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Pirates Vs Privateers


Pirates Vs Privateers
Merchant vessels were a tempting target not only for opportunists, but also for rival countries. It was the English who first commissioned privateers to protect their cargo while in transit, issuing them with licenses to attack any ship that posed a threat. However, as time went on, the promise of plunder became just as legitimate a reason for battle as selfdefence.

Rather than a wage, privateers were paid with an agreed share of the takings, and the line between piracy and privateering became very blurred indeed. On the face of it, the difference between these two vocations was simple. Pirates were criminals who acted alone, while privateers worked under the order of the crown. But the methods and end goals were the same. When Elizabeth I came to power, she encouraged merchants to keep port towns safe by preventing pirate ships from entering sea lanes.
Pirates Vs Privateers

Anglo-Spanish relations were deteriorating, and war seemed inevitable. By allowing privateers to attack Spanish ships, Elizabeth could deny any direct involvement, while still getting a share of the profits. Her ‘sea dogs’, as they became known, included explorers Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh, but the Spanish saw them as simply state-sponsored pirates. Throughout this turbulent era, the status of many captains and crews swung between privateer and pirate depending on the state of international affairs and the paperwork they carried.
Many privateers were knighted, but others were not so lucky. In 1701, Scottish sailor William Kidd was hanged for piracy. He had set sail several years earlier with a government commission to suppress pirates in the Indian Ocean. Here, like many privateers of the time, he began to plunder foreign vessels indiscriminately, but conflict was growing among his crew. When they threatened mutiny, he struck the ship’s gunner on the head with an ironclad bucket, delivering him a slow and painful death. When Kidd returned to the West Indies, he discovered he had been declared a pirate, and was arrested and sent back to England. After his hanging, Kidd’s body was gibbeted over the River Thames as a warning to any would-be pirates.