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



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.



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.



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


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.’’


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.

Henry VI: Resurgence of Piracy I

The unusually peaceful conditions in the Channel left by Henry V were the result of English control of both shores, combined with the essential support of the Count of Flanders (otherwise known as the Duke of Burgundy) and a series of truces made with the other countries whose merchants used the waterway. Englishmen continued to be restrained from piracy and privateering by the 1414 Statute of Truces. In addition, any potential offenders were busily occupied ferrying soldiers, officers of the government, the new settlers and all their respective supporters and equipment across to Normandy, and were paid for doing so.

In the background, however, the premature and unexpected death of Henry V brought to light other circumstances which were both complex and threatening. The so-called ‘dual kingdom’ was ruled by one king, but nonetheless consisted of two distinct countries. Behind the veil of Henry’s ‘permanent’ settlement of Englishmen in Normandy, each of the two countries, England and Normandy, still had its own government, its own laws, its own customs, and its own language. Henry’s failure to include the Armagnacs in the Treaty of Troyes meant that he bequeathed an ongoing war being fought against them on several different fronts, but mostly in the general area round Paris. In England, there was mounting opposition to this continuing war. Overall, the political portents for longer-term stability were not good.

Henry’s heir was the nine-month-old Henry VI (1422–61), born to Catherine at Windsor the previous December. A long regency was inevitable and the responsibility for continuity of government lay with the remaining members of the royal family, who were now reduced to four, Henry V’s two youngest brothers and two Beaufort step-uncles (see below). Almost immediately it became clear that it had been Henry V’s personal leadership and charisma which had provided the cement to give the family its former, remarkable, cohesion. Once that leadership had gone, cracks quickly appeared. The two remaining brothers were very different characters. John, Duke of Bedford was cast in the same mould as Henry himself, to whom he had already served as a trusted lieutenant. He was to prove wise, diplomatic, capable, energetic, and dedicated to the cause of England. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was, in contrast, much less reliable. His one military success had been conducting the conquest of the Cherbourg peninsula in 1418. Otherwise he lacked discretion and diplomacy, and was emphatically not a team player. He evidently had not been, and would not in future be, entrusted with important responsibility by other members of the family and nobility, which was a constant source of grievance to him. Apparently feeling cheated of opportunities to achieve military honour and glory, he was to prove himself irresponsible and self-seeking, an irritant and, increasingly, a danger to national and international stability.

Henry V’s wills, codicils and the other verbal directions he gave when he knew he was dying did not cover all eventualities, and were open to different interpretations. They opened the door to controversy. Henry had stipulated that Duke Humphrey should have the wardship of the infant king, but when the duke chose to assume that included running the country he found, to his intense frustration, that he was opposed by the council led by Henry Beaufort and his brother Thomas, and that all his activities were to be scrutinised by parliament. This initiated a series of fierce disputes between him and the restraining arm of his step-uncle, a bitter feud which continued to dominate English politics until they both died in 1447.

In France, Charles VI died fifty-one days after Henry V and, ignoring the Treaty of Troyes, his 19-year-old son, the Dauphin Charles, immediately claimed the throne. But that claim was supported by little substance: Charles had no financial resources, no body of loyal nobility and no centralised army. Much more important at that time, by mid-November John, Duke of Bedford, had emerged as the English regent of France.

Bedford was well aware that to maintain peaceful conditions in the Channel, which implied preventing a resurgence of piracy, it was essential to remain on good terms with Burgundy and, if possible, with Brittany. After some six months’ negotiation he achieved a triple alliance which bore fruit on 17 April 1423 in the defensive and offensive Treaty of Amiens, signed by himself, by Duke Philip of Burgundy and by Arthur of Richemont, brother of the Duke of Brittany. It was cemented by the marriages of Bedford to Anne, a sister of Philip of Burgundy (on 14 June), and of Arthur de Richemont to another sister, Margaret. The treaty recognised the French, the Dauphin’s party, as the common enemy.

