Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A beginner's guide to Medieval and Renaissance piracy, part 6

Pirates have friends and foes. King Henry III of England did something that changed piracy forever. He invented the letter of reprisal, some times called a Letter of Marque. A pirate who held one was a privateer and could attack enemies of their home country. Pirates had become a defacto navy! One country's privateer hero is another's pirate villain. Spain hated the efforts of Drake and Hawkins, who were knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. The Hanseatic League and the Clique Ports were formed to fight off pirates.

What could happen to a pirate? Very few lived to an old age. If one was caught, he or she could expect to be executed. In the Golden Age, the norm was hanging, with their body hung in a giblet afterwards, as a warning to others. This looks to not be the case for the Middle Ages. The most common form of execution was beheading.

This concludes A beginner's guide. All six parts are from my handout "So You Want to be a Pirate," from my SCA class of the same name.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A beginner's guide to Medieval and Renaissance piracy, part 5

So what is the prize treasure for a pirate? Why, anything that could be on a ship! On John Cabbie's first raid, he found wool, gold and wine in the hold. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI granted a blessed edict that made all the lands west of the Cape Verde islands apart of Spain. In the sixteenth century, the Spanish started to ship gold and silver from the New World. This made other nations very mad. Sir Francis Drake and his cousin Sir John Hawkins took advantage of this and raided the treasure galleons coming form the New World, also called the Spanish Main. It was a trend that lasted into the Golden Age.

After a pirate got his treasure, what happened to it? Burying it was out of the question. If it was alcohol, it was consumed. Food was eaten. Money was spent at the next port. Other goods were sold. Pirates offered goods of high quality at cheap prices.

Friends, foes, and fate next time on A Pirate's Life.

(From "So you want to be a pirate," my SCA pirate class.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A beginner's guide to Medieval and Renaissance piracy, part 4

Firepower is what makes or breaks a pirate. By the time of the Mary Rose, canons were a common sight on ships. In my studies, I have found what they used before this form of heavy artillery. Illuminations show archers on ships shooting at another ship. Other images show staff slings holding a corked bottles of lime that are about to be flung. Lime was used as an early chemical weapon, designed to blind opponents. Spears, pikes, and grappling hooks were also used. The first use of a major weapon, a catapult, was by pirate John Cabbie. Swords and daggers have to be shorter than those used on land because of the close quarters on a ship. Handguns like blunderbusses and harquebusiers were in use at the end of the period.

Next time, Booty on A Pirate's Life!

(From my SCA class, So You Want to be a Pirate)

Friday, April 10, 2009

A beginner's guide to Medieval and Renaissance piracy, part 3

A pirate's ship had to be fast, and not have too many leaks! Medieval ships included the cog and carvel. The cog had its timbers put up against each other, called "clinker built." When they were first used they had an open top, later covered with the deck to protect the cargo. "Castles" were built at the front and back of the ship. When ship builders started to overlap the timbers, the cog became the caravel. In the sixteenth century, galleons came into use, along with galleys in the Mediterranean. Irish pirate, Grace O'Malley, may have used some from of galley. No matter what kind of ship a pirate was on, the living quarters were cramped, dirty, and wet.

Next time- fighting!

(From my SCA class, So you want to be a Pyrate.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A beginner's guide to Medieval and Renaissance piracy, part 2

Pirates wore what they had on their backs, until they stole something better. You would have seen crewmen in the peasant dress of the era, T-tunics and slacks for many. Evidence of pirate dress has been found; a leather jerkin was recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose, King Henry VIII's great ship. This was an everyday piece of clothing for a working class man. Once a pirate made their fortune, she or he would dress very flashy and well above their station in life. In a later post here, we'll have knitting pattern for a hat and scoggers, found on the Mary Rose wreck.

Food could be bad or good. For those who traveled close to the shore, a common practice in the Middle Ages, when the galley ran low a stop in port to trade for food was possible. By the time of cross Atlantic trips, food had to be transportable. Hard tack, salted pork and fish were on the menu. Water was kept in large barrels and went bad fast. Alcohol was safer to drink. That being said, rum was NOT a drink in this time period. It was invented in the seventeenth century from molasses.

Ships will be up next, on A Pirate's Life!

(From my SCA class, So You Want to be a Pyrate.)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A beginner's guide to Medieval and Renaissance piracy, part 1

Most think of pirates from the Golden age of Pirates, a time form 1692 to 1725.  This covers pirates we know like Black beard, and Captain Kidd.  Pirates where known form the time of the Egyptians to modern day.  I like to study the pirates of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  Here's the first part of what I've learned in my research.

Who were the pirates?  The average pirate was someone who was looking for a better life at sea.  Others had no choice in going to sea; they were rounded up in press gangs and forced into the navy.  Normally they were form the lower classes and found themselves on a boat.  The pressed men would revolt and/or run away and find themselves outlaws.  They had to turn to piracy to make a living.  Some of them were from inland and never learned to swim before their new "occupation."  Even after the joined, they would never learn the one thing that could save their lives.  It showed you had no faith in your ship if you did.

In the late sixteenth century, there was the rise of the "gentleman pirate."  These were lords who turned to piracy for military glory and wealth.  They always led the crew as captain.  In contrast, Golden Age pirates voted for their leaders.

Next time, clothing and food!

(Note: This work comes from my SCA class called "So you want to be a Pirate.")