Britain – The Rise of a Pirate Empire

Posted in British Raj, Desert Bloc, European History by Anuraag Sanghi on October 11, 2011

Extract on Piracy - Cultures of Exchange: Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Slave Trade By David Richardson; from  Transactions of the Royal Historical ... - Ian W. Archer - Google Books 2011-10-09 19-27-47.

Extract on Piracy – Cultures of Exchange: Atlantic Africa in the Era of the Slave Trade By David Richardson; from Transactions of the Royal Historical … – Ian W. Archer – Google Books 2011-10-09 19-27-47.

Let there be piracy …

During the centuries of Britain’s rise (1600-1800), a significant source of wealth was piracy – loot of merchant shipping, on high seas.

A particular target of English pirates were Spanish ships, crossing the Atlantic, carrying gold from the Americas to Spain. English pirates attacked and looted these ships. Any ship was a target – and many a time, the ship itself, and not the cargo, was the target of the pirates.

British access to financial liquidity, initially, was a result, of organized piracy – targeting Spanish merchant shipping. Modern British history glosses over this ‘contribution’ made by piracy.

Looting … uh?

Pirate nation to super-power

Till 1856, sea piracy was legal. And not just legal, but also promoted by European Governments.

The British Crown gave permits to pirates for looting on high seas – through, what were known as, letters of marque. With two conditions – English ships would not be attacked and the State would get a part of the loot.

One of the earliest ‘success stories’ was Pirate John Hawkins. So successful was Pirate Hawkins, that he became Admiral ‘Sir’ John Hawkins. Pirates like Admiral ‘Sir’ John Hawkins made money on slave trade and piracy. This model of ‘voyages’, became the norm for the next 200 years. With the encouragement and sanction of the English State, high seas piracy and African slavery combination became the national industry in Britain. Trafficking African slaves one way, piracy the rest of the time.

Descendants of Admiral ‘Sir’ John Hawkins, recently ‘apologized’ to Africans for the crimes of their ancestor – Admiral ‘Sir’ John Hawkins.

Francis Drake calling for pirate hands. ©Copyright 2009 The Way Network. Click for larger image

Francis Drake calling for pirate hands. ©Copyright 2009 The Way Network. Click for larger image

El Draque

Admiral Hawkin’s more famous nephew, was ‘Sir’ Francis Drake. El Draque, The Dragon, to the Spanish.

Drake’s voyage in the ship Golden Hind is an event in British economic history. His attack on the Spanish ship, Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion, nicknamed ‘Cacafuego’ (meaning Shitfire!) captured off Ecuador on March 1, 1579 yielded much loot. It took six days to transfer the loot from the Spanish ship to the British. In this capture, Drake seized 80 pounds of gold and 26 tons of silver. Queen Elizabeth, apart from knighting him, was also a financial partner in these criminal enterprises.

And the Others

Anne Bonney, Henry Morgan (later appointed a Governor in the Caribbean) were other celebrated pirates. Edward Teach (also Edward Thatch, c. 1680 – 22 November 1718), better known as Blackbeard remains famous to this day.

Dutch pirates like Maarten Tromp, Piet Hein (also Heyn), were made admirals. Thin lines divided pirates from official naval forces. Michael de Ruyter , another Dutch pirate became notorious for his raids across the Canadian coastline. Recently, Netherlands named an underground tunnel after Piet Hein – and ditties were written and set to music for Piet Hein. Piet Hein’s became famous when he captured booty worth 1 million sterling or 12 million guilders in gold, silver, and expensive goods like indigo and cochineal from Spanish ships.

Looting from Looters

The main target for pirates – Spanish ships in the Atlantic.

Why only Spanish ships?

Spain, which had a monopoly over most of America by the Papal Bulls, had a steady stream of ships, carrying looted gold from the Americas, after the massacres and genocide of Native Americans.

