AN ALABASTER PALACE IN TUNISIA

Before we set sail at last for Sale we should make one more brief cruise of the Mediterranean in search of Renegadoes. It's incredibly frustrating not to have a genuine geography of one of these men (or women). In most cases all that survives of their memory is an anecdote or two, perhaps an exciting account of a battle at sea, which all reveal precisely nothing of the renegades' psychology, their thoughts, their motivations. But every once in a while a little flash of sulphurous insight lights up the gloom of mere speculation. For instance, the English Renegado Peter Eston,

  • who started life as a Somerset farm laborer, commanded a fleet of forty vessels by 1611. In 1612 he raided the fishing fleet on the Newfoundland banks, as West Indian-based pirates were to do after him. Here he trimmed and repaired his vessels, appropriated such provisions and munitions as he needed, and took 100 men to join his fleet. He caused havoc wherever he appeared, whether this was in the western Mediterranean or off the coast of Ireland. Eventually tiring of the renegade life, he entered the service of the Duke of Savoy, purchased a Savoyard marquisate, and married a lady of noble birth.

[Lucie-Smith, 1978: 83]

At one time, Eston was told that James I of England had offered him a pardon. "Why should I obey a king's orders," he asked, "when I am a kind of king myself?" This quip reminds us of numerous speeches recorded in Defoe's General History of the Pyrates which hint at the existence of a pirate "ideology" (if that's not too grand a term), a kind of proto-individualist-anarchist attitude, however unphilosophical, which seems to have inspired the more intelligent and class-conscious buccaneers and corsairs. Defoe relates that a pirate named Captain Bellamy made this speech to the captain of a merchant vessel he had taken as a prize. The captain of the merchant vessel had just declined an invitation to join the pirates:

  • I am sorry they won't let you have your sloop again, for I scorn to do any one a mischief, when it is not to my advantage; damn the sloop, we must sink her, and she might be of use to you. Though you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws which rich men have made for their own security; for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by knavery; but damn ye altogether: damn them for a pack of crafty rascals, and you, who serve them, for a parcel of henhearted numbskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference, they rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage. Had you not better make then one of us, than sneak after these villians for employment?

When the captain replied that his conscience would not let him break the laws of God and man, the pirate Bellamy continued:

  • You are a devilish conscience rascal, I am a free prince, and I have as much authority to make war on the whole world as he who has a hundred sail of ships at sea, and an army of 100,000 men in the field; and this my conscience tells me: but there is no arguing with such snivelling puppies, who allow superiors to kick them about deck at pleasure.

It's interesting to compare Eston, a "farm laborer" with the heart of a king, with Henry Mainwaring, the gentleman pirate who did accept an English pardon and (like Henry Morgan some years later) betrayed his former low companions. Or consider the only real aristocrat (as far as I know) to turn Turk, Sir Francis Verney:

  • A turbulent youth, Verney lost a quarrel with his stepmother about his inheritance, and in the autumn of 1608 left England in disgust. He arrived in Algiers and played a part in one of the frequent wars of succession, then turned corsair. In 1609 he was reported by the English ambassador in Spain to have taken "three or four Poole ships and one of Plymouth." In December 1610 he was said by the Venetian ambassador in Tunis to have apostasized. At this period he was an associate of John Ward. But his period of success did not last long. In 1615, according to Lithgow, he was desperately sick in Messina, after being a prisoner for two years in the Sicilian galleys. He had been redeemed upon his reconversion by an English Jesuit. Though he was now free, his fortunes were broken, and he was forced to enlist as a common soldier in order to exist. Lithgow discovered him when he was on the point of death, "in the extremist calamity of extreme miseries" and having lost all desire to live.

[Lucie-Smith, 1978: 84]

Four years later (1615) he died in the Hospital of St. Mary of Pity at Messina [Senior, 1976: 98]. Truly he "came to a bad end", as the old-time chroniclers always said of the pirates-whether it was true or not.

