A Brief History of the Island Kindom Redonda: in the West Indies

1493 The Island is Discovered
1865 The Kingdom Begins
1880 Young King Felipe
1869 Phosphates & Fertilizer
1936 King Felipe in Retirement
1947 King Juan I
1967 The title changes hands
1982 Down with impostors !
1989 On with the Monarchy !
1998 The Realm of Redonda today
1998+ To the future !

All images, text, and audio contained on this website are copyright 1998, The Redondan Foundation.

The Island of Redonda lies in the Caribbean Sea, latitude 16 56' North, longitude 62 21' West, about thirty-four miles WSW of Antigua and approximately fifteen miles NW of Montserrat. It is about one mile long by one third of a mile wide, rising to a height of 971 feet, and is the rocky and uninhabitable remnant of an extinct volcanic cone. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus at 8 p.m. on the evening of November 12th, 1493, on his second voyage of exploration. Because of its apparently-rounded shape, he named it Santa Maria la Redonda, but did not attempt to land.

Although Columbus claimed the island for Spain, no formal act of sovereignty took place until July,1865. In that year, Matthew Dowdy Shiell, a prosperous sea-trader from Montserrat, who claimed descent from the ancient Irish Kings of Tara, was overjoyed at the birth of a son, after a succession of eight daughters. He landed on the island with some friends, and formally claimed the island as his kingdom. Shortly afterwards, the island was annexed by the British Government, so that it could control the exploitation of rich deposits of phosphates, in spite of strong protests from the Shiell family. In consequence, the island has been administered by Antigua ever since, but the Title of Monarch of Redonda had been established, and its unbroken line of Kings survives to this day.

When the son, Matthew Phipps Shiell, was fifteen years old, his father abdicated as King, and the son's Coronation (the last to take place in the Western Hemisphere) was held on the island on July 21st, 1880. As the second king of Redonda, Matthew Phipps Shiell took the Title of King Felipe. On completing his education on Barbados, the young king moved to England, where he eventually established himself as a popular novelist. He was never to return to the Caribbean, and the Redondan Monarchy has been technically in exile ever since.

The Redonda Phosphate Company had been established in 1869, under licence from the British Government, to remove large quantities of phosphate-bearing ore from the island, for processing as artificial fertiliser. Labour was obtained from Montserrat, and accommodation, rain-water reservoirs, a jetty and a cable-hoist were installed. By the end of the century, seven thousand tons of ore per annum were being exported, mostly to Germany and the United States. Trade was halted by the outbreak of the First World War, and work was never resumed. A severe hurricane eventually destroyed most of the buildings, and the Company was wound up shortly afterwards. Ruins of the installations survive on Redonda, but the island is now abandoned, and has become a refuge for sea-birds, reptiles, a herd of goats and a colony of burrowing owls recently displaced from Antigua, under whose jurisdiction it remains.

Meanwhile, M.P.Shiell (King Felipe) was living in retirement in Sussex, where he was discovered by a young poet with a keen interest in early 20th Century literature. Terence Ian Fytton Armstrong (better known by his pseudonym "John Gawsworth") was successful in persuading publishers to reprint some of Shiell's early best-sellers, with resultant royalties for the author. Eventually, in 1936, King Felipe nominated Gawsworth to succeed him at his death as the third King of Redonda. (The original witnessed document is still carefully preserved in the Royal Archives.) When Shiell died in 1947, in his eighty-second year, the Title of King of Redonda thus passed out of the Shiell family. As the third King, Gawsworth took the title of King Juan. Since the physical jurisdiction of the actual island is no longer in the control of the owner of the Title, the Kingship is now regarded in law as Incorporeal Property (i.e., similar to the Title of Lordship of an English Manor) Shiell also drew up a Will in 1938, disposing of the rest of his property. In it ,he left his copyrights to Gawsworth, and so, in 1947, the new King Juan also became his Literary Executor.

The Reign of King Juan I, 1947-1967

To commemorate his predecessor's literary career and achievements, King Juan developed an Intellectual Aristocracy of the Realm, granting noble titles to his many friends and acquaintances. The result was the creation of the Redondan Peerage, which still exists. Dukes of the Realm included Arthur Machen the novelist, Victor Gollancz the publisher and Edward Shanks the poet. Many more were subsequently honoured, including J.B.Priestley, Dorothy L.Sayers, Arthur Ransome, Henry Williamson, Vincent Price, Diana Dors, Dirk Bogarde, George Barker, Henry Miller, Dylan Thomas, and Lawrence Durrell and his brother Gerald.

However, Gawsworth's talents as a poet and man of letters failed to sustain him in the bleak post-war years, and he gradually fell on evil days, taking odd jobs, suffering from ill-health, and spending much time in the bar of the "Alma" tavern in Westbourne Grove, West London. Here he often held court, and knowledgeable tourists would frequently track him down. In return for buying His Majesty a drink, it was sometimes possible to receive a Dukedom, inscribed on the back of a beermat. Such prodigality, together with Gawsworth's undoubted skill in keeping the Realm in the public eye by newspaper reports (usually compiled by himself) eventually brought the Realm into disrepute.

