I must down to the
seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.
- John Masefield, "Sea Fever"
Day after day, day
after day, we stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where, and all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
From time immemorial,
the purpose of a navy has been to influence, and sometimes to decide, issues
on land. This was so with the Greeks of antiquity; the Romans, who created
a navy to defeat Carthage; the Spaniah, whose armada tried and failed to
conquer England; and most eminently, in the Atlantic and Pacific during
two world wars. The sea has always given man inexpensive transport and
ease of communication over long distances. The sea has supplied mobility,
capability, and support throughout Western history, and those failing in
the sea-power test notably Alexander, Napoleon and Hitler also failed
the longevity one.
- Edward L. Beach, "Keepers of the Sea"
There is no such thing
as a naval dictatorship.
- George Orwell
The sea has formed
the English character and the essential England is to be found in those
who follow it. From blue waters they have learned mercifulness, and they
have also learned in the grimmest of schools precision and resolution.
The sea endures no makeshifts. If a thing is not exactly right it will
be vastly wrong.
- John Buchan
We forget today that
Britain still depends for its livelihood and, indeed, its day-to-day survival,
on the sea. But the Royal Navy is now pitifully small and has been reduced
in size by the current Government, seeking economies to finance its social
programmes. Fine while there is no threat to our security. But what use
would schools and hospitals be if we could not protect our imports?
- John Keegan, "We can't afford to forget Trafalgar", "The Telegraph"
"If it had not been
for the English I should have been emperor of the East, but wherever there
is water to float a ship we are sure to find them in our way."
- Napoleon Bonaparte
"I do not say the French
cannot come. I only say they cannot come by sea!"
- Lord St. Vincent, dismissing fears of an invasion of England by Napoleonic France
"Close with a Frenchman,
but out-maneuver a Russian."
- Admiral Horatio Nelson
"So much courage deserved
a better fate."
- French Admiral Villeneuve, on the defeat of his fleet at Trafalgar
If the British could
not defeat France, the French would not undermine the naval mastery of
the British. British control of the sea routes could not by itself undermine
French hegemony in Europe. And Napoleon's military mastery could not induce
the islanders to surrender. Like the whale and the
elephant, each was by far the largest entity in its respective region.
- Paul Kennedy, overview of the Napoleonic wars
The Battle of Trafalgar
has been celebrated for nearly two centuries as one of the pivotal occasions
in British and European history. It was, indeed, a spectacular culmination
and the last great action fought at sea under sail; when a Franco-British
fleet destroyed the Ottoman fleet eight years later, the latter were at
anchor in Navarino Bay. Even in the age of steam and steel there were only
two great actions between battleships: in 1905, at Tsushima, the Japanese
destroyed the Russian fleet; eleven years later, the British and German
fleets fought at Jutland in the North Sea. But never, after 1805, did two
fleets of great sailing ships fight on that scale; it would never happen
- Tom Pocock, on a watershed in history, "The Terror Before Trafalgar"
"You have done your
duty in pointing out to me the danger; now lay me alongside the enemy's
- Admiral Hawke, overcoming the warnings of his pilot to crush the French at Quiberon Bay
Quiberon Bay was one
of the great naval victories in world history. The mighty French fleet
had been humiliated and, like the German Grand Fleet after Jutland, never
put to sea again during the Seven Years War. It may lack the totality of
Nelson's later triumphs at the Nile and Trafalgar, if only because many
of the French ships never got into the fight; and it was not a decisive
event in the sense that Salamis, Actium and Tsushima were. It did not even
have the obvious drama of Lepanto. But a sea battle fought in a violent
storm will surely remain a unqiue event in all the chronicles of the ages.
- Frank McLynn, "1759: The Year of Victories"
"No more courageous
decision in the handling of a navy's main battle fleet has ever been taken."
- J Cresswell, describing Admiral Hawke's command at Quiberon Bay
The British had sustained
severe damage in their masts and rigging, the French in the hulls of their
vessels, reflecting the different gunnery tactics employed by the two sides.
But one consequence of pouring roundshot into the hulls (the British approach)
rather than chainshot and barshot into the masts, yards and rigging (the
French approach) was that French casualties were higher: 400 killed and
wounded as against 118 losses taken by the British. But the French tactics
did have one clear advantage: their ships were able to bear away at speed,
running before the wind while the British pursuers, with ripped and shivered
sails and spars, limped along at about one-third the speed.
- Frank McLynn, describing a clash between British and French ships off Pondicherry, "1759"
Life on a ship was
like being in jail with the added chance of being drowned.
- Samuel Johnson, writing in 1759
"How much better the
land seems from the sea than the sea from the land..."
- A Spanish official, after crossing the Atlantic in 1573
"An income means life
to wretched mortals, but it is a terrible fate to die among the waves."
- Hesiod, commenting in the 8th century B.C. on why merchants took to sea
One sailor will do
us more good than two soldiers.
- John Adams, writing during the American Revolutionary War
"Damn the torpedoes!
Full speed ahead."
- Admiral David Farragut, commanding Union assault at Mobile Bay (1864)
"Whereas we had available
for immediate purposes 149 first-class warships, we have now two, these
two being the Warrior and her sister Ironside. There is not now a ship
in the English navy apart from these tw that it would not be madness to
trust to an engagement with that little Monitor."
- The Times of London, after the clash of the Monitor and Virginia (1862)
"In this country we
find it pays to shoot an admiral from time to time to encourage the other."
- Voltaire's opinion on the harsh execution of Royal Navy Admiral Byng in 1757
There were gentlemen
and there were seamen in the navy of Charles II. But the seamen were not
gentlemen, and the gentlemen were not seamen.
- Thomas Macauley, "History of England"
"Don't talk to me about
naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash."
- Quotation falsely attributed to Winston Churchill
There were nights when
he took a deal more rum and water than his head could carry; and then he
would sometimes sit and sing his wicked old wild sea-songs, minding nobody...
Often I have heard the house shaking with Yo-ho-ho and a bottle and rum,
all the neighbours joining in for dear life with the fear of death upon
them and each singing louder than the other to avoid remark. "Fiften men
on the dead man's chest, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil
have done for the rest. Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!"
- Robert Louis Stevenson, "Treasure Island" (1883)
"Rum? 'Tis the courage
of fighting Dutchmen and the mainbrace of the Royal Navy, a potable charge
for explosions of friendship, wings on the slippers of Mercury."
- Captain Ecuyer in Hervey Allen's "The Forest and the Fort" (1932)
"The line from the
pirate shanty "Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum 15 men on a dead man's chest"
comes from a tiny Caribbean island. Fearsome pirate Blackbeard drowned
many crew he suspected of treachery off Dead Chest Island. He lured them
there with a treasure chest containing nothing but a bottle of rum.
