Golden Age of Piracy

Privateering Era

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Golden Age of Piracy > Privateering Era

Privateering Era

Background

During the Spanish Succession War of 1701 to 1713, there was a large increase in the number of letters of marque given out to privateers by the British. This semi-legal government policy allowed British privateers to legally attack and claim Spanish and French cargo, as long as they sent a portion back to the Crown. However privateers were not just British or French, The main imperial nations that allowed the use of privateers were the French, English, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese, with a common enemy often being Spain.

Privateers have always been around, in fact Henry Morgan was a highly celebrated privateer / pirate who later became the governor of Jamaica. Privateers made a lucrative business out of disrupting the Triangular Trade Route which traded manufactured goods and weapons to Africa for slaves. Next these slaves were sold and the merchants would return to Europe with tobacco, cocoa, rum and sugar.

However, in the Caribbean the use of privateers was especially popular because it was paramount to legal and state ordered piracy of opposing empires. These privateers were also the same men who became full fledged pirates in the post Spanish Succession period. The monarchies of Europe realized that the cost of maintaining a navy was beyond the budget in the 16th and 17th centuries. In order to continue with the economic disruption of allies, privately owned vessels would be given a Letter of Marque and a commission to be legally allowed to attack other ships. The only condition was that a significant share of what was looted was to be given to the crown. These ships were allowed to operate independently or in a fleet, whichever was most successful.

There have been many successful privateers in history, from Jean Fleury who raided Hernan Cortes' ships in 1523 and recovered an ancient and valuable Aztec treasure, to Francis Drake who captured the Spanish Silver Train in 1573 at Nombre de Dios in Panama. Privateering provided a substantial amount of profit and turned out to be a regular line of work which nobles or wealthy businessmen were more than happy to finance.

However, by the time that the War of the Spanish Succession also known as Queen Annes War, was over, many of the privateers who once found gainful employment in the region were now left with a job or any source of income. However while many of the French settled down after the buccaneering era, a lot of the unemployed English found a different use for their skills; full fledged piracy. This also meant that they could keep 100% of the captured loot, instead of giving some over to the Crown.

Famous Privateers

Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

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