A captive bows before Welsh pirate Sir Henry Morgan as Morgan and his men sack the city of Panama in the 1670s. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/11/21/f-pirates-whoswho.html#ixzz0stPqRYn3

A captive bows before Welsh pirate Sir Henry Morgan as Morgan and his men sack the city of Panama in the 1670s. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images) Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/11/21/f-pirates-whoswho.html#ixzz0stPqRYn3

Papal Bulls

How did Spain end with a ‘monopoly’ over the New World?

The Vatican in the 15th century, partitioned the world between Spain and Portugal. Each of these nations were given exclusive rights for expanding ‘trade’, and ‘planting the banner of Christ’. These awards to Spain and Portugal, known as Papal Bulls, excluded Britain, France, Danes, Netherlands and German region.

Was that the reason for the support to Protestantism in most of these countries. Why did Henry VIII change – from a Defender Of The Faith, to revolt against the Church?

The politics of of piracy

After the break with Vatican, during the reign of Henry VIII, no longer tied by Papal injunctions and diktat, the English decided to challenge Spain. After the grant of duopoly to Spain and Portugal, vide the Papal Bulls, by the Church Of Rome, England, France and Netherlands declared open season against Spanish ships.

Jamaica, captured by the British (1655), from the Spanish, was an ideal hideout from which English pirates, attacked Spanish ships. Further, it was it was a safe-haven for escaping Native American Tainos and African Slaves. Called Maroons, they were recruited by these pirate ships, to bolster manpower.

The Spanish Armada was assembled by Spain to end British piracy.

And Britain decided to form a company to challenge Portugal in India. In 1600, the English East India Company (EEIC) was formed to spearhead English trade with India. By 1650, EEIC obtained the firmaan from Shah Jehan to operate in India – and compete with the Iberians.

At the heart of Britain’s wealth – piracy

The explicit use of pirates in the Caribbean brought great riches to the Britain. For a good part of 300 years (1550-1850), the English crown gave permits for pirates to operate on high seas. The rise of European powers coincided closely to piracy. In a modern context, imagine the Italian government giving legal sanction to the Mafia, or Colombians to the Cali cartel.

Keynes famously linked all British foreign investment to the single act of looting of the Spanish Armada. John Maynard Keynes, famously and honestly, tracked the source of British capital – and computed the compounded value of this loot. Keynes wrote: –

I trace the beginnings of British foreign investment to the treasure which Drake stole from Spain in 1580. In that year he returned to England bringing with him the prodigious spoils of the Golden Hind. Queen Elizabeth was a considerable shareholder in the syndicate which had financed the expedition. Out of her share she paid off the whole of England’s foreign debt, balanced her Budget, and found herself with about £40,000 in hand. This she invested in the Levant Company –which prospered. Out of the profits of the Levant Company, the East India Company was founded; and the profits of this great enterprise were the foundation of England’s subsequent foreign investment. Now it happens that £40,ooo accumulating at 3f per cent compound interest approximately corresponds to the actual volume of England’s foreign investments at various dates, and would actually amount to-day to the total of £4,000,000,000 which I have already quoted as being what our foreign investments now are. Thus, every £1 which Drake brought home in 1580 has now become £100,000. Such is the power of compound interest!

Now we all know where the Spaniards got their gold from!

Piracy across the Desert Bloc

Were Europeans the only pirates.

Among Islamic pirates, the more famous were the Barbarossa Brothers – Muslim pirates operating in the Turkey-Mediterranean region. No less capable, or less effective, the Barbarossa Brothers were the most notorious pirates – raiding towns and villages, for slaves. Their raids were feared across the Mediterranean. Against the Barbarossa Brothers were the Knights of St.James.

Indian shipping was also significantly affected by piracy.

Piracy affects India

British historiography claims that Maratha Navy under Kanhoji Angre – which levied taxes on British ships, were privateers and /or a pirate. Before that, Mughal armies removed the Portuguese from Daman, for attacking a royal ship, Rahimi, carrying the Mughal Queen, Maryam uz Zamani,  to the Haj in 1613.

