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Politics of Sark

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Politics of Sark

For other uses, see Sark (disambiguation).

  • Sèr / Cerq
  • Sercq
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem: God Save the Queen  (official)
Sarnia Cherie a
Brecqhou to the west.
Brecqhou at bottom right.
Administrative centerLa Seigneurieb
Official languages
Recognised regional languages Sercquiais
 -  Seigneur of Sark John Michael Beaumont
Part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey
(British crown dependency)
 -  Fief granted to Hellier de Carteret by Elizabeth I 1565 
 -  Total 5.45 km2
2 sq mi
 -  estimate 600
 -  Density 110.09/km2
285.1/sq mi
Currency Pound sterlingc (GBP)
Time zone GMT
 -  Summer (DST)  (UTC+1)
Calling code +44 1481
Internet TLD none   (Sark currently has no official cctld )
a. Official for occasions when distinguishing anthem required.
b. Head of government's residence; Sark has no capital.
c. Guernsey pound notes and coins not legal tender outside Guernsey.

Sark (French: Sercq; Sercquiais: Sèr or Cerq) is a small island in the Channel Islands in southwestern English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. It is a royal fief, geographically located in the Channel Islands in the Bailiwick of Guernsey, with its own set of laws based on Norman law and its own parliament. It has a population of about 600. Sark (including Brecqhou) has an area of 2.10 square miles (5.44 km2).[1]

Geography and geology

Sark consists of two main parts, Greater Sark, located at about 49° 25' N x 2° 22' W, and Little Sark to the south. They are connected by a narrow isthmus called La Coupée which is 300 feet (91 m) long and has a drop of 330 feet (100 m) on each side.[2] Protective railings were erected in 1900; before then, children would crawl across on their hands and knees to avoid being blown over the edge. There is a narrow concrete road covering the entirety of the isthmus, built in 1945 by German prisoners of war under the direction of the Royal Engineers. Due to isolation, the inhabitants of Little Sark had their own distinct form of Sercquiais, the native Norman dialect of the island.

The highest point on Sark is 374 feet (114 m) above sea-level.[2] A windmill, dated 1571, is found there, the sails of which were removed during World War I. This high point is named Le Moulin, after the windmill. The location is also the highest point in the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Little Sark had a number of mines accessing a source of galena.[3] At Port Gorey, the ruins of silver mines[4] may be seen. Off the south end of Little Sark are the Venus Pool and the Adonis Pool, both natural swimming pools whose waters are refreshed at high tide.

The whole island is extensively penetrated at sea level by natural cave formations that provide unique habitats for many marine creatures, notably sea anemones, some of which are only safely accessible at low tide. Sea Ravens are very common in Sark.

Sark is made up mainly of the rocks amphibolite and granite gneisses, intruded by igneous magma sheets called quartz diorite. Recent (1990–2000[5]) geological studies and rock age dating by geologists from Oxford Brookes University shows that the gneisses probably formed around 620-600 million years ago during the Late Precambrian-age Cadomian Orogeny. The quartz diorite sheets were intruded during this Cadomian deformation and metamorphic event. All the Sark rocks (and nearby Channel Islands of Guernsey & Alderney) formed during geological activity in continental crust above an ancient subduction zone. This geological setting would have been analogous to the modern day subduction zone of the Pacific ocean plate colliding and subducting beneath the North and South American continental plate.

Sark also exercises jurisdiction over the island of Brecqhou, only a few hundred feet west of Greater Sark. It is a private island, but it has recently been opened to some visitors. Since 1993, Brecqhou has been owned by Sir David Barclay, one of the Barclay brothers, who are co-owners of The Daily Telegraph. They contest Sark's control over the island. However, the candidates endorsed by their various business interests on the Island failed to win any seats in the elections held in 2008[6] and 2010.[7]


The Veneti tribe almost certainly possessed the island in ancient times[dubious ]. These people were subdued by the Roman Empire circa 56 BC and the island would have been annexed to the empire. Following the end of the Roman Empire and before the middle of the tenth century Sark had probably been an appendage of one of the Breton speaking kingdoms[dubious ]. After 933 it became a part of the Duchy of Normandy which became united with the Crown of England after 1066. In the thirteenth century, Sark was used as a base of operations by the French pirate, Eustace the Monk, after he served King John of England. Although populated by monastic communities in the medieval period, Sark was uninhabited in the 16th century and used as a refuge and raiding base by Channel pirates. Helier de Carteret, Seigneur of St. Ouen in Jersey, received Letters Patent from Queen Elizabeth I granting him Sark in fief in perpetuity on condition that he maintained the island free of pirates and occupied by at least 40 men who were the Queen's subjects, which he duly did, bringing with him 40 families mostly from St. Ouen.

