The Sea Dogs – Queen Elizabeth’s Privateers – World History Encyclopedia

    The sea wolves, as they were contemptuously called by the Spanish authorities, were corsairs who, with the consent and sometimes the financial support of Elizabeth I of England (r. 1558-1603 AD), attacked and pillaged settlements and Spanish colonial treasures. ships in the second half of the 16th century AD With only a license from their queen to distinguish them from pirates, sailors such as Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540-1596 AD) and Sir Walter Raleigh (c. 1552-1618 AD) made themselves and their patrons filthy rich. Elizabeth and his government, unable to legitimately trade with the New World colonies as Philip II of Spain (r. 1556-1598 AD) clung to his monopoly, resorted instead to theft as a means of persuading the king Spanish to change policy. As Anglo-Spanish relations deteriorated, privateers became a useful tool in reducing Spain’s wealth and disrupting Philip’s plans to build his armed fleet with which he hoped to invade England. Although in some respects they were successful, especially with captures such as the great treasure ship Madre de Deus, the privateers did not work together enough to pose a serious and sustained threat to Spanish shipping, which began to use armed convoys to great effect. For a few decades, however, fast English ships bristling with cannons and captained by daring adventurers wreaked havoc on the high seas.

    The Capture of Cacafuego by the Golden Hind

    The New World

    Spain’s massive empire in the Americas was a tempting source of wealth for rival European powers. The Spanish looted gold, silver, and precious stones from the many different states they had conquered on the continent and shipped these riches to Europe in treasure ships, often in an annual fleet that was sometimes called a silver fleet (from the Spanish for silver). , silver). They also had treasure ships coming from Asia, the Manilla galleons, loaded with expensive spices, fine china, and other precious goods, especially when Philip II of Spain also became King of Portugal in 1580 CE. The second attraction was the opportunity to trade both with the indigenous peoples of the Americas and with the Spanish settlers there. Since Philip wanted to keep rival powers out of this second source of wealth, monarchs like Elizabeth I of England turned to the first as an alternative. Pacific trade had been attempted by sailors like John Hawkins in the 1560s CE, but the Spanish attack on San Juan D’Ulloa, the port of Veracruz in Mexico, which destroyed all but two of Hawkins’ ships, clearly showed that the Spaniards would not cede their trade monopoly in the Americas to other nations, even if they themselves could not meet the demand for slaves and cloth, in particular.

    Reading: Who were the sea dogs

    By plundering Philip’s treasure ships and colonial settlements, England could become rich, her rival Spain would become poorer, and the Spanish king could then allow free trade in the West Atlantic. To this end, Elizabeth not only turned a blind eye to her subjects’ acts of piracy, she actively encouraged them. This encouragement came in many different forms, such as secret orders, official licenses to navigate in private armed ships (letters of marque), money to buy ships and provisions, the use of royal naval ships, and recognition such as titles and property in the case of success. the queen often invested in the limited companies that were created to finance specific privateering expeditions. Some voyages also included the exploration of new territories or new trade routes such as the Northwest Passage which it was hoped could connect North America with Asia. However, it is debatable whether Elizabeth ever really wanted to create new colonies, especially when she could immediately seize the resources produced by those of a rival monarch.

    There wasn’t much to lose either. for a few thousand pounds or a few old ships, the queen could make huge profits from those expeditions that returned home with holds full of precious goods. Certainly, this kind of economic warfare was cheaper than financing large land armies, and while what she called the “treasure chest” might be irregular, it lessened the tax burden on her subjects. In some years privateering earnings even exceeded England’s annual income in the mid-sixteenth century. Yet another advantage was that privateers gained experience at sea and kept their ships busy, both being available for use in a national emergency such as the 1588 AD Spanish Armada invasion. at the same time, philip’s own fleet would be correspondingly weakened.

    Elizabeth I Pelican Portrait

    Philip might get upset, of course, at this robbery, but he was occupied with keeping his empire in Europe intact and unlikely to go to war over a few privateers. As it turned out, Philip did launch an assault on England with the Spanish Armada, but this was due to many factors of which the sea dogs were but one. By the mid-1580s CE there was an average of 150 English annual privateering expeditions, most of them small-scale affairs. As the Anglo-Spanish war dragged on, legitimate trade was increasingly disrupted and merchants turned to the profits they could make from backing financially the privateers.

    The Captains

    Interestingly, many of Elizabeth’s fur seals were from Devon and many were also related by blood or marriage. Family stories and local seafaring culture must have inspired the youngsters to follow in their father’s footsteps and captain privateer ships. these captains were sometimes great servants of their sovereign, other times completely passive, as the historian says. brigden explains:

    Out of sight of land, captains can choose to be merchants, pirates, or explorers, or each in turn. who could bind them once in the sea? in the tiny world of a ship, captains had royal powers, even tyrannical powers, if they could keep their crew from mutiny. (278)

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    Captains had few scruples about the risks involved in privateering or being held accountable by the authorities. As Walter Raleigh once said, “Did you ever know of one who was a pirate by the millions?” (Williams, 225). In other words, given the vast amounts of treasure involved, the corsairs were obviously part of a state mechanism and not common thieves.

