Letters of Marque

battle 12th century ship

An ancient authority to arm a private warship–a privateer!

In olden times, Kingdoms and governments did not have navies. They would license private ships (privateers) To capture their enemies’ shipping and goods. These licenses were called Letters of Marque and have been issued by all the major seafaring nations since the thirteenth century.

Privateers sailed under the protection of Letters of Marque. They were privately owned warships commissioned by a belligerent nation to carry-on naval warfare for profit. The captured ships, booty and plunder would be divided between the issuing government, the vessel’s owner, and her crew. It was legal piracy. In the 18th century 365 Letters of Marque were issued from just Boston alone.

hanging execution dock 272wPrivateering is distinguished from piracy because piracy is carried on without enlistment by a government (Letters of Marque). Because pirates did not carry Letters of Marque—they would be hanged. Privateers were not hanged. They were usually held for ransom or imprisoned when their ships were captured. The last conviction for piracy in the USA was in 1819.

During 1649 and 1650 French privateers took English shipping to the amount of five thousand tons, and goods worth half a million. Other countries, without standing navies, did likewise issue these letters of marque to fight their battles for them.

Letters of Marque

American Brigantine v England 1814
American Schooner v England 1814
Anti Pirate Fleet 1404
Avalon 1667
Canada v America 1799
Canada v America 1812
Captain Kidd 1695
Conch Republic 1882
Confederate States of America 1861
England v Scotland 1404
French v England 1693
Henry Morgan 1699
Two Ships and Two Captains 1405

letter of marque henry-morgan tilted 550w