Letters of Reprisal

In the days of fighting sail, a letter of reprisal was a government license authorizing a person (known as a privateer) to attack and capture enemy vessels and bring them before admiralty courts for condemnation and sale. A Letter of Reprisal usually allowed the Captain to capture only one ship as compensation for an injury done to the Captain.


Arming the William of London 1650

This is a Letter of Reprisal against France for the loss of the Mercury. This document authorizes the owners to arm a private warship and capture goods and ships of France in retaliation for the actions of the French on the high seas. And to bring the captured ships and booty to the closest Admiralty port in order for the King to receive His share.

Captain David Cabreth 1585

This warrant is for reprisal against Spain and those of the Low Countries, with authority to capture those supplying them with food or war material.

Captain John Couper 1568

This is a Letter of Reprisal good for three months to John Couper to arm a private warship and take ₤1100 from a Spanish ship that was last seen around Padstow, England.

Captain John Foxall 1585

This Letter from the Lord Admiral to the judge of the Admiralty, directs him to issue Letters of Reprisal against Spain to Captain John Foxall and his partner so they may recover their ship and fortune captured a Spanish ship. The King had diplomatically tried to get recompense for Captain Foxall, but had failed and was now allowing Capt Foxall to arm a private warship to capture Spanish ships and cargo.

Captain John Kitchin 1585

Letters of Reprisal were issued by the Admiral after the Queen’s request to the King of Spain to compensate Captain Ketchin for his claim were not answered. This Letter authorized him to arm a private warship to capture the ships and goods of Spain as satisfaction for his claim.

Captain William Fenner 1586

Letter of Reprisal authorizing William Fenner and Thomas Sturgis to capture any Spanish ship and the conditions set for the plunder to be disbursed and that the Lord Admiral is to get his “tenths”.

Cinque Ports Warrant 1563

A group of five ports situated on the S.E. coast of England and having jurisdiction along the coast in order of their importance: Hastings, Sandwich, Dover, Rommey and Hithe. The Cinque Ports furnished the chief part of the English Navy including ships, provisions and men. In return they had many important franchises an privileges.

Almost all trade and Navy ships passed thru this area. This letter authorizes the Wardens of those ports to issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal to arm private warships to capture French ships and goods and to keep accurate inventory of the booty and to get the enemy captains to sign the inventory.

Elizabeth of London 1636

This is an order of Council directing the arrest of the Compass of Horne that had sunk the Elizabeth of London in Falmouth harbor

Elizabeth of Plymouth 1585

Letter of Reprisal to capture the ships and goods of the subjects of the King of Spain to redress a grievance by the owners that was done to them in Spain. The booty is to be taken to an Admiralty port and appraised by “six honest men” and then be divided giving the King his “tenth”.

French Wine Seized 1411

Letters of Marque and Reprisal issued to Captain Sir William Bantelee to capture French ships in reprisal for a French ship that captured a cargo of wine from Sir Bantelee in violation of an existing treaty between France and England. All diplomatic efforts have thus far failed.

This document is good to personalize for groups because it allows you to substitute the crews’ names for the names of your group.

Sir Walter Raleigh 1585

Sir Walter Raleigh had to post £500 as a guarantee to the King that he would share the booty when he captured enemy ships under authority of this Letter of Reprisal.