A Pirate’s Life: 6 Swashbuckling Medieval Pirates

For about as long as there have been a means to sail the ocean there have been pirates. During the middle ages nations did not exist as we now known them and power constantly changed hands from one group to another, it was a good time for pirates. There was no real effort to stamp out piracy. Merchants, seamen and landowners would often support the pirates because they made them rich while rulers and warlords had their own ships that might occasionally engage in piracy. If a pirate was caught by a country that was not his own he might be put to death but that was hardly a deterrent from those seeking untold riches upon the seas.

Eustace the Monk (1170-1217)

Eustace the Monk was born to Baudoin Busket a lord in Boulogne in 1170. He later traveled to Toledo, Spain where he studied black magic. After which he changed course and traveled to St. Samer Abber which was near Calais. It was there he studied to become a benedictine monk until he learned that his father was murdered. Evidence suggests that the murder occurred around 1190 and that by 1202 Eustace was the seneschal and bailiff of the count of Boulogne. The position was not to last as Eustace and the count, Renaud de Dammartin got into a fight in 1204. Eustace was accused of mishandling his stewardship and so he fled and was then declared an outlaw.

Drawing of Eustace the Monk. Pinterest With little other options, he turned to piracy which was a very lucrative profession at the time. Monarchs and merchants alike supported the pirate trade and therefore there was very little risk involved from the authorities. He operated as a pirate in the English Channel and through the Strait of Dover. He worked both for himself and under the employment of monarchs. At the time, it was not uncommon for monarchs to fund and offer support to pirates, as long as they got a cut of the take. From 1205 to 1212, Eustace was intermittently employed by the King John of England who provided him with 30 ships.

While working for King John he sailed with his brothers and raided the Normandy Coast. They also created bases in the Channel Islands, even holding Castle Cornet for a time. He also took control of the island of Sark in 1205. He made the mistake of raiding English villages which caused him to lose the favor of King John for a period. But he regained favor when the King was once again in need of a pirate. In 1212 his relationship with King John soured for good and he turned against the English when English forces seized his bases. During the English civil war in 1215 he supported the rebels and even provided transportation to Prince Louis of France in order to help the rebels in 1216.

In 1217, Eustace the monk was still working to help the rebels and France by bringing reinforcements to Louis. However, he crossed the path of an English fleet that was sailing out of Dover. What ensued was known as the Battle of Dover. Eustace got the upper hand and destroyed his former allies until the English ships blinded the French men with lime. The English were then able to board the ships and defeat the French in melee combat. Eustace on his flagship and some of his other ships escaped but only until August 24th when they were surrounded. In the Battle of Sandwich, Eustace was outnumbered and the English were able to board his flagship. They found him hiding in the bilges and beheaded him.

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