A born swashbuckler, Paddy Roy Bates fought in the Spanish Civil War as a teenager, faced a Greek firing squad in World War II and had a German stick bomb explode in his face.

But the sturdy Brit recovered from his injuries, married a beauty queen and prospered in business -- all before embarking on the greatest adventure of his life.

He started a country.

In 1967, he founded the Principality of Sealand on an abandoned North Sea military platform six miles off the British coast. He issued passports, stamps and coins, commissioned a national anthem and installed himself as its sovereign ruler.

In short order the self-styled Prince Roy clashed with British authorities, who hauled him into court only to lose and see the emboldened royal return to his 5,000-square-foot nautical kingdom.

Later he was overthrown in a coup but took back his republic in a helicopter raid led by a stunt pilot for James Bond movies.

Bates, who ruled his mini-nation for 45 years, died Tuesday in Essex, England. He was 91 and had Alzheimer's disease, according to an announcement on the Sealand website.

"My husband should have been born 300 years ago," his wife, Joan Bates, once said. "He's an adventurer, an entrepreneur. The challenge is what it's all about."

Bates was born in a London suburb. After World War II, he ran various businesses. In the mid-1960s, he developed a fascination with pirate radio, joining a slew of unlicensed broadcasters eager to break the British Broadcasting Corp.'s monopoly through offshore operations.

In 1967, a law took effect making it illegal for pirate radio operators to employ British citizens. For Bates, there was only one way to answer such a hostile act.

He founded Sealand, declaring it a tax-free nation exempt from British income taxes. He became Prince Roy and, because it was his wife's birthday, made her Princess Joan. With their children they took up residence on the decrepit relic.

Sealand, which generates revenue hosting servers for Internet businesses, is now run by his son.

"I might die young or I might die old," Bates said in the 1980s, "but I will never die of boredom."

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