Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tiny Sark ends Feudalism in Europe

It's hard to believe that feudalism - that hereditary system of government based on land ownership from the Middle Ages - could have existed in Europe into the 21st century, but it did until just this past Wednesday when the tiny British isle of Sark finally held its first democratic election.

Just two square miles and home to 600 people, Sark (a small island in the English Channel) has been run on a feudal system by 40 families holding hereditary leases since the 16th century. Among the odd laws still in force in Sark are a legal requirement for each of the 40 families to keep a musket to defend the island and a prohibition on anyone but the seigneur, the hereditary owner of the island, owning either pigeons or unspayed female dogs.

But the modern world finally caught up to Sark. Worried that feudalism wasn't compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, the residents of Sark changed the law and turned the island's governing body, the Chief Pleas, from a body where seats are passed down through land-owning families into an elected one.

British settlers colonized Sark in the 16th century to keep French pirates from using it as a base of operations in the English Channel. Among some of the more interesting events in the island's history are the occupation by German troops during World War II and an attempted one-man invasion by an unemployed French nuclear physicist in 1990. The island's economy today is based mainly on tourism and finance.
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