13th January 1884
Sibyl Hathaway, Dame of Sark, is born
Sibyl Hathaway was born on Guernsey in 1884 and died on Sark, the island she had ruled for 47 years, on 14 July 1974. Her tenure spanned that of four monarchs – George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II – and the German occupation of the Channel Islands.
Hathaway was born to a man who much preferred boys. He raised her as though she was one and, when she gave birth to her first daughter, in London, he sent a note of condolence. By that point he had thrown her out of the Seigneurie, the family home on Sark, because he disapproved of her choice of husband.
She was widowed in 1918, aged 34, when her husband, Dudley Beaumont, succumbed to the Spanish flu pandemic. That left her with six children to raise alone, and one more on the way. Nine years later, her father died and she inherited his title. She returned to Sark to assume her rightful position.
The Dame assumes her role
She saw an opportunity to capitalise on the rights that the role gave her, not only to assert her own authority, but also as a means of promoting the island. She made much of the fact that it retained a feudal system and marketed this in the hope of attracting tourists. She also maintained a ban on motorised vehicles, although exceptions were made for tractors since agriculture was also important.
She married for the second time in 1929 after a 12-day romance with Robert Hathaway. He was to remain her husband until she was widowed for a second time upon his death in 1954. Robert – or Bob – was deported to a German prisoner camp for part of the Second World War, but Sibyl herself remained on the island throughout and was unflinching when dealing with the occupying forces.
She spoke German, having worked for some time in Cologne between the wars, and made the Germans come to her when they needed to meet. She would make them bow and kiss her hand before she allowed them to sit in her presence. Following the island’s liberation on 10 May 1945 – one day after Guernsey’s liberation – she was put in charge of the German troops still present on Sark and tasked them with repairing damage and dismantling the minefields.
She was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace in 1965, in an event marking the 400th anniversary of Elizabeth I’s granting of the charter to Hellier de Carteret, the first seigneur of Sark. She was also the subject of an episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme, Desert Island Discs.
Upon her death, she was succeeded by Michael Beaumont, her grandson. Her own son had been killed during an air raid in the Second World War.