An attempt by the newly settled families to endow themselves with a constitution under a bailiff, as in Jersey, was put down by the authorities of Guernsey who resented any attempt to wrest Sark from their bailiwick.

In 1844, desperate for funds to continue the operation of the silver mine on the island, the incumbent Seigneur, Ernest le Pelley, obtained crown permission to mortgage the Fief of Sark to local privateer John Allaire; but the mine company went bankrupt, and he was unable to keep up the mortgage payments. In 1849, his son, Pierre Carey le Pelley, the new Seigneur, was forced to sell the seigneurie of Sark to Marie Collings, daughter and heiress of Allaire, for £6,000.[8]

During World War II, the island was occupied by German forces from 1940–1945, as were the other Channel Islands. The Island Kommandant of Guernsey, Major Albrecht Lanz, arrived at Creux Harbour by boat on 3 July 1940 with his interpreter and chief of staff Major Maas and they met the Dame and Seigneur at the Seigneurie to announce the start of German military rule. The next day German troops arrived to occupy the island. On 3–4 October 1942, Sark was the site of a British raid called Operation Basalt.

Recent history

One-person invasion attempt

In August 1990, an unemployed French nuclear physicist named André Gardes attempted a singlehanded invasion of Sark, armed with a semi-automatic weapon. The night Gardes arrived, he put up signs declaring his intention to take over the island the following day at noon. While sitting on a bench, changing the gun's magazine and waiting for noon to arrive, he was arrested by the island's volunteer constable.[9][10]

Transition to a new system of government

In 2008, Sark dismantled its previous system of government, which had evolved gradually from its original system established in 1565. Change was influenced by the Barclay brothers on the premise that this was necessary to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.[11] Under the old system, Sark's parliament consisted of a 54-member chamber that included the Seigneur, the Seneschal, 40 tenant members and 12 deputies. On 16 January 2008 and 21 February 2008, the Chief Pleas approved a law which introduced a 30-member chamber, with 28 members elected in island-wide elections, one hereditary member and one member appointed for life. The old system was described as feudal, and hence objectionable, because the Tenants were seen to be able to sit in Chief Pleas as of right, and the new system has been described as democratic, and hence acceptable. Also, the Tenants were also elected by and from among only the joint owners of each Tenement.[12] On 9 April 2008, the Privy Council approved the Sark law reforms,[13] and the first elections under the new law were held in December 2008 and the new chamber first convened in January 2009.[14][15][16]

Some Sark residents have complained that the new system is not democratic and have compared the powers the new law granted to the Seneschal, an unelected member whose term the new law extended to the duration of his natural life, to being imperial or dictatorial. The Court of Appeal has indeed ruled his powers to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and his powers are subject to further legal challenges on these grounds.[17]

In March 2012, the BBC Today programme reported on local disquiet about the influence of the billionaire identical twins David and Frederick Barclay.[18] The New Yorker magazine further illustrated the ongoing and escalating tensions between the Barclays and some of the longer term residents in October 2012.[19]

Dark Sky Community status

In January 2011, the International Dark-Sky Association designated Sark as a Dark Sky Community and the first Dark Sky Island in the world. This designation recognises that Sark is sufficiently clear of light pollution to allow naked-eye astronomy. Though Sark was aided in its achievement by its location, its historic ban on cars and the fact that there is no public lighting, it was also necessary for local residents to make adjustments, such as re-siting lights, to cut the light pollution.

