Hector Barbossa served as a privateer for King George II during the quest for the Fountain of Youth.

"Full pardon, commission as a privateer on behalf of England and the East India Trading Company. As if I could be bought for such a low price."
Jack Sparrow[src]

A privateer was a person or ship authorized by a government by signed issued contracts, Letters of Marque, to attack foreign shipping during wartime. Privateering allowed a pirate to become an agent of a government and become a "legitimate pirate" commissioned in service. Pirates were issued a "private license" by the government they side with, which grants the holder rights to attack the enemies of that government. It was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having to spend treasury resources or commit naval officers and it gave pirates a way to commit piracy without fear of imprisonment. They could also be pardoned from committing illicit things such as murder and rape.


"Hector. How nice to see a fellow pirate make good of himself."
"Pirate? Nay. Privateer. On a sanctioned mission, under the authority and protection of the Crown.
Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa[src]

While the term "Privateer" was first documented in the 17th century, officially sanctioned pirates had been around for centuries. Privateering allowed a pirate to become an agent of a government and become a "legitimate pirate" commissioned in service. Pirates were issued a "private license" by the government they side with, which granted the holder rights to attack the enemies of that government.[1]

In the Golden Age of Piracy, privateers were a large part of military forces at sea. Privateers were approved to attack hostile ships or forces to their commanding monarch(s), government, or private employer because of an issued contract, signed by the employer of that privateer. This contract, called a letters of marque, meant that the employer got a share of the profits in return for issuing it (usually one-fifth of the value of the captured ship and cargo).[2]


A battle between the French and the Spanish privateers.

These contracts were originally called "Letters of Marque and Reprisal" and issued directly by monarchs and governments, but by the late 17th century they were issued by appointed government officials, and later by colonial governors.

The term privateer could refer any of the crew members, the captain, or the ship commanded. The ships could also be referred to as private men-of-war.

Privateering is often described as a form of "legal" piracy. Strictly, a privateer was only entitled to attack enemy vessels, not any vessel, as illegal pirates would. However, states often encouraged attacks on opposing powers while at peace, or on neutral vessel during time of war, blurring the line between privateering and piracy.

Privateer ships were generally run very loosely. Spirits, gambling and fights were common, even if there were rules against them, particularly gambling. If a captured merchantman fails to produce enough profit from its cargo, privateers would sometimes go to robbing passengers which were usually present, while rape and ill-use were also some of the more regretful traits.


Edward Teach was a privateer before he turned to piracy.

During the War for the Spanish Succession, the Englishman Edward Teach fought as a privateer for Great Britain. When the war ended, King George decided to withdraw all Letters of Marque, and Teach became the infamous pirate known as Blackbeard.[3][4] The notorious pirate Calico Jack Rackham and his associates Mary Read and Anne Bonny were captured in 1720 by a group of English privateers.[5] Many members of the cursed crew were privateers before peace-time saw the loss of their employment, forcing them to turn to piracy.[6] Before the War Against Piracy, Lord Cutler Beckett attempted to employ Jack Sparrow as a privateer with the use of Letters of Marque, but they were ultimately claimed by James Norrington.[7]

At some point after the war, Hector Barbossa received a Royal Pardon, becoming an ex-pirate and privateer in the employ of King George II.[8] Confident and persuasive, Barbossa had won the trust of the British Crown with a departure from his past pirate ways and a new respect for authority.[9] Although he had shown loyalty to King George, his appearance as a "reformed pirate" was only part of his plan to get revenge on Blackbeard, the infamous pirate who cost him the Black Pearl and his right leg.[10] By the quest for the Fountain of Youth, Barbossa was captain of the HMS Providence. Prior to the voyage, Barbossa recruited pirate Joshamee Gibbs, who was once a sailor in the Royal Navy. After the quest, having defeated Blackbeard and claimed his sword and ship, Barbossa tore up his Letters of Marque and returned to piracy once again.[11]

Notable privateers

"Be a gem, and pour me a gulper?"
"Nay! We be privateers, not pirates, Master Gibbs. And in the King's name, will behave as such.
Joshamee Gibbs and Hector Barbossa[src]
Henry Morgan

Sir Henry Morgan, a notorious privateer of the 17th century.

Note most pirates were originally privateers.

Behind the scenes

"I take it I've won comission as a privateer?"
"Oh I think... better!
James Norrington and Cutler Beckett[src] (deleted scene)



External links

Notes and references

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