Another English renegado "gentleman" (from Cornwall) was Ambrose Sayer [ibid., p. 83]. In 1613 Sayer was captain of an Algerian vessel which was captured at Sale by an English ship, whose captain decided to send the corsairs back to London to stand trial. Toby Glanville, one of Sayer's shipmates, realized the "game was up, made several attempts to commit suicide and eventually succeeded in throwing himself off the stern of the ship." [ibid., p. 97] Presumably, like most sailors, he'd never learned to swim. Captain Sayer was sent home and convicted of piracy, but somehow managed to escape-and presumably to retire, since we hear no more of him.

Probably the corsair about whom we know the most was John Ward. Ward enjoyed the distinction of "starring" as the villain of that 1612 West End hit, A Christian Turn'd Turke; Ward also merited at least two penny-dreadful blackletter pamphlets and two popular ballads-the supermarket tabloids of the good old days-which may be full of errors and outright lies, though they paint an interesting picture. [For Ward, see Ewen, 1939]

Ward was born around 1553, "a poore fisher's brat" in Faversham, Kent. In the lastyear of Elizabeth's reign and the first of James, we find him penniless in Plymouth, apparently with a fairly extensive career in privateering behind him- fifty years old, "squat, bald, white-haired." [Norris, 1990: 63] In 1603 he had the extreme bad luck to be "drummed into service" in the Navy-i.e., impressed-and forced to serve aboard the Lion’s Whelp under Captain Thomas Sockwell (who later became a pirate himself). As many historians have noted, low or non-existent pay, exhausting drudgery, and violent corporal punishments made up life in the Navy in those days, which was "one of the worst fates that could befall any man."[Senior, p. 87. Dr. Johnson remarks somewhere that any sensible person would prefer prison to the British Navy; one could be sure, at least, of better food and companions!] Ward is said to have lamented his salad days in privateering "when we might sing, drab [i.e., fuck], swear and kill men as freely as your cakemakers do flies; when the whole sea was our empire where we robbed at will, and the world was our garden where we walked for sport." After just two weeks of naval discipline Ward reasserted himself and organized thirty other sailors to jump ship, steal a small bark in Plymouth harbor, [He'd been planning simply to rob the ship of its treasure, which belonged to an English Catholic recusant fleeing to Spain, but apparently he'd been misinformed and found "the goldfinches flowen out of their nest"-so he stole the ship instead.] and sail out on the Account, free men at last. Aged 50, Ward embarked on a new and amazing career as a pirate.

Ward now sailed to southern Ireland, probably to Bearehaven or Baltimore, obscure and remote littLe ports known for their hospitality to pirates.[Six years later, in 1609, Ward and his comrade Captain Bishop visited Munster again at least once. Local officials had to be imprisoned for dealing with the pirates, who, after all, had 10 or 11 ships and about 1,000 men. Unable to repel them by force the English "Vice-President" of Munster tried to pardon them instead-but this expedient also failed. Later that year the British Lord Admiral sent a ship to Barbary under one Captain Pepwell to persuade Ward and his confederates "to forsake their wicked course of life. " His mission not only failed, but all his sailors deserted him and joined Ward. Pepwell had to "part with his pinnace at an under rate to the Turks" and return to London looking foolish. Captain Bishop, who now claimed to despise Ward for turning Turke (in 1609), was bribed to murder him, but failed. Bishop pleaded for a pardon, saying supinely: "I will die a poor labourer in mine own country, if I may, rather than be the richest pirate in the world." [Ewen, 1939: 20-21] Ward obviously had other plans.]

Somewhere in the area he came across the Violet of London in November 1603 and captured her.

  • When they reached the Scilly Isles the pirates had the good luck to fall in with a French vessel, but such was the strength of their ship that they could only hope to capture the Frenchmen by guile. Accordingly, the majority of the pirates hid below hatches while a few of their comrades up on deck engaged the other ship in conversation. They continued thus for several hours until their ruse finally succeeded and they came close enough to board and overpower their quarry.

[Senior, p. 88]

Ward renamed the ship Little John- which offers us a precious insight into his ideas and his image of himself: clearly he considered himself a kind of Robin Hood of the seas. We have some evidence that he gave to the poor, and he was clearly determined to steal from the rich.[In or about 1604, Ward arrived in Sale "to victuall and tryme his shippe haveing sould all their goodes"; there he joined with other pirates to raise and "disburse 100 to redeem a countryman" from captivity [Ewen, 1939: 3]. Ward used his own money to ransom captives on several other known occasions; perhaps this was his method of "giving to the poor"]

Ward now made one last clandestine visit to Plymouth where he recruited a crew to man his flagship, and then set out for the South-and the Orient-never to return.

