For as long as there have been states, there have been people seeking to escape state authority. Throughout most of history, such escape has meant migration to freer regions. However, for an uncompromising few, seeking freedom abroad has meant founding their own free societies.
In the last few decades, libertarians have led an increasing number of such efforts — from the failed Republic of Minerva to the modern Seasteading movement. Yet none has been as successful as Roy Bates, Prince Roy of Sealand, who passed away yesterday.
Bates first took to the seas in the 1960s to set up a radio station outside of the United Kingdom’s territorial waters, where he could broadcast free of the heavy hand of regulation that made British broadcasting a dull affair back then. He set up shop in an abandoned World War II-era platform fort. Bates’s station was one of many such “pirate” stations.
It was their commercial nature that distinguished the British radio pirates from other efforts to escape state jurisdiction. Operating in international waters was a means to an end — free, unregulated broadcasting. Bates, however, went further. As AP reports:
In the 1960s, inspired by the ‘‘pirate radio’’ movement of unlicensed stations broadcasting pop music from outside Britain’s boundaries, Bates set up Radio Essex on an offshore fort. When that was closed down, he moved in 1966 to Fort Roughs, a disused World War II platform in international waters about 7 miles (13 kilometers) off England’s east coast.
Michael Bates said his father initially intended to set up another radio station, but then ‘‘had the bizarre idea of declaring independence.’’ Rejecting a British order to leave, he proclaimed the fort the Principality of Sealand, declaring himself Prince Roy and his wife Joan as princess.
The 550-square-meter (5,920-square-foot) fort — two concrete towers connected by an iron platform — claimed to be the world’s smallest sovereign state, though it was not internationally recognized.
Since an initial attempt to reclaim the fort was rejected by an English court, Britain has largely ignored the breakaway platform.
Despite the lack of legal status, Bates gave Sealand its own constitution, red, white and black flag, passports, stamps, coins, national anthem and motto: ‘‘E Mare Libertas’’ — ‘‘From the Sea, Freedom.’’
Today, Sealand makes money by selling aristocratic titles and hosting Internet servers.
‘‘I might die young or I might die old, but I will never die of boredom,’’ Bates said in a 1980s interview.