Of Dreams and Shadows:
An Outline of the Redonda Legend
with Some Notes on
Various Claimants to its Uncertain Throne
John D. Squires
JDS Books/The Vainglory Press
PO Box 292333
Kettering, OH 45429
JDS Books catalog:
[Working draft as of 16 Feb 2011]
Matthew Phipps Shiel was born on July 21, 1865 on Montserrat, British West Indies, as the 8th or 9th child and first son of Matthew Dowdy Shiell and Priscilla Ann Blake. According to legend, his father, who claimed descent from the ancient kings of Ireland, was so delighted at finally having a male heir that he claimed the uninhabited Island of Redonda for his son. A near barren rock less than a mile square, Redonda was formally annexed by Britain to nearby Antigua in 1872, pursuant to Letters of Patent issued to the colonial governor of Antigua by Queen Victoria in 1869. Shiel later wrote that a crowning ceremony was held on his 15th birthday in 1880. He attended Harrison College, Barbados, from January, 1881- December, 1883. On April 25, 1885 Shiel sailed to England, never to return.
Redonda was named by Columbus, who did not attempt to land, on his second voyage of discovery on November 11, 1493. One of his sailors recorded: "Thence was discovered a certain very round island, steep on all sides, which appears to be inaccessible without ladders or ropes let down from above, and for this reason it was named 'Sancta Maria la Redonda.'" In Down the Islands: A Voyage to the Caribbees, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1887 at 281, William Agnew Paton wrote: "Redonda is uninhabited, except from time to time by people from the neighboring islands, who visit it for the purpose of procuring sea-birds' eggs, and who win their way to the top by means of a wire rope one end of which is fastened aloft. Santa Maria de la Redonda (St. Mary-the-Round) was named by Columbus the same day he discovered Antigua and the other islands lying in full sight of the sea-girt crag."
Paton presumably sailed by the wrong side of Redonda to observe the manager's house and other structures used by phosphate miners. William Drysdale's account of passing Redonda on route to Montserrat appeared in the New York Times on December 27, 1885 at page 4:
It was only a big black dot looked at with the naked eye.
Through the glass it seemed to travel up some miles nearer
to us, and showed itself to be an immense rock rising up
almost perpendicularly out of the water to the height of
perhaps 200 feet. Upon making inquiries I found that this
is the rock known as Redonda, that it belongs to the English,
and that it is inhabited by perhaps half a dozen persons who
are engaged in digging out phosphates and shipping them to
Europe. A Sailing vessel visits them about twice a year,
bringing out provisions and other supplies and carrying back
a cargo of phosphate. It must be lively work under such
circumstances digging phosphate. They never have to tell
the boy that he brings their paper too late in the morning;
they never have to hurry about to make change for the
milkman; they rarely catch cold from coming out of a hot
theatre into cold night air. No doubt they are content there,
and they may as well be, after the vessel leaves the island,
for no other vessel touches there. It looks cold and bleak,
and desolate, and barren, this rock of Redonda; bleak and
bare enough to give one the shivers to look at it. But it
cannot be cold in this latitude, (between 16̊ and 17̊,)
however much the wind may sweep it, and, as we got
around to the southwest side of it, we saw a little gentle
slope of soil, up near the top, evidently with some little
vegetation – though there was not a tree to be seen
anywhere else on the island. There were two or three
houses on this slope, and some other evidences of
habitation and civilization. Somebody, evidently, lived
in these houses here on a narrow rock perched high in
the air, with no other land within 25 miles, and with the
strong ocean winds, from whatever quarter they blow,
sweeping every inch of it like a broom. Redonda is
perhaps a mile wide each way, or it may only be half
a mile – it is hard to judge of the size of a lonely rock in
midocean. But it is not hard to imagine what a dreary,
desolate place Redonda must be for anybody to live on.
It is enough to give one the blues to look at it. I think
I should rather take up quarters and build a house and
garden in the main crosstrees of some ship. The rock is
almost 25 miles from St. Kitts and the same distance from
Montserrat. And it is a sight worth seeing, this great rock
standing out by itself, with nothing else near it, and the
water breaking up against its sides into white foam.
Drysdale later transformed Redonda into a more habitable spot, five by three miles in size with forests and fresh water springs though retaining its phosphates, in his quaint romance novel, The Princess of Montserrat: A Strange Narrative of Adventure on Land and Sea, Albany, NY: Albany Book Company, 1890. A very scarce English paperback edition was issued by Simkin the same year with a back cover advertisement for Montserrat brand, "of pure lime-fruit juice." Though Drysdale makes no direct reference to Shiel or his Legendary Kingdom, his hero spends several chapters of the novel on Redonda with only a servant and muses repeatedly about being "king of a desert island" [pp 43, 65 and 85.]
Guano was harvested from Redonda in the 1860s, leading to the discovery of phosphate enriched ore (aluminum phosphate) by 1869, which was mined from at least the late 1880s until WWI, all without regard to the elder Shiell's alleged prior claims to the island. The Redonda Phosphate Company paid Antigua, as representative of the British government, a royalty of 12 cents per ton. At the height of production in 1895, 5778 metric tons were removed from the island.
In England young Shiel (who dropped the second "l" from his name) taught for a while, then studied medicine briefly before turning to writing. He had 24 novels, five collections of short stories and a slim volume of verse published from 1895-1937. Science, Life and Literature (1950), a collection of essays, and The New King (1980), a last novel, were published posthumously. A number of other short stories remain uncollected from their original magazine appearances.
He spent the last decade of his life working on his magnum opus, Jesus, which he described as a truer translation of the Book of Luke from the original Greek, with commentary. Half of the final draft was lost at Shiel's death in 1947 and it has never been published. His most famous novel was The Purple Cloud (1901) which is generally considered the best of all "last man" stories and one of the few contemporary science fiction novels comparable to the best work of H. G. Wells. It was first optioned for film in 1927 and eventually credited as the basis for The World, the Flesh and the Devil (MGM, 1959) staring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, and Mel Ferrer. While the film has merit, its roots in Shiel's novel are tenuous. Stephen King acknowledged The Purple Cloud as an influence on his own end of the world novel, The Stand (1978, revised 1990).
Shiel utilized Redonda as a locale in one early novel. Contraband of War (1899), set during the then on-going Spanish-American War, was first published as a serial in Pearson's Weekly, #407- #416, May 7, 1898 - July 9, 1898. Redonda was described in Chapter XVIII, "The Chase" in Pearson's Weekly, #415, 2 July 1898, at page 825:
It was toward the S.E. end of Nevis, on the windward side of the
"Yonder, right ahead of us is Redonda," ...
The island towards which they were hasting was a mere rock,
standing up with craggy sides from the water, conical in shape, and
uninhabited save by boobies, and three men who live on its summit
for the purpose of collecting the guano of the innumerable sea-fowl
which haunt its shrubless sea-wall. The three men are lifted and
lowered from and to the sea by a basket-and-crane arrangement
high up on the face of the rock. From the summit a view (which
the present writer has twice enjoyed) is obtained for many a mile
over the sea as far as the coasts of Nevis to the North, and Montserrat
to the South.
