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Did pirates really swear their allegiance on crossed pistols? Were they punished by being marooned on desert islands? And did pirate codes actually influence today’s merchant shipping contracts? Yes to all three. Although there was never a universal pirate code, 17th and 18th century pirates in the Caribbean and elsewhere were often required to sign up to sets of semi-formal rules, which became known as the Articles of Agreement.

Pirate articles varied from one captain to another, and sometimes even from one voyage to another, but they generally included provisions for discipline (with death or marooning the common penalty), specifications for each crewmate’s share of treasure, and compensation for the injured. Each crew member was asked to sign or make his mark on the articles, then swear an oath of allegiance on crossed pistols or a human skull or astride a cannon.

This wide-ranging book looks at the reality of pirates’ honour among thieves, from the ancient world right up to the pirates of today’s cargo ships or luxury yachts in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The History of Pirates also examines the actions and pirate ethics of less famous pirates and their eras, such as the Japanese pirates of the 13th-16th centuries and Zheng Yi and his wife’s pirate alliance in 19th century China.

With features on particular pirates such as Blackbeard and William Kidd and how the pirate code evolved into today’s merchant shipping contracts, The History of Pirates illuminates the broader historical and geographical scope of piracy and provides a fascinating introduction to the reality of life on board a buccaneer ship.

Format: 240 x 189mm (91/2 x 71/2”)
Extent: 192pp
Illustrations: 125 b/w photos & a/ws
Text: 60,000 words
ISBN: 9781782744900 pb

A previous edition was available as 'The Pirate Code'.

Author details:

Journalist, broadcaster and author, Brenda Ralph Lewis's interests range from royalty to bridge to history. She is the author of, among others, The Kings & Queens of Europe: A Dark History and The Popes: A Dark History.