“War of the Three Jeannes”

The War of Breton Succession, which took place at the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War, is referred to by Klausmann, Meinzerin, and Kuhn as the “War of the Three Jeannes” due to the women at the center of the action: Jeanne de Montfort, Jeanne de Clisson, and Jeanne de Penthièvre. In particular, two of these Jeannes fought for their family’s right to the throne—by land and by sea. These women proved themselves to be extraordinary fighters who fiercely defended what they felt was theirs. Their lives and legends serve as a bridge, connecting the Viking women who came before them with the Barbary corsairs who followed them.

To fully understand these women, a brief history of the conflict is necessary. Brittany, a province on the west coast of present-day France, was its own state during the Middle Ages, ruled by a duke. Parts of Brittany were loyal to the English while other parts swore allegiance to the French, but the majority of Bretons considered themselves Bretons first and foremost. Their culture, unlike English and French culture, was uniquely and healthily dosed with Celtic and pagan traditions as well as the more modern Christian ones. They were loyal to the Duke of Brittany over the kings of England and France; they would not be united with France until 1532. In short, the duchy was important to the Bretons, and the fight to figure out who had a rightful claim was something over which they were willing to wage a war. Both England and France were invested in the outcome, given that the Breton duke usually made alliances with one country or the other. As the Hundred Years’ War started, both sides knew that Brittany could be a powerful ally in their struggle.

John III was Duke of Brittany in 1341 and died childless. Originally, he had named as his successor Jeanne (or Joan) de Penthièvre, his niece. Joan was married to a powerful nobleman, Charles de Blois, who was related to the French king, Philip VI. Unsurprisingly, the French backed Joan’s (and Charles’s) claim to the duchy. However, before John III died, he reconciled with his long-estranged stepfamily and named a new heir, his half brother John de Montfort. John was the English choice for the duchy. These two houses—House of Blois and House of Montfort—both felt that they had the right to the throne, and both were prepared to fight for it.

John de Montfort’s biggest asset in this fight was his wife, Jeanne de Montfort. She is also known as Joanna of Flanders, due to her Flemish parentage (her brother was the Count of Flanders). She married John de Montfort in 1329, and the couple had two children together. Much of what is known about her originates from medieval French author Jean Froissart, whose Chronicles are important texts in medieval history. He had only good things to say about Jeanne, claiming that she had “the courage of a man and the heart of a lion.” Other sources have said that her story may have inspired another famous Jeanne: Jeanne d’Arc.

Despite all of Froissart’s coverage, there are still gaps in history’s knowledge of Jeanne de Montfort. Froissart is happy to educate the reader on Montfort the soldier and warrior but is mum on the details of Montfort the woman. It is not certain, for example, what her relationship with her husband was like. Did she pursue the duchy so fervently out of love, or out of a desire for power? Although there is more historical documentation around de Montfort than there is for many of the other women pirates, there are still many things a reader might want to know. Froissart’s records, although sympathetic to de Montfort, do leave out many things that would enrich the story.

When the duchy came up for grabs in 1341, de Montfort and his wife knew that the French would most likely side with the House of Blois, given that the French king was a cousin of Charles de Blois. They therefore decided to get a jump on the competition and start ruling right away as if John were already the duke. The de Montforts went to Nantes, the Breton capital, and gained a fair amount of fans among the people of Brittany. It seems that if there had been a popular vote, the de Montforts would have had the duchy sewn up. However, it was a matter to be decided not by the people but by the Court of Peers in Paris.

John de Montfort was summoned to Paris to appear before King Philip. On his way, he traveled to England to pay homage to the English king, Edward III. Once de Montfort arrived in Paris, Philip was unimpressed with the argument that he was nearest of kin to the late Duke of Brittany and thus had the stronger claim. The French king called for the Peers to hear and judge both claims, and he forbade de Montfort from leaving Paris until after the hearing. John was no fool. He knew that there was little chance the Peers would vote for him and that if he stuck around, imprisonment or worse was likely, so he took off in the night and returned to Nantes and his wife.

And who was his rival, this Charles de Blois? Reports of his character are conflicting, with some of them declaring him a saint, while others paint him as a sadist and extremist. He was said to hear Mass several times a day, put pebbles in his shoes, and beat himself black and blue while praying. He was actually canonized as a saint, but his sainthood was revoked in the late 1300s and not restored until 1904. Despite his piety, he was known for his cruelty and brutality in battle. No matter his personal inclinations, his wife’s connection to the late duke and his own connections to the French throne made him a powerful contender for the duchy.

In September 1341 the Peers declared the House of Blois as the rightful heirs to the duchy, as John de Montfort had predicted they would. De Blois marched to Nantes and captured Montfort, imprisoning him in a tower at the Louvre in Paris. De Blois probably thought that with his rival in prison, his claim to the throne was secure and his troubles were over. What he had not counted on was his rival’s wife, who was not about to be put out of the fight just because her husband was in jail. No, Jeanne de Montfort would not back down from her family’s claim, even if she had to do all the fighting by herself.

One can imagine the scene when Jeanne received the report that her husband had been captured. How would she have received the news? Perhaps she felt shocked at first and needed a moment to let the information sink in. This was not a scenario the couple had planned for. What was going to happen now? Would de Blois come for her and her children? Jeanne would have been aware of de Blois’s reputation and could only imagine what awful fates he had planned for her and her young daughter and son.

Someone, either a friend and advisor or Jeanne herself, came up with the plan to claim the duchy in her son’s name. As long as her male child was alive, the House of Montfort still had a chance. Jeanne had to finish the fight her husband had started if she had any hope of seeing him again.

According to Pierce Butler, Jeanne gathered her remaining loyal friends and soldiers and showed them her little boy, named John after his father. She exhorted the crowd, “Ah! sirs, be not cast down because of my lord, whom we have lost: he was but one man. See here my little child, who shall be, by the grace of God, his restorer.” She promised them riches aplenty if they would remain with her. Jeanne took this show on the road, traveling from garrison to garrison and giving out cash and weapons wherever she went to ensure that everyone was happy, well paid, and above all, loyal to her family. After she had secured her troops, she took her family to the fortress of Hennebont. She would await de Blois’s attack from there.

It is Jeanne’s conduct during the siege of Hennebont, more than any other episode in her history, that endears her to readers. When de Blois and his men arrived, Jeanne herself donned protective gear and rode on horseback all over town, exhorting people to fight bravely with everything they had. She had a special command just for women—to tear up their skirts, pull up cobblestones from the streets, and chuck them at the attackers . . . and if they happened to have some spare pots of quicklime, pour that on them too. From a tall tower, she watched the enemy’s camp. When de Blois’s men had all ridden out into the fields to ready for the assault, leaving the camp empty except for a few young boys, she made her move. She herself rode out, along with about three hundred of her men, and set the whole camp on fire. Her attack destroyed much of the enemy’s provisions, as well as their living quarters. As de Blois’s men ran back from the fields, furious, Jeanne and her men snuck away to a nearby castle and sought shelter there until they could return home safely. This daring and effective plan by Jeanne earned her the nickname “La Flamme”—French for “the flame.”

Being taken by surprise by this upstart woman enraged de Blois, and he redoubled his efforts to take Hennebont, but his band of men continued to suffer heavy losses every time they engaged with de Montfort’s forces. It seems that, army for army, he was not going to capture this prospective duchess at Hennebont. He took a large portion of his men and set his sights on taking nearby Auray instead. The forces he left behind to torment Hennebont did a much better job than de Blois himself had done, and many of Jeanne’s advisors urged her to surrender. She refused, insisting that the English forces she had sent for long ago would finally arrive and rescue them. Some accounts claim she prayed to the lords of Brittany that they stand by her and send English help within three days. Once she declared that England was coming, she would not budge despite constant pressure, and she remained posted at the window looking out to sea. On the second day, she spotted the English ships and cried out, “I see the succors of England coming.” English forces had indeed come to offer backup, although they had been long delayed due to bad weather.

Despite Sir Walter Manny’s arrival and assistance, Jeanne and her troops were losing ground against de Blois and his men. They held onto Hennebont but lost Auray, Dinan, and other cities. She knew that she would not last much longer at this rate and she had to appeal to a higher power—the king of England, Edward III. She sailed to England to make her plea in person.

Eventually, Edward granted her request, and she sailed back toward home with a fleet of ships commanded by Robert d’Artois. Before they could make it back to Brittany, they were attacked by Sir Louis of Spain, who had joined forces with de Blois. Off the English coast, the two fleets fought a fierce naval battle. Reports claim that Jeanne had a small sword that she bravely wielded and fought the Spanish forces hand to hand. After an intense day of fighting, a massive storm came up and blew all the ships in various directions, effectively ending the battle. The French and Spanish ships wound up near the English Channel while Jeanne and her forces landed near Vannes, a once-friendly city that they were able to take back with a small effort. Whether fate, God, or Jeanne’s own superior sailing skills led the English ships to a safe harbor the world will never know. Somehow, Jeanne escaped a mighty naval battle after just one day of fighting and found herself not too far from home, which allowed her to safely return to Hennebont.

In 1345 Jeanne’s husband, John, escaped from the Louvre and obtained a fighting force of his own from Edward III. He returned to Brittany but was killed in battle. It is unknown whether husband and wife ever saw each other again before his death. Now, Jeanne was truly on her own in the fight for the duchy. She continued to fight for nearly twenty years until 1364, when Charles de Blois was killed in the Battle of Auray. Jeanne de Penthièvre was forced to sign away her claim to the duchy and content herself with being Countess of Penthièvre. With the House of Blois out of the way, young John of Montfort was finally awarded the duchy and named the rightful Duke of Brittany, a title that he held until his death and then passed on to his son.

Some accounts say that Jeanne did not get to enjoy her son’s reign, for which she had fought so long and hard. Several stories claim that Jeanne was mentally ill and confined in England to a castle with a caretaker, never to return to Brittany. She probably died in England around 1374. Some suggest that she was not in fact ill but simply a political prisoner of Edward III, who wanted to ensure that Brittany remained an English ally. Although mental illness can afflict anyone at any time of life, it does seem suspicious that a woman who led a successful military campaign for over twenty years and showed no previous signs of illness would suddenly succumb so dramatically that she would require constant care and confinement. It seems more likely that Edward, knowing what the woman was capable of, did not want to leave her (and Brittany’s) loyalty to England to chance. If that is true, Jeanne de Montfort’s story had a remarkably unhappy ending—betrayed by a man who used her for his own political ends under the guise of helping her. Hopefully she took comfort in the knowledge that at least her battle was not in vain. Even though she might not have returned to Brittany herself to see her son on the throne, she could die secure in the knowledge that the man she considered the rightful heir to the duchy, her son John, was ruling Brittany. Against impossible odds, this woman waged a war and came out on top. The Montforts remained in control of the duchy of Brittany until it ceased to exist when Brittany unified with France in 1547.

Despite her possibly ignominious end, Jeanne is fondly remembered in history. Philosopher David Hume called her “the most extraordinary woman of her age.” She is considered the poster child for the fighting woman of France—despite the fact that she fought against the French—and is, as previously mentioned, said to have been an inspiration to Joan of Arc. But was she a pirate? Well, she was definitely a warrior, which is a good start. She also fought battles at sea, including her infamous battle against Sir Louis of Spain, even going so far as to engage in sword combat during the battle. Her true piratical pedigree, however, comes from her “theft” of the duchy from the House of Blois, the official pick of Paris. With her cunning maneuver at Hennebont (which recalls the cleverness of Artemisia’s sacking of Latmus), she managed to steal the duchy from de Blois’s grasp, and that makes her a pirate—not a textbook example of a perfect pirate, to be sure, but clearly worthy to stand up among her sisters in the pirate pantheon.

Jeanne de Clisson was born Jeanne de Belleville in Belleville-sur-Vie, a castle and fortress on the western coast of France. Her parents were wealthy nobles, and she most likely enjoyed a bucolic childhood on the grounds of the castle, which she would eventually inherit. She was called “one of the most beautiful women of her day” by historian Richard Bentley. Her childhood did not last long, however, as she was married off at age twelve to a Breton nobleman. The couple had two children together before he died in 1326.