- Metro factfile
The place was a gilded
hades, and mammon held sovereign sway over its people. Bearded seamen,
bronzed and weather-stained, bedecked with priceless jewellery and the
finest silks of the Orient, swaggered along its quays and gambled with
heavy gold coins whose value no one cared to estimate... Common seamen
hung their ears with heavy gold rings studded with the costliest gems...
And every man in that crowd of pirates lived beneath the shadow of the
- Account of life in Port Royal, Jamaica by 17th century traveller named Henderson 
He and his companions
had arrived where self-interest was sustained by cruelty and violence.
- Hector Lynch is taken aboard a buccaneer ship in "Buccaneer" by Tim Severin
"The Navy's a very
gentlemanly business. You fire at the horizon to sink a ship and then you
pull people out of the water and say, 'Frightfully sorry, old chap.'"
- William Golding
The ship was a thing
of exquisite beauty in an exquisite setting... She was a magnificient fighting
machine, the mistress of the waves over which she was sailing in solitary
- Lt. Hornblower, in CS Forester's "Horatio Hornblower" series
"Here ends the story
of a ship, but there will always be other ships, for we are an island race.
Through all our centuries, the sea has ruled our destiny. There will always
be other ships and men to sail in them. It is these men, in peace or war,
to whom we owe so much. Above all victories, beyond all loss, in spite
of changing values in a changing world, they give to us, their countrymen,
eternal and indomitable pride."
- from British film "In Which We Serve" (1941) written by Noel Coward
If you want to build
a ship, dont drum up people together to collect wood and dont assign
them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity
of the sea.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
All that is told of
the sea has a fabulous sound to an inhabitant of the land and all its products
have a certain fabulous quality, as if they belonged to another planet.
- Henry David Thoreau, "Cape Cod"
"I shall never forget
the terrible beauty of the Titanic at that moment. She was tilted forward,
head down, with her first funnel partly under water. To me she looked like
an enormous glow worm; for she was alight from the rising water line, clear
to her stern electric lights blazing in every cabin, lights on all decks
and lights at her mast heads."
- Charlotte Collyer, Titanic survivor
To read through the
US Senate Hearings is to learn a very great deal not only about the Titanic
and its sinking but about British and American societies; the Hearings
in their entirety are a valuable cultural resource... To read the Hearings
is also to glimpse the human side of individuals as well as the impersonal
side of American capitalist organisations, and, more especially, individuals
recalling their actions and feelings where, to quote WB Yeats, 'life is
- John Wilson Foster, "The Age of Titanic"
The passion for exploration
and discovery, the hunger to learn all things about all aspects of the
physical world, the great and preposterous optimism that held that such
truths were in fact discoverable, its dazzling sophistication and its occasional
startling innocence; an age in which geographical and scientific discoveries
surpassed anything previously dreamt of, and yet an age in which it was
still, just barely, possible to believe in mermaids and unicorns these
remarkable traits so characterized the British 18th century
- Caroline Alexander, on the voyage of The Bounty, "The Bounty"
History loves a paradox,
and there can be none greater than a taste for spices being responsible
for the exploration of our planet. Sovereigns pledged their prestige, and
navigators risked their lives, not in the quest for gold or the thirst
for power but to redirect the distribution of a few inessential and today
almost irrelevant vegetable products.
- John Keay, "The Spice Route"
"Zulus, thousands of
- Favourite saying of Sunny, mascot\parrot of HMS Lancaster
"British Generals always
made for harbours."
- Paul Reynaud, French Prime Minister (194)
Since time immemorial
it had been the custom before a sea battle for the men to wash and don
clean clothes in case of being wounded. This was all the more necessary
under these circumstances, as many of them were still covered with coal
- Richard Hough, describing the Battle of the Falklands in "Naval Battles of the 20th Century"
That a modern battleship
of 48,000 tons would have to defend itself against wood and fabric biplanes
with its main armament was a salutary reminder of the changing face of
- Richard Hough, on the air attack against the Bismarck, "Naval Battles of the 20th Century"
"Scratch one flat-top."
- USN Admiral Fletcher's signal to fleet after sinking of Japanese carrier at Coral Sea (1942)
The Battle for the
Philippines was the greatest naval battle in history, judged in terms of
the number of ships taking part, the number of ships sunk, and the importance
of its outcome. It included every form of naval warfare of the 20th century:
gunnery duels between battleships; destroyer battles at night and by day,
as ferocious and sustained as any at the Battle of Jutland; submarines
that stalked the depths; sinking many ships; and finally, carrier warfare
on a scale never dreamed of even by the most ardent enthusiasts of air
warfare at sea.
- Richard Hough, "Naval Battles of the 20th Century"
He thought to quell
the stubborn hearts of oak,
Madman! to chain with chains, and bind with bands
That island queen who sways the floods and lands
From Ind to Ind, but in fair daylight woke,
When from her wooden walls,--lit by sure hands,--
With thunders and with lightnings and with smoke,--
Peal after peal, the British battle broke,
Lulling the brine against the Coptic sands.
We taught him lowlier moods, when Elsinore
Heard the war moan along the distant sea,
Rocking with shattered spars, with sudden fires
Flamed over: at Trafalgar yet once more
We taught him: late he learned humility
Perforce, like those whom Gideon schooled with briars.
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Buonaparte"
>> HORATIO NELSON by TOM POCOCK
"Either the distances
betweem the distant quarters of the globe are diminished, or you have extended
the powers of human action."
- Hugh Elliot, letter to Admiral Nelson after his pursuit of a French fleet across the Atlantic
The career of a professional naval officer was the most exciting of the two principal options open to boys of the Nelson's social class: the Church of England, or the Royal Navy. The former offered modest security and a genteel occupation; the latter, certainly hardship and possibly a violent death but also the chance of making a fortune from prize money after taking enemy ships and cargoes.
Unlike General Wolfe, Nelson had become a national hero in his lifetime. Never before had an Englishman seized the imagination of his countrymen with such intensity and in such fine focus. The Royal Navy was the embodiment and implementation of the national will and by far the nation's largest and most efficient military or industrial organisation, but hitherto its commanders had been little more than names printed in capital letters by newspaper editors and balladeers. Now Nelson emerged not only as the hero whow on victories, fought alongside his men and had the wounds to prove it, but was, above all, instantly recognisable. Nelson's feats of arms might seem superhuman but his personal qualities were human and humane. Nelson was unqiue.
