Who started piracy? France: French Privateers and Pirates
In France, they had to arm their ships to defend themselves against the Vikings. Then there was always a war to engage in. The French privateers began.
Improvements in navigation made it possible to have fast ships.
Numerous pirates and privateers became famous, fighting against the power of the Spanish Empire. They favored a war of weakening, at the same time that they enriched themselves by assaulting Spanish ships and colonies.
The Bretons and the Normans
French Corsairs were the first
They started with piracy in the Channel and fought against the Vikings the others.
There was already an experience of life at sea and ocean voyages, the Basques and especially the Bretons, as well as the Normans, descendants of the Vikings. Every experience found a goal, America. The French, discovering the great riches transported by the Spaniards, were the first Pirates of the Caribbean Sea.
Basques in the Atlantic
Spanish and French Basques
The experience of the Basque sailors and their long voyages to Newfoundland in search of whales and whaling was highly valued. Basque whaling sailors went as far as Newfoundland, now Canada. They knew the area, especially North America, from the early years of discovery, or perhaps even earlier. They had no interest in others knowing the place that was the source of their wealth, the fishing grounds where they fished for whales.
There, they engaged in whaling in large quantities. They created factories to prepare and store their oil, a treasure, because of its great value at the time.
The Breton ships had to be armed due to Viking attacks. And once they were prepared and armed when the danger disappeared, they continued with the activity. There was always a war, in which they could take part.
Normandy was a strategic place for the control of the English Channel. The installation of Viking camps would eventually control the territory. Not in vain Normandy was the land of William the Conqueror of England, a descendant of Vikings.
The French Basques, with experience in voyages to Newfoundland and knowledgeable of the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic, had been making voyages with their whalers for some time.
The Capture of the Spanish Galleon with the Treasure
The Fabulous Treasure of Mexico
Capture of the fabulous Treasure of King Moctezuma by Jean Fleury (1521)
Juan Florin or Giovanni da Verrazano born in 1485 near Florence. This corsair of Italian origin, although in the service of Francis I of France, achieved a real feat. Although he was already one of the main pirates of the Mediterranean Sea, he went on to sail the Atlantic Ocean, a place of passage of great riches extracted from the Americas.
Although since 1506, there had been sporadic assaults in the Caribbean Sea in the West Indies. But it was in 1521, when he boarded in the Azores Islands, the fleet of Hernán Cortés that was transporting the Treasure of Moctezuma, seizing 2 galleons with that fabulous treasure.
At the court of France they saw with their own eyes the enormous riches that could be extracted from America. They had in their hands all kinds of jewels, ornaments, gold and silver utensils, adorned with precious stones, that Cortes had sent to his Emperor.
The end of Jean Fleury
Captured and hanged by Martin Perez de Irizar
Charles V, angered by the loss and the lack of respect for his person, ordered him to be captured and executed.
In 1927, after years of privateering in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, he was captured by Martin Perez de Irizar. He tried to bribe the Spaniard by offering him a huge fortune to let him escape alive.
However, he did not succeed and Charles V ordered him to be hanged with his main captains, accused of more than 150 assaults on Spanish ships during his life as a corsair.
Pirates to the Antilles
Alongside the large and rich Caribbean islands held by Spain, there are a multitude of smaller islands that could be used by pirates.
Hundreds of islands on the route of Spanish galleons laden with riches.
The capture of the Treasure mobilized French adventurers.
The French went to the Antilles islands, not exactly to enjoy their beautiful beaches and beautiful landscapes. These innumerable islands are in a strategic place of passage of the Spanish galleons, loaded with riches. They were also a great place of many uninhabited islands, to hide from the Spanish troops that sailed through the area, trying to prevent the colonization of all these territories by other Europeans.
The French Corsairs had remained in the Atlantic Ocean, with limits in the Azores and the Canary Islands. On rare occasions in the Antilles. The news of the capture of Montezuma’s very rich treasure spread like wildfire throughout the European continent, especially in France.
The information of the content of the treasure with its gold and silver pieces inlaid with emeralds and other precious stones was all that was needed to make people’s imagination run wild, making everything seem possible.
Thousands of adventurers set sail for the Antilles, looking for a stroke of luck and an easier life. Some became the most feared pirates of the 16th and 17th centuries and went down in history as the most famous pirates and privateers.
Francis I King of France
Promotes piracy to weaken Spain.
His enmity with Charles V dates from the defeat of the French troops in the battle of Pavia. In this battle he was taken prisoner. This humiliation made him promote piracy even more. In addition to reasons of state, he had personal reasons against the Emperor, as he was held hostage in Madrid until his ransom was paid.
Due to the ruin of France, which at that time was a poor country, and the royal treasury being depleted after the payment of his ransom, he could not finance a war against his enemy.
He had no money to prepare, supply, feed and transport thousands of soldiers to do battle.
For all these reasons, Francis I of France decided to provide protection and even ships in exchange for a part of the booty obtained by assaulting Spanish ships.
A multitude of ships of all sizes were armed and enthusiastic Frenchmen dedicated themselves to piracy and were even able to cross thousands of kilometers of dangerous oceans to reach America.