Jeanne remained a widow for four years before she took her second husband, Olivier de Clisson, a very wealthy nobleman with whom she had five children. By many accounts, the match was, if not exactly a love match, at least a successful mutual partnership. By age thirty, Jeanne had two husbands and seven children under her belt. What would she accomplish next?

When the War of Breton Succession came, Olivier chose to back his friend Charles de Blois in his claim to the duchy. It seems that he fought loyally for the House of Blois, but Charles de Blois became convinced that de Clisson was a traitor and had defected to the English side. Exactly why he believed this to be true is unclear. Some legends claim that when de Clisson was captured by the English at Vannes in 1342, the ransom demanded for his return was, to de Blois, suspiciously low. This led him to conclude that de Clisson had not fought as valiantly as he could have and was perhaps not as loyal to the House of Blois as he claimed to be. Other versions of the story say that de Clisson actually did switch sides, although these accounts are much rarer. In any case, de Blois was no longer certain that his old friend had his best interests at heart. This would not do. During a truce in the fighting in 1343, de Blois hatched a plan with the French king, Philip VI, to have him killed. Olivier and some other Breton lords were invited to France under the guise of a friendly tournament. When they arrived on French soil, however, de Clisson was arrested, carried off to Paris, and tried as a traitor to France. He was convicted and sentenced to death. After he was killed, his head was put on a pike and sent back to Brittany’s capital, Nantes, to be displayed as a warning to other would-be defectors from the French cause.

King Philip’s actions shocked the public. Olivier’s trial did not present any public evidence of his guilt; it only claimed that he had confessed to being a traitor. Furthermore, displaying of a corpse was usually done only when the criminal was common or lower class. People felt that King Philip had gone too far and possibly murdered an innocent man. And nobody was madder than de Clisson’s widow, Jeanne de Clisson.

When she found out that her husband had been tricked into going to France and then killed without cause, she sprang into action. If the French were no longer allies to her husband, then she would not support the French any longer. She severed all ties with the House of Blois and devoted her life to making the French pay for what they had done to her family. But first, some sources say, she took her sons to Nantes to see their father’s head.

To a modern reader it seems a bit puzzling, to say the least, that Jeanne would choose to expose her young sons to such violence. No doubt the boys were already devastated by the news of their father’s death; it seems redundant at best and cruel at worst to traumatize them further with the actual evidence of his murder. But Jeanne was not looking to shield her boys from pain. She knew now how hard and pitiless the world could be— even innocent men could be killed by kings. Jeanne chose to educate her boys on the harshness of life in order to light a fire of hate in them, twin fires to the one that now burned in her breast. In her world, there was no time for sorrow, only revenge.

After her trip to Nantes, Jeanne set about raising the money she would need to mount an army to terrorize the French. Much of her lands had been confiscated by King Philip due to her husband’s “crime.” She sold what she had left, including her jewels and furniture (and some accounts claim she sold her body as well) in order to outfit an army. Her goal was to kick the French out of Brittany completely. Stories of places she attacked are varied and lack detail, but nearly all accounts agree that whatever locations she did take, she took bloodily. She would massacre every occupant of a place save one or two, leaving them alive to report to France exactly who had committed the deed.

The path Jeanne chose after her husband’s murder seems almost unthinkable, but it may have been preferable to the alternatives before her. Whether they were rich or poor, most medieval women could not be said to have pleasant lives. They had two role models: Eve, the fallen woman, and the Virgin Mary (the original manifestation of the Madonna/whore dichotomy). Doubtless many women felt themselves somewhere in between the two icons. They did not have access to education. Life expectancy was not long. Ironically, many scholars claim that after the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century, the status of medieval women briefly went up due to the dearth of people left alive. Surviving women could receive better wages due to better-paying jobs being available and thus delay marriage, increasing their chances of survival. Childbirth was a specter that haunted all married women. An estimated 20 percent of all women in the Middle Ages died in childbirth, 5 percent during the birth itself and another 15 percent due to complications after labor. Things that today are minor issues were often fatal during this era. The presence of midwives—one of the only trades open only to women—helped to make birth safer, but a dizzying variety of complications could kill an expectant mother. Jeanne had survived childbirth numerous times; she might have felt that she had cheated death and could therefore slay Frenchmen at will, sending them to death in her place.

With her husband gone, Jeanne would have had the option to enter a convent. Nuns’ lives were marginally easier than that of the average married woman. For one thing, there was some access to basic education in the convent. Nuns did not have to fear death in childbirth. They still participated in domestic labors, cooking and producing things for the convent in addition to the many hours spent studying and in prayer. Nuns could advance up the religious ranks—the only position with any upward mobility for women during the Middle Ages. The leader of a convent, an abbess, sometimes advised not just the nuns in her care but also the monks in an adjoining monastery. Other than being a queen, an abbess was probably the highest office a woman could obtain during the Middle Ages. But Jeanne was not interested in a sequestered religious lifestyle; she sought vengeance. And so to the sea she went, forging a new path.

Jeanne decided that she preferred naval fighting to land fighting. She was still going to make the French pay, but she would do so at sea. With her remaining cash, she sailed to England with two of her sons in order to assemble a small fleet of three ships. Where her other children were during this time is unknown. Some accounts say that on this journey, one of her sons died of exposure. She then allegedly sent the other surviving son to live in the English court with young John de Montfort, who would eventually become the new Duke of Brittany. These details about her sons are only occasionally present in Jeanne’s legend. Whether she had her sons with her or not, and regardless of how many of them survived the journey, Jeanne soon had her fleet of ships, which was called the Black Fleet. These ships Jeanne painted black, and she dyed the sails blood red. She was not interested in subtlety or subterfuge. She wanted the people who saw her coming to know what fate awaited them. Her victims would not be taken by surprise, as her husband had been.

Jeanne and her Black Fleet sailed up and down the English Channel, preying on any French ship she could get her hands on. Her plan was the same as it was on land: murder everyone except a messenger or two. Soon, legends of her brutality spread all over Europe, and the “Lioness of Brittany” became a feared pirate. Some accounts claim that she was officially a privateer for England, but the English would have had to overlook her personal penchant for beheading every French nobleman she captured, since that was not exactly privateer protocol. Nevertheless, she may have kept the English forces stocked with supplies during various battles with the French. Her service to the English seems to have been an afterthought, though—much less important to her than the destruction of the French forces. It’s unclear if she had any particular love for the House of Montfort, but her hatred of the House of Blois ran deep and was clearly to the de Montforts’ benefit.

King Philip VI’s death in 1350 did not put a dent in the Lioness’s pirating. She continued to wreak havoc on French ships in the English Channel for another six years. Sources estimate that Jeanne’s piratical career lasted for a total of thirteen years. Instead of seeing the war through and ensuring that her candidate won the duchy in the War of Breton Succession, she retired eight years before the conflict’s conclusion and married an English deputy of King Edward III.

This action of hers, and the historical coverage of this action, leaves many questions unanswered. Why did she choose to marry a third time? If she was so useful to the English forces, why didn’t she help them finish the war? How did she meet Sir Walter Bentley, her new husband? Perhaps this action proves that she was not truly in the fight to back de Montfort but instead simply to cause damage to de Blois and King Philip. But then why not retire at Philip’s death? Maybe she ran out of money to maintain her Black Fleet. Maybe the lonely widow fell passionately in love with the English lord. Maybe she just got tired of sailing. Maybe, after so many captures and beheadings, her lust for revenge was one day finally slaked. All that is certain is that she married Sir Walter and left her pirating days behind her. King Edward had bestowed on Sir Walter several castles and lands for his services to England. Some accounts claim that Sir Walter was given control of English territories and interests in Brittany. Stories differ on what properties were given to the Bentleys and when, but most legends agree that the couple eventually settled down back in France in Hennebont Castle, the very same castle that was such a pivotal part of Jeanne de Montfort’s story. Jeanne de Clisson died a few years later, sometime around 1359.

Rakish Sloops and Ships with Teeth

Pirates often sailed vessels other than ships. For example, the dugout canoe was one of the most common of pirate vessels. In the late seventeenth century, buccaneers and filibusters used them for raids up rivers on the Spanish Main, towed them astern or carried them aboard their larger vessels, and often began their piratical careers aboard them, working their way up from canoe to small merchant bark to barcalonga, tarteen, or sloop, and finally—sometimes—to frigate, small or large, the smaller vessel capturing the larger. And sometimes they fought barks and small ships with canoes, as the buccaneers at Perico did. Sometimes they even fought great ships, such as the four- or five-hundred-ton “hulk” of the Honduras urca, a large-bellied flat-bottomed cargo carrier. Famous cutthroat pirate François l’Ollonois captured a hulk this way.

In the late seventeenth century, the barque longue, or in Spanish, barcalonga, the common bark, and the sloop were the most common vessels among the pirates of the Caribbean. A barque longue was a long, narrow, open-decked vessel with shallow draft. It carried one or two masts and one or two sails, although some carried topsails as well. The sails of Spanish barcalongas, and perhaps those of some of the French barque longues, were lugsails that could be easily changed from side to side for tacking. The best pirate craft were those that could escape to windward (toward the wind). Pirate craft in the Caribbean also needed to be able to sail against the prevailing trade winds, and the lugsail made this easier.

However, the sloop deserves the most fame as a pirate vessel, especially the sort called “Bermuda,” named for its place of construction, although in fact it had originated in Jamaica. Sloop builders shifted to Bermuda after the timber ran out in Jamaica. These sloops were swift vessels, built of cedar, with hulls well tallowed and chalked for speed, fore and aft rigged with an enormous mainsail, and in the eighteenth century, with a tall single mast raked strikingly aft and a long bowsprit thrust piercingly forward like a Spanish rapier. You could not miss recognizing one, even at a distance. As Jamaica sloops they were popular in the second half of the seventeenth century, and as Bermuda sloops grew even more so in the eighteenth. There are only a few significant pirates who never sailed a Jamaica or Bermuda sloop at one time or another.

By chance, we have an outstandingly detailed description of a pirate sloop, whose short story is in itself a fascinating one. In early 1718, Captain Charles Pinkethman set sail from Jamaica aboard the sloop Nathaniel & Charles, intending to make his fortune upon the Spanish treasure wrecks in the Bahamas. Unfortunately, his dreams of salvaged silver were short-lived. He died en route, leaving the sloop’s master, suitably named Tempest, to take his place. At Walker’s Cay, in the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas, they put their African or Native American divers to work, but to little profit. Weighing their anchor, they sailed with another sloop to Bimini and worked a wreck there, but it, too, held little profit.

A mutinous sort named Greenway commanded the consort sloop. Failing at treasure hunting, he had sniffed the air and caught the whiff of piracy. Bad fortune had discouraged Tempest’s crew, leaving them vulnerable to the temptation of piracy, now beginning to flourish in the Caribbean and Americas. Greenway lured them with golden dreams, assuring them that piracy was far more profitable than hunting for treasure on sunken wrecks.

Under the influence of Greenway, Tempest’s crew mutinied, “took possession of this sloop and all the arms, and threatened to shoot Captain Tempest and all that would not go with them under Greenway’s command.” Yet in spite of the threats, Tempest and more than a dozen steadfast seamen refused to join the pirates. Relenting eventually, the pirates transferred some of them to another sloop and let them go. But they didn’t release all the seamen. The new pirates forced several to remain behind.

West now the sloop sailed, to Florida to fish for silver—a curious way to begin a pirate cruise that was instigated by failing at fishing for silver—but Spaniards on the shore welcomed them with volleys of lead. Sailing north, Greenway brought his sloop into an inlet south of Charlestown, South Carolina, and fitted her with a new mast. At sea again, they captured and released a small sloop, ran from a twenty-four-gun French merchantman, and sighted the Spanish treasure fleet but ran when they realized a Spanish man-of-war was lying in wait for them. So much for “plucking a crow” with Spanish galleons! Near Bermuda, they captured two sloops, kept one, and forced a few men to join the pirate crew.

Pirates of the early eighteenth century often forced freemen, seamen, and fishermen to join their crews, unlike the late seventeenth-century buccaneers and filibusters, who forced only slaves and the occasional Spanish pilot. Thirteen of these forced men wanted to be rid of their captors. All they needed was an opportunity; a chance to maroon themselves ashore would be ideal. But they got better than they could wish for.