On his voyage south, Ward took a 100-ton flyboat north of Lisbon and then entered the Straits. He sailed to Algiers, but received a hostile reception there because Richard Gifford, an English adventurer in the service of the Duke of Tuscany, had recently attempted to burn the galleys in the harbor. He therefore continued to cruise the Mediterranean, increasing in strength and wealth all the time. In December 1604 he was in the waters of Zante, where he captured the Santa Afaria, a Venetian vessel laden with currants and silk, and on Christmas Day that year he looted a Flemish ship of her cargo of pepper, wax, and indigo.

Disposing of his loot in various Mediterranean ports, Ward then passed through the Straits once more to trim and victual his ship. It was while he was at Sale, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, that he was joined by twenty-three more Englishmen. These men, who had set sail in the Blessing with Dutch letters of marque, were in a sorry state, having been roughly handled by a Spanish warship. When they saw that Ward and his fellows were "well shipped and full of monie," they needed little encouragement to leave their ship and join forces with them. Ward's numbers were further augmented at Larache, when another English crew threw in their lot with him. The captain of these men, Michael, soon returned home to England, but their lieutenant, Anthony Johnson, remained with Ward and became one of his most trusted men.

By 1605 Ward had succeeded in gathering a formidable force around himself. His man-of-war, which he had appropriately named the Gift, was a flyboat of 200 tons or more, mounting thirty-two guns and crewed by about 100 men. In addition to the Gift, he was accompanied in his marauding by any prizes which he thought might suit his purpose. His men ; were mainly English, but included a considerable number of Dutchmen. There was certainly no shortage of able seamen who were anxious to join his band. Ward's pamphleteer, Andrew Barker, had an even higher estimate of the pirates' abilities, saying that many of them were "worthy spirits, whose resolutions, if they had beene aimed to honourable actions, either at sea or shore...might have beene preferred and commended for service to the greatest Prince living."

In 1603, Ward had been a common seaman, living in poverty and serving in terrible conditions aboard one of the king's ships. At fifty years of age it must have seemed that his best years were over. Now less than two years later, he was a rich man, the commander of a fine, strong vessel, and the respected leader of a large band of desperate men.

Ward's piracies continued throughout the winter of 1605-6. In November 1605 he was in the waters off Cyprus where he robbed a ship from Messina of silk, velvet and damask to the tune of 5,500. At about this time he also took a French prize laden with spices, drugs, and cotton in the roadstead at Modone, and followed this in April 1606 by capturing a Flemish ship off Sardinia, carrying a cargo of textiles. Such captures can only have served to emphasize the pirates' growing need for a secure base of operations where they could sell their booty and store their riches. By 1606 they had found such a haven with the Turks at Tunis. In August of that year, Ward was reported to be living in the city and to have helped some English seamen who were temporarily in difficulties.

Ward's protector at Tunis was Cara Osman, who, as head of the Janissaries, had exercised absolute control over the city since 1594. An agreement was reached between the two men whereby Osman had first refusal of all goods which the pirates brought back to Tunis. The goods were then stored in Tunisian warehouses and resold to Christian merchants at a considerable profit. Everything points to the fact that Ward and Osman enjoyed a good working relationship and they may have even become close friends, for the pirate called the Turk "brother". The suspicion is, however, that Osman got the best of the bargain. Yet the pirates were utterly dependent on Osman's friendship, for without it they would probably have been denied the use of Tunis as a base. Thomas Mitton, a man who had lived at Tunis for three years and been to sea with Ward, testified to this when he gave evidence in the admiralty court:

  • ...the said Carosman is the onelie aider, asister and upholder of the saide Warde in his piracies and spoiles for that hee the saied Warde hathe noe other place to victualle in save onelie Tunis, and at Tunis hee coulde not victualle but by the meanes of Carosman whoe grauntethe him the saied Warde warrantes to take upp and buy victualles at Tunis and the Cuntrie theereaboutes. And the reason that moovethe the saied Carosman soe to doe is beecause when Warde takethe anie prize Carosman buyethe his goodes of him at his owne price