>> LIFE AT SEA IN THE AGE OF NELSON by STEVE POPE
They took to the winds in fragile wooden ships, armed to the teeth against human foes but almost powerless against the elemental forces of storm and disease. In war or peace, every voyage was a dice with death, part of an unceasing struggle to tame the ocean highways.
Regardless of the time it occured, every British warship met the dawn at action stations. General quarters was called at least 15 minutes before first light, bringing every member of the crew on deck and into his assigned combat position. Once full daylight had revealed, as it usually did, that all was quiet to the horizons, the crew could go back to working or sleeping.
In the aftermath of
victory came the prize money. Having taken a warship, merchantman or privateer,
and sent it to a friendly port under a skeleton 'prize crew', a captain
was entitled to sell both prize and cargo to agents of the government.
Until 1808, an eight of the money went to the admiral commanding a successful
ship's fleet and a quarter to the captain. An eight was divided among the
commissioned officers, ship's master and marine officers, an eight among
the warrant officers, an eight among the midshipmen and petty officers,
and the remaining quarter among the rest of the crew.
Great battle victories didn't tend to be very lucrative, since most of the ships captured had been smashed into near uselessness. Under these circumstances, though the system provided an incentive for aggression at sea and aided recruitment, it sometimes encouraged captains to avoid battle with warships in order to concentrate on prize-hunting.
>> MARITIME SUPREMACY by PETER PADFIELD
Maritime supremacy is the key which unlocks most, if not all, large questions of modern history, certainly the puzzle or how and why we - the Western democracies - are as we are. We are the heirs of maritime supremacy. Our civilization, our beliefs, our dominance are products not of superior minds or bravery, cunning, greed or ruthlessness - common attributes of mankind - still less of Christian religion, the Protestant 'work ethic' or blind chance, but of the particular configuration of seas and land masses that has given the advantage to powers able to use and command the seas. It has been an evolutionary process. In the unrelenting struggles of peoples, those ascendant at sea, at least in the modern era, proved consistently successful either singly or in alliance against those with a territorial power base; hence it is a system of government associated with supreme maritime power that has prevailed.
Our faith in democracy, personal freedoms and human 'rights', and the other comforting prescriptions of the humanist liberal credo stem from the supremacy of maritime over territorial power. Pragmatists may deplore this as crude determinism, as another vain attempt to construct a general theory of history. They should reflect on the sort of political philosophy and structures we might now adhere to had the Habsburgs, Bourbons, Bonaparte, Hitler, Stalin or his heirs prevailed in the titanic world struggles of the past four centuries.
Seafaring and trade beget merchants, merchants accumulate wealth and bring the pressure of money to bear on hereditary monarchies and landowning aristocracies and sooner or later merchant values usually in government. Chief of these are dispersed power and open, consultative rule, since concentrated power and the arbitrary of closed cabals are unresponsive to the needs of trade and fatal to sound finance. The other distinguishing mark of merchant power is freedom, since both trade and consultative government require the widest dissemination of information and free expression of opinion; thus the basic freedoms of trade spread across all areas of life, tending to break down social hierarchies and the grip of received ideas, creating more open, mobile and enterprising cultures. Liberty has always been the pride and rallying call of power enjoying a maritime supremacy.
The reason territorial monarchs failed time after time against maritime powers was not that absolutist, non-consensual governments were incapable of building great fleets in peace - quite the reverse - but that they were unable to fund them in the crises of war. Mainly this was because they were forced to divert resources from the fleet to their armies, to fight territorial rivals frequently financed by their maritime enemy from the profits of sea trade.
Earlier maritime states had been supreme in particular seas, notably the Mediterranean. The greatest was the Venetian Republic, which engrossed the most valuable trades of the eastern Mediterranean and enjoyed a dazzling reputation for wealth, humanist thinkers, art and a constitution based on tortuous checks on concentrated personal power. In the oceanic age which heralded Venice's decline, the Dutch were the first to employ the same trading and financial skills to dominate the most lucractive trades of the world, becoming in their turn famed for wealth, humanist thinkers, arts and a constitution exemplifying diffused power. In this sense there has been a direct transfer of market and capital expertise and associated values from Venice and the city states of the Renaissance, and before them Athens and the thalassocracies of the ancient world, to the Dutch and their British and American successors. In the final stages of the process, the British maritime empire gave way to the American, and democracy and women's freedoms blossomed from the liberal ideal.
Wealth from trade was
the mainspring of Western material advance; the visible agents of change
were great guns. These came of age in Europe in the 15th century. On land
their potency in reducing castle walls favoured central over local power,
since in general only monarchs could afford siege-trains; so nation-states
were consolidated and extended into great territorial empires. At sea,
guns transformed sailing ships into mobile castles virtually impregnable
to opponents who lacked equally powerful ordnance. With the ocean-going
gunned warship, western Europe began to extend around the globe.
Bitterness at interference
with ancient liberties was joined to an expressed through religious dissent.
Christian humanism - stressing the importance of an individual's relationship
to God and inner spiritual life, as against the outer rituals of formal
religion - had developed in the northern Netherlands late in the 14th century;
in the early 16th it had spread to all provinces through the works of its
most luminous scholar, Erasmus. The Habsburg Emperor Charles V responded
by setting up the Inquisition in Antwerp. The first two martyrs had been
burned in the great market square at Brussels in 1523. Repression only
drove the Protestant heresies underground, and Charles, who had learned
through experience that heresy was synonymous with political rebellion,
extended the Inquisition. The increased scale of executions deepened disillusion
with the Established Church. Congregations decreased. Discontent with foreign
- describing the onset of Dutch rebellion
Philip could not have
wanted to annex England militarily, since this would have opened another
costly occupation struggle, and brought France in against him. He might,
however, neutralize Elizabth by supporting her internal Catholic enemies,
even provoking civil war.
- assessing the aims of the Spanish Armada of 1588
The prosperity of the
United Provinces in the mid seventeenth century was evident to all visitors.
They marvelled as much at the freedoms its citizens took as their birthright.
Descartes, acknowledged as the first modern philosopher, since he admitted
the new principles of science into his system, wrote his seminal works
in Holland, because of the unique intellectual and religious freedoms he
found there; there was no other country in which one could enjoy such complete
liberty, he declared.' The English ambassador at The Hague, Sir William
Temple, who travelled incognito through Holland, afterwards expressed his
admiration for the liberty 'the Dutch valued so much' - in particular,
'the strange freedom that all men took in boats and inns and all other
common places, of talking openly whatever they thought upon all public
affairs, both of their own state, and their neighbours'.
