The English Civil war period (1642-1651) saw a boom in privateering activity in Jersey under the Royalist Governor, Sir George Carteret. Starting with just one galley built in St Malo, Carteret built up his fleet of privateers to about a dozen by arming his prizes. The crews were in the main from foreign parts as the majority of Jerseymen had Parliamentarian sympathies. Technically, this was a pirate operation until December 1644 when Carteret was appointed Vice Admiral of Jersey and, therefore, his privateers assumed a mantle of legality because he could now issue Letters of Marque which allowed the commander of a privately owned vessel to attack enemy shipping either as a reprisal for personal injury or as acts of war. By law privateers had to bring their prizes back to their port of registration which in Jersey was St Aubin where an Admiralty Court decided if it was a lawful prize. As Sir George was not only the private speculator owning the privateers but also the judge he was definitely 'onto a winner', as they say. John Jean in his book "Jersey Sailing Ships" states that 125 prizes were taken and brought back to Jersey in addition to those taken and sold in foreign ports.

His privateering policy was unpopular with both his opponents and some of his own faction. The Rector of St Ouen found himself imprisoned and finally exiled because he openly criticised Carteret for bringing the riff-raff of the sea to the Island. By 1650 Carteret was actually selling Letters of Marque to anyone that would buy in an effort to disrupt English shipping. The diarist Jean Chevalier even tells how Carteret sold them to Flemish and French captains who came to Jersey especially to buy so that they could 'legally' attack English shipping. As the saying goes "one man's meat is another man's poison" it could also be said, "one man's privateer is another man's pirate". It all depends upon your point of view; if your ship is being attacked and you are in danger of death, it is of no real comfort knowing that the perpetrators of the outrage have a piece of paper that says its all right. The term . . . Jersey pirate . . . crops up time and again in the English Council of State papers at this time.

Of course, it was not only the Royalist authorities in Jersey which issued Letters of Marque. In 1652 the Parliamentarian Governor of Jersey complained of the actions of large numbers of picaroons, that is free lance privateers, flying the flags of all nations that infested the Channel and held the Island in a stranglehold.


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