Piracy



Following the Treaty of Tordesillas, those European seapowers not party of the treaty refused to recognize the latter, and licensed captains to prey on Spanish and Portuguese ships; this form of state-legalized piracy was referred to as PRIVATEERING, the license a LETTER OF MARQUE. The English regard Sir Francis Drake a national hero, the Spaniards regard him a pirate, both with justification. The same can be said about many Dutch, French and English seafarers of the time. For a more detailed description of early piracy, click here.

As long as Spain was a great power, it was not in the interest of England and the Dutch Republic to alter her policy. The War of Devolution 1667-1668 showed both Spain's demise as a military power - she was no longer capable of defending her own territory - and France's ascent as a power threatening to establish her hegemony over continental Europe. In order to meet this threat, a series of anti-French coalitions was formed, a number of wars were fought, which saw Spain, England (the UK) and the Dutch Republic as allies. As late as 1673, notorious pirate Henry Morgan was appointed governor of (English) Jamaica. In diplomatic negotiations, the Spaniards raised the issue of piracy, but it was not until the Treaty of Utrecht 1713, following the War of Spanish Succession, that the powers agreed on the condemnation of piracy - the very same treaty compensated the British economically by granting them the Asiento Trade as a monopoly.

In the 17th century, the English captains acted much on their own initiative. In the 18th century, the authority of the admiralty was enforced, the British navy shaped into a homogeneous unit, discipline enforced.
Piracy did not disappear from one day to the other; the privateers, however, lost (most of) the state support they used to enjoy. The termination of the war of succession, by ending military activities on the oceans, actually set free scores of sailors who entered piracy and thus caused a temporary boom in buccaneering in the Caribbean. These pirates, however, were now generally regarded outcasts; a British fleet was dispatched into the Caribbean and dislodhed the pirates, some of which then moved their activities to the southwestern Indian Ocean, where they are said to have established the pirate republic of Libertalia on Madagascar. The Swedish East India Company temporarily provided the Madagascar pirates with protection; yet international agreement on the condemnation of piracy resulted in the decline of a once thriving 'business'.






EXTERNAL
FILES
The Golden Age of Piracy, from UnMuseum
Biography of Henry Morgan, from Data Wales
The Swedish East India Company trading to China (1731-1813), from Gotheborg
Diego Suarez : Libertalia, by Alexandre Picard, in French
DOCUMENTS Flag of Libertalia, from FOTW
REFERENCE



This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 17th 2003, last revised on November 14th 2004

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