Sark (Sercq; Sercquiais: Sèr) is a small island in the southwestern English Channel. It is one of the Channel Islands, is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and as such is a British crown dependency. It has a population of about 600. Sark's main industries are tourism, crafts and finance. Sark has an area of two square miles (5.45 km²). Sark was the last European territory to abolish what some called classic feudalism.
Sark consists of two main parts, Greater Sark and Little Sark to the south. They are connected by a narrow isthmus called La Coupée which is just nine feet (3 m) wide with a drop of on either side. 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.
The highest point on Sark is above sea-level. A windmill, dated 1571, is found here, the sails of which were removed during World War I. This location is also the highest point in the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Little Sark had a number of mines accessing a source of galena. At Port Gorey, the ruins of silver mines 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, some of which are only safely accessible at low tide.
Sark also claims jurisdiction over the island of Brecqhou, only a few hundred feet west of Greater Sark. It is a private island that is not open to visitors. Since 1993 Brecqhou has been owned by David Barclay, one of the Barclay brothers, identical twins, who are better known as co-owners of The Daily Telegraph. They contest Sark's control over the island.
From 1980 John Michael Beaumont has been the twenty-second Seigneur of Sark, and stays at La Seigneurie.
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, 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 the only person allowed to keep an unspayed female dog.
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 (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
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. Not everyone favoured the changes: many people wanted to keep feudalism completely. But it was made plain 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. 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. 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 80% 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. 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.
The list of current Officers of the Island of Sark:
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 a charter from Queen Elizabeth I to colonise Sark with 40 families from St. Ouen on condition that he maintain the island free of pirates.
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.
The island is a car-free zone 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.
In common with the other channel islands, Sark lies in the anglican diocese of Winchester.
Sark has an Anglican church (St. Peter's, built 1820) and a Methodist 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. 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 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.
Swinburne also wrote a poem, In Sark (in the collection A Century of Roundels)
Sark featured in the 6th episode of the fourth series of "The New Statesman", "The Irresistible Rise of Alan B'Stard".