The crowning story itself did not appear in print until January 1929 in an autobiographical essay, "About Myself," published by Victor Gollancz in a promotional pamphlet for a series of reissues of Shiel's novels. There Shiel wrote:
My father was a ship-owner, who had the foible (Irish!) of
thinking highly of people "descended from kings"...he had
in truth, about him some species of kingship, aloofness,
was called by all "the governor", and on my fifteenth birthday,
July 21st, 1880, had me crowned King of Rodundo, a day of
gala and of a great meeting of ships and people, many of them
the worse for drink, the ceremony being performed by Dr.
Semper, then Bishop of Antigua, whose palm daubed me
with the balm of anointment; and I can't forgive myself for
the solemnity and dignity with which I figured in that show:
for what is a king without subjects? Rodundo is a rock island
of scarcely nine square miles, and my subjects were troops
innumerable of boobies swooping steeply into the sea like
meteors streaming, with eleven poor men who gathered the
boobies' excrement to make "guano" (manure). And these
were American people! When I imposed a nominal tax upon
them, they each and all refused to pay, nor had I any means
to compel them. Moreover, not long after my coronation
the British Government, apprehensive that America might
"Annex" the rock, "annexed" it itself, i.e., stuck a little
flagstaff on it; and though my parent irked heaven and earth
with his claim of "priority", there the flagstaff remains, if it has
not gone to heaven on some gale's gallop: there may it ever
remain. I have scaled to that rock's very top, and looked
abroad at blue-eyed Beauty... [Reprinted in volume III of
The Works of M. P. Shiel, The Shielography Updated, part
two, Cleveland: The Reynolds Morse Foundation, 1980,
(Works III) 671.]
Shiel's reference to British concerns that America might annex the rock arose from the US Guano Islands Act of 1856, (amended, 1872). Generally, the act provided that Americans who discovered guano deposits upon unclaimed islands could petition the US government for protection of their claims from third parties or foreign governments. Technically, the act required filing of affidavits and the posting of a bond. Acceptance of the claimed "island, rock, or key" as a US appurtenance was a matter of discretion. The history of the statute and the lucrative guano trade which inspired it may be found in The Great Guano Rush: Entrepreneurs and American Overseas Expansion, by Jimmy M. Skaggs, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
As early as November 13, 1856 an affidavit was filed with the US Secretary of State by two Boston merchants asserting claims under the Act to Sombrero island, a twenty-foot-high coral bank approximately one mile long and a fifth of a mile wide and situated at the northwestern end of the Lesser Antilles. Sombrero is the first land sighted in the course from New York to the Windward Islands. A New York firm took over the claim and continued mining operations through at least 1893. In 1863 a British warship arrived to assert British sovereignty. After some negotiations the US and British governments exchanged notes tacitly acknowledging England's claim while reserving American rights to dispute it later. In 1904 England formally annexed Sombrero to the colony of the Leeward Islands, which also included Montserrat and Redonda, without US opposition.
The Great Guano Rush makes no mention of Shiel or Redonda, but the actual history of Sombrero formed the historical background validating Shiel's statement in "About Myself" about England's assertions of sovereignty to Redonda to prevent America from claiming it. More than 90 islands in the Pacific and Caribbean were claimed under authority of the Guano Islands Act, of which the United States accepted authority over 66. Most were subsequently abandoned by 1914 when artificial fertilizers began to dominate the market. A notable exception is Navassa Island located between Haiti and Cuba. It was claimed in 1857 under the Act and remains under US control today, despite continuing protests from Haiti. In 1889 Navassa was the scene of a violent revolt by its black workers, who were living in near slave conditions, against the white mine overseers resulting in a number of deaths.
For his entry in Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature, ed by Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, New York: H. W. Wilson Company, 1932, Shiel abbreviated the Redonda story:
...my (Irish) father, 'descended from kings,' had—wildly
unlike his only-begotten son!—an admiration for kings,
and on my fifteenth birthday had me crowned King of
Redonda by Dr. Mitchinson, Bishop of Antigua, with no
little celebration, amid a gathering of ships (he was a
ship-owner) and of tipsy people—Redonda being a
small island that no Government had yet claimed...
[Reprinted Works III, 675.]
The final version of "About Myself" was first published in Reynolds Morse's The Works of M. P. Shiel: A Study in Bibliography, Los Angeles: Fantasy Publishing Co., Inc, 1948, at pp 1-6, with annotations by Morse. There Morse retains Shiel's 1929 name for the island, "Rodundo," which apparently was a local Montserratian variant. While substantially similar, a few details differ. Rev. Dr. Semper is no longer claimed to be the "then Bishop of Antigua" and Shiel adds some wonderful color to the story. In a passage which has been cited to explain an element of megalomania some see in his fiction, Shiel suggests the lasting impact of the crowning on him at page 2:
...this notion that I am somehow the King, King of Kings,
and the Kaiser of imperial Caesar, was so inveterately
suggested to me, that I became incapable of expelling it.
But to believe fantasies is what causes half our sorrows,
as not believing realities causes half, and it would have
been better for me if my people had been more reasonable
here...Certainly if I am a king, my kingdom is "not of this
Gawsworth himself published this version in 1950 as the first essay in Science, Life and Literature, but changed the island's name to "Redonda." When Morse reprinted the "final" text in Works III at 417-422, he followed Gawsworth's lead and also standardized the island's name as "Redonda." Shiel, however, appears to have preferred the other spelling, which he again used in one of the few references to the legend found in a contemporary letter. On November 23, 1931 Shiel wrote his American pen-pal, Annamaria Miller, "I was crowned King when I was fifteen, but my Kingdom was only a great rock (named Rodundo)...." (Morse Collection, Rollins College.)
Shiel was a socialist (though closer philosophically to Henry George than to Marx) and a disdain of aristocratic class privilege permeates his fiction. For example, he wrote the following inscription in a collector's copy of The White Wedding (1908):
The servant here is much "above his lord"—this (in spite
of the timidities of the everyday novelist) being a tendency
in fiction, for the writer himself is of the working class,
so that the first fictionist, Homer, say, of necessity struck
a blow for democracy, and no sort of aristocracy can long
survive the invention of the steam-press: for the press stamps
and goes "shoo to you" so many times a minute. [The Works
of M. P. Shiel, Volume II, The Shielography Updated, part
one, Cleveland: The Reynolds Morse Foundation, 1980,
164 (Works II).]
His surviving letters rarely mention Redonda, suggesting that he did not personally take his "kingdom" very seriously. A least one critic has suggested Shiel may have made the story up entirely as a publicity ploy for the Gollancz Shiel revival. (Brian Dyde, "Half Our Sorrows," London Magazine, (Aug-Sept 1988): 82.) Similarly, Shiel's biographer, Harold Billings, cites it as another example of Shiel spinning tall tales for a gullible press:
I simply place this whole episode among the same
type of story that Shiel dreamed up from time to time to amuse
him at their easy acceptance by the English press. He would do
just the same with the biography he gave the press in 1895. The
event is never mentioned in any family correspondence. Matthew
Dowdy Shiell does not appear to have had the imagination to create
this "kingdom." Phipps did. Nevertheless, the story has achieved
legend and the literary Kingdom of Redonda exists. (Billings, M. P.
Shiel : A Biography of His Early Years, 2005, 85.)