He continued fighting to mop up remaining pockets of opposition on the Channel coast. For instance, he captured Le Crotoy, now a sleepy silt-bound fishing village but then one of the more important of the Channel ports, with an impressive fortress guarding the mouth of the Somme. Until then, lying too far from Flanders for Burgundy to reach it from the north, and too far north for the English to reach it from the Seine, it had remained in Armagnac hands, and had proved a useful base for Breton pirates. On 17 August 1424, Bedford also inflicted a massive defeat on the Dauphin’s much larger, but badly organised, force of French and Scots at Verneuil, some 60 miles west of Paris. As a result the Dauphin went into retreat, leaving the French temporarily leaderless, and the slaughtered Scots were never replaced, showing that Scottish support for France was dwindling.

However, two developments already threatened to destabilise Bedford’s triple entente. In or about January 1423 Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, had married Jacqueline of Hainault, and together they set out to recover Hainault from her estranged first husband, John of Brabant, and Holland and Zeeland from her uncle, John of Bavaria. Having landed with an army at Calais, their campaign was short and ended in fiasco. Nonetheless, both their objectives were bound to stir up antagonism on the part of the Duke of Burgundy. Secondly, the Bretons, as ever, were shifty allies, and despite the encouraging result at Verneuil, Arthur of Richemont reneged on the Treaty of Amiens and changed sides. He and his brother then proceeded to take control of the Dauphin’s side of the war, which aimed to expel the English! In spite of these checks, and continuing piracy by the Bretons, for six years Bedford was able to maintain the areas conquered by Henry V, and even to extend his land down to the Loire.

Then, on 3 November 1428 the military tide turned. The English forces suffered their first serious defeat. The Earl of Salisbury, their leader, was killed by a gunshot during the siege of Orleans and, following that, they failed to take the town. Soon afterwards, Jeanne d’Arc intervened. Her story is well known, but in short, she led the French troops to rapid victory over the English in a series of battles, and ensured that the Dauphin was crowned King of France at Reims on 17 July 1429. Although she herself was captured by the Burgundians in May 1430 and tried and burnt at the stake by the English in Rouen on 30 May 1431, she had restored French morale, and became a martyr. The loss of Salisbury, failure of their siege of Orleans, and the contributions of Jeanne d’Arc combined to seriously weaken the English position in France, and in December 1431 the Duke of Burgundy signed a six-year truce with Charles VII, further weakening his link with England.

For the English, further adversity followed quickly. On 13 November 1432 Anne, wife of the Duke of Bedford, died in an epidemic in Paris, aged only 28. Not only a grievous personal loss to Bedford, she had also provided a positive political link with Philip of Burgundy, her brother. Bedford remarried five months later, into a family deeply distrusted by Philip, who was thus further alienated. In addition, the soldiers in the garrison at Calais mutinied for lack of pay. Still, the English leaders, Bedford, Gloucester and Henry Beaufort, failed to agree on a strategy for prosecuting the war in France.

The years 1435–36 saw multiple crises for the English, with serious implications for their control of the Channel. In the spring of 1435 most of the counties along the south coast were on the alert. The Isle of Wight was living in fear of a French invasion. In the summer that year Philip of Burgundy convened the equivalent of a peace conference at Arras, but the English failed to come to an agreement with the French. One week after that diplomatic failure, Bedford died in Rouen, in September 1435, and only a week later, Burgundy officially concluded peace with France, which left the English without allies.

In September 1435, Dieppe was lost to the French. Harfleur and the surrounding area followed in November. In January 1436 the English were faced with a popular uprising in Normandy. At Calais, the woollen exports piled up, having been subjected to a Flemish embargo. In July, a Burgundian siege of Calais failed only because of dissent within their own ranks.

Against that background the young king Henry grew up, and it must have been increasingly obvious that he was the antithesis of his father. His interests and talents lay in directions very different from military matters or governmental control. He was a gentle, intelligent, peace-loving individual, who is now celebrated for founding and successfully influencing the early development of Eton College at Windsor and King’s College, Cambridge. But, compassionate and caring, he was indiscriminately generous with his favours and lacked the ability to select good officers, advisors and confidants. He lacked political acumen. In short, he did not possess the credentials necessary for strong leadership in the fifteenth century.

