A review of the book by Stephen Talty.
When I picked up Empire of Blue Water, I thought it was a novel about pirates; wrong. It turned out to be a history of pirates, not a novel, and the ‘Empire’ was, essentially, the Caribbean sea. Much of the book was set around place names that will be familiar to those who like pirate movies. Places with names such as Tortuga, Hispaniola, and Port Royal.
The main character of this history is Captain Henry Morgan. Morgan originated from a Welsh family, not well off or high born. He made quite a name, and fortune, for himself around the Caribbean and South America.
Even though he wasn’t a particularly good sailor, he was a fine tactician for his men when raiding on land. Whilst generally considered a pirate, Morgan was, for many of his exploits, a privateer, holding a commission from the crown. His men though were pirates through and through. The fought fiercely and often had better personal equipment than the Spanish soldiers of the places they raided for booty. They also had a much greater incentive to fight than the Spanish soldiers.
Morgan’s men got shares in any loot their raids stole from the Spanish, with extra shares for bravery and injury. Spanish soldiers, by contrast, frequently had not been paid for months and had no incentive to risk themselves, especially since the pirates usually gave no-quarter, unless they could see profit in doing so.
Stephen Talty gives us a glimpse in to the lives of pirates that is not seen in the popular movies. His writing style seems to me a little dry, verging toward the academic rather than novelistic. He give us though an interesting, if not absorbing, picture of 17th century piracy.