Arthur Ransome may have been the only critic to mention the crowning story, though not Redonda, per se, in the numerous reviews and critical essays inspired by the Gollancz series, noting simply: "Born in the West Indies, crowned king of an island on his fifteenth birthday,..." (Writing as "R" in "New Novels," Manchester Guardian, 22 March 1929, p. 7.) Ransome also wrote of Shiel in Bohemia in London (1907) and his Autobiography (1976). In 1947 he was duked by Gawsworth in State Paper No 1.
Further, Shiel had sent yet another, somewhat shorter, holograph version of "About Myself" to James Henle, President of Vanguard Press, by letter dated January 2, 1929 in response to Henle's request for biographical information. Like the original "About Myself," published in The Candid Friend in 1901, the version he sent to Vanguard omits the Redonda story completely. Though on February 7, 1929 Shiel sent Mr. Henle a copy of the Gollancz flyer with the "Rodundo" version of "About Myself," and they discussed both the Gollancz and Vanguard promotional efforts for Shiel's books, the Redonda legend is not mentioned in their correspondence. (Vanguard Press Archives, Columbia University.) Did Shiel believe the legend would have less promotional appeal to his republican American audience, or did he think it simply too trivial to mention to his U. S. publisher?
Assuming Shiel did not make it all up, what might have inspired him to break his long silence about Redonda? The answer may be a magazine article by American travel writer, William B. Seabrook (1886-1945). His "King Leatherneck" was published in the February 4, 1928 issue of Collier's. It told the story of a US Marine Sergeant, Faustin Wirkus, who was happily crowned king by the 10,000 native inhabitants of the island of La Gonave, 30 miles off Haiti. In his later "Introduction" to Wirkus' account of his adventures [Faustin Wirkus and Taney Dudley, The White King of La Gonave, NY: Doubleday, Doran and Co, 1931] Seabrook claimed that his account of Wirkus' kingdom was picked up and widely reported in the press. If news of the fuss being made over Wirkus' kingdom reached Shiel in England while he was updating his biographical notes for Gollancz in 1928, it might easily have inspired him to at last confess his own "royal" roots.
In 1931 Shiel was befriended by John Gawsworth [Terence Ian Fytton Armstrong, (1912-1970)] a young poet and literary gadfly. In his "Foreword" to Shiel's collection of essays, Science, Life and Literature, Gawsworth related how they first met:
In July 1931 a nineteen-year-old publisher's clerk, imbued with
fanatic literary enthusiasm, wrote a letter of appreciation to an
entire stranger, a novelist entering his sixty-seventh year, living
alone in a bungalow hermitage off a Sussex highroad, and received
an immediate reply.
The lad had issued his first pamphlet of verses a few weeks
before; his idol had published twenty-five volumes of prose-fiction,
volumes frequently rifted with the ore of high prose-poetry, and had
spent some forty years in raising his craft to his vision of art; yet,
from the abounding generosity of his nature, the novelist wrote to
the young man as an equal. That letter was the cornerstone of a
collaboration which was to last for sixteen years, a collaboration
the survivor, without morbidity, feels continues still. [Page 7.]
A master bookman with an abiding love for late Victorian and Edwardian literature, Gawsworth covered Shiel's books in his Ten Contemporaries: Notes Toward Their Definitive Bibliographies (1932.) From 1932 - 1936 he published a number of Shiel stories, some of the latter as Shiel-Gawsworth collaborations, in anthologies he edited, such as Strange Company (1932), Full Score (1933), New Tales of Horror (1934), Thrills, Crimes and Mysteries (1935), Crimes, Creeps and Thrills (1936), Thrills (1936) and Masterpieces of Thrills (1936). Some of the same stories were collected in Shiel's The Invisible Voices (1935), and hung upon a narrative framework, which Gawsworth apparently contributed to, so the anthology could be marketed as a novel. In 1936 he also edited Shiel's Poems. In spite of all that Gawsworth's greatest service to his elder friend was certainly his successful campaign to obtain a Civil List Pension for Shiel in 1935. Though modest in amount, the pension helped Shiel to turn from writing fiction during his last decade to the completion of Jesus, which he considered his master work.
In one of the memoirs of Gawsworth compiled by Steve Eng in The Romantist, no-6-7-8 (1986) at page 94, John Heath-Stubbs wrote:
He was already a fairly legendary literary character, quite
apart from the Redonda story. He had succeeded in being
appointed literary executor to several other writers besides
Shiel, and there was supposed to be a joke in Fleet Street
that if you met him more than twice in one day you would
die within the year, and he would become your literary executor.
It is hardly surprising then that Gawsworth was named as Shiel's literary executor and legal heir to his copyrights and manuscripts. Further, when Gawsworth, who clearly grasped the promotional potential of the legend, asked, Shiel agreed to name him as his "royal" successor. On October 1, 1936 Gawsworth wrote out a document by hand on Shiel's L'Abri stationary, transferring Redonda's crown to him upon Shiel's death. Again, the island was referred to as "Rodundo" though Gawsworth follows this with "[Redonda = Br.]" to clarify the point. Shiel signed it "Phipps, R.," in ink substantially darker than the rest of the document, presumably witnessed by the novelist Edgar Jepson (1863-1938) signing as "Wedrigo." In Jepson's Memories of an Edwardian and Neo-Georgian, London: Richards Press, 1937 in a footnote at page 242, he briefly recounted the circumstances of his appointment to the Redondan court: "Only a few weeks ago, on his attention being called to the beauty of my writings by the young poet, John Gawsworth, Matthew I, the exiled King of Rodundo, created me Duke of Wedrigo." (Gawsworth also contributed 34 pages of Appendices and is credited by some sources as the editor of the book.) However, Jepson mentions neither Shiel by name, nor witnessing the document of succession.
Gawsworth's fascination with the Redonda legend was almost certainly stimulated by the example of Count Potocki, who was described by Steve Eng as "the legendary uncrowned King of Poland, courageous private press bookman and colorful friend of Lawrence Durrell and Richard Aldington who praised his verse translations (even as T. S. Elliot publically protested his incarceration in the 1930s)." (The Romantist, no 6-7-8, 104.) In another memoir published in the same issue, "Gawsworth's Early Years in Soho", Edward Craig wrote at page 89:
In those days in Soho was an extraordinary character in
flowing robes and hair down to his back. He was known as "the
Count," his full title being Count Potocki de Montalk. He normally
carried a book full of parchment deeds entitling him to the throne
of Poland; if once you became his friend, he would take you to his
attic and write a parchment document making you either a Minister
of Fine Arts or Poet Laureate, perhaps. Such a title would materialize
as soon as he regained his throne. The 1930s were quite fun!
After meeting the Count, Fytton could talk of nothing else for
days. After reading about M. P. Shiel and the Kingdom of Redonda,
I see how much it affected him.
The first newspaper article to mention the legend was published in the Daily Sketch on October 20, 1937, following the publication that month by Allen and Unwin of Shiel's 30th book:
Poets At Dinner
I sat next to a king at the Poets' Club dinner — grey-haired,
distinguished-looking King Philip I of Redonda. He was dressed in
a black velvet smoking jacket.
In private life he is Mathew [sic] Phipps Shiel, novelist.
His — I think he said 50th — novel, The Young Men Are Coming,
has just been published.
King Philip was born in Montserrat, Leeward Islands, and
was crowned King of Redonda, one of the islands, in 1880. Redonda
exports thousands of tons of silicate of aluminium annually. Its
King lives in England.