In addition, during his adolescence Henry was caught between two bitterly opposed, argumentative uncles, each of whom sought to impose his own opinions on him. Not only that, he must also have witnessed, as a powerless spectator, the failures, military and diplomatic, of his representatives in France. How these experiences affected him is impossible to estimate, but it did not bode well for the peace which he so strongly favoured. In the next few years Henry supported moves towards a peaceful settlement with France, but that was a long time in coming. A commercial agreement was reached with Burgundy in 1439, but disagreements among the English participants postponed a peace agreement until 1444. In 1445 the king married Margaret of Anjou, a strong and, as it turned out, fiery character who vehemently refused to negotiate with anybody who opposed her husband, so did nothing to promote peace or conciliation. The couple became increasingly unpopular, and the government in England became increasingly divided and corrupt.

In France, meanwhile, Charles VII had been gathering strength, and on 31 July 1449 he seized his opportunity and declared war. His reconquest of Normandy took only thirteen months. It was the story of Henry V’s conquest in reverse, and in mirror-image. Rouen, Caen, and Harfleur fell in quick succession and, last of all, Cherbourg capitulated on 12 August 1450. Once again, the Channel had become an international frontier.

The French then turned to Gascony, and on 17 July 1453 as the final coup they took Bordeaux, thus making it French for the first time in its history. The loss of that important, last, area of Aquitaine, which had been held in close economic and political association by England for the past three centuries, signalled the end of this chapter of history. It was also all too much for the sensitive Henry VI, who slipped into a coma that summer and remained unconscious for the following seventeen months.

During these twenty-four years in which the English were being forced to retreat, stage by stage, from Normandy, the English government was also becoming progressively weak at home. The national exchequer became increasingly impoverished, while at the same time the Church and some of the magnates were storing up massive fortunes for themselves. Defence of the coastline against raiders or invaders became a pressing issue, with mounting fear not only in the coastal communities themselves but also in government. But although the government was well aware of the need, no funds were available for defence. Law and order broke down, with corruption at all levels. This was the background, and the reason for, another intense period of uncontrolled piracy, which lasted until well after 1453.

This period was not only longer than others which have been discussed in this book, it was also more complex, as men found various devious ways to exploit situations and the law. The records are more complicated than ever before, and are therefore more difficult to interpret or to explain.

Enemy ships were legitimate prize so we are not concerned with them, but lengthy legal arguments were spun out concerning ships and cargoes of friendly countries. The statute of 1414 remained in force until 1435, although the merchants tried to get it repealed three times before that. They were chafing, complaining that it damaged English commerce. While their own hands were tied by it, foreign pirates were making off with English ships with impunity, without the possibility of retaliating with letters of marque.

In the meantime, while the English government resisted attempts to repeal the 1414 statute, they did take a rather different step in an attempt to regulate piracy. In 1426 a proclamation went out that when goods which had been captured at sea were brought into the ports, they were not to be disposed of until either the king’s council, or the chancellor, or the admiral or his deputy, had decided whether they belonged to friends or enemies. This was probably an attempt to simplify procedures. But in effect, it placed responsibility in the hands of a local official, the admiral’s deputy, giving excellent opportunities to the unscrupulous. The only recourse for wronged merchants was to complain to the chancellor, which is where we pick up their stories.

During the first seven years of the new reign, however, as long as John, Duke of Bedford, still had control of the important continental ports, life in the Channel remained relatively quiet. But even then, some members of the families who had been well known for piracy in the time of Henry IV were already back, engaged in their old trade. And their methods were already remarkably involved and devious.