On July 17, 1718, the pirates sighted and gave chase to a ship. Ranging up close, the pirates hoisted their black flag, fired a cannon and, for emphasis, a volley of muskets at the ship. Immediately, the merchantman lowered her topsails, lay by in the trough of the sea, and waited to be boarded. Captain Greenway, greedy as ever, clambered into the sloop’s boat, along with his gunner, doctor, and a few other officers, leaving the pirate crew and forced men behind.

Suddenly, the wind filled the ship’s sails, which were balanced against each other as she lay by, and pushed the ship down upon the sloop, smashing into her quarter. But rather than worry about the accident, the pirate crew leaped aboard the ship, rabidly looking for plunder. It was every man for himself. They ran about the ship, pillaging as they could and paying no attention to the sloop they had just left nor to their captain. After all, pirate captains had absolute authority only in battle. Just a few pirates were left aboard the sloop.

The forced men seized the moment. Richard Appleton, one of the few to be armed, took the helm and ordered John Robeson below to secure the stores. He shouted to the black men aboard—slaves probably, but possibly freemen, perhaps even divers—to hoist the sails. Immediately, a pirate realized what was happening. He seized a musket, aimed it at Appleton, and “snapped it,” as pulling the trigger was known due to the sound of the flint striking steel.36 But it misfired, and again so.

Swiftly, he reversed it in his hands and swung the butt at Appleton, cracking it over his head. Appleton went down. But the black men aboard had no more reason to want to be with the pirates than the forced white men did. One of them shot the pirate in the belly with a pistol, and another shot him in the leg. Quickly they trussed up the pirate and seven of his fellows, all of whom were mostly drunk, put them all in a canoe, and set them adrift. To Philadelphia the pirate prisoners—the “forced men” from Tempest’s crew—and their black comrades sailed and gave themselves up, where all—at least the white seamen—were “well used and civilly entreated for the service they had done.”

Thankfully, the council at Philadelphia kept a detailed inventory of the sloop, probably the most detailed we have of a pirate craft of the Golden Age. She had a full set of sails, including a jib, a flying jib, and a spritsail, plus three anchors, and tools, lumber, tar, and other sundries for making repairs. For navigation, she had three compasses; for maneuvering in calm or light airs, a set of oars or sweeps; for feeding her pirate crew, thirteen half barrels of beef and pork; for cooking, a kettle and two iron pots; for treating her sick and wounded, a doctor’s chest; for tricking the prey, a pair of false colors and pennants, and a jack; and for intimidating the prey, a black pirate flag and a red “no quarter” flag.

More important to her purpose, she mounted ten cannon of small caliber, along with two small “swivel guns” that loaded from the muzzle, and nine patereros (a form of small swivel cannon) that loaded from the breech. But six of the patereros were old and may have been unserviceable. She also had ten “organ” barrels belonging to a small bit of rail-mounted artillery known as an organ: a sheaf of musket barrels made to fire together, more accurate than a common swivel.

The sloop also carried two hundred round shot for her cannon, which is really not all that many, four kegs of scrap metal for loading in canvas bags and firing in a murderous hail at men, and thirty-two barrels of gunpowder. She carried fifty-three grenades, vital for boarding a ship under fire, and thirty muskets, just as vital for attacking a ship. Muskets were used to suppress enemy fire and often made the difference even when ships were fighting with their great guns broadside to broadside. In fact, the musket was the principal weapon of the pirate.

Sloops like this were the most common seagoing pirate vessels of the Golden Age, and the ones we should most associate with pirates. Certainly the most common was not the galleon, which by the eighteenth century no longer really existed except in name; only a handful of real galleons, known by the design of their hulls, still sailed. Even so, many pirates did sail ships and other three-mast vessels. Most were small frigates, usually of only one or two hundred tons and of ten to twenty guns of two- to six-pound caliber, often with as many swivel cannon mounted on the rails. But some pirates captured large merchantmen or slave ships, converted them to pirate ships, and sailed the seas with ships of forty or even fifty guns. These ships were often slow compared to their prey, or at least no swifter, and slow compared to pirate hunters. Further, they were expensive to maintain and required a lot of maintenance—and pirates were generally a lazy lot.41 Most of the time, pirates preferred lighter, swifter vessels—fast enough to overtake prey and run from a pirate hunter and armed well enough to make a stout fight if it came to that. Often large pirate ships were accompanied by light, swift craft, as we have already seen in the case of Blackbeard’s pirate flotilla.

Piracy in the Indian Ocean

Historians have been particularly interested in the fact that on two occasions during our period great empires provided security and a market for luxuries in different parts of the Indian Ocean world. The huge trade between China and the Abbasid empire has been linked to the rise and florescence of the Abbasid state after 750, and a similar situation with the T’ang dynasty in China from 618–907. The Fatimids in Egypt, the Colas in South India, and the Song in China produced the same effect in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

There certainly seems to be some connection between flourishing trade and stable empires, albeit one hard to quantify. Such empires usually got most of their revenue from the land, not the sea, and prevailing norms were usually hostile, or at least indifferent, to sea trade and merchants. Yet merchants did provide customs revenues, and perhaps more important brought curiosities and preciosities to the court. More generally, a strong, stable empire obviously has advantages for economic activity in general, including sea trade. Some states were actually quite interventionist. Srivijaya controlled the straits of Melaka for some time. In the early eleventh century the Cola state in south India responded to this with devastating raids. Thirteen ports in the Malay peninsula, Sumatra and the Nicobar Islands were attacked by Rajendra Cola.

The decline of empires usually produces much confusion, and this may be detrimental to trade, though on the other hand as an empire declines it will release hoarded wealth with which to defend itself, thereby increasing liquidity. Some notable episodes in the decline of these empires no doubt did impact on trade. In its last few decades the T’ang dynasty was less stable, and Guangzhou was sacked and foreign merchants massacred in 878 by a rebel army. At this same time, in 868–83, the Zanj slaves in lower Mesopotamia rebelled, and this is considered to have contributed to Abbasid decline. Later, the coup de grâce for the Abbasids, that is the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258, may have disrupted trade, though this claim is open to doubt. The other great example of politics intervening in the ocean in our period is the cessation of Zheng He’s voyages in the 1430s as a result of a change in Ming policy. The precise reasons for this shift have been much debated, but certainly these expeditions were terminated by the court, and foreign trade greatly restricted. However, this coincides with the rise of Melaka, and it is a ‘chicken-and-egg’ matter as to whether the rise of Melaka meant the great expeditions were no longer needed, as compared with the rise of Melaka being to fill the gap left by the end of the voyages. In any case, the whole matter of this connection is difficult indeed to prove. Perhaps the point to keep in mind is that there were much more constant and important matters which affected merchants engaged in sea trade, namely did their imports meet local demand, and were prices high?

In the early 1340s Ibn Battuta was happily sailing along the west coast of India when his ship was attacked by pirates:

the infidels came out against us in twelve warships, fought fiercely against us and overcame us. They took everything I had preserved for emergencies; they took the pearls and rubies that the king of Ceylon had given me, they took my clothes and the supplies given me by pious people and saints. They left me no covering except my trousers. They took everything everybody had and set us down on the shore. I returned to Qaliqut and went into one of the mosques. One of the jurists sent me a robe, the qadi a turban and one of the merchants another robe.

Apart from again reminding us of how he could gear in to Islamic networks at need, this passage introduces the matter of piracy in the Indian Ocean in our period. Interestingly, Marco Polo had more or less the same problem, and we may note that Polo only slightly predated Ibn Battuta, for he died in 1324, a year before the latter set out from Morocco on his first hajj.

Polo wrote that on the west coast of India

there go forth every year more than a hundred corsair vessels on cruise. These pirates take with them their wives and children, and stay out the whole summer. Their method is to join in fleets of 20 or 30 of these pirate vessels together, and then they form what they call a sea cordon, that is, they drop off till there is an interval of 5 or 6 miles between ship and ship, so that they cover something like an hundred miles of sea, and no merchant vessel can escape them. For when any one corsair sights a vessel a signal is made by fire or smoke, and then the whole of them make for this, and seize the merchants and plunder them…. But now the merchants are aware of this, and go so well manned and armed, and with such great ships, that they don’t fear the corsairs. Still mishaps do befall them at times.

With the King’s connivance many corsairs launch from this part to plunder merchants. These corsairs have a covenant with the King that he shall get all the horses they capture, and all other plunder shall remain with them. The King does this because he has no horses of his own, whilst many are shipped from abroad towards India; for no ship ever goes thither without horses in addition to other cargo. The practice is naughty and unworthy of a king.

What these two unfortunate travellers are describing is either piracy or corsair activity. Whichever it may be, it is crucial to distinguish this from actual naval activity from port cities or other political entities, for at this time there were virtually no navies in the Indian Ocean, the exceptions being perhaps Zheng He’s voyages, and the activities in Sri Lanka, the islands, and the Malay world of the Colas. The real danger was from pirates and corsairs, the former to be seen as acting autonomously of any political entity, the latter connected, at least loosely, as Polo wrote, with a local ruler. Pirates were the most prevalent. Yet we need to keep in mind that some piracy is in the eye of the beholder; the so-called pirates could see themselves very differently.

Ibn Battuta had more than one skirmish with these predators, who were quite prepared to attack even very large ships. He set off from the Gulf of Cambay on an official mission from Muhammad bin Tughluq to the emperor of China. The mission had several ships, and one of them must have been a good size, as it carried seventy horses. Battuta’s own ship had fifty rowers and fifty Abyssinian men at arms: ‘These latter are the guarantors of safety on this sea; let there be but one of them on a ship and it will be avoided by the Indian pirates and idolators.’ Chinese accounts of the straits of Melaka, then and now a haven for pirates, complained that the locals ‘are very daring pirates. If they meet upon a foreign ship, they get into small boats, a hundred in number, and approach the enemy for several days. With a fair wind he may be lucky and escape. Otherwise he will be intercepted by them, and his goods will be plundered. Travellers who float around on the sea should guard against these robbers.’

Some pirates seem to have set up almost state-like structures. Ibn Majid south of Calicut found that the pirates there, operating out of the Kerala backwaters, were ‘ruled by their own rulers and number about 1000 men and are a people of both land and sea with small boats’. So also in the Gulf near Hurmuz in the twelfth century. The island of Kish was more or less a pirate state, or so the hostile accounts available say. These men raided up and down the Indian west coast, and across to East Africa. In 1135 they became very daring. They wrote to the ruler of Aden demanding a part of the city as protection against being raided. This was refused, so the pirate Amir sent fifteen ships, which entered Aden harbour and waited. They had no intention of landing: rather they wanted to capture merchant ships on their way back to India. Finally, two ships belonging to Abul Qasim Ramisht of Siraf, in the Gulf, appeared, but helped by troops from Aden they were able to beat off the pirates.

The Portuguese were the first European mariners to enter the Persian Gulf in force in the modern period. They dominated the Gulf from the early 16th century until the arrival of the British and Dutch in the early 17th century. With help from the East India Company, Shah Abbas of Persia drove the Portuguese out of their stronghold on Kharg Island in 1622. From that point onward, British commercial interests grew in importance even as Portuguese fortunes declined. But the Persian Gulf remained a strategic afterthought to British policymakers for almost 200 more years.

During the late 18th century, particularly after the death of the Shah Karim Khan in 1779, Persia lost control of the Gulf. The result was increased competition and conflict among the various coastal tribes of the Persian Gulf. That conflict devolved into raiding and, in British eyes, piracy. Arab corsairs based on the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula ranged far out into the Indian Ocean, threatening British shipping there as well as in the Persian Gulf.

The increase in piracy negatively impacted British trade in the region. Since the East India Company’s trade in the Persian Gulf was relatively limited, it made no effort to suppress piracy in the Gulf. But independent British merchants, known as “country traders,” were affected. These country traders developed fairly substantial and lucrative trade relationships in the Gulf. They exchanged British manufactured goods for pearls, Persian silks, and specie that were used in the China trade. Even though the Arabs normally left the well-armed East India Company vessels alone, they sometimes attacked the smaller, more vulnerable country traders. British merchants, of course, condemned such transgressions and pressed both the British Government and East India Company to take action.