A few days later Shiel would write Gawsworth thanking him for sending a cutting of the article on the "King Novelist," which had just prompted two reporters to seek him out for interviews, while regretting that he received none of the royalties implied by the article (10/23/37 letter, Humanities Research Center collection, University of Texas at Austin.)
The subsequent interviews, published in the Sunday Referee on October 24, and The Star on October 26, 1937, clearly demonstrate that Shiel wanted to discuss his new book, but the reporters had come to learn about Redonda. The reporter for the Sunday Referee has Redonda "five-miles-square" and has the family's seizure of the island occur around the crowning ceremony in 1880, witnessed by "a good many of the population of Montserrat." The Star's reporter gets the island's size closer at "a mile square," but still says the elder Shiell owned "a fleet of ships," and relates that American workers were present on the island removing guano, while "Dr. Mitchinson, the Bishop of the Antilles" officiated. Both interviews clearly contain serious embellishments of fact. Either the 72 year old author no longer remembered events clearly, the reporters scrambled the facts, or Shiel was intentionally puffing for the press. In a letter to his sister Gussie dated January 14, 1895 Shiel had joked about the gullibility of English reporters who believed whatever he told them about himself. Shiel offered to send her a cutting to show how fatuous an English newspaper could be. (HRC collection; quoted in Billings, M. P. Shiel: A Biography of the Early Years.) He certainly had fun misleading the press at the beginning of his literary career, and there seems little reason to believe he had forgotten how by 1937.
Both interviews reported that the English annexation occurred "three years" after the crowning ceremony, while official records reprinted by Morse show that Redonda was formally annexed to Antigua on March 26, 1872, eight years before the ceremony on Shiel's 15th birthday. (Works III, 733.) Both assert that Shiel's father fumed and wrote letters of protest to the British government for fifteen years, though Matthew Dowdy Shiell died in January 1888. If he protested for 15 years it would have had to have been from 1872-1887.
There is little evidence that the elder Shiell ever owned more than a few small trading schooners. After Phipps moved to England in 1885, surviving family letters at the Humanities Research Center reflect his ailing father's financial difficulties in even sending young Shiel a few pounds from time to time. By then his primary income was apparently from a small store in Plymouth, Montserrat, which was suffering the effects of increasing competition. (The Shiell store, or one of its competitors, is briefly described in William Drysdale's account of his visit to Plymouth published in The New York Times on December 27, 1885.) The same letters make no mention of Redonda or the legendary paper battle with Whitehall. No copies of Shiell family protests to Whitehall have been located, despite separate inquires addressed to the foreign office by Jon Wynne-Tyson in the 1970s, Rev. Paul de Fortis in the 1980s, and presumably by others as well. (Copies of Wynne-Tyson letters in Morse collection; Paul de Fortis, The Kingdom of Redonda 1865-1990, The Aylesford Press, 1991, page 39.)
If the crowning ceremony actually took place, it was far more likely to have been amidst a small family picnic group with a few friends, rather than in front of a significant portion of even the white minority of Montserrat's population. In the collection of memoirs compiled by Steve Eng in The Romantist, Gawsworth's cousin, R. F. A. Jackson, related at page 87, " John told me how Shiel had been crowned King of Redonda in the West Indies. I had always imagined that it was a half-joke, based on rum-colored memories of Neptune-type ceremonies when a ship crosses the Equator." Though Shiel wrote once that "many of them [were] the worse for drink," letters in the HRC collection suggest that his rather dour Methodist parents would have frowned on any consumption of liquor, even on a birthday picnic. Nevertheless, one name who figures prominently in Shiel's versions of the legend might easily have been among the friends and family likely to be invited on such a picnic, Rev. Hugh Semper. The sketchy genealogical records suggest that Shiel's great uncle was the same William Phipps Shiell who married Mary Caby Semper in 1823. (Works III, 623.) If so, Rev. Semper was probably a distant cousin. His probable family relationship may also explain his willingness to participate in such a ceremony. Another name which figures in some versions of the legend is Bishop Mitchinson. Mitchinson arrived in Barbados from England in 1873 as a member of an Education Commission. In 1879 when the former Bishop of Antigua retired, Bishop Mitchinson was appointed coadjutor for Antigua as well. In addition to his duties as Bishop of Barbados and Antigua he served as headmaster of Harrison College from 31 May to December 1880. Young Shiel applied for admission to Harrison College and was accepted during Mitchinson's tenure, though he did not enter school until January, 1881. If Mitchinson was visiting Antigua or Montserrat in July 1880 he too might logically have been invited along to the picnic, possibly even by Rev. Semper.
It is not presently clear when the phosphate operations on the island shifted from possibly causal collection of surface guano deposits to the formal mining operations in place by 1890, but some sources suggest Redonda's phosphates were discovered as early as 1860 and the collection of guano had commenced by at least 1865. Did this begin before or after Shiel's birth on July 21, the date his father allegedly "claimed" the island? Redonda's phosphate ore, which was found beneath the surface guano deposits, was described in the American Journal of Science in 1869, based on samples supplied by "Mr. Crichton of Baltimore, the proprietor of the island." (Works III, 730.) If the Shiell family had some actual basis for claiming the island, suit could have been brought in court in Antigua to determine their rights to the royalties from the phosphate operations. No such lawsuit is mentioned in the legend. If the elder Shiell failed to assert his alleged prior title rights in court in the face of open and continuous occupation of "his" island, general principles of English real estate law would normally hold that the Shiell family's alleged prior rights would be lost under the doctrine of adverse possession after no more than 21 years.
There would be few other press reports on the Redonda legend during Shiel's final decade except for passing references in some of his obituary notices, probably based on information supplied by Gawsworth. Perhaps significantly, the obituary notice in the Times on February 20, 1947, "M. P. Shiel, Master of Fantasy," made no mention of it. With the ascension of John Gawsworth to Redonda's uncertain throne, the legend was transformed from a passing reference in Shiel's sketchy autobiographical writings to the central theme of Gawsworth's public persona. All of Gawsworth's obituaries would mention the legend. It eventually would overshadow his youthful literary promise.
Like his apparent role model, Count Potocki, Gawsworth's initial grants of nobility were on aged paper. Echoing the practice of the English Crown, three formal Realm of Redonda State Papers were issued on his birthday, June 29, 1947, 1949 and 1951, naming various dukes and other royal appointments to the "Intellectual Aristocracy of His Realm — with Succession to their Heirs Male —." (Photo offset in Works III, 599-601.) Most of the earliest appointments were to friends and literary figures who had helped Shiel in various ways. These included his neighbor, Kate Gocher, his bibliographer, A. Reynolds Morse, his publishers, Victor Gollancz, James Henle, Alfred A. Knopf, Grant Richards, Martin Secker and George H. Wiggins [of Richards Press], critics who had promoted his work, W. H. Chesson, John Connell, Edward Shanks, Alan Tytheridge and Carl Van Vechten, author/editors who published Shiel stories, Arnold Dawson, August Derleth, "Ellery Queen" [Frederic Dannay] and Dorothy L. Sayers, the artist, Frederick Carter, and writers such as Benson Herbert, Arthur Machen, Eden Phillpotts, Arthur Ransome, Dylan Thomas, E. H. Visiak, and Rebecca West, some of whom are also known to have supported Gawsworth's successful 1934 campaign to get Shiel a Civil List Pension. Various of Shiel's correspondents who responded to Gawsworth's requests for copies of Shiel's letters for his promised biography were also included, such as Edward Doro, Malcolm Ferguson, Annamarie Miller, Walter Owen, David C. Polden, the musician, and John Rowland. (Copies of those letters, many in Gawsworth's hand, are now in the HRC collection.) Gawsworth's brother, Percy Francis Brash Newhouse Armstrong became the sole Baron of the Realm. An artillery officer, at Gawsworth's suggestion he had offered technical corrections to the manuscript of Shiel's The Young Men Are Coming which were incorporated into the published text.