Ward's first voyage from his new-found base began in October 1606. Cara Osman paid one quarter of the costs of victualling the pirate ship, which was the Gift, Ward's old man-of-war. The crew was entirely English, except for twelve Turks put aboard by Osman, who paid for their own keep. Ward did not have to wait long for his first prize. On 1 November, near Corone, he captured the John Baptist, 90 tons, a vessel belonging to some London merchants which was employed in the local coasting trade. At this capture the Gift had as consort a fifty-ton pinnace commanded by Anthony Johnson, and it seems reasonable to assume that the two ships had set out from Tunis together.

The next prize to fall to the pirates was a far richer vessel, the Rubi, a Venetian argosy of upwards of 300 tons, which was returning from Alexandria with a cargo of spices and 3,000 pieces of gold. The Gift, flying a Dutch flag, sighted the Rubi on 28 January 1607, forty miles off the coast of the Morea, and Ward and his men, no doubt making full use of the element of surprise, captured her by boarding "verie suddeine, desperate and without feare." Ward followed this success by taking another Venetian vessel, the Carminati, which was homeward-bound after a voyage to Nauplion and Athens. Well pleased with the way the voyage had gone, Ward returned triumphantly to Tunis with his two Venetian prizes under guard.

As in the early years of the century, it was the Venetians who once again had to bear the brunt of English depredations. They were, however, yet to suffer their most sensational loss.

Ward fitted out his ships and put to sea again early in 1607. This time he was in the Rubi, his Venetian prize which he had converted to a man-of-war and manned with a crew of 140, mostly English. Once again Cara Osman had bought a quarter share in the venture by providing the pirates with guns, powder, match, and shot from the Turkish armoury. This time, however, there were no Turks on the expedition.

The event that shook the Republic of Venice, and so enriched the pirates, was the loss of the Reneira e Soderina, a 600-ton argosy. The great ship was taken as she lay becalmed near Cyprus by two pirate ships commanded by Ward, each said to be mounting forty guns and carrying at least 100 armed men. Amongst the fabulous cargo of the Soderina was indigo, silk, cinnamon and cotton worth at least L100,000 (one wildly exaggerated English report put her value at "two millions at the least"). It was not only the size of the financial loss which caused such a stir on the Rialto. The very manner of the Soderina's capture was a disgrace to the Republic of St. Mark. From one account of the baule, it is clear that the crew of the argosy were terrified by the ferocity of the pirates' attack and offered little or no resistance:

  • The captain, after deciding on the advice of everybody to fight, divided up all his crew and passengers, and stationed some on the quarterdeck, others on the maindeck and poop, and thus they all seemed to be very gallant soldiers with weapons in their hands. The two ships that came to attack, even though two or three shots were fired at them, strove without further ado to lay themselves alongside, and on coming within range fired off twelve shots, six each, always aiming at the crew and the sails, without firing once into the water. Their plans, designed to terrify, succeeded excellently, because two of those who were defending the quarterdeck were hit by one of their shots, and when they were wounded, indeed torn to pieces, all the rest fled, leaving all their weapons lying on the quarterdeck and all of them running to their own property, even while the two vessels were coming alongside. For all his efforts, the captain was not only quite unable to force the crew to return to the quarterdeck, he could not even make them emerge from below decks or from the forecastle. Indeed, the ship's carpenter and some others confronted him with weapons in their hands and told him that he should no longer command the ship.

As if this prize were not enough, Ward proceeded to take another Venetian vessel before finally returning to his base. On a June day in 1607, he and his men dropped anchor at La Goleta, the port of Tunis, with booty worth at least 400,000 crowns. Ward did not want to prejudice his chances of getting a good price by landing the loot, and

  • made many offers to carry away the shipp and goods to some other porte, because the said Carosman would not come to his price, and to that ende the said Warde rode out of command of the castle, and kepte his sayles at the yards untill they had concluded.

Eventually, Ward and Cara Osman agreed on a price of 70,000 crowns-little more than one-sixth of what the goods were actually worth.