Temple was equally struck by the religious freedoms. Calvinism was the official Protestant denomination, and no one could hold office in the republic without affirming membership of the Calvinist Reformed Church, yet a large Catholic minority and innumerable dissenting sects practised their own rites in their own places of worship and published their own sacred texts. Even Jews lived freely among the populace without being confined to ghettos; later they were permitted a synagogue in Amsterdam, which was opened in 1675. Such essentially pragmatic indulgence in an age of extreme religious intolerance so impressed the fourth Earl of Shaftesbury he recommended that England follow suit, in order likewise to attract and retain skilled workers.
- the Dutch Golden Age
"Is that an admiral?
That is an admiral, a captain, a master, a seaman and a soldier. This man,
this hero, is everything at once."
- Michiel de Ruyter, commander Dutch fleet at Sole Bay (1672), praised by a British officer
"The interest of the
King of England is to keep France from being too great on the Continent,
and the French interest is to keep us from being masters of the sea."
- Sir William Coventry, speaking in the House of Commons (1673)
"I said whilst we had
a fleet in being, they would not dare make an attempt."
- Lord Torrington, at his court-martial after Beachy Head (1690)
An alliance was born
between the regents, or States Party and William of Orange, and selected
regents were initiated into a secret strategy for a pre-emptive invasion
of England and the overthrow of James II. It was a plan of high audacity
which, if it failed, would precipitate precisely what it was designed to
prevent: an alliance of the two largest navies and the largest army in
Europe against the United Provinces... rather than stand on the defensive,
when they would probably be overwhelmed by France and England in alliance
- as had almost happened in 1672 - they should invade England while the
country was divided by the considerable opposition to the King's party,
break James's 'absolute power', and establish in its place an anti-French,
anti-Catholic parliamentary monarchy limited by the constitution, so bringing
England into the scales against France.
...In conception, organization, prior intelligence, propaganda and deception, William's coup ranks alongside the 1944 Normandy landings as one of the great decisive strokes of maritime power in history. There had been nothing inevitable about William's success, styled by the Whigs, who benefitted most, the 'Glorious Revolution'... while William's initial takeover was practically bloodless, conquest was not to be completed without bloody battles against James's supporters (Jacobites) in Scotland and Ireland.
- the 'Glorious Revolution'
"England is the freest
country in the world. I make exception of no republic. And I call it free
because the sovereign, whose person is controlled and limited, is unable
to inflict any imaginable harm on anyone."
- opinion of the French writer Montesqieu on England in 1729
There were fewer salaried Crown servants in the whole of England than in the single province of Normandy and taxation per head was a quarter to a third of that in France; as importantly, it fell on all classes and was seen to do so... the contrast in financial management could not have been greater... England (or, after the union with Scotland in 1707, Great Britain) financed the war exclusively by higher taxes and voluntary loans to bridge the gap between tax revenue and expenditure. There was no manipulation of currency or coinage, no sale of tax-emept offices or honours, no forced loans nor reneging on interest payments.
It is clear that the flame of True Freedom had passed with naval supremacy and constitutional, consultative government from the United Provinces to Great Britain, where it was regarded with quite as much national pride.
"'Tis Liberty that
crowns Britannia's isle, and makes her barren rocks and her bleak mountains
'Tis Britain's care to watch o'er Europe's fate, and hold in balance each contending state,
To threaten bold presumptuous kings with war, and answer her afflicted neighbours' prayer...
Soon as her fleets appear their terrors cease."
- Joseph Addison, summing up the mood in Britain (1704)
The war was triggered
by fighting in North America. The British colonies were by now thriving
merchant communities with a territorial and trading dynamic that was taking
them west into the interior. There they came up against the French from
Canada who were building a chain of forts from Lake Erie to the Ohio river
to establish a line of communications from the St. Lawrence in the north
via the Ohio and Mississippi river to French Louisiana in the south, encircling
the thirteen British colonies along the eastern seaboard. In early 1755
the British government sent out two regiments to support their colonists
attempting to break through the line. France responded by preparing an
expeditionary force of six regiments for Canada at Brest; whereupon the
British sent a squadron across the Atlantic to cruise off the mouth of
the St. Lawrence to capture or destroy them when they appeared.
The resulting conflict, known as the Seven Years War, began badly for Great Britain, despite her pre-emptive moves. The bulk of the French expeditionary force for the St. Lawrence arrived safely, somehow evading the waiting squadron, and early in the following year, 1756, it overpowered the British and colonial force preparing to march into Canada.
- the Seven Years War
In London the response
to the Bourbon threat had been as muddled as the attempts to subdue the
rebel colonists. This was due in large measure to the system of government.
Each minister was responsible to the king - the executive - and ran his
own departmental policy with little regard to other departments, often
in conflict with them. The First Lord of the Treasury, who headed the government
and managed the House of Commons, acted in Cabinet discussions as chairman
rather than prime minister and had no power to enforce collective policy.
If he lacked the qualities of decision and ruthlessness necessary above
all in war, the results were inevitably muddle and drift.
- the War of American Independence
"Nations, as well as
man, almost always betray the most prominent features of their future destiny
in their earliest years. When I contemplate the ardour with which the Anglo-Americans
prosecute commercial enterprise, the advantages which befriend them, and
the success of their undertakings, I cannot refrain from believing that
they will one day become the first maritime power of the globe. They are
born to rule the seas, as the Romans were to conquer the world."
- Alexis de Tocqueville, "Democracy in America" (1840)
The liberalizing inspirations of the great trading cities of the United Provinces, transferred to England under William of Orange in 1688 and spread under the shelter of British trading and naval supremacy to the North American colonies, were inscribed in the constitution of the infant United States of America... the next century would see the twin branches of merchant power in Anglo-Saxon hands carry all before them, the British building a second overseas empire of unparalled extension, the Americans colonizing their own continent from coast to coast, both under the shelter of British naval supremacy.
>> THE SAFEGUARD OF THE SEA by NAM RODGER (A Naval History of Britain 660-1649)
"The defence of the kingdom of England consists in having ships always ready and in good order to safeguard against invasion." - King Philip II of Spain (1555)
"Our shipping and sea service is our best and safest defence as being the only fortification and rampart of England." - Sir Walter Ralegh
Naval dominance of European waters was the largest, longest, most complex and expensive project ever undertaken by the British state and society.
The common sense of the word (navy) as we use it today refers to a permanent fighting service made up of ships designed for war, manned by professionals and supported by an adminsistrative and technical infrastructure. A navy in this sense is only one possible method of making war at sea, and by some way the most difficult and the most recent. There have in the past been, and to some extent still are, many other ways of generating sea power.
