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How Queen Elizabeth Invented Piracy

Updated on May 31, 2013

Historic Moments SERIES

What do a bar room brawl, Queen Elizabeth's pirating privateers and the start of World War I have in common? Contracts.

It is easy in our updated modern world governed by contracts at every turn to see ourselves as highly civilized. But it is important to understand that contracts, and the elements of contracts have arisen in our modern world because of the ferocious and unpredictable wild human heart and the turbulent actions of that collective heart in human society.

Bar Room Brawls and Duels at Dawn

We all know what bar room brawls sound like in theatrical extremes, full of grunting epithets and inebriated monosyllables. But if you could conjure up in formal English accents, and outfits from the Restoration period, you could characterize a bar room brawl differently: "Kind sir, I see that we have a dispute. I know that you think you understand what you heard that I said, but it is my position that what you think I said, is not what I meant." Thus starts the beginning of the conflict. And then, like as not, the scene shifts to the sight of a duel at dawn, in foggy morning air and musket balls hurtling. Our dear civilized President Andrew Jackson is said to have carried a deeply embedded musket ball gained in a duel to his grave. And the highly regarded Aaron Burr died in one.

Privateers and Pirates

Remove Johnny Depp in the Caribbean in costume and the much more likely Errol Flynn from your memory for a moment. Think of pirates as disappointed and uniquely encouraged privateers who had licenses and contracts from none other than the Queen. Contracts, no less to go out and rob and pillage and sweep "booty" from unloved foreign shipping. This was a fantastically wealthy government contracted project that enriched all contractual participants. It flooded her government coffers. This avoided over taxing her public and got her right where she wanted on the world scene. Read the following excerpt written by Amanda J. Snyder at the University of North Carolina website, article entitled: "The Politics of Piracy: Pirates, Privateers, and the Government of Elizabeth I, 1558 - 1588":

"Elizabeth had to avoid conflict because she had insufficient military forces... Realizing that at her disposal were dozens of experienced sailors with their own ships, she began to sanction piracy by creating and encouraging a fleet of privateers. Such an act allowed Elizabeth to whittle away at Spanish hegemony in the Atlantic... culminating in the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The most interesting part of this creation of a privateering corps, is that all the while, Elizabeth and her council were issuing more stringent laws against pirates and those who aid pirates. She even allowed... to reform the Court of Admiralty in order to make the capturing and prosecuting of pirates more efficient."

Yes, as often happens in life, all the parties don't know what the other parties are also doing. Elizabeth did not have an age named after her because of her beauty. The fascinating thing about contracts in our human endeavors is that written and understood and formalized as they might be, there are often other contracts and laws and relationships governed by contracts that often interfere with existing contracts. Enter stage left: World War I.

The Shooting of Archduke Ferdinand Declares the Fate of Armies of Young Souls

The complex interlocking of alliances, agreements and contracts that preceded World War I are acknowledged as virtually guaranteeing its occurrence. Once this assassination occurred, in Yugoslavia, a rapidly falling set of dominoes led to a war for which everyone was prepared. Contracts don't have the power of miraculously civilizing us, they rather give us an ordered and structured way of understanding and resolving what we hope we all understand. (I refer back to my Englishman getting ready for his duel). Contracts can't prevent what may be already inevitable. As this quote so clearly and simply states:

"Thirdly, since the European powers had made alliances with one another, a small dispute concerning one power might lead to a war involving all powers." This quote is from an exhaustively detailed site, The (sited below). Much too complex to elaborate in this article, the point is that contracts can be a cause for great conflict. World War 1 was probably the most despair-creating public exercise in all of human history, as young men died like cattle in a slaughter house by the thousands every day. Newspapers, daily printed the death tolls, and the entire world observed unequaled butchery in muddy trenches and defoliated battlefields. My maternal Grandfather, Ulmont Healy, a "doughboy" in a Wisconsin regiment, with the American Expeditionary Forces, tended the caissons, still driven by horses then during this conflict. He had much to say about the carnage and received a wound he suffered from the rest of his life.