Following an audit in 2010 by the IDA the designation was made in January 2011. The award is significant in that Sark is the first island community to have achieved this; other Dark-Sky Places have, up to now, been mainly uninhabited areas, and IDA Chairman Martin Morgan-Taylor commended Sark residents for their effort.[20]


Sark was considered the last feudal state in Europe. Together with the other Channel Islands, it is the last remnant of the former Duchy of Normandy still belonging to the Crown. Sark belongs to the Crown in its own right and has an independent relationship with the Crown through the Lieutenant Governor in Guernsey.[21] Formally, the Seigneur holds it as a fief from the Crown, reenfeoffing the landowners on the island with their respective parcels. The political consequences of this construction were abolished in recent years, particularly in the reform of the legislative body, Chief Pleas, which took place in 2008.

Although geographically located within the Bailiwick of Guernsey, Sark is fiscally entirely separate from it and has been granted its own UN country code (680) to assist in identifying this fact to the world at large. Together with the islands of Alderney and Guernsey, Sark from time to time approves Bailiwick of Guernsey legislation, which, subject to the approval of all three legislatures, applies in the entire Bailiwick. Legislation cannot be made which applies on Sark without the approval of the Chief Pleas, although recently Chief Pleas has been delegating a number of Ordinance making powers to the States of Guernsey. Such powers are, however, in each case subject to dis-application, or repeal, by the Chief Pleas. By long standing custom, Sark's criminal law has been made by the States of Guernsey, and this custom was put on a statutory basis in Section 4 of the Reform (Sark) Law, 2008, by which Sark delegates criminal law making power to the States of Guernsey.


Main article: List of Seigneurs of Sark

John Michael Beaumont is the current and twenty-second Seigneur of Sark, inheriting the position in 1974.

The Seigneur of Sark was, prior to the constitutional reforms of 2008, the head of the feudal government of the Isle of Sark (in the case of a woman, the title was Dame). Many of the laws, particularly those related to inheritance and the rule of the Seigneur, had changed little since they were enacted in 1565 under Queen Elizabeth I. The Seigneur retained the sole right on the island to keep pigeons and was until 2008 the only person allowed to keep an unspayed dog. In 2008, the latter privilege was abolished (on the proposal of political opponents of the Barclay brothers) supposedly because it did not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.[9][22]


On Sark, the Seneschal is the head of the Chief Pleas. Since 1675, he has also been the judge of the island (between 1583 and 1675, judicial functions were exercised by five elected Jurats and a Juge). The Seneschal is appointed by the Seigneur. Recently, following the decision of the English Court of Appeal, the Chief Pleas decided to split the dual role of the Seneschal.[23] The complete list of all the Seneschal of Sark from 1675[24] is as follows:

  1. Pierre Gibault (15/7/1675-1680)
  2. Thomas de Beauvoir (1680–1683)
  3. Phillipe Dumeresq (1683–1702)
  4. Jean Payne (1702–1707)
  5. Philippe de Carteret (1707–1744)
  6. Henri de Carteret (1744–1752)
  7. Phillipe le Masurier (1752–1777)
  8. Henri le Masurier (1777–1785)
  9. Amice le Couteur (1785–1808)
  10. Jean le Couteur (1808–1812)
  11. Jean Falle (1812–1830)
  12. Elie le Masurier (1830–1841)
  13. Philippe Guille (1841–1851)
  14. Thomas Godfray (1851–1876)
  15. William de Carteret (1876–1881)
  16. Abraham Baker (1881–1891)
  17. Thomas Godfray (1891–1920)
  18. Kenneth Campbell (1920–1922)
  19. Ashby Taylor (1922–1925)
  20. Frederick de Carteret (1925–1937)
  21. William Carré (1937–1945)
  22. William Baker (1945–1969)
  23. Bernard Jones (1969–1979)
  24. Hilary Carré (1979–1985)
  25. Lawrence Philip de Carteret (1985–2000)
  26. Reginald J. Guille (2000–present)


Pursuant to the royal letters patent, the Seigneur was to keep the island inhabited by at least 40 armed men. Therefore, from his lands, 39 parcels or tenements, each sufficient for one family, were subdivided and granted to settlers, the Tenants. Later, some of these parcels were dismembered, and parts of the Seigneurial land were sold, creating more parcels.