At one point, desperately in need of money, he attempted to sell his Title by advertising in the Personal Column of The Times newspaper, in spite of the fact that he had already bequeathed it to a former friend by a witnessed document. The real threat of a legal injunction prevented the deal being clinched with a member of the Swedish Royal Family, and Gawsworth carried on reigning. He was only able to pass the Title on after the death of this claimant had rendered the original bequest null and void. Therefore in 1966 he first bequeathed the Title at his death to his friend John Roberts, and then abdicated in his favour by Irrevocable Covenant. This was drawn up by a lawyer, now Professor of Law at a Commonwealth University, following a thorough investigation to prove the legal validity of the Title, which has never been challenged. Both Bequest and Covenant were profusely witnessed by Members of the Realm; the originals remain in the Royal Archives. The new King, Juan II, commenced his reign on February 17th,1967, being the twentieth anniversary of his predecessor's accession.

THE REIGN OF KING Juan II, 1967-1989

The new king's main problem was to separate the whimsical idealism of the earlier years of the Realm from the sad reputation it had acquired in the latter part of Gawsworth's reign. In distancing himself from the circle of old courtiers and hangers-on, and eventually moving away from London, King Juan II succeeded in breaking the pattern, although he kept in close touch with ex-king Gawsworth and a small group of supporters. As a result, the tourists were thwarted, and the Press lost its supply of juicy gossip. By this time, Gawsworth's continued ill-health, alcoholism and poverty meant that he relied heavily on a few close friends, including his successor as King, for succour and support. Eventually he died in a London hospital in September,1970, following an operation. Having disposed of the Title of King to John Roberts three years earlier he left instructions in his Will of April, 1970, for his Literary Estate, together with that of M.P.Shiell, to be administered jointly by two literary friends, Dr. Iain Fletcher of Reading University and Mr.J.Wynne-Tyson of the Centaur Press.

Meanwhile King Juan II, having gladly accepted the terms of the Covenant as laid down by his predecessor, set about restructuring the Realm, assisted by a nucleus of supporters. Many of the current successful policies of the Realm were suggested, discussed and implemented at this time. As a result the Realm underwent renewal and slow but steady growth, although no longer occupying the dubious London limelight. In London itself, the circulation of exaggerated rumours about the supposed events of Gawsworth's last years created confusion in certain quarters about the true nature of the Title of King of Redonda. As a result of this misunderstanding, certain impostors appeared, each pretending to be the true King, who was, of course, alive and well and living further north. The Solicitor-General of the Realm was impelled to issue an Open Letter in 1982 dispelling false claims; this has never been challenged.

In due course, King Juan II retired to Shropshire, having laid the firm foundations for a re-invigorated Realm, but unfortunately unable to develop it further, due to the tragic lengthy illness and eventual death of his beloved wife. In 1989 he therefore approached his chief supporter, William Leonard Gates, a former member of the court of Juan I, and an old friend, to carry on the role of the Kingship. A new Irrevocable Covenant was drafted, signed and witnessed, embodying the now traditional precepts which govern the Title, and the new King commenced his reign at 3 p.m. on October 26th, 1989. He took the Title of Leo, fifth King of Redonda, and thereby inherited a large collection of Royal Archives dating back to the time of King Felipe, as well as all the Title-Deeds and legal papers relating to the descent of the Title.


Following precedents going back over sixty years, the present King of Redonda is pledged by the terms of his Irrevocable Covenant to maintain and extend the Intellectual Aristocracy of the Kingdom, to preserve and develop the Realm itself for posterity and to keep the memories of M.P.Shiell and John Gawsworth green. In fulfilling these terms, the present King is greatly assisted and supported by the Membership. Admittance to the Realm is entirely at His Majesty's discretion, and usually occurs by personal recommendation. Obligations of membership include an Oath of Allegiance, and a nominal financial commitment to the Redondan Foundation. The Redondan Foundation is a non-profit-making organisation, responsible for the publication and distribution of the Members' Handbook, Certificates of Membership, the List of Members, the "Times of Redonda" Newsletter, an information pamphlet detailing a brief history of the Realm, an annual Members' Greetings Card and occasional Press Releases. It also deals with general enquiries, monitors public statements and keeps in touch with the Literary Executor. The Foundation also organises the established annual pattern of meetings and celebrations of the Realm, which include a Spring Conference, a Summer Garden Party, Meetings at the Realm's London Headquarters and a Discovery Day Banquet in November. It is also involved in the necessary arrangements for other occasions, whenever the King is invited to carry out certain formal or honorary duties, by certain charities or other private organisations in which he has an interest. This includes giving illustrated lectures on the History of the Realm and the literary careers of M.P.Shiell and John Gawsworth, using material selected from the extensive collection of Royal Archives in his possession.

Plans for the future development of the Realm include the setting-up of Regional Branches where practical, since membership has now spread to three continents, and a regular update of current Redondan affairs on the Internet, to keep Members in touch. It is also proposed to produce a documentary film of the Realm's extraordinary and romantic history, detailing the people and places involved in its development over the years, and to publish a definitive History of the Realm and its true Kings, based on documentary evidence from the royal archives and the present King's own historical researches.

King Leo regards his reign as a trusteeship, in collaboration with the Members of his Realm, to perpetuate and develop for posterity a charming and unique quirk of history.