Monday, April 14, 2008

lords and vassals be gone!

Most of you have probably never heard of the tiny island of Sark, located just north of the Normandy coast in the English Channel. That's cool—I hadn't either until my brother told me about this place which, from the outside, might seem like your typical British protectorate. On the inside, though, Sark held a nifty little secret: Its government was a holdout from the 1600s, when feudalism ruled Europe! It actually turned out to be the last European territory with a governance in which a small group held all the land and much of the power—complete with lords and vassals and fiefs (oh, my)!

This week, however, feudalism received the ultimate death blow, as Sark's ruling body, known as the Chief Pleas, voted to move to a more democratic form of government. While there are still many kinks to be worked out (giving up one's hold over an independent island of 600 will be a tad more difficult than simply handing over the keys), the Chief Pleas will eventually be replaced by a 28-member elected body.

All politics aside, Sark seems to me to be an excellent place to check out on a short vacation. From the pictures alone, the island is gorgeous; there are only 2.13 square miles of it, but those lands are lush, green, and ripe for exploring. Sark has no cars either—you'll have to pick horse-drawn carriage; bicycle or motorbike; tractor; or battery-powered buggy as your mode of transportation. I actually sent away for a brochure a few years ago, and the tourism board called Sark "a naturalist's paradise," too. Okay, I'm so there! Too bad I missed out on meeting me some hipster vassals, though. Bummer.

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