Ward was now at the height of his success. An English seaman who saw him at Tunis in 1608 has left us a description of the arch-pirate:

  • Very short with little hair, and that quite white, bald in front; swarthy face and beard. Speaks little, and almost always swearing. Drunk from morn till night. Most prodigal and plucky. Sleeps a great deal, and ot'ten on board when in port. The habits of a thorough "salt". A fool and an idiot out of his trade.

[Senior, 1976: 8893]

Whatever his level of intelligence "out of his trade" Ward was now at the high point of success his the trade. He

  • gathered round him a formidable group of pirates: Captain Sampson was appointed to the command of prizes, Richard Bishop of Yarmouth became Ward's first lieutenant and James Proctor of Southampton and John Smith of Plymouth his gunners. Though Danser still rivaled him in the western Mediterranean, Ward ruled the central seas. When asked if he would like to join the French as Danser had done, he replied, "I favor the French? I tell you if I should meet my own father at sea I would rob him and sell him when I had done." When a seaman called Richard Bromfield upbraided him for turning Turk and living in such a heathenish country, Ward merely called him "a Puritan knave and a Puritan rogue."

    Yet at this moment he opened negotiations for a royal pardon. One of his acquaintances deposed that he was offered L200 "in Barbary Gold" to take to friends in England in order to impress the Lord Admiral. The Venetian ambassador said that he was offered 30,000 crowns. But even James I jibbed at accepting bribes from such a notorious pirate and went so far as to name Ward specifically in a proclamation of January, 1609, for the apprehension of pirates. Ward seems to have been much annoyed at the rejection of his suit: "Tell those flat caps who have been the reason I was banished that before I have done with them I will make them sue for my pardon."

[Lloyd, 1981: 50-51]

As one of Ward's biographers put it, in a ballad called "The Famous Sea Fight between Captain Ward and the Rainbow," "Go tell the king of England, go tell him this from me / If he reign king of all the land, I will reign king at sea."

On one occasion in 1607, the well-known diplomat Sir Anthony Sherley "wrote to Ward at Tunis to dissuade him from his mode of life and sinful enterprises." Ward was so incensed he granted freedom to a ship he'd just captured, on condition that the Captain find Sir Anthony and convey to him Ward's challenge to a duel. It's hard to reconcile Ward's reputation for slow-wittedness with such flamboyant gestures.

About Sept. last (1608) Ward, being in the Straits, met Fisher of Redriffe, bound for England, and gave him 100 to carry to his wife. Others of the company also sent money for wives and friends. Fisher abused his trust. On their next meeting Ward despoiled Fisher's ship, and being reviled, had Fisher ducked at the yard arm, and killed. The other men to avoid the like fate joined the pirates.

Ward having stabbed one West, a master's mate, his men mutinied. In a great storm in the straits under Saracota, Longeastle and others called him to prayers, but he refused, saying that "he neither feared God nor the devil." [Ewen, 1939: 14. These quotes and anecdotes derive from one of the pamphlets about Ward, Newwes from the Sea.]

Ward now seems to have decided to remain in Barbary and give up all hope of a peaceful retirement. He

  • fitted out the Soderina as his man-of-war and made preparations for his next voyage. She must have looked a fine ship indeed: 600 tons burden, mounting forty bronze pieces on the lower deck and twenty on the upper. He was at sea in her by December 1607, in command of an Anglo-Turkish crew of 400. However, the Soderina soon proved to be impractical as a warship. Her excessive armament weighed her down and her planks began to rot. As soon as Ward captured a prize he took command of her, leaving his cumbersome warship to her fate. The great vessel sank off Cerigo early in 1608 with the loss of almost all hands—250 Turks and 150 Englishmen.

    Yet this was just the start of a series of disasters that lay in store for Ward in the winter of 1607–8. First, the prize of which he had taken command was lost at sea, and then a galleon, which he had captured and fitted out at Navarino, was wrecked. Worse still, one of his leading captains, a Fleming named Jan Casten, was off Modone on 21 March 1608 with two men-of-war and a prize when he was surprised and defeated by the Venetian galleys. In this, one of their rare victories over the pirates, the Venetians killed 50 men, including Casten, and captured forty-four more.

