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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: Tudor &
        Stuart Seafarers
Tudor & Stuart Seafarers: The Emergence of a Maritime Nation, 1485-1707
Edited by James Davey
National Maritime Museum Greenwich and Adlard Coles, 2018, ISBN 978-1-4729-5676-7, US $35.00 / £ 25.00

Also available in e-book formats

In conjunction with the opening of a new gallery at the National Maritime Museum, this book highlights some of the many artifacts found in the Tudor and Stuart Seafarers Gallery and explores key aspects of seafaring during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. According to Dr. Kevin Fewster, the Director of the Royal Museums Greenwich, “By looking anew at events like the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the English settlement of North America, some familiar misconceptions might be overturned and difficult moments in the nation’s past be brought into sharper focus.” (7) Until the late 1500s, England’s primary focus was on itself. Only after this point in time did the English expand outward in search of opportunities and adventure.

The exhibit encompasses the years 1485 through 1707, and shows the changes to and effects on ships and seafarers. At the same it demonstrates how sea exploration and colonial expansion impacted trade, warfare, policy, art, music, and popular culture to forge a national identity. Initial territorial and economic expansion, which became exceedingly important after 1550, was principally wrought by individuals rather than backed by the government.

Twelve chapters examine England’s evolution into a maritime nation during this period of 222 years.
  • ‘New Worlds’: 1485-1505 by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
  • Adventurers: England Turns to the Sea, 1550-80 by James Davey
  • The Spanish Armada and England’s Conflict with Spain, 1585-1604 by David Scott
  • Building a Navy by J. D. Davies
  • Using the Seas and Skies: Navigation in Early-Modern England by Megan Barford and Louise Devoy
  • Encounter and Exploitation: The English Colonization of North America, 1585-1615 by Laura Humphreys
  • Of Profit and Loss: The Trading World of Seventeenth-Century England by Robert J. Blyth
  • The British Civil Wars, 1638-53 by Elaine Murphy
  • Life at Sea by Richard J. Blakemore
  • The Seventeenth-Century Anglo-Dutch Wars by Rebecca Rideal
  • A Sea of Scoundrels: Pirates of the Stuart Era by Aaron Jaffer
  • Art and the Maritime World, 1550-1714 by Christine Riding
Complimenting each chapter are objects from the museum’s collection – charts, paintings, artifacts, ship models, and publications – that provide insightful glimpses into the topic being discussed. Some illustrations merit double-page spreads; all pictures are in full color. Captions identify these objects, but these aren’t always enlightening. For example, a teapot is labeled as being late 17th century, but readers are left to wonder why this particular teapot was selected and what its provenance is.

The contributors are identified as “twelve leading scholars” in the introduction and are quite knowledgeable about their subjects, but no biographical credentials are included for readers seeking to know more about the writers. (12)

The gallery’s patron and the museum’s director provide forewords to the book and the editor pens both the introduction and one of the essays. Notes, a bibliography, and an index conclude the book. In between and woven throughout the chapters are boxed highlights of people whose impact on English maritime history should be known, but may not be. Some names are well known, such as Tisquantum (Squanto), William Shakespeare, John Cabot, Samuel Pepys, Pocahontas, and Gráinnie O’Malley. Readers may not be familiar with others – Diego, Lord Effingham, Jahangir, or Richard Deane – while a few aren’t usually associated with British seafaring, such as Amerigo Vespucci, Vasco da Gama, and Michiel de Ruyter.

The book tackles a number of sensitive subjects – such as the slave trade and the spread of disease among indigenous peoples – in part because violence and exploitation went hand in hand with the events. Rather than omit them from the historical narrative, the contributors choose to incorporate them to help readers understand why people of the past acted as they did. What the book does not do is judge; instead, readers are provided with a well-rounded explanation from which they can decide for themselves who and what were good or bad, right or wrong.

Chapter 11 will be of particular interest to readers of Pirates & Privateers. During the Tudor and Stuart periods many people were called “pirates” and pillaging ships was even encouraged at times by people in authority. Piracy played a key role in early English history and didn’t cease to be a problem until the third decade of the seventeenth century. Among the topics explored here are women’s roles in domestic piracy, merchant reprisals, privateering, the Barbary corsairs (both attacks on places like Baltimore, Ireland and Englishmen who became renegadoes, such as John Ward), and the buccaneers (Henry Morgan, William Dampier, and Henry Avery). To my surprise, one man not mentioned in connection with the renegadoes is Sir Henry Mainwaring.

Tudor & Stuart Seafarers is a highly readable and entertaining book, and it’s impossible to come away from it without learning something new.

Review Copyrighted ©2019 Cindy Vallar

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