Ward and his likes were described by the adventurer John Smith. Later to be Disneyfied thanks to his romance with Princess Pocahontas, Smith was one English traveller who saw these Muslims at first hand, having spent some years in the Ottoman army before sailing to
Smith was firmly of the opinion that the pirating lifestyle was introduced to the
Until the arrival of these European adventurers, the coastal ports of
Horrified priests regularly emerged from the churches of
Most of these individuals took the secret of their lives with them to the grave. Thanks to the Spanish Inquisition, however, historians have access to information about a good number of them. Those who returned to a seafaring life ran the risk of recapture and interrogation by the Inquisition’s priests, and it is from the Inquisition’s meticulously-kept records that we know the details of their conversion, and, often, their tragic fate.
One Inquisition court, in the year 1610, investigated no fewer than thirty-nine Britons. Twelve of them were from the ports of the West Country. Ten were Londoners; six were from
An interrogation by the Inquisition was meant to be terrifying. One survivor, the Plymouth Muslim Lewis Crew, described how the priests, after using various forms of torture, would ask the Muslim captive whether they would accept papal teaching on six issues. Firstly came the Trinity, as the main point at issue between Islam and Christianity. Second was the perpetual virginity of Mary. Third was the Immaculate Conception. Fourthly, questions would be asked about the doctrine of Purgatory. Fifthly, the accused would be required to demonstrate his orthodoxy on the doctrine of papal supremacy. Finally, the Sacraments of the Catholic Church would be the subject of a complex investigation, which no doubt confused the simple sailors who made up the majority of the Inquisition’s convicts. Like many others, Crew had steeled himself for a religious debate of the kind held in public between converts and Christians in
The Inquisition’s writ counted for nothing in Protestant England; but even here, those Muslim sailors who returned to their homes could face interrogation and martyrdom. Sir Walter Raleigh, commenting on the gravity of the problem, recorded that ‘Renegadoes, that turn Turke, are impaled’, and this seems to have been the usual punishment for such men. Three English martyrs are known in the year 1620, while in 1671, a Welshman was put to death by impalement after refusing to reconvert to Christianity. Archbishop Laud was so concerned by the Muslim presence that he instituted a miniature English version of the Inquisition. His ‘Form of Penance’, enforced in 1637, laid down strict rules to ensure the sincerity of reconversions to Christianity, including the use of penitential robes and white wands borrowed directly from Catholic practice.
Despite the best efforts of the inquisitors, the corsair cities continued to thrive. By the end of the sixteenth century, the number of Englishmen and other Europeans who had joined this adventure had become enormous. Diego de Haedo, a Benedictine priest, estimated that by 1600, half of the population of
Most of the corsairs were of humble origins. A few, however, were well-known in their own lands. One such was Sir Francis Verney (1584-1615), who ‘turned Turk in Tunneis’, and was later captured and served for two years as a galley slave as a punishment for his conversion.
But perhaps the two best-known English corsairs were the celebrated sea-dogs John Ward and Simon Danseker. A seventeenth-century ballad heard throughout the taverns of
All the world about has heardWard, in particular, rose in the public eye until he became the best-known English pirate since Sir Francis Drake. Born at Faversham, he spent his teenage years working the fisheries. Late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth he joined the Navy, where his rebellious temperament impelled him to the unofficial capture of a ship rumoured to be carrying the treasure of Catholic refugees. The ship turned out to be empty of treasure, but the enterprising Ward used her to capture a much larger French ship off the south coast of
Of Danseker and Captain Ward
And of their proud adventures every day.
It was in this ship, which he called the Little John to drive home his image as a kind of latter-day Robin Hood, that he sailed to
His maritime prowess soon put him, according to a French report of 1606, in command of over five hundred Muslim and Christian volunteers. Among these were Captain Samson, in charge of prizes, Richard Bishop of
By the second decade of the seventeenth century, Ward was master of the central
Go tell the King of England, go tell him this from me,Life in
If he reign king of all the land, I will reign king at sea.
When Ward died of the plague in 1622,