Originally each head of a parcel-holding family had the right to vote in Chief Pleas, but in 1604 this right was restricted to the 39 original tenements required by the Letters Patent, the so-called Quarantaine Tenements (quarantaine: French for a group of forty). The newer parcels mostly did not have the obligation to bear arms. In 1611 the dismemberment of tenements was forbidden, but the order was not immediately followed.

In Sark, the word tenant is used (and often pronounced as in French) in the sense of feudal landholder rather than the common English meaning of lessee. Originally, the word referred to any landowner, but today it is mostly used for a holder of one of the Quarantaine Tenements.

Chief Pleas

Chief Pleas (French: Chefs Plaids; Sercquiais: Cheurs Pliaids) is the parliament of Sark. Until this decade, it consisted of the tenants, and 12 deputies of the people as the only representation of the majority, an office introduced in 1922. The Seigneur and the Seneschal (who presides) are also members of Chief Pleas. The Prévôt, the Greffier, and the Treasurer also attend but are not members; the Treasurer may address Chief Pleas on matters of taxation and finance.

The executive officers on the island are:

  • The Seneschal (President of Chief Pleas and Chief Judge) and the Deputy Seneschal
  • The Prevôt (Sheriff of the Court and of Chief Pleas) and the Deputy Prevôt
  • The Greffier (Clerk) and the Deputy Greffier
  • The Treasurer (Finances)
  • The Constable (the senior policeman and administration) and the Vingtenier (the junior policeman)

Seneschal, Prevôt, Greffier and Treasurer are chosen by the Seigneur; Constable and Vingtenier are elected by Chief Pleas.

Since 2000, Chief Pleas has been working on its own reform, responding to internal and international pressures. On 8 March 2006 by a vote of 25–15 Chief Pleas voted for a new legislature of the Seigneur, the Seneschal, 14 elected landowners and 14 elected non-landowners.[25] But it was made plain[by whom?] that this option was not on the table. Offered two options for reform involving an elected legislature, one fully elected, one with a number of seats reserved for elected Tenants, 56% of the inhabitants expressed a preference in a totally elected legislature.[26] Following the poll, Chief Pleas voted on 4 October 2006 to replace the 12 Deputies and 40 Tenants in Chief Pleas by 28 Conseillers elected by universal adult suffrage.[27] This decision was suspended in January 2007 when it was pointed out to Chief Pleas that the 56% versus 44% majority achieved in the opinion poll did not achieve the 60% majority required for the constitutional change. The decision was replaced by the proposal that Chief Pleas should consist of 16 Tenants and 12 Conseillers both elected by universal adult suffrage from 2008–2012 and that a binding referendum should then decide whether this composition should be kept or replaced by 28 Conseillers.[28] This proposal was rejected by the Privy Council and the 28 Conseiller option was reinstated in February 2008 and accepted by Privy Council in April 2008.[29]

In 2003, Chief Pleas voted to vary the longstanding ban on divorce in the island by extending to the Royal Court of Guernsey power to grant divorces.[30]

Bailiwick of Guernsey Laws and United Kingdom Acts of Parliament can (the latter as also in the case of all the other Channel Islands) be extended to Sark with the consent of Chief Pleas. In practice, Sark does not make its own criminal laws; the responsibility for making criminal law is formally delegated to the States of Guernsey by Section 4(3) of The Reform (Sark) Law, 2008.

The list of current Officers of the Island of Sark:

  • Seneschal – Lieutenant Colonel Reginald John Guille
    • Deputy Seneschal – Jeremy La Trobe-Bateman
  • Prevôt – Alfred William John Adams
    • Deputy Prevôt – Kevin Neil Adams (son of Alfred William John Adams)
  • Greffier – Trevor John Hamon
    • Deputy Greffier – John Hamon (father of Trevor John Hamon)
  • Treasurer – Mrs Wendy Kiernan
  • Constable – Matt Joyner
  • Vingtenier – Joanne Godwin

Clameur de Haro

Among the old laws of the Channel Islands is the old Norman custom of the Clameur de Haro. Using this legal device, a person can obtain immediate cessation of any action he considers to be an infringement of his rights. At the scene, he must, in front of witnesses, recite the Lord's Prayer in French and cry out "Haro, Haro, Haro! À mon aide mon Prince, on me fait tort!"[22] ("Haro, Haro, Haro! To my aid, my Prince! I am being wronged!"). It should then be registered with the Greffe Office within 24 hours. All actions against the person must then cease until the matter is heard by the Court. The last Clameur recorded on Sark was raised in June 1970 to prevent the construction of a garden wall.[9]