It is easy to think of contracts as the civilizing feature of our system, but in many ways, they can act as a great source of conflict. How you solve contractual disputes then becomes a great issue. Much violence occurs because people leap outside the contracts and decide to settle them, or more pointedly seek violent satisfaction from what they deem as a broken contract, in physical ways.

"She Turned Me Into A Newt".

Human contracts end up in courts. Making statements about "contracts" tends to make people immediately think about Courts. The Power of the Accusation tends to make one tremble. The Accusation and its power go back to the first judges of society. Moses's system set up named Judges for his tribes, which, understanding the nature of people probably kept them busy day and night. Our agreements as to how to behave, while not officially contractual in a written and formal sense, they certainly make us think of the nature of contracts, as we wrestle our way through societal turbulence. In the Movie, Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail, a take off on Ancient England and its Holy Grail myth, a man, trying to condemn a Witch, makes a statement with the full enthusiasm of a witness for the prosecution.

Sir Bedevere: What makes you think she's a witch?
Peasant 3: Well, she turned me into a newt!
Sir Bedevere: A newt?
Peasant 3: [meekly after a long pause] ... I got better.

See the source below, it was a very clever movie with lots of points. You have to be amazed that even when accusations are implausible, they tend to have an effect in the setting of a Court. Contracts, having the power to get us into Court, carry legal fear and dread with them, because going to Court is a possibility. So, in the end we should focus on the reason for them. For when the first humans, who could write, said "Why don't we write this down", it carried a powerful impact.

Contracts Are Designed To Bring Agreement and Satisfaction and Good Results

This article points to the powerful historical elemental factors that bring us to our civilized conclusions. A contract has to start with an "offer". This sounds simple, but it means that contracts can't be forced upon people where no basic offer exists. "Acceptance" is fundamental. We have to know and believe that everybody concerned "with eyes wide open" has actually accepted the TERMS of the offer. The reason criminal contracts, none of which are actually written, are not really legally enforceable contracts is because they do not have a "legal purpose or objective". The "meeting of the minds" phase is what makes a contract go from the talking stage to the "Aha" stage. The "Aha" stage is that feeling everyone gets when they know they have a "mutuality of obligation" or a meeting of the minds. This makes people want to actually sign the contract. "Consideration" is an elegant word that means there is a way that parties benefit. If parties don't benefit (usually with money) then its probably not a contract. The "competency of parties" has to do with people knowingly and consciously entering into the contract with "competence". Can they do this? Are they truly competent? Is this person or party authorized to do this contract and enter into it?

This brief description demonstrates that often people don't have really valid enforceable contracts. They should be written and agreed to and be understood and have clarity. As you "Agree" endlessly on the web, and OK with your signature all kinds of purchase contracts, it is sometimes smart and helpful to know that your name is out there, on contracts, much more than you probably want to think about. However, it is uplifting and encouraging to know that our conscious use of contracts is the glue that holds society together. They truly do serve us all in helping us tame the wild human heart and calming the turbulence of society. The fact that we do not bang each other over the head to solve our contractual problems, as much as we did in the past, is one very good sign that we do have a better world.

"Am I My Brother's Keeper?"

Cain's answer is a deeply mysterious one when you think about it. Able was dead, and he most likely knew it. But he resorted to a contractual legal response to the first Biblical homicide interrogation. What an odd response to God. The answer to that question has so many answers, but it is responsive. He could have said it another way: "Do I have some contractual obligation to track the whereabouts of my Brother? Surely, I do not. I don't remember signing a contract in that regard." Fascinating how when under pressure, our Minds tend to go to contractual issues, when we are seeking a defense of the Heart.;;;

Christofer's website:

Contracting With Yourself To Better Know Yourself


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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      A very interesting way of looking at our 'glorious' past from a different point. Thank you for a great read.

    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 

      9 years ago from Australia

      A truly enjoyable and educating read. Great hub, thanks.


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