The strategic outlook also changed at the beginning of the 19th century. Because the Persian Gulf was one of the primary mail links between the United Kingdom and India, the pirates impinged on official Britain when they attacked British mail ships. Even more important, the French expedition to Egypt (1798-1801) and France’s short-lived alliance with the Shah of Persia (1807-1809) raised the threat of French invasion through India’s northwest territories. British policymakers began to view the Persian Gulf as a buffer zone, protecting India’s western flank.

The death of the Sultan of Oman in November 1804 led to further aggression against British merchant shipping in the Gulf. At the time of the Sultan’s death, the British were actively pursuing an alliance with Oman. East India Company leaders realized that Oman, because of its location at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, was perfectly situated to restrict French and Dutch access to the Gulf. But Britain’s relationship with Oman put it at odds with one of the tribes most involved in piracy. The al-Qawasim were nominal vassals of the Sultan of Oman, but when he died, they reneged on their allegiance and broke away from Oman. Britain became a de facto enemy of the al-Qawasim. But that circumstance had distinct advantages since suppression of piracy in the Gulf not only would appease merchant and shipping interests in Britain but also would enhance Great Britain’s strategic relationship with Oman.

All three conditions that facilitate piracy are readily apparent when considering the Persian Gulf. The al-Qawasim were ideally situated geographically to perpetrate acts of piracy. The tribe’s territory included some 25 coastal towns on the western side of the Arabian Peninsula from the tip south to Dubai. Its main port was Ras al-Khaymah, which is located some 50 miles from the northern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. At that point, the Strait of Hormuz is only about 30 miles wide. Thus, the al-Qawasim could easily control traffic entering or leaving the Persian Gulf. The decline of Persian control of the Gulf and the death of the Sultan of Oman led to political turmoil, which facilitated piracy in the Gulf. Furthermore, since the United Kingdom was fully involved in the Napoleonic Wars, the British lacked the resources to aggressively respond to piracy in the Persian Gulf. Since the al-Qawasim depended on the sea for their existence, whether by trading, harvesting pearls, or raiding, there was considerable land-based support for their piratical activities within their territory as well.

The attacks began in the last quarter of the 18th century. In December 1778, six al-Qawasim vessels attacked a British ship carrying official dispatches. After a running battle that lasted 3 days, the British ship succumbed and was taken to Ras al-Khaymah as a prize. Encouraged by their success, the al-Qawasim assaulted two more British vessels the next year. The most significant incident occurred in October 1797 when the al-Qawasim stormed the East India Company cruiser Viper while in port in Bushehr. Although the company ship drove off the attackers, Viper suffered 32 casualties out of a crew of 65.

After they broke away from Oman, the al-Qawasim began levying tolls on all shipping entering or leaving the Gulf. When the British refused to pay the toll, the al-Qawasim retaliated by raiding British shipping. They captured two British ships in 1804 and attacked a 24-gun East India Company cruiser in January 1805. There was a short respite after the Omanis, led by the British Resident in Muscat, blockaded the main al- Qawasim fleet in Ras al-Khaymah and forced them to submit.

The truce did not, however, last long. In the meantime, the al- Qawasim continued to consolidate their power. By 1808, the al-Qawasim fleet numbered some 63 large vessels, 810 small dhows, and 18,000 to 25,000 fighters. In April 1808, two al-Qawasim dhows attacked another East India Company ship, the Fury (6 guns). Once the summer pearling season ended, the al-Qawasim resumed the war against the United Kingdom. The violence quickly escalated. When they captured the East India Company schooner Sylph (8 guns) in October 1808, the pirates killed 22 crew members. Only the captain survived. Wounded when the Arabs took the ship, the captain hid in a storeroom below deck and was rescued when the HMS La Nereide (38 guns) recaptured the Sylph as the raiders sailed her back to Ras al-Khaymah. The next month, some 40 al-Qawasim dhows entered the Indian Ocean and wreaked havoc on British and Indian shipping. Within a short time, they captured 20 merchant vessels and shut down commerce along the western coast of India.

This proved too much for the East India Company to accept so, in September 1809, a combined land and naval force was dispatched to the Persian Gulf to deal with the pirates. The force included 2 Royal Navy frigates, 8 East India Company cruisers, 1 East India Company bomb ketch, and 1,300 soldiers, half of whom were Europeans. Its primary objective was Ras al-Khaymah, which was assaulted and captured on 13 November 1809. Company soldiers sacked the town and burned 60 dhows trapped in the harbor. Later, the British force attacked two al-Qawasim strongholds in Persia: Linga and Luft.

British operations against the al-Qawasim pirates demonstrate the difficulty of trying to eliminate piracy using primarily naval forces. Although the British inflicted a substantial amount of damage on the al- Qawasim, the impact of the 1809 expedition was limited. Once the British returned to India, the al-Qawasim quickly recuperated. By the fall of 1813, al-Qawasim dhows once again hunted for prey off the coast of India. Further pirate cruises were conducted in the spring and fall of 1814. The al-Qawasim acted even more aggressively in the Persian Gulf, attacking two American, one French, and three Indian ships. In 1816, the British sent another expedition to punish the pirates, but it was even less effective because the naval force limited its actions to merely bombarding Ras al- Khaymah. During the 1817-1818 trading season, the situation was so bad that convoys were used to mitigate the risk of attack.

The forgotten history of piracy in the Indian Ocean

Mutiny on the Lennie

Yorke, William Horde; The ‘Clipper Lennie’ of Liverpool in Full Sail

That such petty felonies seem to have been the motive, or perhaps only a pretext, for mutiny owes much to the degeneracy of many seamen in sailing vessels during the nineteenth century. With the exception of diehards who sailed in the elite tea clippers, and after their replacement by steamships transferred with their favoured ships to the Australian wool trade, the best and most reliable men went into steamers, where a more regular life prevailed. Often it was the case that a polyglot crew shipped aboard a sailing ship by a desperate master after doing a deal with a crimp were just eager for trouble. Often they had been cheated of wages earned on a previous vessel, and mutiny seemed their only way of avenging themselves on a harsh world. They did so without any apparent consideration for the consequences, often committing acts of senseless violence and brutality. Such, among many others, were the outbreaks aboard the British sailing vessels Flowery Land in 1863, the Manitoba in 1871 and the Lennie in 1875. Casual murder of the master and mates often accompanied these senseless uprisings, and the mutineers, lacking any sustainable plan, were usually brought to justice. Not infrequently one of their number turned state’s or Queen’s witness, or they were compelled to retain a loyal officer if only to navigate their vessel. The seized ships were usually scuttled once in sight of land, and the consequent losses prompted owners, shippers and consignees to muster the forces of law and order across the globe to apprehend mutineers. As for the criminals themselves, they were incapable of hanging together and so, in Benjamin Franklin’s memorable phrase, they were hanged separately.

The case of the Lennie is typical. She was one of a large number of sailing vessels that earned their living and profits for their owners alongside steamships in the second half of the nineteenth century by being able to compete in the market place because of their low running costs; these were minimal compared with those of steamers, and made lower still by canny owners, agents, crimps, masters and mates. Since they carried homogenous cargoes whose arrival time was not critical, further economies could be achieved. In all this cost-cutting there was no benefit at all to the common sailors who manned them, and these men were often, quite literally, the sweepings of the waterfront.

Registered in Nova Scotia, the Lennie flew the British red ensign and was commanded by a Canadian, Captain Stanley Hatfield, who was under orders to make a passage from Antwerp to New Orleans in ballast. To save money Hatfield did not ship a crew until he was ready to sail, although by 24 October 1875, when the main body of the crew was expected, he already had aboard an innocuous Irish mate named Joseph Wortley, a Scots second mate called Richard MacDonald, Constant van Hoydonck the Belgian steward, and a Dutch steward’s boy with the French-sounding name of Henri Trousselot who was only fifteen years old. That morning a boarding-house runner arrived with the crew from London, garnered among the ‘hotels’ and brothels of Wapping’s Ratcliff Highway. These eleven men were signed on under the eye of the British consul and Captain Hatfield and then taken aboard the Lennie, which was to sail the next morning. Reinforcing the polyglot nature of those already aboard the vessel, the eleven newcomers consisted of three Greeks, four Turks, an Italian, an Englishman, a Dane and an Austrian. Most had given false names and/or false nationalities on the Articles of Agreement at the consular office. The Italian, named Giovanni Caneso, ‘seemed an intelligent man’, spoke fluent English, signed on as George Green, and was appointed boatswain. One of the Greeks, named Cargarlis, had served an eight-year-stint in prison in Marseilles and had a hold over at least one other crew member from the outset.

Two days out, Cargarlis was one of two men who came aft and requested an issue of tobacco. Hatfield was unable to supply it, stating that he had not bought any on board for sale, and that the men had had an advance of wages and enough time to lay in a private stock if they so desired. Carting their resentment at this mild rebuff back to the forecastle, the two began abusing Hatfield, Cargarlis allegedly declaiming that there would be trouble ‘if any of those useless ornaments aft start their monkey tricks on me’. Several men voiced their support of Cargarlis, others wandered out on deck to distance themselves from his wild talk.

Thereafter the ship settled into her routine, working her way down Channel and out into the Atlantic, so that by the night of 31 October she was crossing the Bay of Biscay. The night was dark and blustery and Hatfield decided to put the ship on the other tack ‘at eight bells’, when the watches changed and all hands were on deck together. This was customary in short-handed sailing ships, minimizing the disruption to the crew’s routine of four hours on watch and four hours off. Hatfield would have been within his rights to call for all hands immediately if he deemed the alteration absolutely necessary. He was clearly anxious, but instead of mustering the hands at once, which would undoubtedly have provoked a degree of grumbling, he ordered Wortley to ring eight bells a quarter of an hour early. This not only deprived the watch below of fifteen minutes’ sleep, it meant their watch was extended. It was a silly decision. As soon as the watch below realized what had been done, they interpreted Hatfield’s concern for the ship as an act of spite, and it was with an air of deep hostility that the second mate’s watch came on deck to join the mate’s as they stood waiting at the braces.

When Wortley reported all hands at their stations, Hatfield ordered the helm put hard over and the main and mizzen yards trimmed. Half-way through the turn the yards ceased to swing, the ship bucked into the wind and the Lennie ‘missed stays’, falling back onto the former, starboard, tack. Hatfield, furious as the two mates reported the braces had fouled and not run clear burst into a tirade against the sloppy seamanship of the crew. It was no more than might have been expected of any master in the middle of a manoeuvre, but one of the Turkish seamen named Caludis dropped the brace and rushed at the master, striking him full in the face. Hatfield hit the deck, rolled over, got to his feet, and grappled Caludis. There was a moment when order might yet have been restored, but suddenly Cargarlis was alongside the Turk and drove his knife into Hatfield, swiftly eviscerating him as he fell again. Seeing what had happened MacDonald gave out a roar of horror, but the two mutineers quickly turned upon him and, as he tried to escape, stabbed him to death.

Several men now hid, including the mate, who made for the foretop – but suddenly shots rang out. The two mutineers had hidden pistols. Wortley was driven out of the foretop and fell to the deck, breaking his headlong drop by grabbing at the rigging. However, once at the feet of Cargarlis he too was swiftly butchered. The two men now dominated the deck and overawed the remainder, who sheepishly did as they were bid. The steward and boy were locked in the after accommodation under the poop. Woken by the fracas on deck and realizing that he was a prisoner, van Hoydonck went to Wortley’s cabin and secured the dead mate’s revolver, loading it and hiding it. He also removed the brace Hatfield kept in his own cabin, and hid them with some ammunition. Van Hoydonck and Trousselot now nervously settled down to await the outcome. At six in the morning the mutineers crowded into the saloon, demanding that the steward, who had some knowledge of navigation, should see them into the Mediterranean. They had ‘dealt with’ Hatfield and the two mates and were now determined on reaching Greece, where they could sell the empty Lennie. They promised to cut van Hoydonck into the deal if he acted straight.