It is not surprising that only one medieval state, Venice, long possessed anything clearly identifiavble as a navy in this sense. We shall see that no state in the British Isles attained attained this level of sophistication before the 16th century, and no history of the Royal Navy, in any exact sense of the words, could legitimately begin much before then. This book, which does, is not an institutional history of the Royal Navy, but a history of naval warfare as an aspect of national history. All and any methods of fighting at sea, or using the sea for warlike purposes, are its concern.
Its subject is the slow and erratic process by which the peoples of the British Isles learnt and then for long periods forgot about the 'Safeguard of the Sea', as the 15th century phrase had it, meaning the use of the sea for national defence, and the defence of those who used the sea.
Whether in peaceful trade or warlike attack, the sea unites more than it divides. Even if it were possible to treat England, or the British Isles, as a single, homogenous, united nation, it would still be impossible to write its naval history without reference to the histories of the other nations, near and far, with which the sea has connected it.
'A Naval History of
Britain' which begins in the 7th century has to explain what it means by
Britain. My meaning is simply the British Isles as a whole, but not any
particular nation or state or our own day... 'Britain' is not a perfect
word for this purpose, but 'Britain and Ireland' would be both cumbersome
and misleading, implying an equality of treatment which is not possible.
Ireland and the Irish figure often in this book, but Irish naval history,
in the sense of the history of Irish fleets, is largely a history of what
might have been rather than what actually happened.
[Ch.1 The Three Seas]
The peoples and politics of the British Isles and the Dark Ages were linked not by the accident of dwelling in the same part of the world, but by the seas and rivers which provided their surest and swiftest means of travel. Kept apart by history, language and religion; sundered by moor and mountain, fen and forest; repeatedly divided by dynastic rivalry; these little nations were joined to one another, and to the world beyond, by the three seas. In the British Isles three worlds met and collided: the Christian, romanized Celtic world in the west; the Christian, romanized Germanic world of the south, and the pagan, unromanized Scandinavian world of the east. To each world belonged a sea, and a common culture, which provided the essential connection when all other connections were wanting.
[Ch.2 The First English
In every age states of varying size and constitution and at every level of development have found naval warfare to be one of their most formidable and expensive tasks. Ships have always been large, costly and complicated, and warships much more complicated and costly than any others. Scholars are nowadays inclined to emphasize the power, wealth and sophistication of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and there is not more striking illustration of this than the advanced and elaborate administrative structures of the early English navy.
[Ch.3 The Partition
Norman warhorses were highly-trained and expensive animals which had to be fresh for battle, so they were normally led rather than ridden. A Norman army was not fully mobile unless every knight had a minimum of four horses: a warhorse, a riding horse for himself, another for his squire who led the warhorse, and a packhorse to carry his armour and baggage. It is usually suggested that William had an army of about 7,000, including 2-3,000 knights. Fully equipped, they would have needed 8-12,000 horses, and more if any proportion of the infantry and archers were mounted. A fleet of beteen 700 and 1,000 ships cannot possible have carried so many horses, which meant that the army was effectively immobilzed until it could collect horses in England. In that rich country horses were common but the Norman army could not leave its bridgehead until it had collected a great many of them.
In the 11th century the inlets of Brede and Bulverhythe made Hastings a peninsula which provided secure flanks for the bridgehead, secure, that is to say, against land attack. It is probable that one of Harold's reasons for the much-criticized speed with which he marched south, without waiting to gather the resources of a rich and populous kingdom, was to seal the neck of the peninsulsa before the Norman army acquired the horses, and subsequently the mobility, which they would need to break out.
Nothing is pre-ordained
in history, and there was no logical reason why England, the meeting place
of the three cultures, should not have been absorbed by any of them, or
partitioned between them... it would have been equally plausible at any
period between the 7th century and the 12th or even later to imagine a
Norse-Celtic maritime empire, ruled from Dublin or Man and holding sway
on boths sides of the Irish Sea, perhaps with a land frontier in England
with the Danish North Sea empire.
England's sudden and unexpected conquest from the south in 1066, linked the country to the Continent in a Norman, later Angevin empire which lasted for a century and a half. By harnessing England's wealth and power to French politics, this had the effect of ensuring the survival and independence of the Irish, Welsh and Scots states, and of leaving the Northern and Western Isles as Norwegian colonies, when in all probability they would otherwise have fallen, or remained, under indirect English control. It is a striking paradox that the Norman Conquest, made possible by an impressive fleet, caused the rapid collapse of English sea power. Where English kings of the mid-10th century had circumnavigated the British Isles and secured the submission of all the rulers around the Irish Sea, the early Normans exercised only feeble and intermittent power over the nearer parts of the Celtic world... the Norman Conquest led in effect to the partition of the British Isles which had almost been united under English rule in the previous century.
[Ch.8 Decline and Fall]
It is always a mistake to look at medieval naval warfare with the modern distinction between warships and merchantmen too much in mind. Not only were the two hardly distinct in design, but 'peaceful trade' was almost a contradiction in terms. The sea was widely regarded as lying beyond laws, treaties and truces; even in peacetime, here was not much peace at sea. Medieval jurists agreed that there was such a thing as piracy, but in practice outright piracy and peaceable commerce were separated, not by any clear legal distinction, but by a very wide area of debatable ground and questionable practices.
[Ch.9 The Chief Support
of the Kingdom]
Medieval England was a great military power with a sophisticated machinery of government, but her naval administration, at best improvised and for long periods missing altogether, pointed to a grave weakness: the lack of any reliable means of putting a force of warships at the disposal of the crown. Only Richard I and Henry V of all the kings of England can be said to have understood the problem and attempted to remedy it. It is no coincidence that they wer by far the most successful in war.
[Ch.12 Change and Decay]
The armament of English ships in Henry V's time remained essentially the same as it had been throughout the Middle Ages. All fighting was hand-to-hand, using standard infantry weapons, with the addition of spears or lances, with 'gads' (iron darts) and heavy stones for throwing down from the topcastle. Soft soap to make the enemy's decks slippery was a real threat to men-at-arms in armour so heavy that they could not easily get up if they fell over. Caltraps might also be tossed on to the enemy's decks, and quicklime thrown from the windward position to blind the defenders at the moment of assault. Crossbows were much used... when the longbow was adopted by the army, it was naturally used at sea. Guns fitted into the same pattern.
For England it may be said that the Middle Ages ended in the mud of October 1523 when Suffolk's army abandoned its march on Paris. This was the last campaign of the Hundred Years War, the last occasion when an English army attempted to uphold the ambitions of Henry V and Edward III, the last expression of vanished greatness. For centuries English power had been defined in military terms and expressed above all by campaigning against France. In the humiliation and failure on the Continent and rejection by the Emperor, it must have been clear to perceptive Englishmen, perhaps even to King Henry himself, that all this was gone for ever. A shruken, post-imperial England faced an uncertain and vulnerable future on the margins of a Europe now dominated by the great powers.
