Academic joins beguiling kingdom

Monday 23 February 2004

A University of St Andrews’ lecturer has been made the Scottish-based representative of a unique island in the Caribbean which is ruled by the imaginations of writers, film-makers and actors.

Dr Alexis Grohmann, of the University’s School of Modern Languages, joins some of the most famous names in film and literature as a holder of high office to the Kingdom of Redonda, an island North-west of Montserrat, which is currently ruled by a contemporary Spanish novelist. Dr Grohmann joins famous names such as Francis Ford Coppola and Diana Dors linked to the island.

Though Dr Grohmann has been granted this position, he will never be able to set foot upon the island, for it is uninhabitable and uninhabited. Redonda, discovered in 1493 by Columbus, has long been associated with a remarkable and eccentric history – bought in 1865 by an Irish trader, it evolved into a Kingdom ruled from a distance by eccentric individuals.

Redonda is about a mile long by a third of a mile wide, rising to 971ft at its highest point, and its main inhabitant is the seabird, the booby. Though no-one has ever lived there, Redonda has its own King, national anthem, currency, passport and publishing house.

It is known as a ‘literary kingdom’ because the line of succession depends not on blood but on literature – the Crown is passed on from one writer to another – and the island is fancifully ‘owned’ by the intellectual aristocracy, who have claimed it as their own unique Kingdom. As such, its current King, Xavier I, is the Spanish literary phenomenon Javier Marías.

The island is also governed by Dukes who are film-makers, writers, architects, critics and scholars; previous incumbents include Dylan Thomas, Dirk Bogarde, Vincent Price, Joan Crawford, Diana Dors and J.B. Priestley. The current King’s most famous Duke is Francis Ford Coppola, who accepted the title of Duke of Megalopolis in 1999. Renowned architect Frank Gehry became Duke of Nervión in 2001 and designed a blueprint for the Palace, though this will never be built. Other current Dukes include this year’s Nobel Prize winner, J.M. Coetzee and the writer A.S. Byatt.

Dr Grohmann, a lecturer at the University’s Department of Spanish, was rewarded in recognition of his academic work on Marías (and latterly on Redondan history); he has written several essays and published a book on the writer in 2002. It was this, the first full-length study of the novels of Marías, that resulted in the King rewarding him. He was initially made one of only 30 or so Honorary Citizens of Redonda, before being recently promoted to Consul in Edinburgh, part of the Diplomatic Corps of Redonda.

Dr Grohmann said: “It is a true privilege to form part of such an illustrious and enlightened kingdom, and I shall endeavour to discharge my duties judiciously and jocularly.¿

When individuals are asked by the King to join the ‘literary nobility’ of Redonda, they are informed that there are ‘no duties whatsoever, not even that of loyalty’. However, each year, the Dukes and Duchesses judge a winner of the ¿6,000 Realm of Redonda Prize for literature.

The unusual ruling of the island came about in 1865 when Irish trader Matthew Shiell sailed past the uninhabited island and decided to buy it. Fifteen years later, so legend has it, Shiell had his son crowned King by the Bishop of neighbouring Antigua. M.P. Shiell, or Felipe I, eventually became a fantasy writer and later abdicated in favour of the poet John Gawsworth, thus beginning the literary line of succession.

There have been at least four Kings of Redonda though each succession has been marred by controversy, not least because the island was officially annexed by Antigua in 1872 and because it was claimed that Gawsworth, falling on hard times, passed his title on more than once – first he sold the crown to his landlord and then he passed the throne to Arthur John Roberts, who apparently donated the land to the United Kingdom in 1979. Several men have since claimed the throne as their own, but most agree that it belongs to Javier Marías, who inherited the crown in 1997 after he wrote about Gawsworth in an essay and included him in his infamous novel based on his time at the University of Oxford, entitled All Souls. He succeeded Jon Wynne-Tyson, a disciple of Noel Coward.

Once described as “the most subtle and gifted writer in contemporary Spanish literature”, Marías started writing novels when he was seventeen and his 23 published books have been translated into 33 languages and have sold 5 million copies in 44 countries. Of minority taste in the United Kingdom, Marías is nevertheless a major figure in contemporary European literature.

Dr Grohmann is widely respected as an authoritative source on Marías. In addition to the Redondan honour, Dr Grohmann has been commissioned to write a 10,000- word entry on the writer for the Dictionary of Literary Biography and its forthcoming volume on twentieth-century Spanish literature. He has also recently founded the Society of Scottish Hispanists.

Weblinks: l (select Redonda from menu) f/Grohmann.htm





Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050 103, or email Ref: Kingdom of Redonda 200204 View the latest University news at

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