Ahoy, Matey: Pirate Rules #Research

September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so be ready to hear lots of pirate talk, like Arrr! and Ahoy, matey and Avast me hearties, whatever that means.

Talk Like a Pirate banner

What accounts for our fascination with pirates?

I’m talking about the 16th & 17th century variety. Is it the clothing? Knee boots and tight breeches and the white shirts with billowing sleeves. Or is it the swagger of a man with a sword in his belt and an earring dangling from one lobe? Or the freedom of the open seas and not having to bow to any laws?

Or is it just the irresistible lure of the Bad Boy? I’m currently obsessed with the deliciously naughty Killian Jones, aka Captain Hook, as portrayed by Colin O’Donaghue on ABC’s Once Upon A Time. How Emma can resist him is beyond me.

Structures 020There are many myths and misconceptions about pirates, and one is that there were no rules. While it’s true that pirates were outlaws who flaunted the laws of many different nations, pirates had their own sets of rules and a practiced a crude form of democracy. The pirate captain was elected by the crew and could be replaced at any time, except during battle. Ships sometimes drew up articles, a code of conduct by which the crew agreed to abide. The articles addressed things like how spoils were divided, compensation for injured men, and punishment for fractions of the rules.

Punishment was swift and harsh. Striking another crewman or lighting a pipe or candle in the hold might earn a pirate Moses’s Law, 40 stripes lacking one, or thirty-nine lashes of the whip. The worst punishments were reserved for desertion, theft and keeping secrets from the rest of the crew. These brought a sentence of death or marooning, which was a delayed death. A marooned man was left on a sandy island with a bit of food and water, and a loaded pistol so he could commit suicide. The islands were often little more than a sandbar at low tide. The marooning of Alexander Selkirk inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe.

Captured prizes were divided among the members of the crew equally, except for the captain and other designated crewmen, usually including the quartermaster, the sailing master, the boatswain and gunner.

pirate flag

My very own Jolly Roger.


Here are the articles used by the pirate captain John Phillips and his crew from 1724:

#1. Every Man shall obey civil Command; the Captain shall have one full Share and a half in all Prizes; the Master, Carpenter, Boatswain and Gunner shall have one Share and a quarter.

#2. If any Man shall offer to run away, or keep any Secret from the Company, he shall be marroon’d with one Bottle of Powder, one Bottle of Water, one small Arm, and Shot.

#3. If any Man shall steal any Thing in the Company, or game, to the Value of a Piece of Eight, he shall be Marroon’d or Shot.

#4. If at any Time we should meet another Marrooner (that is, Pyrate,) that Man shall sign his Articles without the consent of our Company, shall suffer such Punishment as the Captain and Company shall think fit.

#5. That Man that shall strike another while these Articles are in force, shall receive Moses’s Law (that is 40 Stripes lacking one) on the bare Back.

#6. That Man that shall snap his Arms, or smoak Tobacco in the Hold, without a cap to his Pipe, or carry a Candle lighted without a Lanthorn, shall suffer the same Punishment as in the former Article.

#7. That Man that shall not keep his Arms clean, fit for an Engagement, or neglect his Business, shall be cut off from his Share, and suffer such other Punishment as the Captain and the Company shall think fit.

#8. If any Man shall lose a Joint in time of an Engagement, shall have 400 Pieces of Eight; if a limb, 800.

#9. If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, that Man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer present Death.
Marooned cover
Many of these pirate rules played a part in the plot of my steamy pirate romance, Marooned, and were loads of fun to research. You can read more about pirate rules at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_code.

So, what do you think accounts for the fascination with pirates of the old-fashioned, swashbuckling variety? And who is your favorite movie or TV pirate?

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Lyndi Lamont

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