By 1951, when State Paper No. 3 was issued, the majority of the new honorees were more obviously connected with Gawsworth himself, rather than Shiel, though still most were writers or otherwise connected with the arts. One of these 1951 dukes, the mystery novelist Michael Harrison (1907-1991), discussed Gawsworth's Realm in "Derleth—My Fellow Duke" at page 10 of Vol. 10, no 1 of the August Derleth Society Newsletter (1987):
Shiel, so far as I know, created no titles, but Gawsworth, introducing
the amiable practice, did so in no captious spirit, but in the clear and
worthy intention of honouring the Artist, and so creating an aristocracy
of Creative Talent. None of us Dukes and Duchesses but gained our
entrance to this baroque Nobility without having achieved some rather
more than strictly amateur recognition in one of the Arts.
Except possibly for the appointment of Edgar Jepson as Wedrigo in 1936 there is no evidence that Shiel granted any titles himself. The 1947 State Paper included a section "confirming" certain appointments made during the reign of Gawsworth's "Royal Predecessor," but those purported to have been made "under His [Gawsworth's] Patents as Regent." This list includes Edgar Jepson, leaving one to wonder whether even that appointment was actually made by Gawsworth, with, at most, Shiel's bemused consent. In fact, most of those confirmations appear to be for titles to members of Gawsworth's circle, many of whom seemed to have little other connection with Shiel, such as Lawrence Durrell, Buffie Johnsen, Philip Lindsay, and Henry Miller.
Jepson's brief account of his appointment in his Memories of an Edwardian and Neo-Georgian does not claim Shiel bestowed the title in his presence. Indeed, it does not even mention Shiel, but misnames him, "Matthew I, the exiled King of Rodundo." "Matthew I" was the royal name Gawsworth later assigned to Shiel's father as the alleged "first king" of Redonda, though not a word of Shiel's writings on the subject ever mentioned his father proclaiming himself "king" at any time, nor abdicating when young Shiel was supposedly crowned in 1880. "Matthew I" appears to be a Gawsworth embellishment, made from whole cloth after Shiel's death. Curiously, the footnote at page 242 of the 1937 Richards first edition containing the story was omitted from the "New and Cheaper edition" of Jepson's book published in 1938 by Martin Secker, though the index retains "ghost" references to Gawsworth and "Matthew I" on that page. The Appendices by John Gawsworth at pages 277-311 of the Grant Richards edition were also dropped.
Oswell Blakeston [Henry Joseph Hasslacher (1907-1985)] was another whose title was confirmed in State Paper One as having been originally made by Gawsworth as Regent during Shiel's life. In a series of letters to Reynolds Morse and this writer in 1978 Blakeston revealed that he had assisted Gawsworth by completing various Shiel story fragments later published by Gawsworth as his own collaborations with Shiel. Though Mr. Blakeston no longer remembered the details with clarity, he recalled John putting one of the volumes in his hands and saying, "You don't mind, do you? After all you've got a dukedom?" The collaborations in question were presumably those published by Gawsworth in three anthologies he edited in 1936, Thrills, Masterpieces of Thrills, and Crimes, Creeps and Thrills. (For the full story, see Steve Eng's essay, "John Gawsworth...Pioneer Collaborator," included in Shiel and His Collaborators: Three Essays on William Thomas Stead, Louis Tracy, and John Gawsworth, by John D. Squires and Steve Eng, Kettering, Ohio: The Vainglory Press, October 2004, and now available on line at http://www.alangullette.com/lit/shiel/essays/shiel_gawsworth.htm .)
Some of the early "nobility" of Redonda only learned of their appointments long after the fact. For instance, State Paper Two dated June 29, 1949 named Everett Bleiler to The Order of the Star of Redonda as a Knight Commander. Mr. Bleiler was presumably recognized for his coverage of Shiel in his classic work, The Checklist of Fantastic Literature: A Bibliography of Fantasy, Weird and Science Fiction Books Published in the English Language (1948, revised as The Checklist of Science-Fiction and Supernatural Fiction, 1978), and, perhaps, for a review of Morse's original The Works of M. P. Shiel published in The Arkham Sampler. He had neither met nor corresponded with Shiel or Gawsworth, and recounted how he learned of his appointment in a letter dated May 5, 1995:
When I was a Fulbright in the Netherlands in 1951-2, I crossed
over to England several times and book hunted. Among the shops
I visited was that of Andrew Block, who was a bibliographer of
early novels. I usually enquired about Shiel and Bernard Capes
in such instances, and asked Block whether he had any copies.
He didn't, but said that he knew both men well. After a while
he proudly said that he was a member of the Redonda nobility,
and to prove his point produced a framed document (the one
reproduced in Morse's book) and showed me his name. And
there, lo and behold, was my name on the list, too. The first
I had known of it. I remember laughing and producing my
passport and showing Block that I, too, was there. He was
furious. (Squires collection.)
Mr. Bleiler never received a copy of State Paper Two with his appointment, presumably since Gawsworth never had his address. Andrew Block had employed young Gawsworth in his shop in the early 1930s and co-founded Twyn Barlwm Press with him in 1931. He included Shiel's The Purple Cloud in his Key Books of British Authors (1933), possibly at Gawsworth's urging.
Some other early nobles admittedly received their titles for rather slight services to the Realm. In his contribution to the series of Gawsworth memoirs compiled by Steve Eng in The Romantist 6-7-8 John Heath-Stubbs wrote at page 95:
Gawsworth made me a Duke of Redonda round about
1950 on condition of my writing a poem on Shiel's memory.
I was at a party at John Waller's flat, when Gawsworth rang
up to remind me of my promise, and to tell me that he had
already got a State paper in print confirming my title, so
could he have the poem please? I hastily retired to the
lavatory and there composed a brief ode, which I dictated
to Gawsworth over the phone. Gawsworth had appointed
me Poet Laureate—a rather generous gesture, I think, as he
might have reserved the post for himself.
Similarly, Dylan Thomas' appointment as Duke of Gweno in State Paper One in 1947 may have been repaid by two short poems published by Gawsworth in 1953 in an edition of "Thirty memorial copies for Members of the Court" under the title "Two Epigrams of Fealty" by Dylan Thomas. The latter poem was reprinted by Steve Eng in The Romantist, no 6-7-8 at page 99:
KING JUAN ADVOCATES
She'll do this, she'll do that:
People sigh in the local vat;
But Shiel is this, and Shiel is that
Cries the vocal King with his golden hat.
