If, on their voyages, the Explorers encountered the opportunity to raid Spanish ships this would not have been greeted with disapproval from the Queen Elizabeth. The Elizabethan Explorers therefore gained the reputation of being pirates. A pirate is a person who robs or plunders at sea, or sometimes the shore, without a commission from a recognised sovereign nation.
Famous Elizabethan Pirates - History of the Spanish Main
The term the 'Spanish Main' is often associated with famous Elizabethan pirates. But what and where was the Spanish Main? During the Elizabethan era and the Age of Exploration Spain began to establish a Spanish Empire. The Spanish Empire covered all of the new lands which were discovered by the Spanish Explorers and claimed for Spain. The Spanish established colonies on the land in the New World and also claimed specific sea routes. The “Spanish Main” referred to the coastal region of the Americas surrounding the Caribbean Sea and South America. The Spanish territories opened up paths to new wealth from the gold, silver, precious gems, slaves and spices which were found in the New World. They loaded their ships with their treasure to send back to Spain. These Spanish treasures fleets were attacked by the Famous Elizabethan pirates who used many of the Caribbean Islands as their bases. The Pirates of the Caribbean were the pirates of the Spanish Main. The traffic in treasure made the Spanish Main a haunt of pirates and privateers a favored haunt of Sir Francis Drake and other famous Elizabethan seamen and Explorers who were referred to as Pirates, but were actually Privateers.
Famous Elizabethan Pirates
The famous Elizabethan Pirates or Privateers included the following list of Elizabethan men whose names were also synonymous with the Age of Exploration:
- Sir Francis Drake: Pelican, renamed the Golden Hind
- Sir Walter Raleigh: Falcon - donated as 'Ark Royal' to the Navy
- Sir Richard Hawkins: Dainty - Swallow - Galliot Duck
- Sir Martin Frobisher: Gabriel - Triumph
- Sir Humphrey Gilbert: Anne Ager - Raleigh - Swallow - Squirrel
- Sir Richard Grenville: Revenge - Tiger - Roebuck - Lion - Elizabeth
- Sir John Hawkins: Victory
Famous Elizabethan Pirates raid the Spanish treasure fleets
Elizabethan England had not matched the earlier Exploration exploits of the Spanish and Portuguese explorers during the early Age of Exploration. England had no colonies during the Elizabethan era so the famous Elizabethan pirates looked elsewhere for sources of revenue - the Spanish Treasure Fleets of the Spanish Main. The enmity between England and Spain resulted in the English War with Spain from 1585 - 1604 and the same famous Elizabethan pirates fighting, and defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Famous Elizabethan Pirates or Privateers?
Queen Elizabeth saw Catholic Spain as the enemy of the Protestant Nations such as England and the Netherlands. The Netherlands established the idea of legitimate pirates when Prince William funded Protestant Privateers to attack Spanish ships. Queen Elizabeth allowed the Dutch Privateers, or pirates depending on your point of view, a safe harbour in English ports. The English seamen such as Francis Drake witnessed the 'spoils of piracy' obtained from the hated Spanish and began to join their Dutch comrades as Elizabethan 'Privateers'.
Elizabethan Privateers were lawful pirates who were authorised by their government and sovereign to attack the treasure ships of enemy nations. The English government issued ‘letters of marque’ to the famous Elizabethan pirates which licensed these sailors to plunder enemy ships. Letters of marque and reprisal, commissioned by the government, distinguished it from unauthorised pirate ships. The amous Elizabethan privateers, or pirates, thus became auxiliaries to, or substitutes for, a regular navy. The 'letters of marque' prevented privateers from being charged with piracy, which was an offence ordinarily punishable by death.
Famous Elizabethan Pirates - the Golden Age of Pirates
The famous Elizabethan Pirates, or Privateers shared their profits with the government and Queen Elizabeth. Raiding the Spanish treasure fleet who sailed around the Spanish Main was highly profitable - Sir Francis Drake became one of the richest men in Elizabethan England. And England received some much need wealth. The pirates operated around the Caribbean and the Spanish Main were also referred to as Buccaneers.