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Lord Cutler Beckett's Letters of Marque, signed by King George II.

"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, commonly known as a Letter of Marque, was a warrant or commission from a national government or monarch usually authorizing a designated agent to search, seize, or destroy specified assets or personnel belonging to a party which has committed some offense under the laws of that nation. This official document pardons the recipient of prior crimes against the Crown and grants the recipient a commission as a privateer in the employ of the king and country.


Elizabeth Swann claiming the Letters from Lord Cutler Beckett.

"These Letters of Marque, they are signed by the King?"
"Yes, and they're not valid until they bear my signature and my seal.
Elizabeth Swann and Cutler Beckett.[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]

Hector Barbossa's Letters of Marque

The East India Trading Company was known to use Letters of Marque after 1707. One of Jack Sparrow's many crimes was "falsification of Letters of Marque and Reprisal",[2][3] Lord Cutler Beckett offered one such document, amounting to a full pardon, to William Turner in exchange for Jack's compass. He was also prepared to employ Jack himself as a privateer for England, though Turner believed Jack would never agree, since he likes his freedom. Beckett's Letters of Marque were signed by the King George II, and would not be legalized unless they bore Beckett's mark and seal. They were ultimately claimed by James Norrington as one half of the trade that secured Beckett possession of the heart of Davy Jones. This earned Norrington a full reinstatement into the Royal Navy, and a promotion as an admiral of the Company.[4]

Sometime after the War Against Piracy, Hector Barbossa joined the British Royal Navy as a privateer. He served King George faithfully, but that was just part of his plan to get revenge on Blackbeard, a pirate who cost him his right leg and the Black Pearl. After Barbossa killed Blackbeard, he took his sword and his ship for himself. As he sailed for Tortuga, Barbossa triumphantly tore up his Letters of Marque as a sign for his return to piracy.[5]

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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