In contrast to Shiel's casual attitude towards the legend, Gawsworth milked the promotional value of his "kingdom" shamelessly through numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Though a talented poet, a formidable editor and a brilliant bibliophile, he became a drunk, holding court in various London pubs, eventually dispensing titles for the price of another round. Even in his cups though, some of Gawsworth's later appointments retained the earlier spirit of recognition for services to the arts. The following account appeared in the Daily Telegraph on May 22, 1959:
By Our Theatre Reporter
Wearing an old black jacket covered with candle grease,
his traditional garb for ceremonial occasions, John Gawsworth,
the poet, who calls himself the King of Redonda, a small island
in the Caribbean, yesterday created two new members of the
island's peerage. At the Cambridge Theatre Michael Denison
and his wife, Dulcie Gray, were made duke and duchess of the
Mr. Gawsworth said the honour had befallen them for
their excellent performances as the Duke and Duchess of
Hampshire in Let Them Eat Cake, the Comedy at the Cambridge.
The jacket originally belonged to M. P. Shiel, an earlier "king"
Michael Denison gave his own account of the incident in Double Act, London: Michael Joseph, 1985, at 92:
Quite early in the run there was a very strange occurrence.
Dulcie answered the telephone to a caller who announced
himself as the Home Secretary to Juan the First, King of
Redonda. 'Who are you really?' she asked and the information
was repeated, rather stiffly. She was told that His Majesty
wished to create me a Duke of his island realm in the Caribbean
and that our fellow peers were Dirk Bogarde, Diana Dors and
J. B. Priestley. He had seen our play and considered that we
measured up to his ideal of an intellectual aristocracy. If
convenient, the investiture could be held that afternoon
after the matinée. To everyone's astonishment, not least
that of the press (who had been alerted in the interest of
publicity for the show), it actually happened. I have my
'letters patent' before me as I write. It shows that I am
Duke of Essexa-y-Stebbingo di Redonda (Stebbing was
the name of the Essex village where we had our cottage.)
But what of Redonda, and what was it all about?
After a brief and hilarious 'investiture' on stage at the
Cambridge Theatre, witnessed by our 'house party', His
Majesty, who lived on a barge called 'Maudelayne' at
Little Venice, invited us to 'take wine' with him at a
pub nearby at our convenience. We could hardly wait.
The rest of Denison's account is a completely fractured version of the legend with almost no accurate information at all. At this point it is impossible to determine whether the errors originated with Gawsworth or were due to Denison's faulty memory. The wine may not have helped.
As his drinking worsened and his finances declined, Gawsworth attempted to sell or otherwise transfer the crown on several occasions, at least once to a former landlord, William Reginald Hipwell, in lieu of past due rent by "Irrevocable Covenant" dated June 29, 1954, but effective only on Gawsworth's death. Gawsworth's attempt to sell his "Caribbean kingship with Royal prerogatives" through an advertisement in the Times on June 21, 1958 was withdrawn after threats from Hipwell's lawyers.
It is unclear whether Gawsworth agreed that the Hipwell covenant legally precluded his subsequent attempt to sell the kingdom, or if he simply knew he could not pay the money he would have owed Hipwell if he did. Hipwell and his only son predeceased Gawsworth, possibly voiding the Hipwell covenant. Though Hipwell's grandson was alive at Gawsworth's death, he has apparently never asserted any claim to succession.
Another "Irrevocable Covenant" was executed by Gawsworth on October 20, 1966 purporting to convey the kingship to Arthur John Roberts. One source says the Roberts covenant was only to take effect as of February 17, 1967, but a copy sent by William L. Gates to Reynolds Morse under cover letter dated March 15, 1982 purports to take effect from the date of execution on October 20, 1966: "...the succession to the Realm of Redonda shall from the date hereof devolve upon said Arthur John Roberts the lately admitted per injection sanguinis to the Blood Royal for life and upon his death to such male person as the said Arthur John Roberts shall have admitted per injection sanguinis to the Blood Royal...." Both the Hipwell and Roberts "Irrevocable Covenants" also included the following provision:
It is Our particular wish that Our nobility shall continue to be
created as an intellectual aristocracy as hitherto and be granted
for services to the arts and humanities without regard to creed
or colour and with especial regard to the perpetuation of the
writings of our predecessor King Felipe Second King of Redonda
(born Matthew Phipps Shiell) son and heir to Matthew the First
First King of Redonda. (Copies in Morse collection.)
According to Paul de Fortis, "Roberts claimed the crown in a quiet sort of way until January 1979 when he announced on BBC Radio 4 that he had given the island to the United Kingdom." (The Kingdom of Redonda 1865-1990, page 28.)
Gawsworth's final transfer was by oral death bed grant to Jon Wynne-Tyson, an English author and publisher who, again by separate documents, also became the literary co-executor for Shiel and Gawsworth and holder of their copyrights. Wynne-Tyson, who had in 1949 been appointed a Knight Commander by Gawsworth in State Paper Two, paid little attention to the kingdom until he was contacted by Reynolds Morse in the late 1970s in connection with the updating of Morse's 1948 Shiel bibliography. In a letter to Paul de Fortis dated October 31, 1990, Wynne-Tyson gave this account of his reluctant succession to Gawsworth's tarnished throne:
As I am sure Ren will confirm, there was never any question of
his persuading me to take on the kingly role. I agree fully that
I am an inactive and (for some) unsatisfactory monarch and that
Ren would be a much more deserving ruler, but it was some
while after our first contact in 1978 that I admitted Gawsworth's
death-bed scene and so allowed myself to be recognised as the
long-lost (had anyone cared?) 3rd (4th? Do we count MPS's dad?)
king. What would you have done? I knew Gawsworth better than
most and from 1948. He made Iain [Fletcher] and me co lit. ex'tors.
If, on his death bed, someone says to you (words to the effect of):
"Look, old boy, I'm not going to get out of here, so you'd better
be the next king," would you have told him to stuff it? The reason
why John thought that I and not Ian should take on that luckless
role is, I imagine, that I was a publisher and a good deal less vague
than dear old Ian who was the woolly academic par excellence.
No, we didn't cut wrists and blend blood, but if you had seen the
gallons of stuff that John poured into his system you wouldn't lightly
have shared gore. Anyway, he was too ill and the ward sister was a
dragon. He was cold sober in the hospital, and cold sober John was
still a professional bookman. He knew (or anyway hoped) that an
old friend who was also a publisher and a writer and not a drunk
was more likely to keep his memory green than some Alma lush.
(Copy in Squires collection.)
Morse led two expeditions to Redonda in 1978 and 1979. On Montserrat Morse uncovered evidence suggesting that Shiel's Mother, Priscilla Ann Blake, may have been partially black. Her birth records list her as having been born "free." (Subsequent research by distant members of the Shiell family suggest that Shiel's father may have been of mixed blood as well, though his birth records on the island were lost long before Morse's visit. See, "The Possible Origins of Matthew Phipps Shiell" by Richard Shiell and Dorothy Anderson, 2001, a version of which is now on line at http://www.alangullette.com/lit/shiel/family/Shiel_Matthew_Phipps.htm .) On the later trip Morse, Wynne-Tyson and others landed on Redonda's forbidding shore and mounted the peak. There Wynne-Tyson raised a flag, made by his wife from a pair of pajamas, and read a proclamation. Morse's adventures, including reprints of everything then known about Redonda and the legend, were published in The Quest for Redonda (1979), reprinted as chapter 9 in Works III, 585-742.
