24th November 1999
Sark women get the right to inherit
It took until 1999 – 400 years – for Sark’s female residents to be given equal inheritance rights to men. Feudal law, which until then had been used on the island for more than four centuries, had dictated that a deceased’s estate could only pass to his or her eldest son upon their death. Further, it could only pass in its entirety.
So, a man who had five daughters before he had a son could legally only leave his whole estate to the son, whether or not he wanted to, and couldn’t leave any part of it to one or more of his daughters. The only way a daughter could inherit is if there was no son at all, regardless of age.
Finally, following a vote in the Chief Pleas, residents could leave their property not only to legitimate sons and daughters, but also illegitimate offspring – or indeed anybody they chose.
The tides of change
The change was largely driven by the Barclay brothers, owners of the Telegraph newspaper and Ritz Hotel. They had wanted the right to leave the neighbouring island of Brecqhou jointly to David Barclay’s sons and Frederick Barclay’s daughter.
Accusing the Seigneur of being a “medieval dictator”, they had threatened to take the island to the European court of human rights to challenge the status quo. Sark’s Chief Pleas debated the change for almost two hours before voting on it but, when the votes were counted, two-thirds of the island’s representatives had concurred.
This was just the first change in a series of amendments to the way Sark operated over the next few years, the most notable of which was a move away from feudalism and a broader acceptance of democracy. In 2006 the island opted to switch its 40 hereditary rulers and 12 elected representatives for a fully elected Chief Pleas of 28 seats.