[Ch.17 The Council
of the Marine]
With their fine lines, heavy armaments, and constricted hulls, English warships could not generally stow victuals for more than three or four months. For all these reasons victualling remained a major weakness of English fleets throughout the 16th century and for long afterwards. Any voyages to distant seas, any prolonged operations in nearby waters, were almost bound to run against the limitations of contemporary markers and technology. No other single weakness accounts for so many of the English failures to match naval performance to aspirations. If there was one single factor which allowed the fleets of the 18th century to keep the seas for long periods and voyage far from home, it was the steady, unspectacular improvement over 300 years in the quality of victualling.
[Ch.19 The Advantage
of Time and Place]
"It is well known that we fight in God's cause... but unless God helps us by a miracle the English, who have faster and handier ships than ours, and many more long-range guns, and who know their advantage just as well as we do, will never close with us at all, but stand aloof and knock us to pieces with their culverins, without our being able to do them any serious hurt. So we are sailing against England in the confident hope of a miracle." - Officer in the Spanish Armada, writing before fleet sailed (1588)
[#22 Sailors for my
The impossibility of keeping Englishmen sober ashore was a constant source of complaint, It was the great weakness of 16th century English infantrymen, whose performance when sober was admired even by the Spaniards. Already it was true, as it was to be for centuries, that many saw and despised the drunken sailor ashore, but few knew and admired him at his work afloat.
[#23 The Undertakings
of a Maiden Queen]
The extreme fragility of English finances made it impossible to keep the English fleet mobilized for any length of time. In 16th century conditions, no large force could expect to remain healthy and efficient indefinitely, and the English did not have the money to try, but, thanks to long planning and preparation, they did not have to. The initial mobilization of September to December 1587 took less than three months, while the Armada took three years. Though England's resources were a small fraction of Spain's, they could be concentrated exactly where and when they were needed. This capacity to mobilize quickly remained the key to English defences for the rest of the war.
'Corruption' was then, and has been until recently for many historians, the all-purpose explanation for anything which did not work satisfactorily. It is always simpler to blame individual wickedness rather than explore the obscure weaknesses of complex systems... John Hawkins lived in an age when officials like himself were not salaried civil servants so much as privileged contractors with an ill-regulated business relationship with the crown. They were expect to make a profit for themselves while doing a good job for the queen, preferably at less cost than their predecessors... nobody seriously suggested it was illegal or improper to make a profit from office, so long as the Navy did not suffer. Contemporaries took it for granted that officials would make money from their positions; what they wanted to know was whether the crown was getting value for that money.
[#24 No More Drakes]
The arrival of the Barbary pirates radically changed English attitudes. Instead of patriotic pirates plundering foreign cargoes and bringing them homes to enrich their countrymen, the 'Turks' were in the usual Mediterranean business of slave-raiding and now the English were the victims. The West Country men suffered the heaviest, and did not appreciate the irony. The Newfoundland fishery, dominated by Devon ports, lost at least 20 ships in 1611 alone.
So ended a thousand years of naval history in the British Isles, with the future relationship and future independence of the three kingdoms as doubtful as they had ever been. This is a history of the British Isles rather than of England not simply in the sense that it tries to avoid being crudely anglocentric. Part of its argument is certainly that Scotland, Wales and Ireland have naval histories worth knowing about; but beyond that, the very existence and shape of the three kingdoms and one principality which historically make up the nations of the British Isles is itself the product of the successes and failures of sea power.
In the 10th century, and again for a while in the 11th, the sea power of a newly-united England was well advanced in establising an informal empire over most or all of the British Isles. This empire vanished with the English navy after 1066, the date which marks the dissolution of the English empire and the partition of the British Isles. Henceforward the relations of the English with their Celtic neighbours were military rather than naval: they turned on intermittent warfare, raid, settlement and conquest, The pattern involved the domination, subjugation and eventual destruction of political and social systems which were perceived as being hostile and racially inferior.
Though everyone had heard of the Viking invasions, a facile idea is current among modern historians that after 1066 England was in some sense 'invasion-proof- because it was surrounded by the sea. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sea certainly offered an obstacle of sorts, and it is easy to find examples of would-be invasions which were dispersed by gales, or (more often) which failed to surmount the considerable logistical difficulties of a seaborne attack. But the sea is a highway as much as a barrier, and in the Middle Ages it was a much better highway than most of those on land. Compared to a respectable mountain range like the Alps, the Pyrenees or even the Cheviots, the English Channel and the North Sea were trivial obstacles, The result was the England and Scotland were repeatedly invaded by sea. English governments have been overthrown (or seriously undermined) by seaborne invasions at last nine times since the Norman Conquest: in 1139, 1153, 1326, 1399, 1460, 1470, 1471. 1485 and 1688. The sea is no safeguard at all to those who are not capable of using it for their own defence.
The reader of this
book will be in no doubt that a 16th century 'naval revolution' did take
place, and that a modern navy of the kind created in England made unique
demands on state and society. If it was the demands of the 'military revolution'
which created the absolutist monarchies (Spain, France, Sweden, later Prussia,
Austria and Russia), it should logically follow that the much greater demands
of the 16th century 'naval revolution' would have propelled the leading
naval powers (England and the Dutch Republic) into the forefront of the
autocratic monarchies. Instead they were the two large states which conspicuously
retained their medieval constitutions, complete with what seemed to be
archaic and ineffectual representative institutions.
Considering the 'military revolution' and the 'naval revolution' together suggests that absolutist monarchy was essentially a system of government for mobilizing manpower rather than money. More efficient in its way than the medieval constitutions it replacedm it was poorly adapted to meet the much greater strains imposed on state and society by a modern navy. For that, it may be suggested, what was needed was a system of government which involved the maximum participation by those interest groups whose money and skills were indispensable to sea power not just the nobility and peasantry whom absolutism set to work, but the shipowners and seafarers, the urban merchants and financiers, the industrial investors and managers, the skilled craftsmen; all the classes, in short, which absolutist governments least represented and least favoured. A military regime could sustain itself by force, but a navy had to earn public support. Autocracy was adequate for an army, but navies needed consensus. This, we may suggest, is why Spain failed the naval test in the 16th century, just as France failed it in the 18th, Germany and Russia in the 20th.
