The King of Redonda is dead.

Long live the King

In late August the King of Redonda, 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 Kingdom of Redonda lies however not in Canada however but in the warm waters of the Caribbean. It 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. It 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, 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.

The history of the Kings of Redonda is an interesting one. 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.

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. Gawsworth 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 but history does record that he abdicated in 1967 and that the throne has been fought over ever since.

Of those claimants King Bob, had the benefit of living in Antigua and he even had a local navy to defend ‘his’ Kingdom together with several Knights of the Realm also resident in Antigua. He was locally assumed the rightful heir could be seen regularly driving around Antigua in the ‘royal’ car, a rather elderly Mazda 323, topped by a gold crown.

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.

The next question is, of course, that 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 Conditions will apply which an applicant will be required to satisfy.