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UNIT 13: PIRATES - The Start of Privateering (W13:D1)


– Not much is known of the start of piracy, but it is known that some well-known pirates began as early as the Victual Brothers, or ‘Likedeelers,’ out of Germany; or the ‘Corsairs,’ out of France, in the 11th century. To be a privateer, you had to be a private citizen with a warship and given permission from your country’s government, by letter, to attack foreign ships and shipments, and return some of the plunder to the country and their crown. This helped pay for their expensive wars, using their enemy’s own plunder to rebuild their treasury; some were private ships authorized by the country.


The ‘Corsairs’ were not part of the French Navy, but were given written permission to attack ships of countries at war with France. Jean de Châtillon, a Catholic bishop in 1144, made the town of Saint-Malo an asylum for pirates, which encouraged all manner of rogues; but by the 13th century, this town progressed into a city of free trade, encouraging commercial activities of craftsmen, merchants, and ship owners, lasting until 1688.


In the 15th century, when rumors were heard of the Spanish sending ships full of gold and treasures back from the New World, the privateers began to salivate. Jean Fleury, and many other privateers – employed by other European nations, besieged these ships and brought their riches back to their native countries.

Activity: Making your Pirate Flag – In the early years of privateering, the ship would fly the flag of the country they stole for, but as treaties were signed and privateering was outlawed, pirates began to sail with their own flags. Here are just a few of the flag flown:


What would your flag look like? Draw it, here:











Jean Fleury (Died in 1527) (W13:D2) - Though his childhood is unknown, he was known to be a skilled pilot in the French Navy, based out of Normandy (off the northern shores of France). Some believe he was born Giovanni da Verrazzano, the French explorer mentioned earlier. When Fleury heard rumors of treasure being shipped from the Americas, he desired his share. As a Naval Pilot and Commander, he controlled a small squadron - 5 ships - and took the responsibility to take this treasure for France. In 1522, Hernan Cortez sent three ships from Cuba to Spain, full of treasure from the Aztec Empire. They were sighted close to Portugal, and though Fleury did not know of their cargo, he attacked, laying chase for a few hours before overtaking them.


After overtaking the ships, it was discovered that they were laden with gold from the conquest of Mexico, and were to be presented to Charles V, King of Spain. This plunder did not quell Fleury’s thirst, for shortly after, he overtook another ship from a Spanish colony on Hispaniola, which also carried tribute. These treasures included exotic animals, food, gold, pearls, jade, and other precious items. A portion of these were sent to Francis I, King of France, as tribute.


The following year, Jean Fleury set sail with eight ships, capturing over 30 Portuguese and Spanish vessels, in just the year 1523. This piracy set off a war between France, Portugal, Spain, and many pirates to come. In 1527, he was captured, tried, and hanged for piracy - on the open ocean. By that time, however, tales of him had spread, and dozens of other pirates in Europe and Caribbean had taken his place, filling their coffers. The Spanish were forced to strengthen their forts, settlements, and ships.

End of the Corsairs and the beginning of free piracy - Near the end of the 15th century, and as part of a series of treaties between France and Spain - called the Treaty of Utrecht, an end was put to the Corsairs, and any agreements between them and the country of France. Those who still wanted to be pirates continued their piracy under the pirate flag, and were hunted down by the European governments.


Thoughtful Activity: Would you ever become a pirate? Why or why not?


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