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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Pirate's Code--or Just Guidelines?

Only one week to go in the countdown to the publication of THE WAND & THE SEA! In honor of that momentous event, I'll be putting up some piratical posts to whet your whistle. Today, we're talking about the infamous Pirate Code.

more about THE WAND & THE SEA here

Was there really a Pirate's Code? Or were they really more guidelines?



That depends on what sort of pirate you're talking about. Men like Sir Francis Drake did their share of robbing and plundering on the high seas, but thanks to generous monarchs like Elizabeth I, they were called privateers. In other words, they had legal permission to go a-pirating.

A privateer had to abide by strict rules. Otherwise, it would look like the British Crown approved of murder and torture, and that was bad publicity. Instead, the Queen--and anyone else who issued privateers their letters of marque--insisted their privateers act like gentlemen.

But according to Captain Charles Johnson, who wrote a book called A General History of the  Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates in 1724, many true pirates also wrote up a list of rules, known as their code. For instance, Captain Black Bart Roberts's code looked like this:
  1. Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
  2. Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.
  3. None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
  4. The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
  5. Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
  6. No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.
  7. He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
  8. None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man's quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draw the first blood shall be declared the victor.
Note that the punishment for disobeying the Code was harsh--slit ears, death, or marooning, which means being put ashore on any given island and left to fend for yourself. The Code seemed to be mostly a way for captains to keep order aboard ship than a code of honor, but it served its purpose. And, as Captain Barbossa so astutely points out above, you had to be a pirate for the Pirate's Code to apply.


Love pirate stuff? Check out the website's new Pirate Lore page!


clip above from The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

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