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T WOULD be difficult to determine when licensed privateering began in Europe, but it was probably not earlier than the thirteenth century. Private armed ships roamed the sea long before national navies were organized, but they were unregulated and irresponsible in very early times. Their crews were ready to fight against the enemies of their country when at war, or against pirates. They were perhaps not always averse to piracy themselves in time of peace, when there were no national enemies to pursue. The Royal Navy of England seems to have had its beginnings during the reign of King John; at least it is known that the king then had his own ships. It was long after John's time, however, before anything like a navy of real force existed; and national defense, therefore, continued to depend chiefly upon private enterprise. Privateering was extensively carried on by other nations as well, especially France and the Netherlands.1
The right of the crown to all prizes and captured goods was always unquestioned, but as a matter of justice, or for the encouragement of the sea-rovers and to stimulate their exertions in worrying the enemy, it was the part of wisdom to grant to the captor a share in his prize. What is presumably the oldest British document relating to such affairs, a grant of this sort issued in 1205, reads as follows: "The King to all to whom these presents shall come, Greeting. Know ye that we have granted to the crews of the galleys, which
1. Marsden, Law and Custom of the Sea (Publications of the Navy Records Society, XLIX), I, Introduction; English Historical Review, xxiv (Oct. 1909), 675.
Thomas of Galway has sent to us, one half of the gains which they may make in captures from our enemies; and we will, besides, recompense them for their service in such sort that they shall be well satisfied.” I The earliest mention of letters of marque or reprisal appears in a document of 1293, though they were probably used before that. Such letters were sometimes granted to individuals who had been robbed, allowing them to make reprisals against the robbers or their countrymen, until the value of the stolen property had been made good. In 1295 the vessel of Bernard Dongresilli, lying peacefully in a harbor of Portugal, was seized by "certain sons of perdition coming out from Lisbon,"
carried off the whole to the aforesaid city of Lisbon. And, of all the goods so spoiled and carried off, the King of Portugal received for his own use a tenth part; and the rest of the goods the robbers divided amongst themselves. . . . And we, considering the wickedness of the aforesaid robbers, in committing this spoil in time of peace, and having seen a letter under the seal of the council of Bayonne aforesaid, by which the mayor, jurats, and council, after having taken trustworthy proofs thereon, signify to our lord, the King,3 the truth of the premises, yielding to the prayer of the said merchant, have given and granted and now give and grant to him, Bernard, his heirs, successors, and posterity, liberty to make reprisals upon people of the realm of Portugal, and particularly upon those of the city of Lisbon aforesaid, and upon their goods, wheresoever he may find them, whether within the dominion of our lord, the King and Duke, or without, [and] to retain and keep them for himself, until he and his heirs or successors or posterity shall be fully satisfied for [the loss of] his goods so spoiled as aforesaid, or their value as declared above, together with expenses reasonably incurred by him in that behalf. . . . We, therefore, approving and ratifying the above licence, confirm the same by virtue of these presents, so nevertheless that in case satisfaction shall be made to the said Bernard in the premises, reprisals shall thereupon cease, [and] there shall be no further keeping or appropriation [of 1. Law and Custom of the Sea, I, I. 3. Edward I.
2. Ibid., 19.
goods]; and if it shall happen that he shall have captured and shall keep anything beyond [the value of his loss], he shall be obliged to answer faithfully for such excess."
The terms letters of marque, letters of reprisal, and letters of marque or (or and) reprisal were used indiscriminately for privateers' commissions and no distinction between them was made before the seventeenth century. These terms were not always used in commissions. The following, granted by Henry IV in 1404, is an example:
The King to all and singular Admirals, captains, castellans, and to their lieutenants, and to keepers of ports of the sea and other maritime places, and to mayors, bailiffs, constables, provosts, and officers, and to masters and owners of ships, and mariners, and also to victuallers of ships, and to all other our lieges and subjects, whether on land or at sea, within liberties or without, to whom these presents shall come, Greeting. Know ye that we have granted and given leave to our well-beloved Henry Paye to sail and pass to the seas with as many ships, barges, and balingers of war, men-at-arms and bowmen properly equipped, as he may be able to provide himself with, to do all the hurt he can to our open enemies, as well for their destruction as for the safe guarding and defence of our faithful lieges, and for the safety of our realm. And therefore we command you, and each of you, that you supply the said Henry with ships, barges, and balingers, victuals, and all other things necessary and useful to him in this behalf, he paying for the same as shall be reasonably agreed between you and him; and that you be aiding, advising, and assisting to him, Henry, in the performance and execution of the premises, as beseems you. In witness, &c. These presents to endure according to our pleasure. Witness the King, &c.2
In the same reign letters of marque and reprisal against the inhabitants of Genoa were issued to a number of London Merchants. The document presents in detail the conditions and reasons involved and illustrates the forms used at that period:
