Pirates and Tudor Explorers – Activities

What is a pirate?

A pirate is a thief who travels on the water. Most pirates attacked ships but some attacked towns next to the sea. Pirates from different parts of the world were called by different names. The two most famous types of pirate were corsairs and buccaneers.

Click on the pictures below to be part of the pirate’s world.

Scroll down to see copies of 16th and 17th Century documents which mention pirates, Captain Kidd and the Spanish Armada.

16th Century document listing nine pirates accused of various offences (SHC ref 643/1/72)

16th Century list of pirates
(SHC ref 643/1/72)

Pirates in the Surrey History Centre Archives

This document lists nine pirates accused of various offences. Thomas Tompkins is the worst offender, having captured a Venetian ship, murdered its poor captain and plundered its precious cargo including cloth of gold and silver, satin, velvet, silver ducats and the red dye cochineal (made from beetles). The document probably dates from the late 16th Century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It comes from a collection of papers of the Carew Family of Beddington who were Justices of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenants in Surrey at the time (SHC ref 643/1/72)

Click on the image to see a larger copy. Download a pdf (PDF) copy of the image. Download a pdf (PDF) copy of a transcription. The document was written in Early Modern English. At the time spelling was not standardised so some words may look strange to us today. However, reading the words phonetically usually means the sense can be understood. For more about Early Modern English see the Wikipedia page.

Page 3 of a letter from the Earl of Bellamont to John Somer dated 16 October 1697 (SHC ref: 371/14/G/1/1)

A 1697 letter about Captain Kidd
(SHC ref: 371/14/G/1/1)

References to Captain Kidd in the Surrey History Centre Archives

Pirates of the Caribbean

Letter from the Earl of Bellamont, governor of New York (then part of the British colony of North America) to John Lord Somers, asking to be given power to pardon pirates who surrender themselves (and their treasures), and discussing among other matters the capture of Captain Kidd, dated 16 October 1697.

Although Captain Kidd was a suspected pirate, he had been given a ‘letter of marque’ by the British government in December 1695, which allowed him to attack ships from countries which Britain was at war with, as well as to take on notorious pirates in the Caribbean. Kidd’s expedition had been equipped by Bellamont, Lord Somers, the Duke of Shrewsbury, Lord Orford and others, who were among the richest men in Britain: they expected to receive large shares of any cargoes Kidd captured. However, after reports of Kidd’s activities in the course of his voyages, Bellamont decided Kidd should himself be captured as a pirate. Eventually Kidd would be taken, after he was forced to escape from his own mutinous crew, in June 1699.

Bellamont’s letter shows that he was concerned to look after ordinary British soldiers and ensure they were paid, and that he disapproved of too much power being given to William Blathwayt as surveyor of the Plantations (the West Indies), whom he suggests will use the power to make money for himself. However, like all men in positions of responsibility in his day, Bellamont hoped and expected to increase his own fortune, even if it meant close dealing with men such as Kidd.

(SHC ref: 371/14/G/1/1)

Click on the images to see larger copies. Download a pdf (PDF) copy of the document. Download a pdf (PDF) copy of a transcription. The letter was written in Early Modern English, at the time spelling was not standardised so some words may look strange to us today. However, reading the words phonetically usually means the sense can be understood. For more about Early Modern English see the Wikipedia page.

The Spanish Armada in the Surrey History Centre Archives

Document dated June 1588 listing the Armada warships (SHC ref LM/1939)

1588 list of Armada warships
(SHC ref LM/1939)

This document gives all the latest alarming news (‘Advertisements’) coming out of what is now Belgium in June 1588, where the Spanish General the Duke of Parma was gathering an enormous army to invade England. Parma’s army was to be protected while it crossed the Channel by a great Armada of warships which the King of Spain Philip II had assembled and which was commanded by the Duke of Medina Sidonia. The last page of the document is a list of the squadrons making up the Armada with the names of their commanders and the number of soldiers and sailors (over 81,000!) on board. It ends with a list of vital supplies, including nearly 86,000 loaves of biscuit bread along with bacon, cheese, rice, vinegar and 13,760 ‘pipes’ of wine (a pipe was a large barrel containing over 100 gallons).

The document is among the papers of Sir William More of Loseley Park, who was an important Surrey landowner and official in Elizabeth’s reign.

His descendants still live in Loseley.

(SHC ref LM/1939).

Click on the images to see larger copies. Download a pdf (PDF) copy of the document. Download a pdf (PDF) copy of a transcription. The document was written in Early Modern English. At the time spelling was not standardised so some words may look strange to us today. However, reading the words phonetically usually means the sense can be understood. For more about Early Modern English see the Wikipedia page.

All these documents and many more can be seen at Surrey History Centre, 130 Goldsworth Road, Woking, GU21 6ND, website, telephone: 01483 518737, e-mail: [email protected].