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The Barbary Pirates: From Annoyance to Menace

DaleCoz

Active member
#1
The Barbary pirates were mostly Moslem pirates and raiders who operated out of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. They reached the peak of their power in the early to mid-1600s, aided by Dutch renegades, some of whom converted to Islam. The pirates enslaved tens and probably hundreds of thousands of Europeans, raiding ships and coastal villages. The Dutch renegades helped extend their reach, adding new ship technology with raids reaching into the Atlantic as far as England, Ireland and even Iceland.

European powers rarely united against the Barbary Pirates until after the Napoleonic wars, finding them too useful against European rivals.

The early 1600s, and especially the period of the Thirty Years War, saw Europe at its most divided, with a huge, chaotic war over the Holy Roman empire that left much of Germany devastated and often depopulated.

The Barbary pirates took advantage of that chaos, of course, but how could we make them even more of a factor? They had to be aware that treasure fleets from the New World funded much of the Spanish war effort. Maybe one of their Dutch renegade captains comes up with the idea of a joint Dutch/Barbary Pirate effort to capture one of the Spanish treasure fleets. That wasn’t a trivial undertaking. The Dutch historically tried it and actually succeeded once, in 1628.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody else succeeded in capturing more than a few ships, though there were a number of attempts.

Let’s say that the 1628 example inspires a Dutch/Barbary pirate imitator in the early 1630s and it is at least partially successful. The pirates come home wealthy with Spanish silver and knowledge of the Americas. They inspire a host of imitators raiding up and down the thinly settled and often thinly defended New World coasts and carrying off Indians and Europeans alike as slaves. They are aided in some cases by Moslem slaves brought over from West Africa and set some of those freed slaves up as local rulers along remote stretches of coast, giving them logistics bases for future raids.

They destroy the struggling Spanish colony at St. Augustine and seize Spanish settlers there, along with missionized Indians, as slaves.

With England in turmoil under personal rule and then the English Civil War, English colonies and England itself are attractive, easy targets, with Virginia and the Puritan colonies of New England getting hit in the late 1630s and England itself getting persistently raided during personal rule and the Crown unable to raise money for defenses without calling Parliament.

What do you think? Feasible? Where would this go from here? Kind of dark places if you ask me, but I try to look at possibilities without indulging over much in "if only."
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#3
If they do capture a treasure fleet, at least a group of pirates will have the boats to raid the Americas and so would any others who pull it off. Would they do it though? From the sounds of how badly the pirates could raid parts of the Med, I'm thinking "probably" - that's loot and slaves that competitors can't get to.

Though if the pirates have become powerful and dangerous enough to hit your shipping, to hit even more seaside towns and maybe more 'important' ones, and now they're hitting colonies, the European powers, battered as they are, are going to launch a counterattack.
 

DaleCoz

Active member
#4
Were their ships actually capable of crossing the Atlantic? That seems to be the major inhibitor for something like this.
Probably not without the help of the Dutch renegades. With that help, historically they raided as far as Iceland. I doubt that an Atlantic crossing would be much more difficult than getting to Iceland, given how nasty the North Atlantic could be.
 

DaleCoz

Active member
#5
Though if the pirates have become powerful and dangerous enough to hit your shipping, to hit even more seaside towns and maybe more 'important' ones, and now they're hitting colonies, the European powers, battered as they are, are going to launch a counterattack.
That would be the logical response, but with Europe in the madness of the Thirty Years war, the response would likely be to try to divert the attacks to European rivals, as well as intensifying the historical European response of paying off the pirates.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#6
Which raises three questions:

a) Can coastal European countries recovery that well post-war at all if super-mega-pirates are hitting them? Is this an era where the inland is king?

b) What happens when the American colonies are even more cut off and are forced to defend themselves?

c) If the pirates do this well, do we start seeing them shift from "pirates" to "respectable aristocrats" in a new powerful state?

Add in, "what happens in the English Civil War", are the crown and parliament both paying pirates to hit the other's aligned seaside towns? (Probably!)
 

George Kearton

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#7
The Barbary pirates were mostly Moslem pirates and raiders who operated out of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. They reached the peak of their power in the early to mid-1600s, aided by Dutch renegades, some of whom converted to Islam. The pirates enslaved tens and probably hundreds of thousands of Europeans, raiding ships and coastal villages. The Dutch renegades helped extend their reach, adding new ship technology with raids reaching into the Atlantic as far as England, Ireland and even Iceland.

European powers rarely united against the Barbary Pirates until after the Napoleonic wars, finding them too useful against European rivals.

The early 1600s, and especially the period of the Thirty Years War, saw Europe at its most divided, with a huge, chaotic war over the Holy Roman empire that left much of Germany devastated and often depopulated.

The Barbary pirates took advantage of that chaos, of course, but how could we make them even more of a factor? They had to be aware that treasure fleets from the New World funded much of the Spanish war effort. Maybe one of their Dutch renegade captains comes up with the idea of a joint Dutch/Barbary Pirate effort to capture one of the Spanish treasure fleets. That wasn’t a trivial undertaking. The Dutch historically tried it and actually succeeded once, in 1628.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody else succeeded in capturing more than a few ships, though there were a number of attempts.

Let’s say that the 1628 example inspires a Dutch/Barbary pirate imitator in the early 1630s and it is at least partially successful. The pirates come home wealthy with Spanish silver and knowledge of the Americas. They inspire a host of imitators raiding up and down the thinly settled and often thinly defended New World coasts and carrying off Indians and Europeans alike as slaves. They are aided in some cases by Moslem slaves brought over from West Africa and set some of those freed slaves up as local rulers along remote stretches of coast, giving them logistics bases for future raids.

