Connie Kelleher. The Alliance of Pirates: Ireland and Atlantic Piracy in the Early Seventeenth Century. Cork University Press. 552 pages, €30.00, ISBN: 9781782053651.
By Jamie Goodall
Tracing the cultural origins of piracy in Ireland and across the Atlantic in the late-16th to early-17th centuries, Connie Kelleher analyzes the nature and extent of maritime plunder in Ireland and examines its broader impact. According to Kelleher, the pirates operated during a period of emerging global empires as nations across Europe vied for supremacy at sea, building their own lucrative pirate base. Connie Kelleher is a state underwater archaeologist with the National Monuments Service and visiting lecturer in underwater archaeology in University College Cork. Her background provides a unique perspective on piracy as she incorporates archaeological findings into her evidence base. Her book is incredibly well-researched, particularly in her primary sources, as she consulted numerous manuscript sources in both Ireland and England, including holdings at the National Library of Ireland, Trinity College in Dublin, the British Library in London, and the National Archives: Public Records Office in Kew. Kelleher also used evidence from archival holdings in Germany and Spain. She made extensive use of the Calendar of State Papers from England and includes an exhaustive list of secondary source evidence. Despite this admirable and ample use of evidence, many of the examinations and depositions cannot be corroborated or are incomplete and/or contradictory. This leaves Kelleher forced to speculate throughout much of the book.
The book is divided into eight distinct chapters across nearly 300 pages and is organized thematically, tracing the ebb and flow of piracy for more than a century. While the thematic organization is intellectually pleasing, perhaps a chronological organization would have made it easier to follow. The book also contains a wide array of full-color illustrations and maps throughout. The first chapter describes the nature and extent of the English-dominated “Alliance of Pirates” in Munster during the heyday of piracy in the region. It examines the shift of operations from the English West Country to southwest Ireland and links this shift to the wider Atlantic world and Elizabethan policy. Chapter two provides an exploration of the genesis of piracy in the English empire, from the Elizabethan “Sea Dogs” to outright piracy under King James I after 1604. The third chapter looks to the officials and associates who either tacitly approved or openly assisted the pirates, highlighting certain key individuals like Sir Richard Hawkins and William Hull. Chapter four takes a cultural approach to the geography of piracy, detailing the landscape within which the pirates lived and operated. The fifth chapter looks specifically at piracy as a business, a commercial venture that involved pirates, their associates, and their families. The chapter takes on a familial perspective as it examines these men’s lives on shore. The social aspect of pirates’ lives is further explored in chapter six. It particularly focuses on women who are often absent from official sources. It reflects upon the women’s roles as wives, mothers, daughters, prostitutes, or even as pirates themselves. Chapter seven looks at the means through which the English king and his officials attempted to deal with piracy. Everything from legislation to the issuance of pardons, from granting commissions to execution is examined. The final chapter considers how piracy changed in the region as it declined after 1614. Kelleher examines the Turkish-dominated piratical attacks in north Atlantic waters and, specifically, studies the Algerine raid on Baltimore in 1631 from a cultural perspective.
Kelleher argues that the “Alliance of Pirates” was “instrumental in shaping a unique period in the cultural history of Ireland and in North Atlantic piracy” (pg. 27). Although the Alliance was a singular phenomenon, its influence was widely felt. One of the pirates was William Baugh. In 1612, Baugh plundered the Grayhounde from La Rochelle while it was off the coast of Ireland. The pirates made off with “28 bolts of Holland [cloth]; vi pieces of silver; certain silver and gold wire; certain satin; velvette & damaske in bolts; 170 bolts of silk garters” (pg. 156). Additionally, Baugh took two Dutch vessels off the coast of Spain carrying pepper, silver and gold coin, plates of copper, and various other goods. A third Dutch vessel off the coast of Ireland fell victim to Baugh as did a Flemish ship, plundered off the coast of Spain. The victims lost items such as red velvet, damask, satin, silk stockings, and “gold and silver twiste” (pg. 156). These were but a few of the vessels Baugh seized. The items were all brought to Kinsale and placed in Castelpark under the orders of Vice-Admiral Henry Skipwith. According to Kelleher, the no doubt corrupt Captain Skipwith told the pirate to sail to Kinsale again where he could anchor safely under the protection of the lord deputy, Chichester, while they negotiated Baugh’s pardon. It was understood that Baugh would pay Skipwith 900 pieces of eight. It’s unclear, however, whether the money was part of an agreed mechanism for pirates to “buy” their pardons or whether the money was a bribe, which would point to corruption that led all the way to the lord deputy himself (pgs. 108-109).
In all, the book is a comprehensive and, dare I say, exhaustive survey of piracy in the region. It has a little something for everyone and is written in a way that it can be enjoyed by scholars and non-scholars alike. From stories of intrigue and adventure to cultural histories, from archaeological surveys to political scandals, Kelleher has woven a fascinating narrative. Despite some speculation on the part of the author, the book is based on impressive original research and the stories are brought to life through beautiful full color illustrations and maps. Kelleher engages with archaeological and historical evidence in new and unique ways making a major contribution to our understanding of piracy during the late-16th and early-17th centuries, particularly outside the Caribbean and North America. Anyone with an interest in piracy, cultural/political/maritime histories, archaeological studies, or the history of Ireland will find this book both enjoyable and informative.
Jamie L.H. Goodall, PhD, is a staff historian with the U.S. Army Center of Military History. She has a PhD in History from The Ohio State University with specializations in Atlantic World, Early American, and Military histories. She is also a first-generation college student. Her publications include a journal article, “Tippling Houses, Rum Shops, & Taverns: How Alcohol Fueled Informal Commercial Networks and Knowledge Exchange in the West Indies” in the Journal of Maritime History and Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay: A Brief History of Piracy in Maryland and Virginia. She is currently working on a National Geographic bookazine on pirates and shipwrecks and is writing a book about piracy in the mid-Atlantic.