Quotes of the Week: The irregularities of the privateering story

Not long ago, one of my children came home from her primary school with a library book about pirates. In it was a story about a Danish captain[…]who raided ships under the pretense that he was a privateer equipped with letters of marque by the Danish king. The document was impressive to look at and no one could read Danish anyway. It eventually turned out that it was no more than a license to hunt wild pigs, and that the captain was not a privateer but a pirate.

I had not heard this story before and, hoping to find the source, I contacted a friend by e-mail, an expert on privateers. He replied:

“No, I haven’t heard of the Danish letter of marque story. It is a pity that children’s books focus on the irregularities of the privateering story–it’s misleading. Children should, instead, be offered a detailed statistical analysis of privateers by port, by tonnage range, by number of guns carried, by prizes taken–I know someone who could supply Puffin with the text.”

My daughter did not think much of this idea.
–CR Pennell, in his introduction to Bandits at Sea: A Pirates Reader

I always get the feeling that if I don’t link to profiles of the writer Beau Smith that someday he’ll leave me to die in a saloon somewhere.
Tom Spurgeon


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