    Ward still continued to serve in expeditions from Tunis after these setbacks. He sailed with two Turkish captains to the Levant in 1609 and went on further expeditions in 1610, 1612, and 1618. He even appears to have had a hand in the capture of a Venetian vessel in 1622, when he must have been nearly seventy years old. However, he developed other interests and stayed ashore more in his later years. He had soon become well-integrated into Tunisian society. By 1609 he had "turned Turk", taking the name Issouf Reis, and he is known to have married another renegade, a woman from Palermo named Jessimina (despite the wife in England to whom he periodically sent money).

[Senior, 1976: 93-4]

In 1616 the gossipy Scots traveler William Lithgow met Ward at Tunis:

  • "Here in Tunneis I met an English Captain, general Waird [such was Lithgow's Scottish pronunciation: Father Dan called him Edouart], once a great pirate and commander at sea; who in despite of his denied acceptance in England, had turned Turk and built there a fair palace, beautified with rich marble and alabaster stones. With whom found domestics some fifteen circumcised English renegades, whose lives and countenances were both alike, even as desperate as disdainful. Yet old Waird their master was placable and joined me safely with a passing land conduct to Algier; yea, and diverse times in my ten days staying there I dined and supped with him, but lay aboard in the French ship." His legendary fame lived on because Edward Coxere, a captive at Tunis a few years later, says that Ward always "had a Turkish habit on, he was to drink water and no wine, and wore little irons under his Turk's shoes like horseshoes."

[Lloyd, 1981: 53]

As a popular ballad put it:

At Tunis in Barbary
Now he buildeth stately
A gallant palace and a royal place.
Decked with delights most trim,
Fitter for a Prince than him
The which at last will prove to his disgrace.
[Norris, 1990: 94]

Contrary to the balladeer's pious hope, Ward's architectural fancy failed to end in disgrace.

Lithgow also tells us that in his old age Ward had become interested in the problem of incubating poultry eggs in camel dung. One imagines him pottering about the alabaster palace with pots of this odiferous mulch, accompanied by curious chickens. The inevitable "bad end" which all pirates must suffer was provided by the plague, which paid one of its regular visits to North Africa in 1623. Aged about seventy, Ward died in bed and was buried at sea just as he'd always expected and hoped.

  • Ward's contemporaries in England wasted a great deal of vitriolic language on him and other English renegades, whom they saw in an almost medieval light, as having forsaken Christianity to espouse Islam. Yet one cannot but sympathize with the pragmatism of the pirates against the dogmatism of their day. Certainly Ward waged war on Christian shipping, making no exception of English vessels, but stories that he would have robbed his own father if he met him at sea seem simply malicious. There was certainly another side to his nature. On at least two occasions he is known to have freed Englishmen who found themselves enslaved at Tunis, and Lithgow, who actually met the man, referred to him as "Generous Waird."

[Senior, p. 94]

C.M. Senior, the author of this epitaph, obviously cannot help a feeling of sympathy for Ward, despite his cruelty, bungling, and apostasy. The would-be Little John, the rather dimwitted old salt who no doubt continued to ramble on about the good old days over the dinner table, [Once in 1608, Ward sailed into Algiers with a Spanish prize laden with a cargo of "alligant wines", and there met another pirate (one John King of Limehouse) who'd just captured a ship carrying beer. Ward traded him a tun of wine for a tun of beer, losing money on the deal, and revealing his working-class taste! [Ewen, 1939: 9]] makes an odd fit with the Tunisian gentleman, sometimes abstemious, "generous", and-who knows?-perhaps even a little pious. (It's interesting to note that Ward only converted rather late in his Tunisian career, which suggests he may have done so entirely voluntarily and even sincerely.) This almost adds up to a convincing character study; it has almost enough contradictions and paradoxes in it to sound psychologically authentic. No other Renegado comes across the gulf of time as such a fully-realized personality- with the possible exception of Murad Reis of Sale, whom we'll meet later on. Indeed, one can't help liking Ward-although, like William Lithgow, one might hesitate to spend a night at his alabaster palace, for fear of missing one's watch and wallet in the morning!

 

Pirate and Mermaid | A Christian Turn’d Turke | Democracy by Assassination | A Company of Rogues | An Alabaster Palace in Tunisia | The Moorish Republic of Sale | Murad Reis and the Sack of Baltimore | The Corsair’s Calendar | Pirate Utopias