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Tag Archives: Maritime History & Piracy

  • A Gross of Pirates by Terry Breverton

    From Alfhild the Shield Maiden to Afweyne the Big Mouth

    Admiral Sir Henry Morgan. (A Gross of Pirates, Amberley Publishing)

    Why write twelve books about pirates and privateers? It simply stems from writing about famous Welshmen. I knew about the privateer Admiral Sir Henry Morgan, but by chance discovered Black Bart Roberts, hardly known in Britain, but by far the most successful ‘pirate of the Caribbean’, taking more than 400 ships, and known across the Americas. From the career of the teetotal Roberts, who dressed from head to foot in scarlet (the origin of le joli rouge, the Jolly Roger), I learned of the greatest pirate trial of all time…

    Men flocked to join him from surrendered ships – I did not know that forcible impressment and cruelty was endemic upon merchant ships as well as the Royal Navy – to escape their miserable lives. The average lifespan of a sailor in the slave trade was 18 months. Life as a pirate, in an elected democracy with agreed rules aboard ship, better food and freedom, was far more attractive. In Black Bart’s words, ‘a short life and a merry one shall be my motto.’ Pringle calls Roberts ‘possibly the most daring pirate who ever lived’, and upon the death of ‘the Black Pyrate’, there was the greatest pirate trial of all time, with 273 men captured, including 72 black pirates who had the same conditions, share of booty and freedom as their white counterparts.

    Bart’s is a magnificent story, well documented like those of Morgan, who successfully led six expeditions against ‘impregnable’ targets belonging to Spain and altered the course of the history of North America. Every maritime country has its story of privateers like Morgan, who were, of course, pirates to England’s major enemy.

    Blackbeard. (Courtesy of Library of Congress, A Gross of Pirates, Amberley Publishing)

    A review of the book reads: ‘It's no use pretending that these criminals do not evoke admiration - even envy. Part of the appeal is the democratic nature of their activities, characterised as far back as the fourteenth century by Klaus Stortebeker thieving in the Baltic - his crew were called the “Likedeelers”, the equal sharers. Author Terry Breverton has brought together the extraordinary stories of 144 pirates throughout history. They include Norman privateers, Barbary Corsairs, Elizabethan adventurers, Chinese pirates, “'the Brethren of the coast” - and of course the pirates of the Caribbean.’

    It was enjoyable writing the book, to research other pirates over the centuries. Some were brave gentlemen who led by example, like Henry Morgan; others experienced sailors who were voted into office like Roberts; some too kindly for their crews, like Edward England; and many simply unhinged and cruel, like l’Ollonais and Montbars the Destroyer. One of the early pirates, Eustace the Monk, may have been the model for Robin Hood, and the privateer Didrik Pining may have been the first to discover America. Some were female, such as Alfhild, ‘the bloody Lioness’ Jeanne de Clisson, Sayyida and Madame Ching. The latter, incidentally, had her pirate husband murdered and married his lover, their adopted bisexual son.

    Some readers may know that the character and tale of the renegade Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now was inspired by the film Aguire – Wrath of God. Both stories were inspired by Lope de Aguirre (8 November 1510 – 27 October 1561), also known as the ‘Limping Conquistador’, ‘Keeper of the Dead’, ‘El Loco’ (The Madman), who styled himself ‘Wrath of God, Prince of Freedom, Prince of Peru, and King of Tierra Firme’. And of course, he’s in the book!

    Terry Breverton's new book A Gross of Pirates is available for purchase now.

  • Pirates: Truth and Tales by Helen Hollick

    “.. A highly entertaining mine of fascinating information about all things piratical.”

     “Helen Hollick has an inimitable style which informs at the same time as being amusing and easily digestible.”

     “…A rich and lively vocabulary, with snippets of interesting facts about pirates and piracy that you never knew you needed to know, but which are all recounted with the authors sparkling wit and fine attention to detail… whichever page the book falls open at, you are guaranteed to find a fascinating snippet into the life and times of these colourful, and it must be said, decidedly, dangerous characters.”

    Helen has written a series of nautical Voyages based around her fictional pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne and his ship, Sea Witch, but her latest UK release in paperback is a non-fiction book – Pirates: Truth and Tales published by Amberley Press, which explores our fascination with the real pirates and those who are favourites in fiction. Today, Helen drops anchor for another interesting addition to her on-line two-week Voyage around the Blogs …

    The common perception of a pirate. (c. jgroup, Pirates, Amberley Publishing)

    Mention ‘pirates’ to adults or children and a smile broadens the face and the clichéd ‘Arrr’ erupts from the lips. The romance of fiction, TV shows and big-screen movies have influenced our perception of the Caribbean pirates of the ‘Golden Age’ of the early 1700s. We have a romantic view of a life ‘On the Account’, we think of Jack Sparrow from the Disney franchise Pirates of the Caribbean, or Captain Pugwash from the beloved children’s TV cartoon series. Do we care that these romantic portrayals are very far from the truth about pirates? Reality has its place, but for entertainment we like handsome heroes and pretty heroines. We enjoy the breath-taking alarm of make-believe danger and engrossing adventurous romps. Pirate stories give us the (safe) excitement we crave. Pirates seek treasure – don’t we all? How many of us hope for that winning lottery ticket every week? Although we don’t commit torture and murder to get it.

    Pirates were on a get-rich-quick mission and had no scruples about how they did it, as long as they had silver in their pockets to spend in the taverns and brothels. In stories, their ships are usually pristine and fast, the flag fluttering menacingly from the masthead is always a pair of crossed bones or cutlasses beneath a leering skull. Pirates wore a gold hooped earring, they drank rum, had swashbuckling fights with lethal cutlasses (which the hero in stories always won), lusted after buxom wenches and escaped the hangman at the very last minute.

    But what about the real pirates?

     

    To answer that question, and also to satisfy the passion of readers of the romantic fictional side of piracy, was my goal in producing Pirates: Truth and Tales when Amberley commissioned me to write it. I think I managed it. I wanted to write a ‘drop in at any chapter’ book. Mostly light-hearted, easy to read and with an ‘Oh, I didn’t know that’ feel. There are a lot of factual pirate books on the shelves in bookstores and on Amazon. I wanted something that might not necessarily be unique, but certainly very different.

    What I came up with were factual chapters ranging from the famous pirates, such as Blackbeard, Calico Jack Rackham, Anne Bonney and Mary Read and such, with a few not-so-well-knowns all running (sailing?) alongside more general seafaring chapters of interest: what they wore, what did they plunder, where and how did they sell it? Where did they get their ships from – and what type of ships did they use? Interspersed with all that, I investigated the fiction; the favourite novels such as Treasure Island and Frenchman’s Creek, my own Sea Witch Voyages series of nautical adventures that have a touch of fantasy about them, plus a few more excerpts from pirate novels by other authors, the fiction complimenting the factual, and bringing in an alternative perspective for the reader to enjoy.

    The result is a delightful mixture of the romantic and the reality. The swashbuckling movie and novel versions of pirates, and the not-so-nice horror of what these men (and women) were really like.

    I have to admit – honest pirate – give me the made-up romance version of pirates any day!

    Helen Hollick's new paperback edition of Pirates: Truth and Tales is available for purchase now.

     

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    Author's Links:

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