Main article: Sercquiais

Sercquiais (Sarkese, or sometimes called Sark-French) is a dialect of the Norman language still spoken by older inhabitants of the island.[31] Its use has declined in recent years due to a large influx of people who have moved to Sark.[32]


Sark's economy depends primarily on tourism and financial services. Sark has no company registry and relies on Guernsey's financial services commission.[33]


Sark generally follows the education system of England.

Sark has one school, the Sark School, which takes residents from the ages of 4 to 15.[34] Pupils wishing to obtain a [1]


The Isle of Sark Shipping Company operates small ferries from Sark to St Peter Port, Guernsey. The service takes 45 minutes for the 9 miles (14 km) crossing.[35] A high-speed passenger ferry is operated in summer by the French company Manche Iles Express to Jersey.[36] A 12-passenger boat, the Lady Maris II, operates regular services to Alderney.[37]

The island is a car-free zone[38] where the only vehicles allowed are horse-drawn vehicles, bicycles, tractors, and battery-powered buggies or motorised bicycles for elderly or disabled people. Passengers and goods arriving by ferry from Guernsey are transported from the wharf by tractor-pulled vehicles. To the dismay of residents, large tractors, which produce even more noise and dust than cars of the same size, have proliferated in recent years.

There is no airport on Sark, and flight over Sark below 2400 ft is prohibited by the Air Navigation (Restriction of Flying) (Guernsey) Regulations 1985 (Guernsey 1985/21). The closest airports are Guernsey Airport and Jersey Airport. Sark lies directly in line of approach to the runway of Guernsey airport, however, and low-flying aircraft regularly fly over the island.


In common with the other Channel Islands, Sark is attached to the Anglican diocese of Winchester.

Sark has an Anglican church (St. Peter's, built 1820) and a Methodist[39] church. John Wesley first proposed a mission to Sark in 1787. Jean de Quetteville of Jersey subsequently began preaching there, initially in a cottage at Le Clos à Geon and then at various houses around Sark. Preachers from Guernsey visited regularly, and in 1796, land was donated by Jean Vaudin, leader of the Methodist community in Sark, for the construction of a chapel, which Jean de Quetteville dedicated in 1797.[40] In the mid-1800s there was a small Plymouth Brethren assembly. Its most notable member was the classicist William Kelly (1821–1906). Kelly was then the tutor to the Seigneur's children.

Supported by the evidence of the names of the tenements of La Moinerie and La Moinerie de Haut, it is believed[41] that the Seigneurie was constructed on the site of the monastery of Saint Magloire. Magloire had been Samson of Dol's successor as bishop of Dol, but retired and founded a monastery in Sark where he died in the late 6th century. According to the vita of Magloire, the monastery housed 62 monks and a school for the instruction of the sons of noble families from the Cotentin. Magloire's relics were venerated at the monastery until the mid-9th century when Viking raids rendered Sark unsafe, and the monks departed for Jersey, taking the relics with them.

Law enforcement

Despite having its own legislative assembly, Sark voluntarily submits to Guernsey in matters of criminal law. For matters of routine law enforcement and policing the island relies upon the States of Guernsey Police Service. Sark has a small police station and jail, with two (rarely-used) cells available.[42] The island has no full-time police officers permanently stationed on it, but has access to police services in three principal ways: firstly through the activity of a volunteer special constable on the island (there has been a resident volunteer constable since before the formal policing agreement with Guernsey first began); secondly through the designation of a member of the Guernsey Neighbourhood Policing Team as a dedicated point of contact for Sark authorities;[43] thirdly by means of regular visits and patrols by Guernsey-based officers who cross to Sark on the passenger ferry service.

Emergency services

A resident doctor provides healthcare on Sark, and is available to attend accidents and emergencies. The Sark Ambulance Service operates two tractor-drawn ambulances,[44] and is able to treat casualties and transport them to the harbour for transfer onto the Guernsey marine ambulance launch, Flying Christine III, operated by Guernsey Ambulance and Rescue Service. A small ambulance station houses the two ambulances.

