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World Travel Guide > Guides > Europe > United Kingdom > Channel Islands > Sark & Herm

Sark & Herm History, Language and Culture

History of Sark & Herm

Swashbuckling pirates, secretive smugglers, daring invasions – the history of Sark and Herm reads more like a book of fairy tales than a plain account of fact.

William the Conqueror annexed both islands to the Duchy of Normandy in 1066 when monks formed the majority of the population, but after the division of Normandy in 1204 the community dwindled. Herm became a hunting ground for the governors of Guernsey and Sark became a raiding base for pirates and smugglers.

Both islands were occupied by the Nazis during WWII and Sark almost suffered a more recent invasion in 1990… from an unemployed nuclear physicist called Andre Gardes. He set out for Sark armed with a semi-automatic weapon and a box of flyers advertising his intention to seize control the next day at noon. The morning before the invasion he was tracked down by Sark’s constable, who complimented his weapon, persuaded him to hand it over and promptly arrested him.

Sark has a fully democratic government – 28 members elected to the parliament, called the Chief Pleas. Its first full elections in 2008 ended the 450-year-old fiefdom and the island’s status as Europe’s last remaining feudal state. However, the feudal lord, the Seigneur (aka John Michael Beaumont, who inherited the title in 1974) remains in a largely ceremonial role.

Herm is owned by the States of Guernsey and leased to a single tenant, on condition that the public has access to its foreshore and other parts of the island.

Did you know?
• Until 2008 the Seigneur was the only person on Sark allowed to keep pigeons, or an unspayed dog.
• Sark has no tax on income, capital gains or inheritance and no VAT on goods and services.
• There is no airport on Sark and it is a car-free zone.

Sark & Herm Culture

Religion in Sark & Herm

Church of England, Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregational and Methodist.

Social Conventions in Sark & Herm

Handshaking is the customary form of greeting and normal social courtesies should be observed when visiting someone's home. It is not usual to start eating until everyone is served. If invited to someone's home, a small present such as flowers or chocolates is appreciated. Casual wear is acceptable in most places. Smoking is banned in enclosed public places.

Language in Sark & Herm

Sercquiais, a type of old Norman French, and English.