Using their ill-gotten gains, from slavery, piracy, crime, loot, et al Islamic rulers and the English outbid Indian rulers. For military elements like saltpetre, elephants, sepoys, horses, armies et al. In India’s military market, the highest bidder usually also won the subsequent wars.

Increased stranglehold of Indian economic output, after the 1857 war in India, gave British a fresh impetus to de-legitimizing piracy. In 1858, Rep. HL Underwood, on June 10th 1858, on the subject of ‘Increase of the navy’, in the US Congress stated that

United States would be the first to resist the unauthorized use of her flag by vessels of other nations fraudulently to carry on said trade, as Great Britain asserts is being done.

Smuggling, piracy and slave trade as an 'adventure'  | Poster for 1939 film, Jamaica Inn, a story about piracy and smuggling, based on a book by Daphne du Maurier; Starring - Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

Smuggling, piracy and slave trade as an ‘adventure’ | Poster for 1939 film, Jamaica Inn, a story about piracy and smuggling, based on a book by Daphne du Maurier; Starring – Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara, Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

Romancing Piracy

British propaganda and the Government made these pirates and privateers into governors, officials and heroes – and the Spanish Armada into an instrument of Catholic repression. In the best Anglo Saxon propaganda tradition, books soon started a ‘white wash’ of slavery and piracy.

One such was the skilled Lord Byron – whose pirate-poem Corsair, sold out its entire print run of 10,000 copies on the first day itself. Another book that chiselled the pirate-image was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Like Mr.Midshipman Easy, by Captain Frederick Marryat (Retd. Royal Navy), in 1836.

British ‘celebration’ of Drake’s fugitive flight from Spanish ships has been credited by no less than Keynes himself as the turning point in British fortunes. 400 years after the Drake’s ‘exploits’, British historians at the Royal Historical Society (image 1) gloss over the role of the British Government as fountainhead of piracy and slave trading in the first place.

Britain’s official historians, the Royal Historical Society, ignores these facts – and instead takes credit for ‘reducing’ piracy.

Vectors of religion and slavery

To marginally ethical people, without recourse to loot, piracy and slavery under the Indic values system of shubh labh, ‘Desert Bloc’ ethics were an ‘attractive’ alternative. Economically affected by shrinkage in Indian exports due to slave raids and piracy, land grab by the colonial Indian State, some took the easy way of embracing English practices and values – giving the British Empire a leg up in India.

Pirates and slave traders as vectors of the insidious Desert Bloc ethic are usually not factored, analysed or discussed. Indian ship manufacturing centres were world leaders. Hence, ‘traders’ (especially slave traders) from the world over came to India shipyards – centred around Kerala, Gujarat and Chittagong. But slavery and loot are the two elephants in the Desert Bloc room which needs to be recognized, examined – and understood.

Kanhoji Angre - Statue at Alibaug

Kanhoji Angre – Statue at Alibaug

When the State commissions crimes!

Behind every great fortune there is a crime – Honoré de Balzac.

For many centuries, piracy, slavery, were encouraged, licenced by European States. Balzac’s statement only be understood with that background.

A 1936 novel by Daphne Du Maurier’s was set in the Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, based on and named after the real Jamaica Inn, a Bolventor pub, that evolved from a coaching inn in 1750, and went on to become famous as a smugglers’ base. Her other book, was the The Frenchman’s Creek (1942), was based on the life of a pirate.

Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness. A book examines this phenomenon tangentially – when a ‘licenced’ fighter goes ‘private’! In Asia. Like Britons did in India.

Remember O’Dyer and O’Dwyer!

End of piracy

Piracy was outlawed by The Declaration of Paris, in 1856, ratified by various powers. Initially by Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, Russia, Sardinia and Turkey – but not by Spain, Portugal and the USA.