Fire and rescue services are provided by an independent and volunteer service established in 1958. Originally named 'Sark Fire Brigade', it is now known as the Sark Fire and Rescue Service.[45] The services operates two pump tenders and an all-purpose trailer; all three appliances are drawn by tractors owing to the ban on other motor vehicles on Sark. The original fire station was a large garage. Today the service operates from a large purpose-built fire station on La Chasse Marette.

Lifeboat services are provided by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution from the Guernsey lifeboat station, supported by the RNLI stations on Jersey and Alderney.


Participation in sport tends towards individual sports rather than team sports, but the population supports a cricket team, a rugby union team and a football team.[46] Sark competes in the biannual Island Games in which the Sark national football team has participated. The annual Sark to Jersey Rowing Race is contested by teams from both bailiwicks.[47]

Sark in fiction

There are many examples of literature taking Sark as an inspiration or setting.

Norman literature

Although there is no record of literature about Sark in Sercquiais, Guernésiais and Jèrriais literature has included writing about Sark; for example by such authors as Edwin John Luce,[48] Thomas Grut,[49] George F. Le Feuvre,[50] and Denys Corbet.[51]

English literature

  • Algernon Swinburne wrote a poem, In Sark, which appears in the collection A Century of Roundels.
  • John Oxenham wrote Carette Of Sark (1907) and his 1910 novel A Maid Of The Silver Sea uses the mines of Little Sark as its setting.
  • The novel Mr Pye by Mervyn Peake, best known for the Gormenghast series, is set on Sark. The book has been adapted for radio and television. The TV series, filmed on Sark, starred Derek Jacobi and Judy Parfitt, and featured a number of islanders. Sark may also have been a crucial inspiration for Peake while writing Gormenghast (he lived on the island at some point in his life).
  • Dame of Sark, the memoirs of the 21st Seigneur Sibyl Mary Hathaway, who was present during the German occupation, were made into a play and television drama of the same name.[52] Dame Sibyl also wrote Maid of Sark, an historical romance published in 1939; set in the 16th Century, it incorporates events related to the defense of the island against the Bretons.
  • The novel Appointment with Venus by Jerrard Tickell is set on the fictional island of Armorel, which is presumed to be based on Sark. The 1951 film of the book used Sark as a principal location.
  • Sarah Caudwell's The Sirens Sang of Murder (1989) is partly set in Sark.

French literature

Maurice Leblanc's novel L'Île aux Trente Cercueils (translated in English as The Secret of Sarek) features an island called Sarek, off the coast of Brittany, and bears obvious similarities to Sark. In the story, gentleman-thief Arsène Lupin rescues Véronique d'Hergemont from a local superstition requiring the death of thirty women to appease vengeful spirits.


Sark featured in the 6th episode of the fourth series of The New Statesman, The Irresistible Rise of Alan B'Stard and also in the Jersey-based television detective series Bergerac.

Part of the seventh episode of the second series of World War II television drama Enemy at the Door takes place in Sark. La Coupée features in a number of scenes.

Sark, and in particular the Gouliot Caves, features in episode 8 of series 3 of the BBC television series Coast.

Sark was featured in Episode 3 of the 2009 ITV television series Islands of Britain, presented by Martin Clunes; islanders involved in the programme included Alan Blythe (Constable) and Rossford de Carteret.

Sark was featured on the ITV2 programme Holiday Showdown where one family chose Sark as their holiday destination.

In episode 2 of the 2009 ITV mini-series Collision, Guy Pearson (played by Nicholas Farrell) says, "I'm moving to the Channel Islands: Sark. No cars on Sark, it'll be heaven."

In John Shuttleworth's Southern Softies (2009), John and his crew can't find anywhere to stay on the island.

Series 7 of the BBC television series An Island Parish follows the Anglican priest and Methodist minister on Sark.

See also

  • List of Seigneurs of Sark


Further reading

External links

  • Government of Sark webpage
  • BBC – Feudal island brings in democracy

Coordinates: 49°25′59″N 2°21′39″W / 49.43306°N 2.36083°W / 49.43306; -2.36083

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