1. Law and Custom of the Sea, 1, 38-41.
2. Ibid., 112.
The King to all to whom these presents shall come, Greeting. Our well-beloved lieges William Waldern, Drugo Barantyn, Walter Cotton, John Reynewelle, William Flete, Thomas Brown, William Brekespere, John Glamville, John Sutton and their fellows, merchants of the city of London, have shown unto us that of late they, with our licence, despatched certain factors and attorneys of theirs with a great quantity of wools and other merchandise, to the value of 24,000 l., shipped in divers ships, to be carried carefully and in safety by way of the Straits of Morocco to Western parts, there [to be sold] for the advantage and increase of our realm; and, to the end that the aforesaid ships so laden should have sure and safe passage, we caused our letters of recommendation to be sent to the Governors, worthies, and community of Genoa, which letters were, as we hear, duly presented to them by certain of the aforesaid factors; but they of Genoa, paying no regard at all to our letters aforesaid, and wickedly scheming, to the injury of the commonweal of our realm aforesaid, to hinder their passage, first of all detained the aforesaid ships, and afterwards compelled them to enter the harbour of Genoa, and, after their entry, spoiled them of the wools and merchandise aforesaid, and took them into their own hands, and sold them for their own use and profit; and, further, that the aforesaid factors were prevented from writing to their own magistrates upon the matter, and were, and now are, to the grievous hurt and injury of our said lieges, unable to get possession of any part of the aforesaid wools and merchandise, for their own support, or of any of the money arising from the sale thereof. Wherefore they have prayed us that we should think fit to issue to them our letters of marque and reprisal. And we, in compliance with their prayer, of our especial grace, and with the assent of our council, have, for ourselves and our heirs, given and granted to the aforesaid William, Drugo, Walter, John, William, Thomas, William, John, John, and their fellows aforesaid that they of themselves or by their deputies may seize, keep, and retain such and so many Genoese, or subjects or inhabitants of Genoa or the confines of Genoa, or their factors or agents, as they think fit, whether on this side of the sea or beyond it, and whether on land or sea, together with their ships, vessels, goods, and merchandise of what kind soever, until full restitution and satisfaction shall be made to them for the value of the aforesaid wools and merchandise, to the amount aforesaid, together with their costs, damages, outgoings, and expenses, which by fair estimate amount to the sum of 10,000 l.; and that they have liberty to put into execution or cause to be put into execution these present letters of marque and reprisal so often as
they think fit, without hindrance by us or our heirs or by the Admirals of us or our heirs or by their lieutenants or other our officers or ministers whatsoever, [and that] notwithstanding any letters of safe-conduct granted or hereafter to be granted to the aforesaid Genoese, or subjects or inhabitants of Genoa or its confines, or their factors or agents, or anyone else of the country or territory of their community or confederacy. Moreover, we straitly command all and singular [our] Admirals, captains, castellans, and their lieutenants, customers, keepers of ports, keepers of the sea and sea coasts, sheriffs, mayors, bailiffs, constables, ministers and other our lieges and subjects, as well on this side of the sea as beyond it, that in the execution of the premises they be aiding, helping, and assisting to the aforesaid William, Drugo, Walter, John, William, Thomas, William, John, and John, and their fellows, as beseems them &c. In witness, &c. Witness the King at Westminster the 3rd day of February, .
By the King himself and the council."
The earliest bond or security for good behavior was given in 1486 by "the meyre, shiref, aldermen, and commonaltie of the town of Newcastell upon Tyne," who "covenaunted, promised, and granted to our said sovereyn lord the Kyng," that they would "take sufficient suretie of and for thowner, maister, or purcer of every ship English in the said town of Newcastell, to the double valew of the said ship, takyll, and vitayle of the same, that the mariners of the said ship shall, in the see and in the stremys of the same, kepe the peax agenst all the King's subjetts," etc.2
The recognizance of Captain John Hawkins, for £1000, for the good behavior of his ship, commissioned to search for contraband and to take pirates, is dated November 17, 1571:
The condicion of this recognizance is suche that, whereas Raffe Lane, Esquier, one of the Querries of her majesties stable, havinge speciall commission from her highnes to searche by hymself or his
1. Law and Custom of the Sea, 1, 121.
2. Ibid., 141. About this time the documents begin to be written in English. The earlier ones are translations from the Latin.