Beginning of the end for Britain …

Wonder why the Great British culture is taking them nowhere! After they lost their slaves (in 1830), after the end of piracy (1860) and the end of colonies (1960).

Even with a hybrid, mongrel polity, India has emerged as a significant economic force within 60 years of British departure.

Wonder what India missed by a doing this hybrid shindig – instead of a full Indic.


17 Responses

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  1. admin said, on October 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm

  2. Kumar Iyer said, on October 12, 2011 at 6:44 am


  3. senthil said, on October 12, 2011 at 7:43 am

    Excellent post anurag.. is it not wonder, that they ended up branding 100’s of communities in india as criminal tribes.. Britain should be declared the worlds most dangerous criminal tribe..

    • Anuraag Sanghi said, on October 12, 2011 at 9:52 am
      Just the annihilation of the Native Indians in North America and the Aborigines in Australia is enough to qualify Anglo Saxon leadership for Nuremberg type of trials.

      But the deeper issue is Desert Bloc.

      Without labour exploitation, the Desert Bloc model does not work. This labour exploitation is what gives birth to crime in Desert Bloc. I have given copious data from Desert Bloc sources, which proves how crime is higher – much higher, in Desert Bloc.

      • SharmaLondon said, on June 28, 2012 at 5:32 pm

        Hi can you please show the data on crime levels in the desert bloc. Thanks

  4. a_kumar said, on November 8, 2011 at 12:39 am

    Wonderful job tracing the roots. Awesome read.

    See this for another perspective on the way it ended.


  5. George said, on December 2, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    Without Britain, it’s industrial might and Empire, much of the world would still be in the dark ages………..

    • rosalia maria cavalheiro cordeiro said, on June 24, 2016 at 2:05 pm

      ..from a brasssilian historical perspective it would have been better
      a start off ,in the rising capitalism, without british sponsor”ship” :*

      • George said, on June 24, 2016 at 7:56 pm

        So, you’d prefer Spanish or Portuguese, eh?

  6. Adithya said, on March 17, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    Britain is a worst country . The culture of the country is 100% depends on the history . Will anyone believe that Britain has ethics and policies . They made pirates as heros so every one will follow them and these so called nation came here to teach cultures in india. Will fuck all your british stupids .But yes they have one policy that to loot every one and get wealth. Stupid useless creatures on earth . Can’t fight against India and divided them introducing new systems by bribing some indian fools .

    • George said, on March 18, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Yes, Britain must be a real hell-hole, I mean, just look how many Indians, Pakistanis, Bengalis, Romanians, etc, etc risk everything to get here………

      • Amit said, on September 21, 2016 at 2:53 am

        Yes George because you stole all are riches gold, food even the kohinoor diamond. The royal family sits on gold and diamond looted across the world. Your museum have all valuables from other country. If you britains have balls return all the wealth which you have stolen and see where you stand… you don’t even have chance and only you know to rob people that’s why you all have broken families

        • George said, on May 22, 2017 at 5:21 pm

          I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat it here: Personally, I have no problem with us giving back all the items we ‘stole’ PROVIDED ALL of the immigrants that now reside in this country go with them! As if that’ll ever happen………

          • Mand Budhhi said, on May 22, 2017 at 7:42 pm

            Others have said in the past – and I am repeating it here agin!

            Keep that silly piece of rock! One condition. Dont send all those Brown Brit-shits here! Square Pegs & no hole kinda story!

            Peace Brother!

            We will find other pieces of rock to give to you – if that is what you want! But dont send these Brown Brit-shits here agin!

      • AAA said, on May 22, 2017 at 12:46 am

        george, there are also a lot of briturds who run to china and India for money, why does west keep crying about India and China then?

  7. Pawan sharma said, on June 12, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Which British company give insurance for a ship robbary?

  8. J A Caro said, on February 11, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    great article! Five starts!

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