    Francis Drake by Hilliard

    Elizabeth’s sea dogs were nothing if not audacious, indeed they were often reckless to the point of folly. Their bravado perhaps had roots in Philip’s general negligence of his treasure. Spanish ships were designed for transport not fighting, and many were easy targets for the well-armed and nimble English ships (and those of other nations such as France and the Netherlands). Some important Spanish ships were armed and several important ports in the New World had fortresses and shore batteries but travelling the High Seas was a dangerous business where there were many opportunities for privateers and outright pirates to ply their own illegitimate trade.

    Francis Drake

    The most famous of all sea lion captains was Sir Francis Drake, who not only believed that privateering was a good political and economic strategy, but also a means of waging religious war between Protestant England and Protestant England. Catholic Spain. Roaming the Atlantic and Caribbean capturing their treasure ships, the Spanish called the Drake ‘El Drake’ (‘the Dragon’). Drake infamously attacked the Spanish settlement of Nombre de Dios and captured a silver caravan in Panama in 1573 CE. Later, illustrating the crossover between exploration and privateering, Drake completed the circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580 CE.

    On an epic voyage in his 150-ton Golden Hin, Drake attacked ships in the Cape Verde Islands, sailed up the coast of South America, and then up into the Pacific Ocean, where he raided Spanish colonial settlements like Valparaiso. and still more treasure ships were looted. Maps of the coasts found were made and, in March 1579 AD, the richest prize of the voyage off the coast of Peru, the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción (also known as Cacafuego), was won. It took six days to empty the cacafuego of its cargo of gold and silver.

    Making his way along the coasts of Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico, the Drake captured yet more ships and loot. the sailor explored the possible existence of the northwest passage to asia and then turned south again to arrive near what is now san francisco, where he claimed the land for his queen, naming it ‘new albion’ (a claim never subsequently persecuted). The intrepid sailor then crossed the Pacific and reached the East Indies (Indonesia and the Philippines) and brought valuable spices on board. he got away with it and ran his ship aground on a reef, crossed the indian ocean, rounded the cape of good hope and returned to plymouth after a voyage of 2 years and 9 months. The estimated value of the loot taken was perhaps £600,000, or more than double England’s total annual income. Elizabeth was enchanted with her favorite sea dog and knighted him aboard the golden stag. Such formal recognition was a clear message to Philip that her fur seals were representatives of her monarch and quite different from the pirates of all nationalities (including the English) who roamed the seas. Drake had also become the richest man in England in terms of cash, an inspiration to all other privateers, and an enduring national hero. the golden hind was still on public display a century after his most famous voyage.

    A Model of the Golden Hind

    Through the 1580s CE, Drake sailed far and wide, making often audacious raids on Spanish wealth in the Cape Verde Islands, San Domingo, Cuba, Colombia, Florida, and Hispaniola (Haiti). In 1587 CE Drake illustrated the usefulness of privateers in national defence when his raid on Cadiz destroyed 31 Spanish ships, captured another six and destroyed valuable supplies destined for Philip’s planned Armada.

    walter raleigh

    Raleigh was a privateer captain who was also a bit of a settler. He organized three expeditions to form a colony off the coast of North America in the 1580s CE. It was hoped that it could serve as a useful base for attacking Spanish ships in the Caribbean. the roanoke colony in ‘virginia’ was abandoned but the expeditions were noted for introducing tobacco and potatoes to england. Raleigh made two unsuccessful expeditions to find the legendary city of gold El Dorado in South America in 1595 CE and 1617 CE. The courtier-sailor participated in the (second) raid on Cádiz in 1596 AD. He destroyed 50 Spanish ships, but would spend most of his last years in the Tower of London after defeating James I of England (r. 1603-1625 AD). it was there that he wrote his famous history of the world.

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    raleigh’s greatest contribution to elizabeth’s fur seal memorabilia scrapbook was her fleet’s capture of the portuguese treasure ship madre de deus (also known as mother of god), off the azores in 1592 d . This was the largest prize ever taken by Elizabeth’s privateers. Raleigh financed the expedition (but was not there in person) that captured the ship carrying goods from the East Indies for Philip of Spain. the carrack had 32 guns and a crew of 700, but was eventually overwhelmed by the English ships working in unison. the 500-ton cargo consisted of gold, silver, pearls, jewelry, bales of fine cloth and bolts of silk, exotic animal skins, glassware, Chinese porcelain, spices, raw ivory and ebony, and perfumes. The queen alone received some £80,000 in assets, not bad for her original investment of £3,000. The capture inspired the fur seals to continue their raids, even if the mother of deus would never be matched.