They destroy the struggling Spanish colony at St. Augustine and seize Spanish settlers there, along with missionized Indians, as slaves.

With England in turmoil under personal rule and then the English Civil War, English colonies and England itself are attractive, easy targets, with Virginia and the Puritan colonies of New England getting hit in the late 1630s and England itself getting persistently raided during personal rule and the Crown unable to raise money for defenses without calling Parliament.

What do you think? Feasible? Where would this go from here? Kind of dark places if you ask me, but I try to look at possibilities without indulging over much in "if only."
The Barbary pirates feature in "An Ending of Empires", volume three of the "House of Stuart Sequence"
 

DaleCoz

Active member
#8
a) Can coastal European countries recovery that well post-war at all if super-mega-pirates are hitting them? Is this an era where the inland is king?
A large part of inland Europe got gutted in the Thirty Years War at about this time, especially the northern parts of what would become Germany and Bohemia. The coastal areas of the Atlantic prospered in comparison.The enhanced pirates might even that up a bit.

b) What happens when the American colonies are even more cut off and are forced to defend themselves?
That is a good question. In the 1630s, the Spanish colonies were pretty firmly entrenched but dependent on Spain for most of their manufacturing. The French, Dutch and English colonies were still small and weak enough that a single major pirate raid could have probably destroyed any one of them, with the possible exception of Virginia.

c) If the pirates do this well, do we start seeing them shift from "pirates" to "respectable aristocrats" in a new powerful state?
The pirates were sheltered and to some degree controlled by the North African states: Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli, which in turn were formally part of the Ottoman Empire, though with a lot of autonomy. The gold might shift the internal balance of power between the pirates, their benefactors and the Ottoman Empire, which could get interesting.

Add in, "what happens in the English Civil War", are the crown and parliament both paying pirates to hit the other's aligned seaside towns? (Probably!)
That wouldn't surprise me at all.
 

Youngmarshall

The cull cuckold in Sunderland toon
#9
There were a lot of English renegades amongst the corsairs as well as Dutch (due to wanting to continue the fight against the Spanish after James I's peace). Jack Ward, Henry Mainwaring etc. Mainwaring is perhaps the most interesting for your purposes in that he was based in both Newfoundland and Morocco and made regular cross atlantic trips to harass Spain from both sides.

The problem as you have hinted is the primary leaders of the crews were Moriscos expelled from spain, renegades from Calvinist navies wanting to put the boot into the catholics and ottoman turks. The crews were often a mix of north African sailors and Christian galley slaves but the leaders rarely were North African which limits things.

The more powerful and rich that those corsairs get, the more contentious their relationship with the inland berber leaders, who they'll need to trade with will get. This will especially be an issue in Morocco where the corsairs of rabat and sale attempted to establish an independent republic.

Algiers and Tunis are good examples of what that would like. My understanding is that the government worked by essentially a bunch of strong men (slavers and pirates with their own gangs) picking one of their own as figurehead and then killing them as a skapegoat if something went wrong (normally a european gun ship would appear and the unlucky dey would be strapped to a cannon and blown up in hope that meant they went away again).

The strongmen could come from any background, they could be ex slaves (a surprisingly large ammount of them were), poor algerians, turks, europeans, from jewish families and christian families. The point is they just had to be effective thugs and slavers, this creates an appealing way for those trapped I na feudal system to try and climb a ladder. Which is why it's something that any strong Sultan of Morocco (though this wasn't an era where there where many of them) would despise.

If we really wanted mega pirates, you could I suppose have the tail eat the dog and Morocco become controlled by the corsairs the way pre castro cuba was run by the mafia. Central authority had collapsed in the anarchy following al-Mansur's death anyway. Make that a bit worse and a bit longer and give the corsairs some big successes and they have a country full of North Africans willing to join up in order to escape Morocco which means they're less reliant on renegades who often fled back to Europe once offered a pardon.

Driving out the Iberians from their port towns on the African side, Oran, Ceuta, Tangier I think would have to happen first. The problem OTl was how much control that gave the Europeans over the coastal trade and allowed effective anti piracy patrols.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#10
thought - if the non-Spanish colonies are that vulnerable, any chance the pirates don't just raid but conquer it, creating their own colony-slash-staging-port? (if even the slightest bit possible, there'd be a story in this if Pirates Of The Everywhere went narrative)
 

Youngmarshall

The cull cuckold in Sunderland toon
#11
thought - if the non-Spanish colonies are that vulnerable, any chance the pirates don't just raid but conquer it, creating their own colony-slash-staging-port? (if even the slightest bit possible, there'd be a story in this if Pirates Of The Everywhere went narrative)
The idea of an atlantic staging port for muslim raids certainty existed. There was a persistent rumour among the corsairs that Lundy off Devon in the Bristol channel was used as one though no English sources ever mention this so I'd doubt it happened. But it showed interest.

It never happened largely because raids in the Atlantic were rare, Ireland and Iceland were hit once each. Most if the corsairs were interested in small raids on italy and spain which are closer.

One of the reasons for this is rabat and sale is about the only atlantic rather med facing corsair port and few corsair rather than european renegade ships were up for an atlantic crossing.

I think you really need a more Morrocan focus rather than Algiers, Tunis etc hence my previous post. Once you get that, there's no reason for a corsair tortuga not to happen. I like the original pod of the corsairs stumbling upon a treasure fleet and that sending them west.