Having secured an agreement that little Trousselot would not be harmed, van Hoydonck agreed to sail the Lennie wherever they wanted, provided that they would all obey his orders as to the handling of the ship. Van Hoydonck had shrewdly and courageously judged that the mutineers’ plan had been extemporized only moments before, and that the perpetrators were not men of the keenest mind. He therefore set himself the task of saving his own life and on the pretext that they must avoid any pursuit, ordered a course set which would close the French coast. The mutineers, who had no knowledge of their precise whereabouts, swallowed all he said. They were further deceived by the false positions van Hoydonck pencilled on the chart as in due course he brought the Lennie to anchor off Sables d’Olonne, where he and Trousselot threw bottles containing messages requesting assistance out of the saloon ports under the cover of darkness. Caludis and Cargarlis were told they were off Cadiz, and only waiting suitable conditions to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar unobserved by British naval forces stationed at the Rock. Van Hoydonck then proceeded to do nothing, provoking the mutineers – who by now had enlisted most of the remainder of the crew – to demand what he was up to. Incredibly, the story van Hoydonck now spun them, about waiting for an overcast night with fog and a light westerly breeze, was delivered so effectively that he convinced the mutineers to go along with him. Some division began to manifest itself among the mutineers as the steward eventually headed again for the French coast, where a pilot cutter intercepted them.

They claimed their chronometer was stopped and they had lost their way, but the presence of the strange vessel apparently aimlessly standing on and off the coast had become known to the French authorities. Several of the crew, including Cargarlis and Caludis, decided to abandon ship, and went over the side in one of the boats. On landing they claimed they had been shipwrecked, and a kind-hearted lady named Madame Diritot fed and boarded them. She also told them that they were not in Spain, but not far from La Rochelle in France. They agreed on a story with which to bamboozle the authorities as they sought to sign on a ship at La Rochelle, in happy ignorance that one of van Hoydonck’s bottled messages had come ashore at Sables d’Olonne. The appearance of ship-wrecked seamen without a ship-wreck raised suspicions at La Rochelle, suspicions compounded by the arrival of the police report from Sables d’Olonne. All were arrested. On 11 November the French corvette Le Tirailleur put to sea and soon located the Lennie, still at anchor. A boarding party secured the five remaining mutineers and accepted van Hoydonck’s version of events. The Lennie was towed into the Loire and berthed at Nantes, where an enquiry began. After several weeks during which the difficulty of establishing the identities of several of the mutineers delayed matters, the case was turned over, with the accused, to the British authorities, and on 28 February 1876 eleven men were charged with the murder of Hatfield and his officers at Bow Street. Van Hoydonck and Trousselot appeared for the Crown. On 7 April three of the men who had attempted to avoid being caught up in the mutiny were released, and the rest were committed for trial. These were arraigned at the Central Criminal Court on 4 May and before the first day was over two more had been released, one on a technicality. Of the six men left in the dock, four were found guilty by the jury and the other two acquitted, deemed simply to have been caught up in events after the murders had been committed, and to have gone in fear of their lives as a consequence.

Van Hoydonck deservedly received the trial judge’s warm praise and was awarded an ex gratia payment of £50. He later received other monetary presents and several awards for courage; Trousselot was also feted. The four condemned men, who included Cargarlis and Caludis, were hanged unlamented at Newgate on 23 May.

A similar recovery of a seized ship by a number of dissenting crew members had been made almost simultaneously aboard the Caswell, while another in the Wellington ten years later was defeated by the weather when the mutineers, unable to handle the ship, asked for assistance and were towed ignominiously back to Plymouth. It was not surprising for a master and his officers to be in possession of firearms, and was common in many merchant ships – anti-piracy small-arms were maintained in a few British ships into the 1960s. A century earlier, in 1860, the former East India Company ship Tudor carried ‘fourteen carronades on the main deck. There were stands of arms in the saloon, cutlasses, pistols and muskets . . .’ Faced with a minor insurrection among ‘some half a dozen men from Glasgow, rough blackguards and insubordinate . . .’, Captain Armstrong, ‘a smallish man, with a florid complexion, blue eyes and a rather more than sufficient nose’, defied the mutineers led by one Alexander Braid as they attempted to storm the poop with a double-barrelled gun. A few male passengers appeared from the saloon with loaded pistols while several seamen, the boatswain and his mates, led by the officer of the watch, appeared on deck well armed. Braid and his fellows were ‘overpowered after a struggle, and placed in irons.’

The Panzer Divisions

somme-1940_1

somme-1940

The military historian Matthew Cooper described the German Panzer arm of service as: ‘a failure. A glorious failure … but a failure nonetheless … The significance of this failure was immense. The Panzer Divisions, the prime offensive weapon, had become indispensable … in both tactical and strategic terms … Upon the fortunes of the armoured force was based the fate of the whole army …’. ‘He concluded that the fault for the demise of the Panzer arm lay in the hands of Hitler and the Army commanders, ‘who failed to grasp the full implications of this new, revolutionary doctrine and consistently misused the force upon which their fortunes had come to depend’. Another reason was the neglect of equipment and organizational requirements, which stunted the Panzer arm’s potential in the field.

Hitler was impressed by armour operating in conjunction with other arms. In 1933, after witnessing a demonstration of mobile troops, he had been very enthusiastic, although armoured theory and practice were not new in the Germany Army. Indeed, it would be true to say that Germany’s armoured force was born on the steppes of Russia during the 1920s. Among other prohibitions, the conditions of the Versailles Treaty forbade the German Army from having armoured fighting vehicles. To circumvent this restriction, the governments of republican Germany and the Soviet Union entered into a conspiracy: the Soviet Union would grant a vast area of land upon which the German military commanders could practice manoeuvres, while in another part of that territory, factories would be set up to construct the armoured fighting vehicles which German experts had designed and which the German commanders needed for their manoeuvres. A great number of German senior commanders and armour theorists went to Kasan in the Soviet Union and developed the skills required in handling armour in the mass and in conducting exercises using aircraft. Between them, the Army and Luftwaffe commanders evolved and developed the concept of Blitzkrieg.

This collaboration between Germany and Russia lasted until 1935, when the Nazi government withdrew the Panzer and Luftwaffe detachments from Soviet territory. Thereafter, it was on German soil that tank design and construction was carried out. The first types of Panzer had been given the cover name ‘agricultural tractors’, to hoodwink the officers of the Armistice Commission, and because that name fitted In with conventional German military thinking that armoured vehicles would be used principally to bring supplies forward across the broken and difficult terrain of the battlefield. This negative attitude towards the strategic employment of armour as a separate arm of service was common to many generals of the high command: one even went so far as to say: ‘The idea of Panzer divisions is Utopian.’ But the protagonists advanced their ideas, and a Mechanized Troops Inspectorate was set up in June 1934. Hitler’s repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles brought the expansion of the German Army, and with it the beginning of an armoured force. As early as July 1935, an ad hoc Panzer division successfully carried out a training exercise which demonstrated that the movement and more particularly, the control – of major Panzer units was practicable. Even further than that, a general staff exercise had studied the employment of a whole Panzer corps in action. The year 1935 also saw the birth of a new arm of service when the Armoured Troops Command was created, which was followed by the raising of the first three Panzer divisions. The Armoured Troops Command had, as yet, no real authority, for armour was not considered to be an equal partner with the infantry, cavalry and artillery arms.

General Guderian was given the post of Chief of Mobile Troops, and took over the development and training of the entire mechanized force of the Army. As a consequence, he had direct access to Hitler. During 1938, two more Panzer divisions were created, as well as a command structure which allowed the Panzer arm – in theory, at least – to be one of the partners in the Field Army.

It was one thing to be accepted as a partner, it was another to be equipped for that role. The Panzers which the armoured divisions needed were issued to non-Panzer units, and another hindrance was that tank quality was poor. The majority of machines in the armoured force were Panzer I and II types, which were not only obsolete, but were under-gunned and under-armoured. A third negative factor was the raising of three light (mobile) divisions in November 1938. These, together with a fourth division, were created instead of Panzer divisions.

It was not until 1940 that the OKW placed all German armour within the framework of its Panzer divisions. This favourable situation was of brief duration, for by the middle years of the war one-fifth of the AFV strengths still remained outside a divisional framework. One final factor was that the German leadership neglected to plan for new types of replacement tanks. Apart from the existing III and IV types, no preparation was made to produce adequate stocks of tanks or other armoured vehicles or any new marks of Panzer. It was not until 1943 that top priority was given to AFV production. Total production of Panzers in the second month of the war, September 1939, was only fifty-seven machines. Clearly, there was a need for improvement.

German superiority in the matter of Panzer operations during the war owed nothing to the number or quality of the machines it fielded, but was rather the product of superior organizations and training. The campaign in Poland did not see the Panzer force being used in the way that Guderian and the other theorists had planned. It was, instead, the speed with which the whole German Army moved – not just that of the Panzer divisions – which brought victory. For the Polish campaign, the German Army had fielded 2,100 tanks, and lost 218 of them. More serious than the 10 per cent battle loss was the high rate of mechanical failure, which kept 25 per cent of the machines out of action at anyone time. There had been no improvement by 1940, when the war in the west opened. For that campaign, out of a total of 2,574 machines, fewer than 627 were of the heavier Panzer III and Panzer IV types, and 1,613 were the obsolete Panzer I and II. Nevertheless, as Guderian recorded, the Panzer force fought its battle more or less without interference from the OKW, and as a result, achieved dramatic successes.

One of the few examples of Hitler’s direct interference was when he halted the Panzer divisions outside Dunkirk, an act which allowed Britain to withdraw the bulk of its Army. As a result of the experiences gained through the victory in the west, it became clear that the Panzer arm of service would soon rise to become a partner equal to the infantry. Hitler was determined to invade the Soviet Union, but needed to increase the number of Panzer divisions. To achieve that growth, he could have decided to increase the output of German tank factories. Instead, he deluded himself that numbers equalled strength, and raised the number of armoured divisions from 10 to 21 by the simple expedient of halving the AFV strength of each division. Thus, each division was made up of a single tank regiment numbering 150-200 machines. Hitler was convinced that a Panzer division fielding a single armoured regiment had the striking power of a division which fielded two regiments. It was a fatal mistake, particularly since Panzer production in the first six months of 1941 averaged only 212 vehicles per month. The total number of machines available for the new war against Russia was 5,262, of which only 4,198 were held to be ‘front-line’ Panzers, and of that total, only 1,404 were the better-armed Panzer III and IV. Those vehicles, good as they were, were soon to be confronted by the Red Army’s superior T 34s and KV Is. Although inferior in every respect, the Panzer llls and IVs were forced to remain in front-line service until the Panzer V (Panther) and the Panzer VI (Tiger) types could be rushed into service. An example of the blindness of the general staff towards armour requirements was shown by General Halder, who seemed to be satisfied that 431 new Panzers would be produced by the end of July 1941, although this was less than half the number of machines lost during that period. Throughout the war, replacements never equalled the losses suffered.

To summarize: German industry was not equipped for the mass production of AFVs, and the ones which were produced for the Army were inferior to those of its opponents – certainly until the Panther and the Tiger came into service. Although the Panzer arm fought valiantly to the end, from 1943 it was firmly on the defensive, except for a few isolated offensives. The greatest mistake was that the supreme commander, Hitler, would accept no limitations upon his strategic plans, and sent major armoured formations across vast areas of country without consideration for the strain upon crews or machines and the drain upon the petrol resources of the Reich, and then committed those tired crews and worn-out vehicles to battle against unequal odds. Because of those and many other factors, Matthew Cooper must be seen as correct in his verdict that the Panzer arm was a failure.

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Organisation

The Panzer divisions of the German Army were eventually numbered 1-27, 116, 232 and 233. The establishment also contained named Panzer divisions, as well as light divisions, which were later upgraded to Panzer status. When general mobilization was ordered, the Army had five Panzer and four light divisions on establishment.

The infantry component of the 1st Panzer Division was Schützen Regiment No.1, made up of two battalions, each of five companies; the 2nd Panzer Division incorporated the 2nd Schützen Regiment, with two battalions, each of five companies; the 3rd Panzer Division had the 3rd Schützen Regiment, also with two battalions, each of five companies; the 4th Panzer Division’s infantry component was the 12th Schützen Regiment, with two battalions, each of four companies; and the 5th Panzer Division had the 13th Schützen Regiment, with two battalions, each of four companies.

