Totally tropical tartan envoy

February 27, 2004

An academic at St Andrews University has been appointed to the diplomatic corps of the Kingdom of Redonda, a tiny uninhabitable island northwest of Montserrat in the Caribbean, which was discovered by Columbus in 1493.

Alexis Grohmann, a lecturer in St Andrews' Spanish department, has been rewarded for his academic work on the Spanish author Javier Mar!as, who happens to be the king of Redonda, Xavier I.

Dr Grohmann has been named Redonda's consul in Edinburgh. And on top of this honour, he has been asked to write a 10,000-word entry on Marías for the Dictionary of Literary Biography .

Redonda's rules of royal succession are dictated by history. In 1865, Matthew Shiell, an Irish trader, bought the island and had his son, M. P.

Shiell, crowned king by the bishop of neighbouring Antigua. The younger Shiell became a fantasy writer and later abdicated in favour of the poet John Gawsworth, beginning a literary rather than dynastic line of succession.

When individuals are admitted to Redonda's literary and intellectual nobility, they are informed that there are "no duties whatsoever, not even that of loyalty".

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

The island, which is a mile long by a third of a mile wide, boasts a prestigious aristocracy. Its dukes and duchesses include Dylan Thomas, Joan Crawford, Dirk Bogarde, A. S. Byatt and Francis Ford Coppola. Architect Frank Gehry was ennobled in 2001 and designed a blueprint for a palace that will never be built.

With typical Redondan eccentricity, there is controversy over the kingship, since Gawsworth allegedly passed on his title several times, leading to a number of claimants to the throne.

But it is widely accepted that Mar!as inherited it in 1997 after writing about Gawsworth in his novel All Souls , based on his time as a Spanish lecturer at Oxford University.

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