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Privateering and Piracy: the difference?


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even RO called Errol Flynn a pirate in his introduction to The Sea Hawk.


later, Flora Robson called the character a "privateer."


so, i read up on the two types on Wikipedia, and didn't see much difference, except for the nuance that "privateers" had a document called a Letter of Marque that pretty much allowed privateers (now pillaging on the high seas and doing so with governmental authorization) to attack a wartime enemy at will.


however, i'm still in a muddle about the difference between the two. is the gap large or very small? how about monetary considerations? did a government reap financial bounty from the privateers? or was a privateer a hired warrior who then picked up all the booty available for himself?


i seem to recall a factoid that privateering/piracy dropped off signifcantly after the end of Queen Anne's War in 1713 (something to do with the war ending treaty).


however, Wikipedia says the end didn't come in Europe until the Paris Treaty of 1856 (which the US didn't sign, and subsequently led to blockade running and privateering pursuit during the American Civil War.)


anyway, maties, someone please straighten me out on this topic. (Hollywood is no help, they seem to confuse things more.)

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The reason you have so many questions is because there was a tremendous amount of fluidity in the situation. One man's (or queen's) pirate is another's privateer. People could move from pirating to privateering and back again, either from their own convenience, or their respective monarchs. I would not expect that it would be difficult to discover someone who privateered on opposing sides of the same conflict. During wars, countries would augment their fleets with privateers working on a freelance basis, then when the war was over, turn on them, and hunt them down. And hang not a few of them.

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