The organization of the light divisions was not standard. The 1st Light Division had Cavalry Schützen Regiment No.4, which was reorganized into a motorized infantry brigade, with a single infantry regiment, a recce battalion and a tank regiment. The 2nd Light Division had Cavalry Schützen Regiments Nos 6 and 7, formed into two motorized infantry regiments, a recce regiment and a battalion of tanks; the infantry regiments were made up of two battalions, each of which fielded four squadrons. The 3rd Light Division had Cavalry Schützen Regiment No. 8 on establishment, formed into a motorized infantry regiment of two battalions, each fielding two squadrons; the divisional establishment was completed with a motorcycle battalion and a Panzer battalion. The 4th Light Division fielded Cavalry Schützen Regiments Nos 10 and 11, forming two motorized infantry regiments and a Panzer battalion; each of the motorized regiments was composed of two battalions, both of these fielding four squadrons.

In the months between the end of the Polish campaign and the opening of the war in the west, the four light divisions were upgraded to Panzer division status, and were numbered 6-9. Three motorized infantry regiments were taken to create the 10th Panzer Division. Other infantry regiments were used to increase the strength of the first three Schützen regiments to three battalions, as well as helping to create the 11th Schützen Regiment.

The number of Panzer divisions on establishment was increased from 10 to 20 during the autumn of 1940, and that number was further increased during 1941, with the 21st Panzer Division being raised for service in Africa. During the winter of 1941/2, Panzer divisions Nos 22, 23 and 24 were raised. The 24th was created by conversion of the 1st Cavalry Division, whose mounted regiments were renamed and renumbered Schützen Regiments Nos 21 and 26.

On 5 July 1942, the Schützen regiments of Panzer divisions were renamed Panzergrenadier regiments, and there was a change in organization, with the disbandment of the machine gun company which had been on the strength of each battalion. Panzer Divisions Nos 25, 26 and 27 were formed during 1942. Ten divisions were destroyed on the Eastern Front and in Africa, the 14th, 16th and 24th were lost at Stalingrad, while the 22nd and 27th suffered such severe losses that they had to be broken up. The 14th, 16th and 24th Divisions were then re-raised in France. In Tunisia, the 10th, 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions were lost, as were the 90th Light Division and the 164th and 999th Light Africa Divisions. The 15th and 90th Light were re-raised as Panzergrenadier divisions. The 21st Panzer was also re-raised in its former role. Neither the 164th Light nor the 999th Light were re-formed.

Most of the Panzer divisions on establishment were reorganized along the lines of a ‘Panzer Division 1943 Pattern’. In this, the first battalion of each division became armoured Panzergrenadiers, able to fight from their armoured vehicles. The first three companies of the battalion had a war establishment of 4 heavy and 39 light machine guns, 2 medium mortars, and 7.5 cm and 3.7 cm guns. No.4 Company had three heavy PAK, 2 light infantry guns, six 7.5 cm and 21 machine guns.

The first, second and third companies of the battalions in the new-pattern division each had 4 heavy machine guns, 18 light machines guns and 2 medium mortars. No.4 Company had 4 heavy mortars, 3 heavy PAK and 3 machine guns. No.9 – the infantry gun company – had 6 guns mounted on tracks. No. 10 Company was the pioneer company, and was equipped with 12 machine guns and 18 flame-throwers. During 1943/4, the 18th Panzer Division was broken up, and units were taken from it to create the 18th Artillery Division. During this period the ‘Panzer Lehr’ Division was raised, and three reserve Panzer divisions were used to create the 9th, 11th and 116th Panzer Divisions. The military disasters of the summer of 1944 brought about the creation of Panzer Brigades 101-113, which were used to reinforce Panzer or Panzergrenadier divisions which had suffered heavy losses.

During the autumn of 1944, the Army followed the pattern of the SS in combining two Panzer divisions into a permanent corps structure. Until that time, Army Panzer Corps HQs had been administrative units, to which divisions had been allocated as required. Army Panzer corps were then created, and ‘Grossdeutschland’, ‘Feldherrenhalle’ and XXIV Panzer Corps were created. The first named contained the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Panzergrenadier Division, the Panzergrenadier Division ‘Brandenburg’ and the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Musketier Regiment. The ‘Feldherrenhalle’ Corps had 1st and 2nd Divisions of that name, and the XXIV Panzer Corps contained the 16th and 17th Panzer Divisions, as well as the 29th Panzer Fusilier Regiment.

The final reorganization of the Panzer arm of service saw the creation of the ‘Panzer Division 1945’. This was an internal rearrangement which created and fielded a Panzer battle group because there was insufficient fuel to move all the Panzer vehicles, and only the machine gun company and the heavy weapons company were mobile.

The Manila Galleons

The replica of the Galeon Andalucia visits the Philippines in celebration of the Dia del Galeon Festival, a commemoration of the 16th century galleon trade. Video by Yahoo! Southeast Asia sports producer Izah Morales. Photos by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA Images.

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Pacific Routes-Manila Galleons

They sighted Cape San Lucas on 2 November 1709 and took up their stations. They spread out so that between them their lookouts could spot any vessel which appeared between the coast and a point some sixty miles out to sea. The Marquiss was stationed nearest the mainland, the Dutchess in the middle and the Duke on the outside, with the bark roving to and fro to carry messages from ship to ship. Sir Thomas Cavendish had captured the Manila galleon on 4 November 1587. Cavendish had two relatively small ships, the 18-gun Desire of 120 tons and the 10-gun Content of sixty tons. The Manila galleon that year had been the Santa Anna, a much larger ship of 600 tons, but she had no carriage guns because the Spanish were not expecting a hostile attack. When Cavendish moved in to attack, her crew had to resort to hurling javelins and throwing rocks on to the heads of the English sailors. Thanks to the massive construction of the galleon her crew battled on for five hours but suffered such heavy casualties that her Spanish commander was forced to surrender. Many of his seamen were Filipinos and among his many passengers there were women and children. The total value of the galleon’s cargo was reckoned to be around two million pesos.

The annual voyage of the Manila and Acapulco galleons across the Pacific was the longest non-stop passage made by any ships in the world on a regular basis. The westbound voyage from Acapulco took between two and three months and was made easier by a call at the island of Guam towards the end of the voyage, but the eastbound voyage took a gruelling five or six months and sometimes as long as eight months. This put a considerable strain on food and water supplies and inevitably resulted in deaths from scurvy. The track of the galleons was determined by wind and weather patterns and by ocean currents. The shorter and quicker westbound voyage taken by the Acapulco galleon took advantage of the north-east trade winds and a westerly current in the region of latitude 13 degrees north, known as the North Equatorial Current. The eastbound Manila galleon had to follow a curving track some 2,000 miles to the north which took her past the islands of Japan with the help of the Kuro Siwo Current, then across the Pacific with the aid of the westerly winds and then south-east to Acapulco assisted by the California Current which flows along the coast of North America.

It took some years of trial and error before the winds and currents were worked out and the situation was complicated by the typhoons – the cyclonic storms which sweep across the Philippines with a destructive power similar to the hurricanes of the Caribbean region. To take advantage of prevailing winds and avoid the typhoons it was reckoned that the Manila galleon must set sail in May or June, which meant that she could be expected to arrive off the coast of California at any time between October and December unless delayed or blown off course by storms – and many of the galleons had to endure a succession of violent storms during the voyage. In 1600 the Santa Margarita was so disabled by months of heavy weather that she was driven south and wrecked on the Ladrones Islands (Islas Ladrones), off the coast of Panama. Only fifty of the 260 men on board survived the shipwreck and most of the survivors were then killed by the native islanders.

The annual crossings of the Pacific had begun in 1565 and over the following 250 years more than thirty galleons were lost in storms or wrecked. Since no more than one or two galleons made the crossing each year this was a heavy toll in lives, ships and treasure. ‘The voyage from the Philippine Islands to America may be called the longest and most dreadful of any in the world,’ wrote Gemelli Careri, an experienced traveller, ‘… as for the terrible tempests that happen there, one upon the back of another, and for the desperate diseases that seize people, in 7 or 8 months, lying at sea sometimes near the line, sometimes cold, sometimes temperate, and sometimes hot, which is enough to destroy a man of steel, much more flesh and blood …’

Pirates Attack A Mughal Convoy 1695

averyHenry Every

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Every Chasing the Great Mughal Ship – The Sea (1887)

Seeing great potential in the Indian fleet, Henry Every and five other pirate captains conspire to attack the convoy heading to Mocha and loot the treasure ship Ganj-i-Sawai. One by one, they pick off parts of the Indian fleet with ease until they reach the Ganj-i-Sawai and its escort, defeating and taking up to £600,000 in gold and silver – the biggest haul ever seized by pirates. Naturally, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb is not happy. He blames the British for their countrymen’s actions and holds the EIC personally responsible. Four of the company’s factories are attacked and taken by the emperor. So, to mollify the ruler, a £1,000 bounty is placed on Every’s head and he is made exempt from any possible royal pardon or amnesty.

English mutineer and pirate, last seen at New Providence in the Bahamas. Every—whose name has sometimes been erroneously rendered as ‘‘John Avery,’’ or even ‘‘Long Ben’’—was apparently born to John and Anne ‘‘Evarie’’ in the village of Newton Ferrers, a few miles southeast of Plymouth, England, in August 1659.

The details of his early career are unknown, until he enters the books of the 64-gun HMS Rupert as an experienced mid- shipman under Captain Francis Wheeler in March 1689. In all likelihood, Every must have taken part in the capture of a large French convoy off Brest that summer, the first year of the War of the League of Augsburg or King William’s War, and at the end of July was promoted as chief mate to Rupert’s sailing master. In June 1690, Every transferred to HMS Albemarle of 90 guns when Wheeler became its commander, doubtless seeing action in the disastrous Battle of Beachy Head two weeks later. In August of that same year, Every was discharged from the Royal Navy.

He next appears in 1693, as the mate aboard the heavily-armed private frigate Charles II, which was lying at Grave- send in anticipation of making a salving expedition to the West Indies. An Irish officer named Arthur O’Byrne, after long service in the Royal Spanish Navy, had secured permission from King Charles II of Spain to work wrecks in the Americas. O’Byrne then sought financial and technical support in Lon- don, as England and Spain were temporarily allied against France. The command of this flagship, named in honor of the Spanish monarch and flying his colors, was held by John Strong, who had served with Sir William Phips in a highly lucrative operation on the treasure-ship Concepcion on six years previously.

This latest expedition was also intended to attack French possessions and trade with Spanish-American ports, so was to sail well-armed. In addition to the flagship, there were the frigates James and Dove, as well as the pink Seventh Son. After lengthy delays, this flotilla put into the Spanish port of La Coruna early in 1694, only to remain at anchor for another three months. Strong died, and was succeeded as Flag-Captain by Charles Gibson, with Every as first mate. The English crews grew restless at being thus long unpaid, so that at nine o’clock on a Monday night, May 7, 1694, with Every acting as ringleader, they rose with their flag- ship and slipped past the harbor batteries. Next morning, he set Captain Gibson and some 16 loyal hands adrift in a boat, saying: ‘‘I am a man of fortune, and must seek my fortune.’’ Every then convened a meeting of the 85 mutineers left aboard Charles II, whom he persuaded to embark on a piratical cruise into the Indian Ocean (perhaps in emulation of the well-known exploit of the Rhode Island freebooter Thomas Tew, of that same year). The ship was renamed Fancy, and fell down the West African coast to round the Cape of Good Hope. After a year-and-a-half of adventures in the Far East, Every succeeded in boarding the enormous Mogul trader Ganj-i-sawai off Bombay on September 8, 1695, pillaging it of the immense sum of £200,000.

He and his men then sought a means of escaping with their ill-gotten booty, by returning into the Atlantic, and making for the West Indies. In late April 1696, the weather-beaten Fancy dropped anchor at Royal Island off Eleuthera, some 50 miles from New Providence (modern Nassau) in the Bahamas. Every sent a boat with four men to call on the corrupt local Governor, Nicholas Trott, ostensibly giving his name as ‘‘Henry Bridgeman’’ and alleging that his ship was an ‘‘interloper’’ or unlicensed slaver come from the Guinea Coast with ivory and slaves. Privately, this official was offered a bribe of £1,000 to allow the vessel into port and the pirates to disperse. He signaled his acceptance and Every quickly sailed Fancy into harbor, where he and the Governor furthermore struck a deal as to the disposal of the craft itself. Still maintaining the fiction that this was a legal transaction, Every made the ship over into the Governor’s safe-keeping, ‘‘to take care of her for use of the owners.’’ Once this deal was struck, Fancy was stripped of everything of value—46 guns, 100 barrels of powder, many small arms, 50 tons of ivory, sails, blocks, etc.—and allowed to drift ashore two days later, to be destroyed by the surf.

