Jolly Roger – The Story of the Great Age of Piracy by Patrick Pringle - Vintage History Book Review
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, me hearties! Is that a mermaid I sees on the horizon? Well, perhaps not: but those of us who adore Talk Like A Pirate Day, inspired by the terrific film Dodgeball and the piratical character Steve the Pirate, well, we can always pretend. (TLAPD is September 19th, pirate fans: ooh arrrrgh!) The Pirates of the Carribbean franchise has also added to the allure of the pirate in recent years: it’s not surprising that we’re all eager to celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day and have a fascinated interest in all things piratical.
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However, the romance and cheeky charm of, say, Johnny Depp’s character Captain Jack, by no means tell the whole – or even an accurate – story of the real history of piracy. The subject of this book review - Jolly Roger – The Story of the Great Age of Piracy, by Patrick Pringle – may give you a clearer idea of the true experiences and activities of famous pirates – and their victims.
Pringle was not a university educated man, but he was something of a scholar and produced this tome full of pirate information and many other serious and respected (but also entertaining) works on criminal history. He was born in 1917 and worked at a publishing house prior to becoming a writer.
Jolly Roger examines the involvement of men and governments of many countries, including England, Spain, the ‘Moorish’ or Muslim countries, Jamaica and the U.S. in piracy historically. He notes that government approved piracy, or ‘privateering’ was widespread: a not uncommon example of governmental double standards, reflected in many ways in our own day.
Pringle studies the reasons why men chose to become pirates, and what their lives were like once they had done so. He does not flinch from examining the brutality involved in piracy, both for those engaged in it and for the denizens of the ships they took. Some of the tales are truly shocking and not to be attempted while eating a meal. One surprising point that Pringle brings up is the lack of authority of a pirate captain: while nominally in charge and with certain privileges, he had to stay on the right side of his men and accept a certain level of anarchy, or suffer the consequences. Perhaps this is not surprising given the difficulty of establishing authority within a lawless endeavour.
Certain famous pirates and privateers are given special attention by Pringle, e.g. Blackbeard and Sir Walter Raleigh. (Technically Raleigh didn’t qualify for the definition of a pirate, but some of his activities justified his inclusion in the book.)
The book itself has some lovely black and white plates and illustrations (although some of the subject matter is not so delightful and indeed very graphic and grim.) The dustjacket is in full colour and has a very gay and romantic illustration. When you’re busy celebrating Talk Like A Pirate Day, don’t forget to have a read through Patrick Pringle’s Jolly Roger, for a peek at the other side of the story.
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