Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: September 2013

10 - Jacobean Piracy: English Maritime Depredation in Transition, 1603–1625


By 1603 piracy and other forms of irregular depredation were well established seafaring activities throughout the British Isles. At various times in the past robbery at sea flourished with widespread community support and the occa-sional approval of rulers and their officials. During the early seventeenth century, however, English piracy reached new levels of intensity, as demonstrated by its range and impact. In the aftermath of the long sea war against Spain, pirates and sea rovers terrorized shipping lanes in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Pirate captains, such as John Ward, acquired international notoriety not only for the damage they inflicted on commerce, but also because of the way in which their lives challenged or flouted conceptions of English civility and convention. Piracy provided economic opportunities for poor and unemployed mariners, as well as for unsettled and ambitious adventurers of varied backgrounds, while presenting serious problems for the new regime of James I. In these circum-stances the early seventeenth century represented a key stage in the development of English piracy, when customary patterns of plunder within the British Isles were overshadowed by the rapid growth of deep-sea depredation, the organiza-tion and operation of which were accompanied by changes in pirate behaviour and the responses to it.