John Hawley III of Dartmouth was the only son of the famous John Hawley. Although he had started out assisting his father in the last few years of his life and carried on with piracy until 1413, no major complaints were made about his activities during the reign of Henry V. He kept relatively quiet. But in 1427 he showed up again, at sea in the Bay of Biscay. Near the harbour of Oleron, he captured a ship and her cargo valued at £220 which belonged to John Lovell, a merchant of Dundee. When a commission was issued for his own arrest, he went to Lovell and bargained with him, exonerating himself but suggesting that Lovell should obtain three more commissions in which he would accuse forty other pirates who had been, in fact, Hawley’s accomplices. Hawley also agreed, using his position as a man of influence, to approach these men, to collect the money, with which he would make good all Lovell’s losses. Equipped with the new commissions, Hawley collected the money from his one-time associates but then departed with it, ensuring that none of it reached Lovell. To make matters worse for the hapless Lovell, he was left in a position from which he could make no further claims for damages in this case. Hawley, on the other hand, was in an advantageous position: he had established his innocence in that particular case. He carried on in public service. In 1430, he was appointed a commissioner to arrest more pirates, and in 1436 he was a commissioner for array in Devonshire, intended to round up men and armaments for the defence of the realm, although as he died that May, he is unlikely to have taken that up.

John Mixtow of Fowey, similarly from an old-established pirate family, appears in September 1430, in a very peculiar case involving an admiral’s deputy. John Caryewe, master of the Mary of Le Conquet, who was sailing with a couple of other Breton vessels, had safely delivered a load of salt to Penzance. Soon after he had left for home with a quantity of cloth, he was captured ‘in warlike manner’ by a swarm of pirates from Marazion and other small local ports, contrary to the truce in force between England and Brittany. At that point John Mixtow and Harry Nanskaseke of Truro appeared on the scene, and persuaded the admiral’s deputy, John Moure, to arrest the ship, invoking letters of marque which had been granted by the Duke of Brittany to Nanskaseke’s father nineteen years previously. Using that as their excuse, they took possession of both the Breton ships and the cargo of cloth. We hear of that case because John Caryewe, complaining of great inconvenience, requested the chancellor to direct the Sheriff of Cornwall to ensure safe trading conditions for the Bretons. He also demanded that the chancellor should issue a writ of subpoena to John Moure, as well as Mixtow and Nanskaseke, to be examined in respect of the letters of marque they quoted. Unfortunately, there is no record of the outcome of this case but, more importantly, it is evidence that this official was very prepared to enter into collusion with the pirates.

Mixtow was to be heard of again, slightly later. In July 1433 he was leader of a gang said to number 200, sailing in the great ship the Edward and a supporting balinger off Cape St Vincent, southern Portugal. ‘Armed and arrayed for war’, they captured a Genoese caravel (also described as a carrack), laden with woad, olive oil and lye destined for the port of Sandwich and eventually, no doubt, for London. The crew had offered no resistance. None the less, Mixtow abandoned them, destitute, on the coast of Portugal, wrongly accusing them of being ‘Saracens’. Taken back to Fowey, her cargo was divided among the captors and was then distributed around Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Wiltshire. Mixtow refused to accept the merchants’ evidence of identification, the ‘marks, charters and cockets’ on their goods, no doubt playing for time, during which the goods could be further dispersed.

Henry VI: Resurgence of Piracy II

Conjectural sketch of a balinger (C) Ian Friel 2015.

Balinger: During the 14th–16th centuries, a class of clinker-built, oared ship, with a single mast and sail. Originating in the Basque whaling industry, its design migrated to England where balingers were used in war and trade, displacing English galleys from local waters during the 14th century.

A balinger for the King

Hawley and Mixtow were the forerunners of a new class of pirates, new men, who surfaced in the records from 1430 onwards (and it is remarkable that their appearance coincided exactly with the initial downturn of events in France). These were men who had never been employed by the Crown, as Eustace and John Crabbe had been. Nor were they, with one very short-term exception, sanctioned by the Crown as privateers, like the great John Hawley. They were not even, like the Alards or, again, John Hawley, leaders in society who would have ploughed some of their profits back into their communities. In contrast, they showed little or no allegiance to their roots. They were, to put it simply, full-time professional plunderers, whose sole objective was personal profit. The majority came from Devon and Cornwall, where they were well supported by men in high positions who in their turn stood to gain from their investment in the ships and the necessary victuals. But there were also others, from further east, who were playing the same game. Overall, these men were numerous, and particularly since their cases were very complex, it is only possible here to offer an insight into what was happening through the activities of a small representative sample.

