Pirates of the Caribbean Wiki


Pirates of the Caribbean Wiki
Pirates of the Caribbean Wiki
Letters of Marque

Lord Cutler Beckett's Letters of Marque, signed by the King of England.

"Letters of Marque. You will offer what amounts to a full pardon. Jack will be free, a privateer in the employ of England."
"Somehow I doubt Jack will consider employment the same as being free.
Cutler Beckett and Will Turner[src]

A Letter of Marque and Reprisal, also named Pirate's License or more commonly known as a Letter of Marque, was a government license used throughout the Age of Piracy. Letters of Marque authorized a private person or designated agent, known as a privateer or corsair, to search, seize, attack, capture or destroy ships of a nation at war with the issuer or against specified assets or personnel belonging to a party which has committed qsome offense under the laws of that nation. This official document also offered a full royal pardon to the recipient of past crimes against the Crown and grants them a commission as a privateer in the employ of the king and country.

Letters of marque allowed governments to fight their wars using private captains and sailors to hunt down enemies and fight their wars instead of using their navies. In addition to referring to the license, the terms "letter of marque" and "privateer" were sometimes used to describe the vessels used to pursue and capture prizes.


"This is a letter of marque from the Queen granting control of Nassau. Pillage it, plunder it, I care not a whit. We are getting out of here!"
Magistrate of Nassau to Jack Sparrow[src]

Letters of Marque were also a means of employing a person as a privateer, during the time of war. The Letters were usually issued by governments and colonial governors of England, France, Spain, Holland, Portugal, and Denmark. During the 17th century, England used Letters of Marque to recruit buccaneers like Henry Morgan to fight their Spanish enemies in the Caribbean.

Garcia de Avaracia and Pierre le Porc have used Letters of Marque to recruit privateers to defend their islands against enemy's privateer's attack.[1]

As the Black Pearl pursued the Interceptor, Captain Jack Sparrow entertained Hector Barbossa with the legend of how he sacked Nassau without firing a single shot, a tale which Barbossa dismissed as untrue. According to Jack, after he saved the civilians from the pirate Black Smoke James, the Magistrate of Nassau gave Sparrow "a letter of marque from the Queen" which granted him control of the town.[2]

The East India Trading Company was known to use Letters of Marque after 1707.[3] One of Jack Sparrow's many crimes, as noted by both the British Royal Navy and the EITC, was "falsification of Letters of Marque and Reprisal".[4][5]

Liz Letters

Elizabeth Swann stealing Lord Cutler Beckett's Letters of Marque.

During the search for the Dead Man's Chest, Lord Cutler Beckett offered one such document, amounting to a full pardon, that would not be legalized unless they bore Beckett's signature and seal. Signed by King George II of England, Beckett offered William Turner and Elizabeth Swann pardons in exchange for Will retrieving Jack Sparrow's compass. Using the Letters as blackmail, Beckett was also prepared to employ Jack as a privateer, though Will believed Jack would never agree, since the pirate likes his freedom. These documents would make Jack a licensed pirate, with his earlier crimes forgiven and he could legally attack the ships of any nation at war with England.[6] They were stolen by Elizabeth and ultimately claimed by James Norrington as one half of the trade that secured Beckett possession of the heart of Davy Jones, which earned Norrington a full reinstatement into the Royal Navy, a promotion as an admiral of the Company and the Flying Dutchman to command.[7]


Hector Barbossa's Letters of Marque

Captain Hector Barbossa received a royal pardon and joined the British Royal Navy as a privateer, following an encounter with Blackbeard, which cost him the Black Pearl and his right leg. Like Barbossa, the HMS Providence was a privateer, acting under letters of marque from the King. The Providence crew could take any action except fire upon nations with which Britain is not at war, and could only hope the crews of the three Spanish galleons they meet feel the same.[8] During the quest for the Fountain of Youth, after joining forces with Jack Sparrow, Hector revealed it was revenge against Blackbeard rather than valor that pushed him toward the Fountain. After Barbossa killed Blackbeard, he claimed his ship, crew and sword for himself. As he sailed for Tortuga, Barbossa triumphantly tore up his Letters of Marque as a sign for his return to piracy.[9]

Behind the scenes[]

"The Letters of Marque—the letters Jack gave to you. Hand them over! Come, no time! Beckett used his ring to stamp this, yes?"
"The symbol is the same, from the same ring. Might it work?
"It might. Magic is funny that way.
Hector Barbossa, Elizabeth Swann, and Tia Dalma[src] (original screenplay)


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