    Madre de Deus Model

    The Crews

    On the stuffy, overcrowded and not always clean ships of the time, a sailor was much more likely to die of disease than a Spanish cannon shot. indeed, casualties were often so high that a ship had to be abandoned for lack of enough crew to sail it. the great attraction, of course, and the reason sailors faced the perils of the sea, disease, and war, was the chance to acquire loot. sailors on privateering expeditions were allowed to take whatever they wanted other than a captured ship’s cargo (which was divided between the captain, officers and investors, with a small sum left over then shared out among the ordinary sailors) . in truth, it was very difficult to control who grabbed what after a catch, and a quick handful of gold coins or even jewels would have ended a sailor’s financial worries for the rest of their lives. consequently, manning a privateering expedition was not nearly as difficult as finding a crew for a warship where there was no chance of loot. in fact, so popular was the treasure lure that there was often a shortage of crews for ordinary fishing boats in English ports.

    the failures

    There were too many failures to match the successes. Corsair John Oxenham (c. 1535-1580 AD) attempted to take control of Panama, through which Spanish silver looted from South America passed by mule train. Landing on the Isthmus in 1576 CE and holding it for a year, Oxenham’s fleet was then destroyed by a Spanish fleet, and the English were captured. most of the crew were hanged on the spot or sent to work as galley slaves on Spanish ships. Meanwhile, Oxenham was imprisoned in Lima, tortured to find out what England’s plans were in the Pacific, and then executed in 1580 CE.

    another disaster was the loss of the revenge, then captained by sir richard grenville (1542-1591 ce). Grenville, typical of the sea dogs, was a man of all kinds: parliamentarian, soldier, landowner and sailor. However, he is best remembered for his valiant if futile defense of his ship, his revenge when he was attacked by 56 Spanish ships in the Azores in 1591 CE. Grenville had been lurking in these islands hoping to catch Spanish treasure ships, but he was surprised by the arrival of a large enemy fleet. the other English ships withdrew, and Grenville was cut off. Fighting valiantly for more than 15 hours, Vengeance did much damage, but ultimately succumbed, gaining legendary status in English maritime lore.

    The Fight of the Revenge

    When privateers mixed with state military operations, success was often elusive. Two of the biggest failures were the Drake-Norris Expedition of 1589 CE and Drake’s last expedition in the Caribbean in 1595 CE. The former saw a huge fleet of up to 150 ships attempt to capture Lisbon but ended in a rout and next to no treasure taken. The latter debacle witnessed the death of Drake as he tried one last time to ‘singe the king’s beard’. Meeting strong Spanish resistance at Porto Rico, Drake made little headway against other well-armed settlements and ships, and he died of dysentery mid-voyage. There would be more privateers but it was the end of an era.

    Limitations & Decline

    privacy as a state policy, then, had some serious flaws. the first was that there was very little coordination between the privateering expeditions and the captains. even in the same fleet, there were conflicting goals, for once a captain had acquired the wealth he and his investors expected, he often returned home. another problem was the lack of lasting strategic value for such a policy, making a profit one year had no effect on the chances of making a profit the next year. there was also competition for prizes from French and Dutch privateers and pirates. In addition, the Spanish knew very well that the English had few scruples when it came to rich prizes, as Ambassador Guzmán de Silva pointed out, “they have good ships and they are greedy people with more freedom than is convenient for them” (williams, 43) . ). consequently, the Spanish reacted to the threat posed by the corsairs and took steps to minimize their damage. colonial settlements received increasingly impressive fortifications and coastal batteries. although philip was reduced to sailing his plate fleets at inopportune times of the year (resulting in more ships being sunk in storms), over time the use of more powerful armed escorts and the laying down of new and larger ships Fasting in convoys for better protection was very effective from the early 1590s, and by 1595 Philip once again had a full navy to patrol the seas.

    eventually, peaceful and long-lasting trade was much more lucrative than stealing ships at sea, so privateering went into decline, even if all-out piracy would reach its peak between the mid-17th and early 17th centuries. 18th century AD, when the European colonial empires arose, they brought new temptations for adventurous sailors eager for easy prey. However, the real wealth was found in international trade, and thus came the great commercial companies, such as the giant colonial East India Company, founded in 1600 CE.

    However, it was the sea dogs who laid the foundations and showed that England, now withdrawn from the rest of Europe, could steadily build a world empire united by its fleet of ships. English sailors were now armed with vastly improved knowledge of the winds and tides combined with much more accurate charts and reliable navigational instruments. so too, the sea lions had brought social changes. those who became wealthy from privateering rose up the social ladder, buying property and investing in business ventures and businesses that would become household names. not only had riches been gained, but new products were introduced and adopted by Englishmen of all classes, notably tobacco, sugar, pepper, and cloves. It is perhaps no coincidence, then, that an Elizabethan galleon appeared on the Queen’s coins and remained on English coins of one kind or another until 1971 CE.

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