They were as mobile as any of their forerunners, appearing wherever the prizes appealed. In the years up to 1436 their principal targets were the Breton ships sailing up the southern side of the Channel to Rouen and Dieppe, bringing the basic necessities to the English occupants of Normandy, and also to the Channel Islands. These amounted principally to food and wine from La Rochelle, salt from the Bay, and linen cloth and cords from Brittany, together with some commodities which had evidently come from further south, such as iron, and resin for caulking their vessels. The individual claims for compensation for goods lost to them were noticeably small in comparison to those of the previous century, which reflected the size of the ships they were using. They were relatively small barges and balingers, which had the advantage over the great long-distance ocean-going Italian ships, in that they were able to work out from, and carry their prizes into, the smaller harbours like Penzance and Teignmouth. But at the same time they were apparently able to work long distances. They appeared in the Bay of Biscay, and they also sold their goods at places all along the coast between Cornwall and Portsmouth, including the Isle of Wight, which seems to have been an important emporium, centred on Newport.

Some details illustrate how they received back-up support, and the nature of the problems this caused. In the spring of 1432 two Breton merchants complained specifically ‘to show the chancellor how well protected the wrong-doers on the sea-coasts of Devonshire were’. They said that those captors were bribing the admiral’s deputy to empanel juries made up for the most part of their own relatives and friends, together with the victuallers and owners of the ship concerned. Those juries could be relied upon to give false verdicts, for example stating that goods which had actually been stolen from the king’s friends had belonged instead to the king’s enemies. And, in return for a bribe of half the goods, the deputy could be relied on to enrol that verdict, which rendered the king’s commission ineffective. The Bretons emphasised that as long as the deputy was in league with the pirates, he was their guarantee that matters would be settled in their favour. Importantly, a second commission dealing with the same event exposed a complaint of extortion against John Baron, a merchant of Exeter, who was one of the members of that commission. The results of an inquiry into this case, which were enrolled four years later, revealed the extent of Baron’s extortion. In this case he had helped himself to a pipe of bastard wine which belonged to the Bretons. As well as that, on the pretext of the commission, he had taken one or two packs of cloth from every man in the neighbourhood to whom he bore ill will. He had the stamp of an exceptionally disagreeable and grasping individual. The upshot was that nobody dared trade without first paying him a cut. The king thus lost his customs and many people were wronged. In addition, it has emerged from more recent research that Baron had a history of warrants out for his arrest. These included one for stealing a ship which was under safe conduct direct from a Breton harbour, possibly the St Nunne, which is described below.

William Kydd was one of this new class of pirate. He rose from documentary obscurity in 1430 and subsequently flourished, travelling far and wide without much reference to his port of origin, Exmouth, at least before 1453. In October 1430 he was master of a balinger, La Trinité of Exmouth, which he had packed with other malefactors. They seized a ship as it was nearing Guernsey from Brittany with a cargo of food. The terms of the subsequent commission to the sheriff of Devon and others make it clear that the authorities were aware that the owners and victuallers of the ship were supporting the pirates because in the last resort, their goods and chattels were to be arrested. But, unfortunately for those merchants of Guernsey and for numerous others, this was a period when innumerable commissions were issued and very few indeed were acted upon. In other words, there was already unlimited immunity for the pirates.

The following year, Kydd was among a group who, sailing with a flotilla of four barges ‘armed and arraigned in the manner of war’, captured four food ships on their way towards Rouen, took them back to Dartmouth, Fowey and Kingsbridge (on the Salcombe estuary) and sold the goods locally. Similar piracy continued intensively, and built up until, on 31 March 1436, Kydd led the large group of pirates who descended in a flotilla of eight barges and balingers on the harbour of St Paul de Lyon, south-east of Roscoff, and carried off the Saint Nunne, a ship sheltering in that harbour while waiting for a favourable wind to cross to England. They escorted that ship back to Plymouth, where she still lay in October six months later, together with goods worth 100l which included white wine of La Rochelle, two types of cloth, and 24 flychys of bacon which belonged to Thomas Horewood of Wells.

