Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Pirates' Code of Etiquette and Manners

“... the Code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.  The Pirate's Code was the pirate’s version of promoting team work.

The Code was written by the very famous Buccaneer, Bartholomew Roberts, and he actually made his crew swear on a bible that they would uphold the Code. The Code was designed so that there would be a better understanding of what was expected of each other and so they could potentially work together with a lesser fear that their shipmates were going to do the dirty on them. It was the pirate’s version of promoting team work.
The Bahamian pirates were unlike most other pirates before or since in that they engaged in more than simple banditry.  Most of them -- Blackbeard included -- were former merchant and naval sailors who thought themselves engaged in a social revolt against shipowners and captains who'd made their prior lives miserable.  Bellamy's crew members referred to themselves as 'Robin Hood's' men.  "They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference," Bellamy once told a captive.  "They rob the poor under the cover of law and we plunder the rich under the cover of our own courage."  There was also a democratic spirit aboard the pirate ships, an unusual development six decades before Lexington and Yorktown, more than 70 ahead of the storming of the Bastille. Upon seizing a vessel, the pirates turned its government upside down. Instead of using whips and beatings to enforce a rigid, top-down hierarchy, they elected and deposed their captains by popular vote. They shared their treasure almost equally and on most ships didn't allow the captain his own cabin.  "They were very shrewd in the way they reorganized their ships to limit the captain's power," says maritime historian Marcus Rediker of the University of Pittsburgh. "There was a real social consciousness at work there."  From The Last Days of Blackbeard by Colin Woodard

Pirate Code of Conduct, Shipboard Articles 1721

ARTICLE I – Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.

Democracy and equality will be exercised

ARTICLE II – Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.

Do not steal or commit fraud against your fellow shipmates

ARTICLE III – None shall game for money either with dice or cards.

Gambling is forbidden

ARTICLE IV – The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.

Respect others when they are trying to sleep

ARTICLE V – Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.

Every man is responsible for ensuring his own weapons are clean and ready for action
Stede Bonnet, a Most Unlikely Pirate:
Most of the men associated with the Golden Age of Piracy were reluctant pirates. They were desperate but skilled sailors and brawlers who either could not find honest work or who were driven to piracy by the inhuman conditions on board merchant or navy ships at the time. Some, like "Black Bart" Roberts, were captured by pirates, forced to join, and then found the life to their liking. Major Stede Bonnet (1688-1718) is the exception: he was a wealthy planter in Barbados who decided to outfit a pirate ship and set sail for riches and adventure. It is for this reason that he is often referred to as "the Gentleman Pirate."

ARTICLE VI – No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.

No boys or women allowed on board

ARTICLE VII – He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.

Disloyalty and desertion will be punished

ARTICLE VIII – None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man’s quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draweth first blood shall be declared the victor.

No fighting allowed on board, but any disagreements may be settled through a duel on land

Every man will receive an equal share of gold.

ARTICLE IX – No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of l,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.

Every man will receive an equal share of gold. We look after men injured in the line of duty and they will receive compensation.

ARTICLE X – The captain and the quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.

They will share the prize proportionate to each man’s rank

Well, we don’t have to worry about duels anymore but many of these articles can certainly be adhered to in real life such as, “respect others when they are trying to sleep” or “do not steal or commit fraud.”
Etiquette and manners can sometimes be seen as a strict code of rules but that is not how they are intended, especially not in the twenty-first century. As Captain Barbossa said in "Pirates of the Caribbean", “the Code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules,” and that is exactly how etiquette should be seen. Yes, there are certain rules that would probably be best if you stick to them such as, “chewing with your mouth closed” – nobody likes to see a mouth full of slushy food – but it is important to be able to adapt to the situations you find yourself in as no situation will ever be completely the same.

It is best to know the rules first so that you can adapt to any situation appropriately but if you’re ever unsure your best chance of success is by showing kindness, graciousness and exhibiting class.

Disclaimer: I do not advocate or endorse any acts of piracy, modern or historical. Theft, murder, torture, pillaging and plundering are not good manners and have no place in our society.
Contributed by Rachel North ~ Rachel North is an etiquette and afternoon tea enthusiast with a love for anything ancient and historical. You can visit her blog here:

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