With this tell-tale piece of evidence obliterated, Every and the majority of his followers disappeared from the Bahamas aboard different passing ships, hoping to blend back into civilian life. He was one of the few rovers who ever fully succeeded in eluding justice, which may be why so many myths have attached themselves to his name, both during his lifetime and since. More typical, perhaps, was his crewman Joseph Morris, left behind on the Bahamas when he went mad after ‘‘losing all his jewels upon a wager.’’

Reference

Baer, Joel H., ‘‘‘Captain John Avery’ and the Anatomy of a Mutiny,’’ Eighteenth-Century Life 18 (February 1994), pp. 1#23.

Privateers and Navies versus Merchants

“USS Bon Homme Richard vs. HMS Serapis on 23 September 1779,” by Anton Otto Fischer

After the declaration of war by the French, matters grew worse increasing the losses of ship-owners, freighters and consignees. The Lydia, Captain Dean, from Jamaica to Liverpool, serves as an example, for she was seized, taken to Maryland and sold with her cargo for £20,400. British privateers were also captured, as we shall see, but typical was the capture of Warren & Co.’s Dragon which, under Captain Briggs, had herself seized a number of rebel American and French ships. One of the latter, taken in February 1779 was La Modeste and she had been secured by members of the Dragon’s crew swimming across to her to take possession, since a the sea was running too high to launch a boat. The Dragon did equally well under Captain Reed the following year but in September 1781, Captain Gardner was obliged to strike her colours to a French frigate and submit to being taken in to Brest.

French frigates were particularly dangerous, often sailing as fast as a privateer, particularly as wind and sea rose, and usually of far greater fire-power. The 32-gun British frigate Minerva, having been captured and commissioned by the French in 1778, fell in with the Belcour of Liverpool, Captain Moore, in May 1779. Moore bore a Letter-of-Marque and had the previous year taken a schooner worth £1,000 and a French brig valued at £2,500. Now, on a passage from Halifax to Jamaica, the tables were turned and Moore found himself fighting for his life.

We engaged [the Minerva]…full two hours and a half, the furthest distance she was off was not more than pistol shot, a great part of the time yard arm and yard arm, as we term it, but that you may better understand it, her sides and ours touched each other, so that sometimes we could not [with]draw our rammers. The French, I assure you, we drove twice from their quarters, but unluckily their wads set us on fire in several places, and then we were obliged to strike. You may consider our condition, our ship on fire, our sails, masts and rigging being all cut to pieces, several of our men severely mangled. The French seeing our ship on fire, would not come to our assistance for fear of the ship blowing up, as soon as the fire reached the magazine, which it did five minutes after I was out of her. The sight was dreadful, as there was(sic) many poor souls on board. You will be anxious to know how we that were saved got out of her. We hove the small boat overboard in a shattered condition…and made two or three trips on board the frigate before she [the Belcour] blew up. The next morning, we picked up four men that were on pieces of the wreck…

Moore goes on to list the dead: the third mate, the surgeon and his mate, eleven seamen, ‘three Negroes and a child, passengers’.

Another successful French frigate was the 28-gun L’Aigle which, in the spring of 1780 took the Liverpool privateer Tartar, Captain Butler, ‘after a chase of eight hours and an engagement on one hour and a quarter’. In three weeks L’Aigle seized nine prizes, a fact lamented by Butler from prison in Bayonne in a letter to his ship’s owners. A heavier French cruiser, the Fripon of 44-guns, took the privateer Patsey off the Hebrides on 31 May 1781. During a fight lasting ninety minutes before her colours came down, Captain Dooling, his sailing master and six of the Patsey’s crew were killed and a number wounded. That October a French 44-gun frigate engaged the merchantman Quaker off Newfoundland. Despite her pacifist name, the Quaker’s master, Captain Evans, had furnished her with a Letter-of-Marque and in the autumn of 1781 she had arrived at Halifax with a 13-gun American privateer as her prize. Early the following year she took three prizes in to Antigua where they realised £21,000 and it was while returning north that, again on the Grand Banks, she fell in with the French frigate in a fog. Undaunted, Evans exchanged a broadside – in which one of the ship’s boys was killed and another wounded – then made all sail. After a chase of twelve hours Evans threw his pursuer off and got clear away and in the New Year of 1783 he captured another prize, a Letter-of-Marque brig from Martinique to France with a cargo of sugar, coffee and cocoa worth £10,000. Such men were redoubtable and one of the most renowned was Nehemiah Holland.

In July 1777 Captain Nehemiah Holland of the Sarah Goulburn, who had distinguished himself in the previous war, took the Sally of Charleston, South Carolina, when on her way to Nantes with rice and indigo. Throughout the war the trade between the rice plantations in North America and France was a rich hunting-ground for British privateers, capitalising on the rebel necessity to establish new markets for their produce. Tea, silk and wine went the other way and several privateers would form an ex officio squadron, agreeing to share prize money. In the winter of 1778/9 the Liverpoolmen Molly, Captain Woods, the Wasp, Captain Byrne, and the Bess took a number of prizes, though the Molly was, long afterwards, captured by a brace of French frigates. Captain Ash of the 20-gun Terrible seized two valuable prizes on a single day that spring, and also recaptured the Leinster Packet, which had been taken by the American privateer Rocket the previous day when bound from Bristol to Galway. A few days later, on 28 February, Captain Grimshaw, in command of Hall & Co.’s 14-gun Griffin, entered the Mersey with a French prize, Le Comte de St Germain which he had captured after a spirited running action lasting eight hours. The two vessels had been evenly matched in fire-power, though the Frenchman carried a smaller complement. The prize contained a cargo of tortoise-shell, indigo, sugar, molasses, coffee, cotton and cocoa. Other privateers profiting from this trade route were Wagner & Co.’s Dreadnought, Davenport’s Sturdy Beggar; and Captain Allanson’s aptly-named Vulture. However, success itself ran its own risk, as Captain Leigh of the Mary Ann discovered. Having taken thirteen prizes valued at £10,000, the Mary Ann was homeward-bound when she struck the Tusker Rock off the east coast of Ireland. Fortunately most of her cargo of indigo was salved and all her crew saved.

Many privateers, like the Griffin, performed a useful service in retaking captured vessels from the enemy. On 10 December 1778 the privateer Atalanta, 16-guns, Captain Collinson, recaptured the brig Eagle from Newfoundland to Cadiz with fish, and the following winter the Rawlinson and Clarendon, lying off Land’s End, retook the Weymouth Packet ‘which had sailed from Jamaica without convoy and had been taken by the General Sullivan privateer, of Portsmouth, New England’. The importance of recovering such a vessel, with mails, bills of exchange, currency and so forth is self-evident. Later, in May 1781, the 10-gun Ferret, Captain Archer, having been seized by a French corsair, was retaken by the privateer Vulture from Jersey. A few prizes were recovered by their own people, such as the Grace, Captain Wardley, seized in the Irish Sea by the privateer Lexington but carried to Torbay instead of France; and the Lively, which is discussed later. Such exertions were often risky. When in April 1781 the Balgrove was captured by a French corsair a prize-crew of sixteen men were put on board. The Balgrove’s mate was unwilling to submit and, with only four men to help him, overpowered the prize-crew and took the ship into the Cove of Cork.

Nor had the Royal Navy’s cruisers been idle; taking 203 American merchantmen between 11 July 1777 and I January 1778, and recapturing fifteen British vessels in rebel hands. Privateers from several British ports had also done their utmost to counter the enemy, but the anxieties and losses drove insurance rates inexorably upwards, a state of affairs only exacerbated by the entry of France into the war, along with her swarms of corsairs, and after her the other European maritime states. The American privateers, ‘though of limited naval value, certainly contributed to the Revolutionary cause, striking at the British merchant class, who, in turn, ventilated their opposition in Parliament’. This is a naval view, disparaging to the effort and effect of America’s private war on trade. The function of a nation’s maritime force, howsoever composed, is to destroy the enemy, attack his commerce and thereby ruin his economy. This was a view current at the time, for Thomas Jefferson considered that privateering was a national blessing ‘when a Country such as America then was, was at war with a commercial nation’. American analysis concludes that the 676 privateers commissioned under the new ensign of thirteen red stripes took ‘over 1,600’ British merchantmen. This, of course, excludes captures by the small but efficient Continental Navy and the very much greater impact of French corsairs, and of her men-of-war after 1778.

Such was the alarm in high places that all British merchant vessels were ordered to sail under convoy, though this was never fool-proof. When the man-of-war Falcon, the escort to a West India convoy, became separated from her charges, two of the merchant ship-masters, Captains William Buddecome and George Ross, undertook the defence, for which they received gifts of silver plate. Convoy, when carried out efficiently, proved its value.

In the third week in September, 1778, it was announced that all the principal fleets [i.e. mercantile convoys] had arrived safely, namely, The Jamaica fleet at Liverpool and Bristol; the Leeward Islands fleet at Plymouth, and the Lisbon and Spanish fleets in the Downs. The arrivals that week were the largest that had been known for many years. In October the London underwriters calculated that the losses sustained by the French since the proclamation of reprisals amounted to upwards of £1,200,000.

When the outward-bound West India convoy sailed in March 1779 it did so under the not inconsiderable escort of two 74-gun line-of-battle-ships, a 50-gun ship and two frigates. This was not the case in August the following year when, as will shortly be related in relation to the East India Company, the combined convoys bound to the East and West Indies were abandoned by their naval escort commanded by Captain John Moutray and captured by Admiral Cordoba’s squadrons. Significant among the fifty-two vessels taken by the Spanish were the Government-chartered victuallers and store-ships, four of which – the Lord Sandwich, Eliza, Friendship and Brilliant – carried stores for the army in the Leeward Islands; eleven of them – the Sisters, Nereus, John, Susannah, Jupiter, Lord North, Eagle, Hambro’ Merchant, Charming Sally, Charlotte and James and Jane – bore provisions for the naval squadrons in the West Indies, while the Arwin Galley and Hercules were loaded with ‘camp equipage and naval stores’. Excepting the five Indiamen captured by Cordoba and mentioned in Chapter Two, the remaining twenty-nine of his prizes consisted of ‘the trade’.

What made the commander of the escort’s conduct so reprehensible was that shortly before falling in with Cordoba, Captain Moutray had met a north-bound convoy under Captain George Johnstone in the Romney, man-of-war. Johnstone, an unpleasant man and afterwards an outspoken MP, commanded a heavy escort covering ‘forty sail, carrying 10,463 pipes of wine’ homeward from Oporto and it seems he warned Moutray of the activity of enemy squadrons. Even when he was apprised of enemy ships in the offing on the 8th, Moutray dismissed them as ‘nothing but Dutchmen’. However, in mitigation, it should be noted that when Moutray belatedly discovered his error and hoisted the signal for the convoy to tack and stand to the northward, most of the merchantmen failed to see or to obey the order and only those that did, the British Queen, the brig Rodney ‘and two others’, escaped Cordoba. However, nightfall and a hazy dawn combined with light winds probably prevented most of the convoy from being aware of Moutray’s signals, an opinion given in evidence at Moutray’s court-martial by Captain William Garnier of H.M. Frigate Southampton. Damningly, Moutray did not send either of his two frigates to recall the convoy, standing away to the north as disaster overtook his charges.

Indeed, between the Spring of 1779 and the late summer of 1780, the enemy struck at British merchantmen with near-catastrophic results. ‘It was,’ according to Gibb in his official history of Lloyd’s, ‘the heaviest blow that British commerce had received in living memory, the downfall of many respectable firms and the direct cause of half the underwriters in Lloyd’s Coffee-House failing to meet their obligations’, a summation Gibb attributes to one of them, John Walter, who afterwards founded The Times newspaper. A consequence of this turmoil on the insurance market was that the underwriters, of whom there were then less than one hundred and who now owned Lloyd’s Coffee House and had formed the Society of Lloyd’s, revised their standard marine insurance policy with three enduring additional clauses – waiver, war risks and frustration.

