Kim Murphy in the Los Angeles Times:
Sark, Channel Islands — HERE, on an island that might be called Camelot, the winds of democracy have blown in like the waft from a landfill.
This 3-mile-long stretch of granite crags, flowered meadows, neat cottages and well-behaved Guernsey cows 80 miles off Britain’s coast in the English Channel is the last feudal outpost in Europe. Algernon Swinburne, the 19th century poet, called it a “small, sweet world of wave-encompassed wonder.”
Sark has remained pretty much the same for 442 years, since Queen Elizabeth I declared it a noble fiefdom. Transport is by bicycle, horse-and-carriage or Wellington boots. When absolutely necessary, one may resort to one of the island’s few tractors. But the neighbors, never frugal with opinions, tend to look up from their gardens and make case-by-case assessments of what constitutes necessity.
Landownership is divided among 40 “tenants.” They are the descendants or successors of the 40 men with muskets recruited by the original seigneur, the ruling lord commissioned to defend the isle against pirates and buccaneers. Government administration is by fiat, with the island administrator, judge, constable and clerk appointed by the current seigneur, a 79-year-old former aeronautical engineer whose family has governed Sark since 1852.
But that was all in place long before the 21st century arrived on the gut-churning, twice-a-day ferry from Guernsey; before it was decreed that, in a modern Europe whose members are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights, it’s just not on to have feudal lords, and not on to have seats in the island’s parliament bequeathed across generations to eldest sons, and not on to refuse to adopt divorce laws because you don’t like them.