In 1435, in order to respond to the crisis which was rapidly unfolding on the opposite shore of the Channel, the government had an acute need for ships. Some men concerned must have looked back regretfully to the time of Henry V, when royal or loyal hired vessels would have been used to cruise the Channel through the long summer season for the combined purposes of guarding against French ships leaving port, protecting English commerce and, if necessary, defending the south coast of England. But that was no longer an option. Even before Henry V died, those ships had become redundant and had started to decay. Back in 1423–24, the authorities, finding they were further decayed and maintenance would have been unjustifiable, and especially since there was then no pressing need for them, had sold off the ships which remained.

Therefore, when crisis was looming in February 1436 the government took the only course open to it, and issued short-term (four-month) licences to certain individual shipowners to equip certain named ships at their own expense ‘with a master, mariners, men at arms, archers, and other hibiliments of war, and victuals, to resist the king’s enemies on the sea’. They were not to be paid, but all captured goods were to belong to the captors, except for the certain ‘share’ reserved for the admiral. Of the greatest significance, a proviso was included to exonerate those who made most of this piracy possible. It was stated that if any offence should be committed against the king’s friends, the offender alone should answer for it: no responsibility was to fall on the owner or the victualler of the ship.

These commissions were mostly issued to men of east coast ports, but included one in the south-west, Thomas Gylle of Dartmouth. He was another of those who first appears in the records after 1430, although he was notable as a shipowner and merchant of some substance. He was six times MP for the town between 1433 and 1455, and one of the collectors of customs in Exeter and Dartmouth in 1439 and in 1453. Between 1431 and 1435 he had frequently served on commissions to arrest men, ships and goods brought into West Country ports. Now, in 1436, he was licensed to equip and arm two of his ships, l’Antony and Le Katerine, both of Dartmouth, together with two supporting balingers or barges. For this short time, at least, he was a fully accredited privateer.

Gylle was heard of again in January 1440, in less dignified circumstances. His ship the Christopher of Dartmouth, 320 tons, was sailing home north to Dartmouth when, already in the lee of Start Point, she turned and, with full sail, a favourable wind and three well-harnessed men in the topcastle, rammed a much smaller ship which had been following some 3 miles behind her. She ‘sliced in two’ the George of Welles, 120 tons, and sank her. In his complaint to the chancellor, the owner, an Englishman born at Lancaster but then living in Drogheda, Ireland, prayed consideration for his great poverty, loss and delays and he took the opportunity to point out that while he was ignorant of Dartmouth, Gylle had ‘great authority and power in that district’.

Snapshots of the life of Hankyn Seelander illustrate the mobility, in more than one respect, of one of this new class of pirates. Both his address and even his name seem to have been readily adjustable. He is described variously as being of either Falmouth or Fowey, and it is also evident that he had valuable connections on the Isle of Wight.

In December 1433, as Hanquin Seland, he was accused of taking certain goods at sea from a ship of Bayonne. In 1439, a group of pirates in a balinger belonging to John Selander captured a Breton ship, the Saint Fiacre, sailing towards La Rochelle laden with goods belonging to John Loven. After Loven’s letters of safe conduct had been thrown overboard, he was robbed of both the ship and the cargo. In the early summer of 1441 one Hankyn Hood, presumably the same man, was sailing as master of the Marie with John Fresshow of Falmouth, a frequent companion, somewhere south of Brittany. In company with several other Cornish vessels they captured a ship of Vannes, southern Brittany, which they took to sell her cargo in one of the ports in the Gironde.

And so he went on, being especially active and confident in 1443–44. Around midsummer 1443 Alphonso Mendes, a merchant of Portugal, sailing in a ship of Tavira (on the south coast of Portugal) lost certain goods, principally fruit and bastard wine, to pirates who were named as John Selander and Hankyn Loo, both of Fowey. Unfortunately the location of this piracy was not disclosed, but one wonders whether these two names stood for one and the same man. That September, he had stolen wine and other merchandise from another Breton ship, of which John Rous was master.