When Wynne-Tyson was interviewed by the BBC on October 17,1984 on "Midweek" concerning the publication of his Redondan novel, So Say Banana Bird, perhaps a dozen rival claimants came out of the woodwork. Pippa Burston of BBC subsequently wrote Wynne-Tyson that "By the time I left the office at 11:30, there had been FOUR calls from 4 different 'real' kings of Redonda!" (Morse collection.) One of the callers was Dominic Behan, who asserted on the air that Gawsworth had granted him the kingdom in 1960.
Another rival was Cedric Boston, a London barrister born on Montserrat. He was promoted by Rev. Paul de Fortis in his The Kingdom of Redonda 1865-1990. The de Fortis book includes a good history of the legend and most of the then known rivals, but is weakened by his preference for Cedric. Cedric was not related to nor had he even met Shiel or Gawsworth. His "claim" rested primarily upon his willingness to "rule" and the de Fortis group's apparent interest in resurrecting the Gawsworth tradition of holding court in English pubs. Since the death of Paul de Fortis in 1992 Cedric's claim seems to have fallen dormant. De Fortis listed several other claimants at page 30, including, "'a bartender named Ferdinand ...whose present whereabouts are unknown'; Mr. Terry Howes, of Toronto; Mr. Marvin Kitman, of Leonia, New Jersey, who claims to be President of a Redondan Republic; [and] one Aleph Kamal, who sounds like a character from a Shiel novel..."
With a letter to Reynolds Morse dated July 1, 1987 Michael Harrison enclosed a copy
of his article, "Derleth - my Fellow Duke" from The August Derleth Society Newsletter. In the letter he related that he'd been contacted by someone from the "pretender" [Cedric's] court and continued: "All this brings up the licence (in Latin, in John's [Gawsworth's] handwriting, and signed by him, 'Juan R.') by which he gives my friend, Hugo Ball, retired Solicitor, the right to appoint an heir to Redonda's monarchy. The paper does NOT (as some have thought, though not by any statement of Ball's or mine) appoint Ball the Heir – merely the one to choose, to designate, an Heir." Harrison went on to say he had copies of the document, but did not include one with the letter. Harrison did not indicate whether Ball had exercised his authority. (Morse Collection.)
The most romantic "rival" is almost certainly the American poet William Scott Home. The origin of Home's "claim" may have been a proclamation by long-time fantasy fan and critic Ben Indick. After reading Home's short story "Dull Scavengers Wax Crafty" in 1972 Indick declared in print: "If Shiel has a reincarnation, it is surely Scott Home." Mr. Home concurred and, believing the throne to be vacant with Gawsworth's death, assumed the title H. M. King Guillermo I as Shiel's spiritual successor, from his court in exile, now located in Skagway, Alaska. Mr. Home finds it significant that "in December, 1970, all unaware of Gawsworth's death, I made an aerial circuit (i.e. turned the wheel) around Redonda (the only one in my life) in flights to and from Dominica to Antigua on a University of West Indies study session, and did not learn I had become king until two years later. Surely my signs speak for me." (Letter dated 1 Oct 2000; Squires collection.)
In his perceptive essay, "The Rose Beyond the Thunders and the Whirlpools," Home was the first to identify Redonda as the site of the undersea cavern in which Shiel's autobiographical seafarer is trapped alone to ponder the Mysteries of God in "Dark Lot of One Saul." (Morse, A. Reynolds, ed., M. P. Shiel in Diverse Hands: A Collection of Essays on M. P. Shiel, Cleveland: Reynolds Morse Foundation, 1983, 343-355.) In the best of Shiel's meditations on The Book of Job, Shiel's doomed seaman, James Dowdy Saul, has the first and middle names of Shiel's Great Grandfather and Father and the last name of the biblical Saul. After being captured by the Spanish in America he is allowed to marry "Lina, a wench of good liking, daughter of Seňora Gomez" (Shiel's first wife and Mother-in-law), before being seized by the Inquisition as a heretic in 1571, nailed into a cask and tossed into the heart of a storm at sea to be drawn into the undersea cavern. After many years alone poor Saul recognizes that a volcanic eruption is building, writes his story and sends it back into the sea by the repaired cask. The pending volcanic eruption which threatened Saul's cavern was no doubt inspired by local legends concerning Redonda. Though given its name by Columbus for being "round", the island today only appears round when viewed from one side.
Clearly some cataclysmic event split Redonda in the past to
leave the fragment present today. The local story that this
split occurred in the 17th century and was observed by a
passing sea captain cannot be checked. One can only
wonder when the discrepancy developed between the
early descriptions of the island and its present condition.
[Richard A. Howard, "Botanical and Other Observations
on Redonda, The West Indies," Journal of the Arnold
Arboretum, Vol. XLIII, No. 1, (January 1962): 52.
Reprinted in Works III, 704.]
In 1993 the tabloids rediscovered the legend together with Shiel's "missing" granddaughter, proclaiming Mrs Margaret Parry of Ramsbottom, England to be "Queen Maggie, monarch of Redonda." The delighted Daily Mail flew Mr. and Mrs. Parry to the West Indies to photograph the new queen standing on Redonda's rugged shore wearing a regal crown and robe. ("Crowning a Caribbean queen", Daily Mail, June 1, 1993, page 25.) If a family claim to the throne is to be seriously asserted, Mrs Parry's brother, now living in Australia, could join the fray, with or without the support of a number of distant cousins by a different branch of the Shiell family, also living down there. It is also possible that descendants may turn up of Shiel's first child, Dolores Katherine Shiel, "Lola," who was reportedly taken to Spain around 1904 following the death of Shiel's first wife, Carolina Garcia Shiel, nee Gomez.
John Gawsworth's godson, Max Juan Tonge Leggett, mounted a Redonda web page in 1996. According to his family's oral tradition, the childless Gawsworth proclaimed the just born Max Leggett to be "Prince Juan of Redonda, and heir to the throne." In an e mail letter dated July 2, 2000 Mr. Leggett's father recounted the story:
King John (John Gawsworth) my wife and I were close friends
during the period 1946 to 1953. Because of my contributions
to his health and stability (primarily in the form of small donations)
I was appointed The Duke of Penuria. It should be understood,
in those days, after serving for five years in the British Army,
we were on the broke side of things, and therefor instead of
granting the title of Broke (a currently standing title) John
reverted to the Spanish. At age seventy five, it is good to see
that the spirit of the past is still alive. On the Birth of our first
born, John named my son to be his successor and thus he was
christened Max JUAN Tonge Leggett.
In July 2000 Mr. Leggett took down his page, and has reportedly conceded the primacy of Jon Wynne-Tyson's claim.
