Wednesday, September 12, 2007

EDW: Sir Henry Morgan

One of the many unfortunate aspects of the British psyche is the refusal to recognise the national mixture of violence, ruthlessness and panache which allowed it to turn out some of the most flamboyant and entertaining pirates in history. It's an age old profession – one which is still practised today – but the golden age was dominated by British buccaneers: Blackbeard Teach, Callico Jack Rackham, Captain Kidd – rarely has common crime, treachery, brutality and rapine seemed so glamourous.

Only the Irish really come close for romance and excitement: the women are particularly noteworthy in this regard, thanks to Anne Bonney and Gráinne Ni Mháille (or Grace O'Malley).

Typically, there have been many unsporting foreign pirates who haven't really understood the point of piracy and have concentrated on long-lasting wealth and power rather than blowing it all on rum and whores before an early demise (the Barbary Corsairs or Zheng Yi Sao spring to mind). But for swagger, adventure and – crucially for this blog – élan, you need look no further than these islands. Of course, many of the greatest pirates were in the employ of the state. Many Spaniards still curse the memory of Francis Drake (I've experienced this first hand, it deepened my regard for him) and, I can think of no higher accolade than the fact that the Argentinians have been known to refer to the English as 'piratas'.

However, one of the most remarkable of all was Sir Henry Morgan. The Welsh privateer (that's a sort of 17th century public private partnership between the crown and a freebooter) was, if we're going to keep up the true Brit theme, something of an amateur. As a sailor he was pretty useless, he accidentally blew up one ship during a massive piss up and was always liable to crash into things, but when it came to plunder and sticking it to the French and Spaniards, he was your only man.

His best known exploit was the sack of Panama in which, in true amateur fashion, he didn't have to do much sailing. Instead, he relied on pluck, determination and blind luck to march a motley crew of freebooters across the jungle (they were reduced to eating their boots at one point) before capturing one of the richest ports in the Spanish empire, burning it and making off with the plunder.

He was acting on his own initiative here, since there wasn't a war on, and Charles II made his disapproval clear by knighting Morgan. Sir Henry was later made governor of Jamaica, in which role he distinguished himself by spending much of his time drinking rum in low company. If only we had more public servants like him today. He is still revered in Wales, and I can't help but feel his like would enliven the Welsh Assembly no end.

I fondly had hoped that Captain Morgan's rum is named in his honour. It seems it is. Good.

NB: if this inspires you, next week is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Aaarrrrrrr.



Blogger Glamourpuss said...

Well, I for one certainly wouldn't be where I am today without spending my time 'drinking rum in low company'.

Excellent choice, Bill.


12:16 pm  

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