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The Pirate Wars

Peter Earle

St. Martin's Griffin

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ISBN10: 0312335806
ISBN13: 9780312335809

Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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The Pirate Wars takes the romantic fable of oceangoing Robin Hoods sailing under the "banner of King Death" and contrasts it with the murderous reality of robbery, torture, and murder on the high seas. Noted maritime historian Peter Earle charts centuries of piracy, from Cornwall to the Caribbean, from the sixteenth century to the hanging of the last pirate captain in Boston in 1835. Along the way, we meet characters like Edward Teach, the notorious "Blackbeard," the treasure-hungry Captain Kidd, the dreaded corsairs of Barbary, and the defiant buccaneers of the West Indies.

The Pirate Wars is an account of the golden age of pirates and of the men of the legitimate navies of the world charged with the task of finally bringing these cutthroats to justice.


Praise for The Pirate Wars

"Fascinating . . . His scholarship is solid, and his telling of this complex story is lucid and well paced."—The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

"A thoroughly entertaining read that dispels a number of myths and spins many a good yarn."—Daily Mail (UK)

"Earle is both swashbuckling and serious in this marvelous survey of piracy over 230 years."—The Oxford Times (UK)

"Contemporary views of pirates are based on tales of swashbuckling men with knives between their teeth serving under the skull-and-crossbones flag. Earle dismisses this myth and provides a realistic look into the malevolence of piracy and the methods nations used to bring pirates to justice. He reviews the history of piracy from the 16th century to its demise in the mid-1800s. Earle examines the major areas where pirates operated and the changing attitudes and policies of governments toward piracy. His study reveals a more sinister, less noble group of men. A well-researched effort on an extensive subject, this is highly recommended."—Library Journal

"Earle spans the spectrum of high-seas piracy from its Elizabethan origins to its final throttling by reenergized Western naval might nearly two centuries later. Piracy was endemic in 16th-century Europe, notes the author, but only England was called 'a nation of pirates,' thanks to the unofficially tolerated adventuring of privateers like Sir Francis Drake. These gentleman captains sailed under powerful sponsorship and were often used as a subtle instrument of policy by Tudor monarchs. Their mission was to harry the Tudors' archenemy, Catholic Spain, which they did as much under the banner of Protestantism as that of Mother England. The privateers' 17th-century Muslim counterparts, known as Corsairs, also practiced this piratical form of religious persecution. Launching from the Barbary Coast of North Africa and the Levant, these unabashed Christian-hunters ranged from the Mediterranean as far west as the Atlantic coast of Ireland, plundering unprotected towns for slaves and booty. Among the many common misconceptions about piracy that Earle challenges is the quick-and-dirty encounter popularized in Hollywood swashbucklers: a cunning maneuver under sail, a fatal burst of cannon fire, grappling hooks, flashing cutlasses, and a round of rum for the men. In fact, the author reports, buccaneers often tied alongside a potential prize and drifted with it for a week or more as the captors repeatedly paid 'visits' to search for plunder, exact vengeance (including torture) on those who had resisted too vigorously, and rape any female passengers whose rank was insufficient to offer either protection or potential for ransom. During piracy's Golden Age (1715-25) in the Caribbean, where treaties of peace agreed to and enacted in Europe were essentially ignored, egalitarianism became an oddly dominant factor. Crews elected their captains, decided on the venue and scope of their mission, determined how spoils would be divided, and sailed 'against the world' under the black flag and their own rigid code of ethics. Offers revealing historical perspectives enlivened, but not swamped, by vivid accounts of blood-and-guts encounters."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Peter Earle

Peter Earle formerly taught at the London School of Economics and is now Emeritus Reader in Economic History at the University of London. He is the author of over a dozen books on maritime history.

Peter Earle