Pirates? Arrg! There’s just something about a man who takes what he wants and makes us like it! When the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies came out, with the charmingly spacey Captain Jack and devastatingly attractive Will Turner, I was moved to write a swashbuckling hero with a saucy heroine to match.
Enter Captain Gabriel Drake, the hero of PLEASURING THE PIRATE. After earning a royal pardon for his wicked ways, he decides to play the prodigal and come home to the life of a gentleman. But a change of station doesn’t change his pirate’s heart, as the courtesan’s daughter, Jacquelyn Wren, soon learns. When he decides he wants her instead of the well-born woman she’s grooming him for, the pirate in Gabriel roars back to life. And what a pirate wants, a pirate takes.
In order to make my pirate believable, I had to do more than watch Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom (though I’ll confess to doing a little of that, too!). I researched the pirate era and the fascinating characters that sailed the seas in search of plunder. So here’s the naked truth about those Caribbean bad boys.
1. They weren’t all in the Caribbean. Piracy was common to every sea on earth. Barbary corsairs plied the coast of Africa. Malaccan pirates preyed on pilgrims bound for Mecca. Chinese junks join together to form massive pirate navies. Where ever you sailed, there were those with a cavalier attitude toward property ownership.
2. They weren’t all boys. While it was generally considered bad luck to bring a woman on board (and the penalty for sneaking one on could be death or marooning!), there were a few notable female pirates. Both Anne Bonney and Mary Read sailed with Calico Jack and were reputedly fierce fighters. When his ship was finally taken by the British navy, the two women were the only ones who put up any resistance. The rest of the crew was too drunk to fight. But when Anne and Mary were convicted of piracy, they “pleaded their bellies” and escaped the noose because they were pregnant. Calico Jack wasn’t so lucky. When Anne Bonney visited him while he waited for the hangman, she comforted him with, “if you’d fought like a man, you needn’t be hanged like a dog.” Talk about being an “I told you so!”
3. They weren’t all bad. Or at least, they didn’t start out that way. Like Gabriel Drake in PLEASURING THE PIRATE, some honest seamen turned to piracy because they had no choice. Black Bart Roberts began his career as a naval navigator, but was pressed into piracy when his ship was taken. He went on to become one of the most successful pirate captains in history.
4. They weren’t all naked. Though pirates went barefoot at sea, they enjoyed dressing well. Since they often took prizes of silk bales or rich brocade, pirates delighted in devising flamboyant costumes to wear once they hit port. Buccaneers had plenty of free time during long days at sea to sew. Since women were not welcome aboard ships, what else did they have to do?
5. They held to their own code of conduct. Pirate crews practiced a rough form of democracy, electing their captains and signing articles defining their goals and expected behavior. In PLEASURING THE PIRATE, Gabriel Drake’s first mate reminds him that according to the articles he drew up himself, ‘meddling’ with a woman of prudence is strictly forbidden. Good thing Jacquelyn Wren isn’t the prudent type.
6. They took care of their own. Pirates were often maimed in the course of spreading mayhem. As part of the articles they signed, payment for loss of an eye or a limb was agreed upon ahead of time. What a way to fund your retirement!
7. They were only deemed pirates if they stole from the wrong people. A privateer-one bearing a Letter of Marque—might commit the very same acts as a pirate, seizing goods and ships, with the blessing of his Sovereign so long as he shared the booty with the Crown. However, if he made the mistake of attacking the wrong ship, even a Letter of Marque couldn’t save him. Captain Kidd mistakenly attacked a British vessel and though he possessed a Letter, it wasn’t enough to save him from the noose and the gibbet.
8. They didn’t just hang a convicted pirate. They made an example of him. First, he was hung with a short rope, so his neck wouldn’t break. Death for a pirate was a protracted public strangulation. His body was left to be covered by three tides, then tarred and put on display in a gibbet as a warning to other seafaring men who might be tempted to piracy. Pirate hangings were treated as holidays by the public. When Gabriel Drake is led to the gallows in PLEASURING THE PIRATE, there’s much jostling to secure the best place from which to view the spectacle. These people seriously needed cable TV.
9. They didn’t all fly the Jolly-Roger. Each pirate captain devised his own version of the skull and cross-bones in an effort to appear as fearsome as possible. But if he really wanted to scare the living lights out of his prey, he’d run up a solid red flag. It was a signal that he’d neither give nor accept quarter. He intended to kill every soul on board.
10. Pirates didn’t bury their treasure. A few pirates might cache their goods from time to time (and in PLEASURING THE PIRATE, a treasure is rumored to be hidden somewhere in Dragon Caern, Gabriel Drake’s castle). But pirates would never leave a map to indicate where their treasure lies, lest it fall into the wrong hands. Besides, they were more likely to spend their ill-gotten gains in riotous living than to salt it away for their unlikely retirement. There were very few old pirates. “A merry life and a short one” was their motto.
Which just goes to prove what I suspected all along. Pirates just wanna have fun!
If you wanna have some fun, pick up a copy of PLEASURING THE PIRATE by Emily Bryan. It’ll have you saying “Shiver me timbers!” in no time!