Sark, Fr. Sercq (sĕrk), island (1991 pop. 575), 2 sq mi (5 sq km), in the English Channel, E of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. It is divided into Great Sark and Little Sark, which are connected by a natural causeway, the Coupée. The interior is reached through tunnels from Creux Harbour, the landing place, on the east. The island belongs to Guernsey bailiwick; its local government, which dated to the mid-16th cent., was a survival of the feudal system, but in 2008 the establishment of an elected parliament and the adoption of changes to the judiciary were approved. The resident economic activity is agriculture.

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.


Sark was considered the last feudal state in Europe. Formally, the Seigneur holds it as a fiefdom from the Queen, reenfeoffing the land owners 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. (see section "Chief Pleas")


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.


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, 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. 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.

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.

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
  • Greffier - Trevor John Hamon
  • Treasurer - Mrs Wendy Kiernan


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.

During World War II, the island was occupied by the Nazis from 1940–1944, as were the other Channel Islands, and was the site of Operation Basalt.

Recent history

One-person invasion attempt

In 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 some signs declaring his intention to take over the island the following day at noon. He was arrested by the Island's part time police officer while sitting on a bench, changing the gun's magazine, whilst he waited for noon to arrive.

Transition to elected government

On 4 July 2007 Sark began to dismantle its feudal system on the premise that this was necessary to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. The majority of the island's legislature could be elected by 2009. On January 16, 2008 and February 21, 2008, the Chief Pleas approved a law which introduces a 30-member chamber, with 28 elected members and retaining only two unelected members. On 9 April 2008, the Privy Council approved the Sark law reforms, and the first elections under the new law will be held in December 2008 and the new chamber will first convene in January 2009.


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


Sark generally follows the education system of England and Wales.

Sark has one school, the Sark School, which takes residents from the ages of 5 to 15. Pupils wishing to obtain a GCSE or A-level qualification usually finish their education in Guernsey or Jersey.


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.

There is no airport on Sark. The closest airports are the Guernsey Airport and the Jersey Airport.


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.


Participation in sport tends towards individual sports rather than team sports, but the population supports a cricket team, a rugby team and a football team. 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.

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!" ("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.


Sark has appeared in several pieces of literature. One of these is the novel, Mr Pye, written by Mervyn Peake, best known for the Gormenghast series. Mr Pye has been adapted for radio, and television, the latter filmed on the island.

Swinburne also wrote a poem, In Sark (in the collection A Century of Roundels)

Abreast and ahead of the sea is a crag's front cloven asunder
With strong sea-breach and with wasting of winds whence terror is shed
As a shadow of death from the wings of the darkness on waters that thunder
Abreast and ahead.

At its edge is a sepulchre hollowed and hewn for a lone man's bed,
Propped open with rock and agape on the sky and the sea thereunder,
But roofed and walled in well from the wrath of them slept its dead.

Here might not a man drink rapture of rest, or delight above wonder,
Beholding, a soul disembodied, the days and the nights that fled,
With splendour and sound of the tempest around and above him and under,
Abreast and ahead?

Sark featured in the 6th episode of the fourth series of "The New Statesman", "The Irresistible Rise of Alan B'Stard".

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

See also

Notes and references



Further reading

  • Lars Cassio Karbe: Das politische System der Insel Sark. Modelle europäischer Zwergstaaten – die normannische Seigneurie Sark (Sercq). Frankfurt am Main 1984. (ISBN 3-8204-7483-8) (politics/society)
  • A. H. Ewen u. Allan R. de Carteret, The Fief of Sark, Guernsey Press, Guernsey, 1969 (history)

External links

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