On the Sunday before Christmas 1443, a group of pirates in a barge named Le Palmer of Fowey owned by Hankyn Selander captured another English ship, Le Mighell of Dartmouth, as she was preparing to enter Plymouth harbour at the end of her voyage from Brittany. She was carrying 21 tuns of wine and 17 pieces of linen cloth for a joint group of English merchants from the Plymouth area operating in partnership, it seems, with two named men from Le Conquet, Brittany. The pirates diverted the ship with its cargo to Newport, Isle of Wight, where they ‘did their will therof’. Although the goods may already have been sold, the commission which followed included the usual empty, unrealistic threat. He was to return the ship and the goods – or be committed to prison.

Clays Stephen of Portsmouth was another similar individual. In the autumn of 1445 he joined Robert Wenyngton of Dartmouth and others who came from Kingswear, and captured a ship which had been sent by the Queen of France to bring a consignment of wine, iron and other merchandise to England. In spite of the ship having letters of safe conduct from the king and there being a truce between England and France, they brought it into Fowey. They disposed of the goods easily, and the merchants were severely beaten up and some were killed.

In about March 1448 Clays Stephen had travelled further in the opposite direction and was in the Thames estuary, where he was joined by William Kydd, who had come from even further west. They combined with others to attack a ship bringing goods for some London merchants from Arnemuiden near Middleburg in Zeeland to Queenborough near Sheerness. They took that ship first to Portsmouth and then disposed of the goods on the Isle of Wight.

That summer Clays Stephen, one of two pirates said to be staying at Sandwich, was busy in a flotilla out at sea ‘between Dover and Calais’, which encountered a small convoy on its way from La Rochelle to Sluys. He was the master of a balinger which took a similar ship, the Saint Piere de Lavyon, and relieved it of 39 tuns of wine belonging to a merchant of La Rochelle. At the same time another merchant lost 27 tuns of white wine from a second ship, the Noel de Arninton.

In the autumn of 1450 another small flotilla of English pirates captured a hulk (an old-fashioned term for a vessel which was probably a successor of the cog) named the St George of Bruges, which belonged to a group of merchants of that city and was on voyage home from Portugal. Clays Stephen was master of one of the pirate ships, Le Carvell of Portsmouth: others came from Southampton and Winchelsea.

These are just a few examples of the culture of concentrated piracy which existed in the 1430s and 1440s. Numerous men were involved, and between Portugal and the North Sea no mariner can have felt safe from them.

In 1449 England was in a high state of uncertainty and insecurity, with the threat of French raids renewed because France had control of the opposing Channel ports. Then there was also a stream of refugees arriving from Normandy, many of them destitute, retreating after the collapse of Henry V’s ‘permanent’ settlement. In April, the government appointed three senior officers to ‘keep the seas’, to cruise the Channel looking for trouble. Those officers included Robert Wenyngton of Dartmouth, where he had already served as bailiff in 1446 and as mayor two years later. A month after his appointment the government found itself with somewhat more than it had bargained for, the largest prize of the century.

On 23 May, when Wenyngton was cruising with his ‘fellowship’ in a small flotilla of small vessels, in the general area of mid-Channel between Guernsey and Portland, he came upon the entire Bay fleet, some 110 larger vessels, which were carrying to Flanders and the Baltic not only salt but also some more valuable commodities, cloth and wine. Since Wenyngton had somehow become separated from the other two senior officers, one wonders if this encounter was entirely accidental. However, in a show of bravado, and with the advantage of a following wind, after a short altercation in which their admiral rebuffed his challenge, rather than risk the damage which might result from a mid-Channel gunfight, the whole fleet surrendered to him and was ushered into Southampton Water. Dutch and Flemish ships were soon released, but enormous bills were presented to the English government by the Hanse on behalf of its merchants.

In the penultimate month of our period, November 1453, Thomas Gylle of Dartmouth, merchant of substance who had a long history of apparent probity as an officer of the Crown, and who was the controller of customs in Exmouth that year seems, at last, to have been drawn into the web of corruption. He was working in collusion with William Kydd, the long-established pirate, in connection with a captured ship belonging to the Bishop of St Andrews which they brought into Exmouth. The ensuing documents stand out as being extraordinarily complicated and contorted, even by the standards of this period. Suffice it to say that they involved impersonation of the bishop’s brother; obtaining a commission under false pretences; impounding another ship in Scotland by way of reprisal; death-threats to officers of the Crown who approached the ship when in Sandwich; and the eventual escape of the ship, after her name had been changed, for the second time, to the Antony of Dartmouth. By March 1456 she was carrying thirty pilgrims on their way south to the shrine of St James at Compostela in Galicia.