Further destruction of shipping contributing to the general air of ruin was caused by one man in a remarkable twenty-eight day cruise round the British Isles. Captain John Paul Jones was an unsavoury character, a renegade Scot who was disliked by his peers, but who possessed a savage fighting instinct. Born in 1747 in Kirkudbrightshire, he began his career in the British mercantile marine apprenticed to a Whitehaven ship-owner. On his first voyage Jones visited his elder brother who had emigrated to take up tailoring in Fredericksburg, Virginia, opening Jones’s eyes to possibilities in the colonies. When Jones’s employer went bankrupt his indentures were broken and Jones shipped in a slaver. By the age of nineteen he had risen to chief mate but he then gave the trade up in the West Indies. Taking passage home from Jamaica, Jones took command of the vessel when the master and mate both died. The ship’s owners granted him and the crew ten percent of the freight and offered Jones the position of master of the John of Dumfries.

Jones made several voyages to the West Indies in the John, on one of which he flogged the ship’s carpenter for neglect of duty. The man afterwards died and Jones was accused of murder by the carpenter’s father and consequently arrested. Tried in Dumfries, he was acquitted, found employment as master of the Betsy of London and by 1773 was back in the Antilles. Jones’s conduct towards his men provoked a mutiny when the Betsy lay off Tobago, evidence that Jones was typical of the harsher master of his day. His later apologists claim that in the confrontation the ring-leader of the mutineers ran upon Jones’s sword but among the seamen of the islands his name stank, particularly as he avoided facing charges by escaping to lie low in America. Here he was unemployed until the outbreak of the rebellion, when he went to Philadelphia to help fit-out the first Congressional man-of-war, the Alfred. Ingratiating himself with two congressmen involved with establishing what became the Continental Navy, Jones was offered a commission as lieutenant in December 1775 and served in the Alfred without distinction until, in 1776, he was given command of the Providence. It was now that he began to take prizes with the dash and élan that ultimately ensured his place in the pantheon of American naval heroes. As a consequence of his success he was given a small squadron, promoted to captain and repaid the confidence by taking sixteen prizes.

However, Jones was a man of touchy pride and a notion of his own superior abilities. His placing as 18th on the seniority list of the Continental Navy irked him and he began to make himself unpopular until Congress gave him command of the Ranger and sent him to France. Here he was to have assumed command of a larger, Dutch-built man-of-war, but found the ship had been given to the French by the American Commissioners in Paris so, leaving Brest in disgust, he headed for the Irish Sea, landing and raiding Whitehaven on 27-28 April 1778, burning the shipping in the harbour before crossing the Solway in an attempt to kidnap the Earl of Selkirk. The earl was disobligingly absent, so Jones and his crew helped themselves to what they wanted before heading for the Irish coast. Off Carrickfergus the Ranger fell in with HM Sloop-of-war Drake. In a furious action in which Jones lost eight killed and wounded to his opponent’s forty, he took the Drake and returned triumphantly to Brest on 8 May with another seven prizes. The alarm his raid – particularly that upon Whitehaven – caused along the British coast was augmented by reports of sightings of other rebel vessels. Jones’s presence with his prizes in Brest, demonstrating weaknesses in Britain’s seaward defences as it did, occurred as the French ministry were meditating revenge upon Britain for her victories of 1759 by a declaration of war. Jones was summoned to Paris for consultations. On 4 February 1779 he was informed that he would be put in charge of a former French East Indiaman fitting out as a man-of-war which Jones renamed as the Bonhomme Richard, a tribute to the American envoy in Paris, Benjamin Franklin who had once edited a New England periodical called Poor Richard’s Almanac.

In addition to the Bonhomme Richard, Jones was given a small squadron of French officered, manned and financed vessels with which to repeat his raid upon the British coast. His French colleagues – officers of the ancien régime – disliked Jones for his ill-bred manners, regarding him as a parvenu, but his successes spoke for themselves. Leaving L’Orient on 14 August 1779, Jones’s squadron returned to the Irish Sea, striking terror by the seizures of coasting vessels, rumours of which exaggerated the effects of his raid so that Jones’s successful cruise against merchant shipping around the British Isles added to the unsettlement of the entire British countryside for the whole of that summer.

[I]t was announced in the newspapers that the Duchess of Devonshire, and Lord and Lady Spencer, on their return from taking the waters at Spa, had arrived safe and sound at Harwich, although their ship had been attacked on the passage by two French cutters. The enemy had been beaten off by the Fly sloop, under the command of Captain Garner, after a long engagement in which an officer of the British vessel had been shot dead, and several of her crew killed and wounded; and it was allowed on all hands that the ladies had behaved admirably.

Even the sight of the homeward Jamaica convoy caused confusion in Brighton, where ‘the quality’ took it for an invasion fleet. The actual and imminent descent of a combined fleet of French and Spanish men-of-war had been reported, Spain having opportunistically joined the war in meditation of recovering Minorca and Gibraltar, and avenging herself for the loss of Florida and the coast of Honduras. This enemy fleet in the Channel was, in fact, a more significant threat than that of John Paul Jones (or indeed the Spanish Armada of 1588) and was aimed at Britain’s naval heart: Portsmouth, but the Combined Fleet dithered, so it was August before the twin forces of the fleets of France and Spain, along with Jones’s little squadron, were at large. The British Channel Fleet under Sir Charles Hardy, operating in misty weather, caught sight only once of their enemy as they slipped past, and the allies might have affected the landing so anxiously desired by Choiseul and Vergennes, had not a lack of supplies exacerbated by outbreaks of scurvy and disagreement between the French and Spanish commanders forced them to retire. Thus did inefficiency snatch defeat from the jaws of possible victory.

John Paul Jones had better luck. His ships worked north, through the Hebrides, where: ‘Our Northern sea-board was everywhere exposed to insult. The packet which plied from Tarbet to the Western parts of Argyllshire was captured in the Sound of Islay’. After his appearance before Leith, which he unsuccessfully attempted to ‘lay under contribution’, townsfolk all along the coast feared his coming. A public assembly was called in Kingston-upon-Hull to arrange defences for the River Humber and the Marquis of Rockingham promised to ‘treat the town with a battery of eighteen-pounders’.

Jones’s presence was an affront to the Royal Navy, particularly when on 23 September 1779 he fell upon a Baltic convoy off Flamborough Head. Jones’s ships succeeded in defeating the escort, H.M. Frigate Serapis and her consort, a sloop-of-war, in a fierce, celebrated and bloody action which ended in the surrender of Captain Pearson and the sinking of the Serapis. Within hours the shot-battered Bonhomme Richard also foundered, drawing Jones’s teeth, but he escaped with his prizes to reach the Texel. While Jones had established a legend, Pearson had at least largely succeeded in defending his convoy and, at terrible cost, ended Jones’s cruise.

The day after Jones’s victory the French corsair Dunkerque, Capitaine J.B.Royer, took the merchantman Three Friends of Liverpool, Captain Samuel Maine, who was caught off the Island of Jura. Not only the French and the Americans, but the Irish were active, the Black Prince taking the Lively, Captain Watts, in the English Channel in January 1780. However, a high sea was running and the prize-crew was unable to board, so Watts was ordered to follow his captor. He did this until darkness enabled him to run, but two days later the Lively had the misfortune to be captured by a 44-gun French frigate. Watts and most of his crew were removed and an officer and twelve seamen were placed on board, joining three of the ship’s boys who had been left behind. The Lively now grew leaky and the prize-crew tired of incessant pumping, fell asleep, whereupon the three boys seized some cutlasses, repossessed themselves of their ship and, shortly afterwards arriving off Kinsale, making a signal of distress. This was seen by the local population who opportunistically boarded the Lively and began plundering her but, with the help of local pilots, the Lively was brought into port where Captain M’Arthur of the Hercules, a Letter-of-Marque, took her over and beat off the looters.

The appearance of rebel Irish on their doorstep prompted the Liverpool merchants to petition the Admiralty for better protection and Their Lordships responded by increasing the number of cruisers in the Irish Sea by two frigates and a brace of cutters. There was much need for this. The scandal of enemy privateers operating in home waters with impunity was bad enough, but greater opprobrium attached to a navy that failed to protect tax-paying merchants from a home-grown menace. Although Edward Macartney had lived in France for some years and his ship, the Black Princess, flew the Bourbon ensign and carried a French Letter-of-Marque, her commander had been born in Ireland. Macartney’s Black Princess seized the John of Newcastle off the Mull of Galloway in July 1780 despite a spirited defence by Captain Rawson and his crew. Badly hurt and with his second mate also wounded and one man dead, Rawson hauled down his colours. Taking possession of his prize, Macartney agreed to the John’s release upon a surety for a ransom of £1,000, a sum which Rawson considered rapacious, refusing to sign the requisite documents. At this opposition Macartney withheld the services of a surgeon from the wounded and, on Rawson’s further protestations, gave the intimidating order to burn the John and her crew with her. Rawson capitulated. Some time later Macartney was captured and imprisoned at Plymouth.

A more notorious Irish privateer was Patrick Dowling who cruised in the Western Approaches and among whose prizes was the Olive Branch outward-bound from Liverpool to Charleston in 1781. She was ransomed for 7,700 guineas but Dowling, like Macartney, appears to have adopted extreme measures, perhaps because unlike his countryman who flew the French flag, Dowling could not avail himself of the prize-system and was more pirate than privateer. At the time of his taking the Olive Branch he had on board his own ship some seventeen ‘ransomers’ out of a tally of twenty-two prizes. The five who would not – or could not – oblige Dowling, were sunk. Clearly Dowling found ransom satisfactory, restoring his captures to their owners – at a price – and banking large sums himself, presumably thereby avoiding attracting too much unwelcome attention. The William of Bristol was released for 900 guineas, the Elizabeth, bound for Cork raised 800, the Sally for Guernsey 700, and a Maryport vessel put another 750 guineas in Dowling’s pocket.

Dowling and Macartney were by no means the only Irish commerce-raiders attacking British shipping in those last years of war. Nor were the Irish the only practitioners of ransom: the French were equally good at it. When the corsair Le Comte de Guichen was taken by HM Frigate Aurora, Captain Collins recovered a sheaf of ransom documents: the Peace of Whitehaven, 2,000 guineas; the Spooner of Glasgow, 1,800; the Six Sisters from the Isle of Man and Fortitude of Greenock, 1,500 each; the Sally of Strangford, 500 guineas; the two Workington vessels Lark and Glory, 450 between them, with two other bottoms adding 1,610 guineas to the total.

It was a see-saw war on both sides, but despite the serious effect the enemy’s war on trade had upon the British economy – the aspect most emphasised in conventional assessments – the British privateering war on American trade was itself of some countervailing significance. Our old friend William Boats, in partnership with William Gregson, commissioned several privateers and employed a number of energetic and able captains. One of these was Captain Jolly who in early 1778 commanded the Ellis, in which he took the Endeavour and Nancy, both loaded with sugar and rum. Later, handing over the Ellis to Captain Washington, he transferred to the Gregson and then cruised in company with his old vessel. Both these privateers were substantial, the Ellis of 340 tons burthen, 28-guns and 130 men; the Gregson of 250 tons, 24-guns and 120 men. Between them they took La Ville du Cap, from St Domingo to Nantes with sugar, coffee, cotton, rum and indigo, and the L’Aigle from port-au-Prince to Nantes with a similar cargo. Separating, Jolly next took a small privateer which he disarmed and released, followed by the snow La Genevieve, outward from Nantes for St Domingo with flour, wines and a general cargo. Captain Washington, meanwhile, was busy seizing the snow Josephine, full of oil, soap, brimstone and straw hats destined for Dunkerque.

Curiously a reduced form of trade between the belligerent powers sometimes continued, so that a wine merchant in Manchester was able to learn from his shipper in Bordeaux that:

Very many rich and respectable merchants here, have been already ruined by the great success of your privateers and cruisers. Many more must fall soon. May God, of his mercy to us, put an end speedily to this destructive and ridiculous war.

This contribution of privateers to the general war-effort is largely ignored by the eulogist extolling the exploits of naval cruisers but the wine-merchant’s cri de coeur is eloquent enough. On the British side investment, in prospect of attractive return, was not confined to the usual ship-owning classes. Short of money, the Marquis and Marchioness of Granby had an interest in several privateers, including the Lady Granby and the Marchioness of Granby. Such was the impact of the enemy war on British trade on the one hand, and British retaliation in the same vein with prizes said to have been worth £100,000 coming into the Mersey alone.