In Queen Elizabeth's time it was Spain which had the great merchant fleet; Engish sea power was a hybrid made up of the defensive royal fleet and the offensive, predatory privateer fleet. The Stuarts tried to build a Navy for the same purposes of national defence and deterrence for which Elizabeth had planned, but the threats they faced were nearer and greater, and they also had to respond to demands for protection from a large and politically powerful merchant shipping interest. Considered as an organization in isolation, the Royal Navy of the 1630s was as successful as Elizabeth's rather different Royal Navy had been. Its administration, its discipline and professional skills, its ships and weapons were probably still a match for anything in Europe. But its political and constitutional foundations were unsound; it was not rooted in the broad national support needed to sustain so complex and costly a force. Charles I's attempt to build a navy without consensus helped to fracture the country and lead to civil war and the collapse of his regime. What was needed for successful sea power was a broadly based coalition of 'interest groups' of one mind not only on the need for a navy, but on the size and type of navy which was needed. Early Stuart England probably already had a consensus of the need for a navy, but it had no agreement on the nature of the fleet and how it might be financed... his attempt to go ahead without national consensus led to a civil war in which the king and his Navy both perished.
>> LIFE AMONG THE PIRATES by DAVID CORDINGLY
"They all came on deck and hoisted Jolly Roger (for so they call their black ensign, in the middle of which is a large white skeleton with a dart in one hand, striking a bleeding heart, and in the other an hourglass). When they fight under Jolly Roger, they give quarter, which they do not when they fight under the red or bloody flag." - Captain Richard Hawkins, captured by pirates in 1724
Since piracy is simply
armed robbery on the high seas, and has been accompanied by a catalog of
cruelties and atrocities, it is surprising that it should have acquired
a comparitively glamorous image. Part of the explanation may be found in
the exotic locations where many of the pirates operated, of Coral islands,
tropical waters, lagoons and sandy beaches fringed with coconut palms.
There is also the romance of the sea. Another part of the explanation may
be the anarchic nature of piracy. Most people are condemned to lives of
monotony. Year in and year out, workers in offices, factories and large
and small companies follow the same daily routine. They catch the same
bus or train, they drive along the same route and suffer the same delays
and traffic jams. They endure hours of boredom, often doing a job which
gives them little or no satisfaction. They come home to face the predictable
problems of family life or the loneliness of a flat or apartment in some
dreary location. What greater contrast could there be with a life or piracy?
The pirates escaped from the laws and regulations which govern most of
us. They were rebels against authority, free spirits who made up their
own rules. They left behind the grey world of rainswept streets and headed
for the sun. We imagine them sprawled on sandy beaches with a bottle of
rum in one hand and a lovely woman by their side, and a sleek black schooner
moored offshore waiting to carry them away to distant and exotic islands.
There is a less obvious attraction explanation for the attraction of the pirates. In his lengthy poem, 'The Corsair', Lord Byron created a pirate who was aloof and alien, a man of loneliness and mystery with a cruel past and an untamed spirit. As all women know and some men can never understand, the most interesting heroes of literature and history have been flawed characters. The British nation admired and honoured the Duke of Wellington, but when news of Lord Nelson's death at Trafalgar reached London, men and women wept in the streets. Yet Nelson was a vain, impetuous and diminuitive figure who abandoned his wife and embarked on a passionate and ill-advised affair.
The real world of the pirates was harsh, tough and cruel. They were more likely to drown in a storm or suffer death by hanging than they were to live out their days in luxury on the riches they had plundered.
The fact is we want to believe in the world of the pirates as it has been portrayed in the adventure stories, the plays and the films over the years. We want the myths, the treasure maps, the buried treasure, the walking the plank, the resolute pirate captains with their cutlasses and earrings, and the seamen with their wooden legs and parrots. We prefer to forget the barbaric tortures and the hangings, and the desperate plight of men shipwrecked on hostile coasts. For most of us the pirates will always be romantic outlaws living far from civilization on some distant sunny shore.
- "The Romance of Piracy"
Every pirate expedition,
in common with most privateering expeditions, worked on the principle of
'No prey, no pay'. The first requirement of the pirates' code of conduct
was to determine exactly how the plunder should be divided when the pirates
had captured their prey. Sums were then set aside to recompense for injuries.
It is interesting to observe how this early form of medical insurnace
determined the value of the different parts of a pirate's body. The highest
payment of 600 pieces of eight was awarded for the loss of a right arm;
next came the loss of a left arm at 500 pieces; the right leg was worth
500 pieces, but the left leg was only valued at 400 pieces; the loss of
an eye or a finger were rewarded with a payment of 100 pieces of eight.
As with the earlier buccaneers, the captain had absolute power in battle
and when 'fighting, chasing or being chased', but in all other matters
was governed by the majority wishes of the crew.
- "Into Action Under the Pirate Flag"
It has been estimated
that there were between 1,500 and 2,000 pirates operating in the Caribbean
and North American waters in the early 18th century. The average pirate
ship had a crew of around 80 men, so there must have been between 15 and
25 pirate ships cruising the area. At first sight this seems a tiny number
to cause such alarm and to threaten the trade of the colonies. But it has
to remembered that the islands and coasts which were their hunting grounds
were sparsely populated and extremely vulnerable to determined raids by
heavily armed ships. Two pirate ships armed with a total of 50 guns had
the firepower of a small army, and were invincible against any force less
than a naval warship.
However, a series of measures (legislation, pardons, naval patrols, executions) were taken between 1700 and 1720 which were to prove remarkably effective. One of the most surprising aspects of the great age of piracy is how suddenly the pirate threat collapsed. From the peak of 2,000 pirates in 1720, the numbers dropped to around 1,000 in 1723 and by 1726 there were no more than 200. The incidence of pirate attacks declined from 40-50 in 1718 to half a dozen in 1726.
In retrospect it is surprising how effective the Royal Navy and authorised privateers were in hunting down the pirates. The pirates' cruising grounds extended for thousands of miles and there were so many places in the Caribbean and along the coasts of North America and Africa where they could hide their ships. And yet, without radios and telephones, the news of a pirate's whereabouts would be passed among the thousands of ships and small craft plying amon the islands and up and down the coast. The information would eventually reach the governor of a colony, the captain of a naval ship or an agent of the Royal Africa or East India Company. A warship would be despatched and a patient search made until the pirate was tracked down. It took Captain Ogle of HMS Swallow nearly eight months to find Bartholomew Roberts, but in the end the plunderings of the most successful of all the pirates were brought to an end. Already the world was becoming too small for a wanted pirate to be able to find a safe hiding place.
