Why? What were they looking for at the cost of risking their lives?
This is how the Europeans who arrived in the Caribbean saw it, in an idyllic way. The climate and the great extensions of virgin land, for them it was a paradise. The New World was their paradise on earth.
Pirates, Corsairs, Buccaneers, Filibusters in pursuit of riches. Unscrupulous adventurers, an unfair distribution of the New World and the ambitions of other countries.
Why so many Buccaneers, corsairs and pirates?
The Spaniards were not willing to have their territories attacked by pirates and adventurers from other countries.
Spain asserted its rights with the support of the Church. But also with its army and navy, the greatest military power of the time.
The Spanish soldiers made a huge raid and expelled the buccaneers from the island of Hispaniola.
The Struggle for Hegemony
The covert war of England, France, Holland, all against Spain!
The fear of the enormous power of Spain in Europe and in the World, provoked a war of attrition against her. Corsairs from various countries encouraged by the Kings.
It was not all the work of pirates
Coming from poverty and misery, they had the dream of being able to board a Spanish galleon and seize its treasures.
What were they after and which European countries supported them?
Pirates: from misery to wealth
The Golden Dream of the Europeans
Every European dreamed of the riches of the New World.
And both the common people, as well as the lords with aspirations, made their projects to get rich easily. Some financed expeditions, others embarked on them, but there were many who left for the New World.
The new seafarer had to live very miserably on land to wish to embark, with the risks that this entailed. In most cases it led to death at sea. Only the dream of relatively quick riches encouraged them.
The dream of boarding a Spanish galleon
However, except in the beginning, the capture of a galleon was exceptional.
They easily managed to capture merchant ships, which used to sail alone. But in practice capturing a galleon with gold was almost a dream, only a small part of the Spanish galleons with gold were captured, since the norm was that they sailed in convoys strongly escorted by warships.
The Galleons captured by the pirates were usually by deception and surprise. Very few dared to attack head-on a Spanish war galleon, armed with powerful cannons and its nearly 150 professional arquebusiers on board.
Since a pirate ship was usually smaller and usually had a crew of about 50 men at most.
Except in naval battles, with real armies of corsairs and pirates, the captures of important large ships were exceptions, for more than two centuries.
Spain and Portugal share America
Treaty of Tordesillas:
Almost a Spanish Monopoly
The agreement between Spain and Portugal in this treaty meant in practice the division of the world.
The division of America between Spain and Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas meant that the rest of Europe was left out of the lands and riches of the New World.
The incorporation of Portugal into the Spanish Crown created total Spanish control over the Americas.
The support of the Church of Rome for Spain justified the division of America and half the world. Especially during the Papacy of Alexander VI and the Borgias.
Naval combat at sea with cannon fire produced a large number of wounded and dead.
Naval combat, pirates did not always have it easy.
Sometimes the pirates encountered more resistance than expected.
If not all of them were sailors and they had a group of well-armed soldiers to protect them, they would put up a fight.
Europe at odds with Spain
They feared their enormous power by annexing Portugal.
The whole of Europe took a dim view of this division. They were in total disagreement with the Church of Rome and Spain. To make matters worse, Portugal, for a time, passed into the hands of the Spanish Crown.
This pan-Liberian union, made that it was incorporating therefore, its fleet and all its colonies. In this way Spain controlled not only the colonies and routes of America, but also those of Africa and Asia.
There was also a religious background between Protestantism in northern Europe and Catholicism in the south. Hence the burning of churches in the colonies when they were raided.
However, they all feared Spanish power and preferred not to confront it directly.
For 200 years this policy of undeclared war was maintained, until the Spanish power declined, while little by little, they fought and weakened it with their privateers and pirates.
Ship of the time of explorations and discoveries
The corsairs supported by the countries were better armed and usually had better ships at their disposal.
A privateer ship was armed by a private individual, thanks to a privateer’s patent and shared the booty he got with the King.
England and France stay out of America
Some European countries like France or England, seeing themselves inferior, decided to wage a war of attrition, without declaring war on Spain, which could invade them.
The power of the Spanish Army and Navy at that time was such that all countries avoided direct confrontation. However, they coveted the riches of the New World, and tried to obtain them without directly confronting Spain.
That is why England, France and Holland allowed and supported numerous corsairs, since in addition to undermine the Spanish power, it provided them with part of the riches of America.
England, France and Holland
Each country encouraged, supported and sent its privateers.
Thus, Elizabeth I of England was enriched by the successes of Sir Francis Drake, and as a reward she knighted him and other corsairs.
In France, Francis I did the same, and supported his privateers like Jean Florin, who had captured the galleon with a fabulous treasure.
Holland, through the Company of the Indies, sought ways both to establish itself in America and to attack Spanish ships and possessions.
William of Orange also organized pirates and seamen to fight against the Spanish and to achieve the independence of the Netherlands.
The island of Jamaica was considered one of the greatest places of perversion of the earth, because of the great amount of crooks that passed through it.
The island of Jamaica became a nest of pirates, with the support of England.
Once England had the island, they saw that they could not keep it, in the face of an attack from Spain. Therefore, to defend Jamaica and keep it in their power, they recruited filibustering pirates and gave them a protected base.
Spain cedes some of the Caribbean after 150 years
The Treaty of Madrid divides crumbs between England and France.
The Treaty of Madrid allowed a small part of the Caribbean to pass into the hands of the English and French. They established colonies, which with their support soon became nests of pirates and corsairs.
Thanks to the support given by England and France to the pirates and privateers, they had safe bases where they could stock up and repair their ships.
These pirates and corsairs were the scourge of the coasts of America for 200 years.
They forced the Spanish to fortify the main colonies. Fortifications such as those of Puerto Rico or Cartagena de Indias, can still be seen today as examples of military architecture.