All this time, piracy flourished, not only because of the usual reasons. The Crown was indeed weak, and deep-seated dynastic power struggles were taking place between excessively rich magnates. Law and order had certainly broken down in all levels of society. And, with the progressive loss of Normandy, the Channel became, once again, a dangerous frontier zone. In addition, and pervading all that, was corruption which reflected the underlying loss of the checks and balances which had previously been provided by the feudal system.

The degree of corruption was such that administrators in the ports, wealthy landowners inland and high-level legal officers were all involved. Widespread plunder was being carried out by the men of the sea with the strong support, encouragement and participation of the whole establishment, particularly in Cornwall and Devon.

By way of an epilogue, it is a nice irony that when, after several years of civil war and political manoeuvring, the time came, on 26 June 1460, for the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury to escort the Duke of York and his teenage son Edward across the Channel from Calais to Sandwich, they did so in a ship recently stolen from the French. Within nine more tumultuous months Edward had taken over the throne as Edward IV.

Queen Sayyida al Hurra

Sayyida al Hurra (1485-1561) Born in the Muslim kingdom of Granada in the Iberian peninsula, she fleet to North Africa after the christian conquest. She governed the state city of Tetouan and became the leader of pirates in the western Mediterranean, wreaking havoc on Spanish and Portuguese shipping lines. By Ananda C. Arán

MOROCCAN 1485-1561

Little is known about Sayyida al Hurra – even her real name. Her designated title means `noble lady who is free and independent; the woman sovereign who bows to no superior authority’. Born in Granada, she fled to Morocco as a child after the city was sacked by Christian forces, and she later turned to piracy against them, along with many other Muslims. She allied with Hayreddin Barbarossa as she attacked Spanish and Portuguese shipping in the Mediterranean.

Nobody had more reason to despise the Spanish than the pirate queen of the Barbary Coast, Sayyida al-Hurra. Originally from Granada, Sayyida and her family were forced to flee following the Reconquista in 1492. She married the governor of Tétouan, a family friend, and through him assumed a position of power. After his death, Sayyida inherited the position of governor and allied with Oruç Barbarossa to attack the Spanish and Portuguese – together they controlled the Mediterranean Sea. Sayyida remarried to the sultan of Morocco, Ahmed al-Wattasi, but famously refused to travel to Fez to marry him, instead insisting he come to her.

From 1515 to 1542, sayyida al-Hurra bint `ali ibn rashid governed Tétouan and, with her associate the Ottoman pirate Barbarossa, launched raids against the Spanish and Portuguese. Andalusians returning to Morocco in the late 15th century, as the Muslim control of even Granada slipped away, rebuilt Tétouan. Although sources disagree about whether al-Hurra’s husband was `ali al-mandri, the founder of the rebuilt Tétouan, or if perhaps her husband was his son (another al-mandri), they agree that from 1510 al-Hurra and her husband ruled Tétouan, she initially as prefect and he as governor, and that on his death in 1515 she assumed the title of governor. Spanish and Portuguese sources agree that it was with al-Hurra that their governments negotiated for the release of prisoners and that she was both the ultimate authority in Tétouan and behind the raids on their shipping.

In the late 15th century, al-Hurra’s Andalusian family (banu rashid) settled in Chefchaouen, and it was there that she married al-mandri, who belonged to an elite Andalusian family in Tétouan. After almandri’s death al-Hurra married the Wattasid sultan of Morocco, aHmad bn muHamad al-burtughali, who took the unprecedented step of leaving Fes to go to Tétouan for the marriage ceremony. Although remarried, al-Hurra continued to rule in Tétouan. The unusual degree of acceptance of al-Hurra as a ruler may have benefited from Andalusian familiarity with powerful female monarchs in Spain such as Isabelle of Castille (1474-1504).