Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pirate Extraordinaire and Friend to the Crown

by Katherine Pym

Sir Henry Mainwaring began life in Shropshire around 1587. He was born in a family of gentry, educated as a lawyer at the Inner Temple of London. In 1612, he was given the post to escort the English ambassador to Persia. It would be in an armada type format as a protection against the pirates that hung around the Strait of Gibraltar, but Spain and Venice did not trust the armada. They believed the English would turn to piracy as soon as the fleet entered the Mediterranean.

This irritated Mainwaring. In a ship purchased for £700, he set out to the Mediterranean where he turned pirate. He harassed the Spanish, and any other ships not English for a period of several years. He had a fleet of approximately 6 ships, and considered himself the scourge of the Mediterranean.  But he did not center around there.


By 1613, he set his base in Ma'amura 'at the mouth of the Sebou River, about 150 miles south of the Straits'. It was a 'popular pirate stronghold in the early 1600s, a "place of rendezvous" for a reported forty ships and 2000 men.' Mainwaring used this base to harass Dutch shipping, the Spanish, French, and Portuguese. His only firm promise was never to attack an English ship, even though he could have amassed a fortune from them. His countrymen's vessels carried goods from the Levant Company which included spices, fabrics, and unique goods.

In 1614, Mainwaring left the Ma'amura foothold, which was fortuitous. After he'd left, a Spanish armada of 99 ships and thousands of men took hold of the mouth of the Sebou River, and settled in the area, declaring it a Spanish territory. Mainwaring had been saved from destruction by the skin of his teeth.

Now, his main goal was to pester the fishing fleet off Newfoundland. He took ships (not English), their munitions, food, and men. He told King James I one day these men were "many volunteers, many compelled."  When King James I asked how this was, Mainwaring replied many men wanted to become pirates, but they were afraid once a vessel was caught, they'd be hanged for piracy. They wanted to enjoy the fruits of these labors without the negative responses. A man hanged for piracy was left in the noose until 3 tides washed against him then dispersed before being cut down. If families didn't claim them, they'd be taken to be dissected.


After plaguing the fishing fleet off Newfoundland, Mainwaring's travels are blurred. He drifted back toward the Mediterranean, until in 1616 King James I pardoned him with the seal of England.
He settled in England, wrote a book titled: Discourse of the Beginnings, Practices, and Suppression of Pirates. He presented it to King James I and received a knighthood in response. He sat in the House of Commons 1620's, supported royalty during the Civil Wars, and exiled to France during the Commonwealth where he died in poverty.
For more information on pirates, please see my novel TWINS which takes place 1661 in London and along the Barbary Coast. You can find it: http://www.wings-press.com/Bookstore/Twins.htm

Bibliography: Pirates of Barbary by Adrian Tinniswood, and wikipedia

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