In 1997 Wynne-Tyson resigned and transferred all his interests, including copyrights, to the award winning Spanish novelist, Javier Marías. Marías, a native of Madrid, was introduced to the Redonda legend while teaching at Oxford as a visiting professor. His discovery of Gawsworth and Redonda was echoed in his novel Todas las almas, published in Britain as All Souls (1992). Marías announced his new role as a Redondan monarch, King Xavier, in his novel Negra espalda del tiempo (The Dark Backward of Time), published in Spain in 1998. An English translation was published in America in May 2001 under the title, Dark Back of Time. Amusingly, in The New York Times Book Review on May 6, 2001, at page 27 Wendy Lesser commented on the difficulty in determining what is fact and what is fiction in the book, particularly regarding the Redonda legend:
You will come away from Dark Back of Time with
some answers ...; John Gawsworth is real, but the Oxford
booksellers called the Alabasters derive more from Dickens
than from their real-life counterparts, the Stones), but
whether these answers are true is one of the questions that
are left unanswered. To give but a single small example:
Dark Back of Time mentions that Marías, like John Gawsworth
before him, has become king of Redonda. If you go to the
Web site of the Redonda Foundation, at www.redonda.org,
you will see that there is actually a dispute involving Javier
Marías's sovereignty over this tiny Caribbean island. The
English-speaking disputant employs the word ''impostor,''
which happens to be a favorite Marías word. Has Marías
himself set up the whole dispute – perhaps the whole
Redonda site – as yet another literary game? Probably not:
Marías claims in Dark Back of Time to be completely
computerless, and for some reason I believe him. But the
uncertainty is nonetheless tantalizing. It is impossible to
know, with anything Marías has touched, who is whose
Gawsworth's shade must be chortling with Shiel's over their heavenly cups.
In July 2000 Marías sponsored publication of La Mujer De Huguenin by M. P. Shiel, translated into Spanish by Antonio Iriarte, Barcelona: Reino de Redonda. The book, a selection of six short stories including "Dark Lot of One Saul," also includes "Only Air and Smoke and Dust" Marías' Prefatory Note, and, as appendices, Shiel's "About Myself" in Spanish and English, a number of illustrations, and lists of Redondan titles and offices created by John Gawsworth, Jon Wynne-Tyson and Javier Marías, respectively. Subsequent titles from Reino de Redonda have included further appendices of Redondan images and updated nobility lists.
A Bob Williamson has posted several pages on the web asserting that Wynne-Tyson transferred the crown to him instead of to Marías. Wynne-Tyson flatly denies this. (March 6, 1999 letter, Squires collection.) Williamson's claim, no matter how often he repeats his story on the web, appears to be a complete fabrication, though it is hard to tell from his numerous web pages if even he takes it seriously.
The other principal claimant, and the most serious, is William L. Gates, [http://www.redonda.org/ The Redondan Foundation, P O Box 760, Thurlton, Norwich, NR14 6TX, UK.] Gates claims through an alleged paper trail from Gawsworth by assignment from Arthur John Roberts. He issues a semiannual newsletter, The Times of Redonda. The early issues consisted primarily of accounts of his social calendar and disputes with other claimants to the throne, though more recent issues have included more pieces on the literary aspects of the legend. Mr. Gates has an extensive web page with audio presentations as well as essays on his version of the Redonda legend. He has also posted on his web page an opinion letter dated December 3, 1982 on the letterhead of the Law School of the University of Queensland, Australia signed by Professor Alan Fogg asserting that the Gawsworth to Roberts "Irrevocable Covenant" of October 20, 1966 was valid in transferring the kingdom to Roberts. Though the Fogg letter refers to an "annexed true copy" of the document, it is not posted on line. Gates may well have the best "legal" claim to the throne since his appears to be the only known claim based on a paper trail of actual documents originating with Gawsworth.
An examination of the available documents helps to explain the differing positions taken by the principal rivals and their respective arguments. As has already been stated above, there is no known documentation or third party verification of the origin of the Redonda legend. One has to accept or reject the central facts of the legend as set out by Shiel in his various autobiographical writings on faith. Assuming for purposes of discussion that his Father did lay some claim to the island on or around July 21, 1865 and had his son crowned king fifteen years later, what was the nature of Shiel's realm? Absent a constitution of some sort, Shiel would presumably have been an absolute monarch. As an absolute monarch he could designate his successor on whatever terms he wished, and by whatever means. Presumably he could also have changed his mind at any time.
The document appointing Gawsworth as Shiel's successor was dated October 1, 1936 and handwritten on a sheet of the note paper Shiel regularly used for his correspondence, imprinted with his address,"L'Abri, / New Rd., Worthing Rd., / Horsham, Sussex." The rest of the document is in Gawsworth's hand, excepting only the signatures of Shiel as "Phipps, R" and his witness, presumably Edgar Jepson, signing as "Wedrigo." The main body of the document reads as follows:
We hereby proclaim that our most noble puissant
Terence Ian Fytton Armstrong, "John Gawsworth", Prince
of our Blood, Poet Laureate of our Kingdom succeeds as
Monarch of our Island Kingdom of Rodundo [Redonda = Br.].
Our sovereignty, upon our death is his possession, to be
conveyed by him on his death unto such of his blood as he
appoints. [Reprinted Works III, 434, but with some
typographical errors. The brackets around "Redonda = Br."
are in the original.]
There has never been any suggestion that this document was invalid or superceded by any subsequent actions by Shiel. The universal consensus then is that Gawsworth succeeded on Shiel's death in February 1947 to whatever Shiel's interests in the Kingdom of Redonda may have been.
The post-Gawsworth succession, however, is murky, at best. As outlined above, Gawsworth attempted to sell the throne, or otherwise transferred, or promised to transfer the throne on numerous occasions to a variety of people. If John Gawsworth was an absolute monarch, not restricted by the terms of Shiel's original grant or by any formal constitution, then he might change his mind on succession as often as he pleased and convey it to his last and final choice upon whatever terms he willed. The problem is how to prove he, for instance, did make a final deathbed conveyance, as claimed, to Jon Wynne-Tyson, which should be given effect rather than any of the earlier conveyances or promises to others. Objectively, William Gates would seem to have the best claim since he does have documents against the various oral claims of his rivals. If Redonda had actual residents the rivals would each claim sovereignty, and the subjects of the realm would ultimately decide who they would follow. Civil war, if needs must, but one rival would eventually prevail and rule.
Redonda though has no residents. Instead it has an increasing number of nobles, entitled by the various kings over the years. It could be argued that Gawsworth's original nobility list might constitute a defacto hereditary Upper House of Lords, since his three State Papers specified his grants to the "Intellectual Aristocracy of His Realm" included "Succession to their Heirs Male." As such they might logically vote to determine the rightful successor. In contrast, the titles bestowed by William Gates as King Leo are not permanent, but lapse if the recipients fail to pay annual dues to the crown.
Reynolds Morse's solution to the succession question was, essentially, to conclude that Redonda was only a literary fantasy. As such it should be part and parcel of the literary estate which passes into the control of the successive executors, from Gawsworth, to Jon Wynne-Tyson, and now to Javier Marías.
But, there seems to be no end of rival kings and other contenders for Redonda's uncertain throne. In 2006 Green Monkey Divers, a local company on Montserrat which offers scuba diving tours of the waters around Redonda, announced:
Coming in 2007- The Royal Monkey Navy is looking for a few
good men and women! Join our unarmed forces as they seek to
overthrow the Kingdom of Redonda and return it to Montserratian
rule. The ownership of the throne is in chaos and dispute. While
the so-called Kings jockey for position, our forces will approach
by sea, climb to Sheill's Summit and plant the Royal Monkey Flag.
Be a part of this historic event as the future King and Queen, Troy
and Melody, begin a new era of hope and prosperity for the Kingdom
I don't know who Troy and Melody are, unless the owners of Green Monkey Divers, but the muddy waters of Redondan succession do not seem to be getting any clearer.
Copyright © 2011, John D. Squires, all rights reserved.
Return to M. P. Shiel -- Lord of Language.