- "Hunting Down the Pirates"
>> THE PIRATE WARS by PETER EARLE
"This villainous heterogenous
mass of ocean highwaymen are the very ejectment of the four quarters of
- The Times of London, on the pirates of the Latin American Wars of Independence (1819)
The extermination of pirates posed a host of problems, many of them similar to those encountered in attempts to exterminate international terrorists today. These were problems of diplomacy, law and public relations, manpower and resources, intelligence, strategy and tactics, and perhaps above all, motivation and will. Until states were absolutely determined to eradicate piracy and were prepared to devote considerably increased numbers of ships and men to such a policy, little would be achieved. And even with such determination, little could be done without the right ships, the right men and the right methods to ensure that at least some pirates would be caught. Men of the sea had to become convinved that piracy was an unwise choice of occupation and that, if they were so foolish as to follow it, they were more than likely to die, and die violently and soon. What was needed was the creation of a state of maritime and legal terror in which pirates knew that they were likely to be tracked down and killed or captured and, if they were captured, they were likely to be tried and found guilty and, if they were found guilty, they were likely to be haned... this was to take a very long time, well over two centuries from the first tentative attempts to counter the problem.
Pirate historians have now discovered social history, the branch of history which in the last two decades or so has been the most dynamic and inventive, in both senses of the word.
The country (England) which was called a nation of pirates in the years around 1600 would eventually become the pirates' greatest scourge, not just in English waters but throughout the world.
The English also had a reputation, shared with the Dutch, for blowing up their ships to avoid capture. In 1611, for instance, the Spanish Admiral Don Pedro de toledo captured a Turkish pirate ship, but its English consort, 'being wont to seek a voluntary death rather than yield, blew up their ship when they saw resistance useless'. Blowing up their ships, or at least threatening to do so, would become standard pirate practice.
If there are legal and ideological problems in distinguishing pirate from privateer, the bad from the not quite so bad, in Elizabethan times, the same is even more true for another group of 'pirates' active throughout the period of this book, those involved, those involved in what was generically known as the 'corso'. These were the corsairs of the Mediterranean who engaged in what they themselves saw as a holy war against the enemies of their faith, and that their victims regarded as unprincipled piracy. This difference in interpretation is reflected in language... a 'corsair' in English is usually a synonym for a pirate. But, whether they were in fact pirates or privateers, these corsairs were the most feared of all maritime predators for they enslaved those they captured... best known of these terrifying scourers of the sea were the Barbary corsairs who operated from the three Turkish North African regencies of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli.
The pirates of the Americas, who flourished from the 1650s to the 1720s, were indeed virtually the only pirates in history to exhibit those characteristics which we expect 'real' pirates to have. They and even more those who have written about them created the modern conception of the pirate. Privateering and piracy in the Indies were almost as old as Spanish colonialism in the area, for it did not take long for news of the fabulius wealth acquired by the Spaniards to attract a swarm of predators to the Caribbean, 'a cauldron where the bad blood of Europe boiled at will' as the historian AP Thornton rather luridly described the area.
In 1654 Oliver Cromwell set in motion his 'Western Design' whose object was to carve out for England a Protestant empire in the Indies... Cromwell's war in the West Indies was part of a general war against Spain, but even after peace was signed in 1660 there was no real let-up in hostility to Spain in America. Indeed, it was a given fact of the international diplomacy of the day that peace with Spain in Europe did not necessarily mean peace with Spain in the Indies, for 'beyond the line no other rule is recognized but that of force', as the Venetian ambassador in Europe reported to the Doge in 1668, this 'line' being the line of longitude passing through the Azores.
Even since the Treaty of Madrid had been signed by England and Spain in 1670, in which it was agreed that peace in Europe should in the future also mean peace in the West Indies, there had been a definitive change in the attitude of the English government towards piracy in American waters. No longer would this be openly (or even covertly) condoned. This change reflected a growing belief in mercantile and shipping circles that piratical imperialism had served its purpose and that it should henceforth be the duty of the government and the navy to eradicate piracy and so make the seas safe for trade and shipping. Piracy which had once been an 'honourable crime' was now seen as a crime against the human race.
What was needed was a uniform law to be enforced througout the (British) empire by which specially appointed courts consisting of government officials and naval officers could try pirates, with no fear that clear cases would be dismissed by the favourers or admirers of pirates acting as jurors. Sir Charles Hedges, judge of the High Court of Admiralty, agreed to draft such a law and on 1 April 1700 it came into force... 'And though it may be thought by some a pretty severe thing, to put an Englishman to death without a jury... the wisdom and justice of our nation, for very sufficient and excellent reasons, have so ordered it in the case of piracy'. Most men holding office in the colonies in the early 18th century would have agreed with the Attorney-General of Massachusetts that such an apparently severe law was wise and just.
The West African slave trade was an even better recruiting ground for pirates... Slavers were notoriously unpleasant ships to work in, with more than their fair share of harsh and brutal captains and with incredibly high mortality among their crews, an average of one in four who shipped at English slaving ports such as London and Bristol not surviving the voyage. Sailors were described by a clergyman eager to redeem them as 'a third sort of persons, to be numbered neither with the living nor the dead: their lives hanging continually in suspense before them'. This was literally true for the crews of slavers, making them very willing to swap their harsh conditions for the easygoing life aboard a pirate ship.
The alarming revival
in piratical attacks on shipping since the early 1980s, mainly in Eastern
waters, a revival which reflects the maritime dangers of a post-imperial
world in which the navies of the Great Powers can no longer patrol where
and how they wish and former colonies have neither the naval power nor
the resources and will to eradicate the problem.
But in those seas which have been the main arena of the pirates in this book the Mediterranean, Atlantic and the Caribbean there has been very little piracy since the assault of the Panda on the Mexican in 1832... as Philip Gosse wrote in 1932 in his "History of Piracy", 'there is no doubt that the type of man who once turned to piracy still exists, but is compelled to find other channels for his talents'. The days of Blackbeard, Batholomew Roberts and the Diaboleto were over, and as "The Times" remarked in 1919, 'the life of any future pirate would be too short to be even merry'.
Piracy is about money
and that is what distinguishes a pirate from a terrorist but, as this fascinating
and mutually illuminating pair of books shows, the pirate will often use
the methods of the terrorist. Terror itself, deceit and duplicity, the
long, concealed lie-up, a technical expertise that often leaves the forces
of the state floundering, the sudden devastating descent on the law-abiding:
all these terrorist techniques are in the pirate's armoury. And pirates
have sometimes, particularly in the golden age of piracy in the early 18th
century, adopted the kind of ideological position that made them out to
be, if not exactly freedom fighters, then at least the ultimate free men.
- Adam Nicholson, from his Telegraph review of Peter Earle's "The Pirate Wars"
>> NOTES ON SOURCES
 Quoted in "To Hell or Barbados!" by Sean O'Callaghan
>> More naval quotes - John Keegan on Jutland and Naval Intelligence
>> More naval quotes - Victor Davis Hanson on Salamis, Lepanto and Midway
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