimed as ‘legal’ then Javier Marias – King Xavier - appears to have the strongest legal claim to the crown.
One can easily be misled by King Leo’s website except that it does appear to contradict what little factual history there is relating to the title. King Bob, had the benefit of living in Antigua. King Bob even had a local navy to defend ‘his’ Kingdom together with several Knights of the Realm also resident in Antigua. Javier Marias (King Xavier)’s claim to the crown appears to be through the purchase at a Sothey’s auction of artefacts from the Kingdom in 1997 when King Juan II (Jon Wynne-Tyson) abdicated. Javier Marias asserts the artefacts included the title.
The three ‘kings’ have joined battle in a war of words which would appear, if the pen is mightier than the sword, to be being won by King Leo who has the best website, however, King Bob could be seen driving around Antigua in the ‘royal’ car, a rather elderly Mazda 323, topped by a gold crown.
King Bob had a definite advantage by living in close proximity to Redonda, granting knighthoods to worthy persons and parading his ‘royal’ personage around Antigua. In 1997, the year of abdication by King Juan II (Jon Wynne-Tyson), King Bob planted his ‘royal’ standard on Redonda, confirming himself as King. He also claims the backing of the predecessor King, Jon Wynne-Tyson - Juan II.
The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office have no records of any agreement between Matthew Dowdy Shiel and Queen Victoria and doubt that the British Government of the day would have granted the title which would have only been within the power of the Queen but at the behest of the British Government. Prime Minister at the time was Viscount Palmeston and he had just won an election, had his hands full with an American War of Independence inspired uprising in Ireland and died at the end of the year. It is highly unlikely he would have requested Queen Victoria to agree to the granting of such a title. In 2007, the Wellington Arms pub in Southampton, England, unsuccessfully attempted to declare themselves an embassy of the "nation" of Redonda, in order to gain diplomatic immunity from a nationwide ban on smoking in enclosed workplaces, including pubs. Unfortunately, for freedom loving smokers in the U.K. they were unsuccessful.
The earliest written record of a King of Redonda appears in 1929 in a pamphlet promoting the works of Matthew Shiel and it could be presumed that Shiel, a consummate self-publicist, invented the story to increase his book sales.
All that really reigns in Redonda is confusion and, in reality, Redonda became a British possession in 1860 and a dependency of Antigua in 1967. Since the independence of Antigua & Barbuda in 1981, Redonda has belonged to the peoples and Government of Antigua & Barbuda and, therefore, any claims to kingship are spurious but tolerated by the Government for their publicity value.
As King Leo is evidently an impostor, the ‘fight’ was between King Xavier and King Bob and the conclusion can only be that if there is a King of Redonda then it was King Bob the Bald albeit a possible usurper. History is littered with successful usurpers, William the Conqueror, Henry IV and Henry VII, prominent from English history, Vespasian from the 1st Century AD Roman Empire and Frederick I of Prussia.
King Bob had the benefit of planting his flag on Redonda, one of only two Kings to have successfully done so, added to which, he claims succession from the only other King who also planted his flag on the island, Jon Wynne-Tyson – Juan II and, finally, King Bob is the only King to have lived within the territory of Redonda and, in effect, his occupation validates his claim.
The next question is, of course, the one of succession. It would appear that King Bob did not nominate a successor therefore it has fallen to the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua & Barbuda to seek applications from literary persons of note to make a case for their nomination as the next King of Redonda. Applications forms are available from the Royal Naval Tot Club of Antigua & Barbuda by e-mail TotClub@candw.ag Conditions will apply which an applicant will be required to satisfy.
For any other additional information please contact John Duffy, +1 268 562 6611 or email@example.com Photographs appear below.
King Bob the Bald shortly before his death. Great Peter - Flagship of the Royal Redondan Navy