Pirates and Privateers

Saturday 27th May. 9 AM – Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral. Today we’re finishing Raleigh’s first presentation at court – the scene we began the day before yesterday.


As Raleigh approaches the throne the Spanish ambassador objects that this man is a pirate and the gifts he is about to offer are the proceeds of piracy against his country.
So was Raleigh a pirate? He might have argued that he was a privateer. So what’s the difference? Privateers were effectively privately owned warships (and their crews) that could be commissioned by a government to make reprisals, to gain reparations for offenses in time of peace, or to prey upon the enemy in time of peace and war. This practise dates back to the 13th century but really took off in the 16th century with the discovery of the New World and the huge cross-Atlantic trade which that brought. Strictly speaking this wasn’t piracy as pirates were stateless bandits who attacked anyone they came across at sea whilst privateers operated under a license, known as a Letter of Marque or Letter of Reprisal. A letter of marque authorised a privateer to capture the shipping of a specific nation to compensate for an alleged injury to his nation by theirs.
So privateering was potentially hugely lucrative and investing in privateering enterprises (as Raleigh did) could make you rich. It was also fraught with danger however as one man’s privateer was another man’s pirate and the road to riches could quickly turn into the road to the gallows.
Justin

3 Responses to “Pirates and Privateers”

  1. Sir Walter Rawley says:

    Hey Justin,
    Privateering was a big thing and many adventurers wanted to be part of it. Raleigh started his exploits with Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Richard Grenville. Hope they are at the court with Raleigh.

  2. North says:

    Dear Justin, I remember reading in books throughout the years, that privateers and pirates both, were however known for perusing shipping-harbour bars and clubbing patrons on the head when they left the bar; whereby they would then next awaken come morning, and find they are prisoner-shiphands on a ship; where sometimes they’d be at voyage for months or a year?
    Do you have any facts which document this practice?
    North

  3. Nina says:

    Hi Justin, I know you’re probably too busy to answer this question but I have to try my luck anyways. I am planning on flying to England (From Vancouver, Canada) just to be able to catch a glimpse of you guys filming this movie, It’ll be a very expensive trip for me and I’d get extremely disappointed if I don’t get a chance to see you guys, but there’s a huge possibility that even though I’ll be in England I wouldn’t be able to catch you guys as I have no idea where (and when) you guys are shooting and if we’re allowed to get anywhere within a mile of the scenes…I am huge fan of this movie and it would mean the whole world to me if I could get a chance to see some of the scenes being filmed…I’d appreciate it so very much if you had a second to spare and returned my post and let me know if I could find out somehow where and when you guys are shooting…….
    Thanks a lot.
    Nina.

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