The stories told of the enormous riches of America and the memory of the treasure captured by Jean Fleury act as a powerful incentive to risk all dangers.
And in a few years, especially some Caribbean islands are filled with adventurers willing to do anything to get rich.
Henry II and his corsairs
Alcaller (Peg Leg)
In 1553 Henry II King of France decided to send an expedition of corsairs to attack and rob the Spanish possessions in America. For this purpose he provided 10 ships assigning him the command of the expedition and putting as his lieutenant Jacob de Sores known for his hatred of Catholics. Between them they set fire to the cities of Puerto Rico and even invading Cuba they attacked Havana, which burned almost completely.
For more than 5 years they attacked everything they could in the Caribbean and even threatened Cartagena de Indias and Santo Domingo. They also took the opportunity to attack the Canary Islands when passing in front of them.
The thousands of pesos in gold that he brought back to France were more than enough for King Henry II to name him a nobleman and give him all the honors.
The port of Saint-Malo
The city became rich through piracy.
Practicing Corsican piracy became a tradition, and thanks to it, the city became rich. The main victims of its attacks were the English ships, which were besieged and boarded when passing near its coasts, either on their way to or from England.
Its heyday was in the 17th century, and its navigators and merchants became very rich, so that it was common to invest in privateering expeditions.
Bomb in Saint-Malo
The English tried to blow up the port
Fed up with the attacks of the French corsairs, the English tried to destroy the city. They prepared a ship loaded with explosives, shells and shrapnel. During the night they sent it towards the walls, with the intention of destroying and setting fire to the city.
However, the ship, due to the poor visibility of the night, hit some rocks, and some of the explosives were damaged. It did not manage to do any important damage.
In command of a large ship from a young age.
From a very young age at the helm of a ship, he captured a large number of merchant ships, about 300, and even almost 20 warships.
Considered a national hero in France, he has statues and monuments commemorating his exploits, especially against the English.
Jean Bart (1651-1702
He controlled the English Channel
He was dedicated to assault the merchant ships that circulated through the English Channel and the North Sea.
His city, Dunkirk, was a corsair base equivalent to Saint-Malo.
On one occasion he managed to escape from the English in a rowboat traveling hundreds of kilometers.
Robert Surcouf (1773-1827)
Brilliant and courageous privateer on the Indian route.
He moved to the French possession of the Indian Ocean, Saint Mauritius. Strategic place of passage of the English ships going to India and China.
From there, he seized the ships sailing in the area, loaded with enormous riches.
Pirates and French Corsairs go to America
Settlers looking for land
In America they sought to establish colonies.
A characteristic of the French Corsairs was their desire to settle in the West Indies, from their beginnings. That is why they were also colonists among themselves. Some were looking for land to cultivate, others for riches to steal.
That is why from the beginning their conquests had a more colonizing value, and they settled in the small islands of the Caribbean, which could not protect the Spaniards, since there were so many, that they could not watch them all, because of their great number.
The cruel Olonnais (x-1669)
Francois l’Olonnais, from Slave to Pirate
He arrived in the Caribbean as a white slave (bondman) and after forced labor in Martinique during his youth, his owner gave him his freedom. This freedom, he used it to do all the evil he could, with great cruelty.
He later joined the Buccaneers and was noted for his skill as a sailor and for his great cruelty to prisoners. He got a ship although he failed in the first attempt on Campeche.
On the return to Tortuga Island with a small ship he managed to reach Cuba where he seized a Spanish galleon, once he had killed the crew.
He assaulted many Spanish ships and from Havana, a heavily armed ship was prepared to capture him. The Olones surprised the ship with a boarding and knifed the entire crew.
El Olonés takes Maracaibo
After occupying its fortress, he tortures its inhabitants.
His fame and cruelty seemed to grow every day despite the competition on Tortuga Island where he managed to get more than 500 pirates to accompany him and set out to take Maracaibo in present-day Venezuela.
After taking the fortress he discovered that the city had been abandoned and its inhabitants had taken refuge in the jungle.
After combing the jungle, he managed to capture some of the frightened citizens who feared the worst.
A cruel and ruthless pirate, he would give up nothing to get what he wanted. In order to find out where the people and their riches were hiding, he made a spectacle of cruelty.
In full view of all the inhabitants he managed to capture, he cut out the heart of a Spanish soldier and ate it in front of them.
He ended up devoured by the Indians
The end of the cruel and bloodthirsty Pirate
He decided to invade Nicaragua in command of a fleet of ships. Bad weather and storms prevented him from doing so and he was shipwrecked.
He lost his fleet and had to wander through the jungle where many of his men decided to abandon him.
His death was as horrific as his life, he was captured by the natives in Honduras and torn to pieces. Some say he was also devoured by the cannibalistic Indians of the area.
French Pirates and Corsairs: The Bretons and Normans against the Viking pirates, Jean Fleury (1521) and the Treasure, The end of Jean Florin, Towards the Antilles islands, French pirates towards the islands of the Antilles, Leclerc, Port of Saint Malo, Bomb for the port, Duguay Trouin, Jean Bart, Robert Surcouf, Colonies and Corsairs, The cruel Olonese …