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.
Admiral Hawkin’s more famous nephew, was ‘Sir’ Francis Drake. El Draque, The Dragon, to the Spanish.
Drake’s voyage in the shipGolden 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 fromknighting 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.
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.
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.
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-poemCorsair, 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. LikeMr.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 ofshubh 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 arethe two elephants in the Desert Bloc room which needs to be recognized, examined – and understood.
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.