Transnational Calvinist Cooperation and ‘Mastery of the Sea’ in the Late-Sixteenth Century

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Scholarship on early modern privateering has largely ignored the issue of religious or political ideology. It has also largely ignored the transnational dimension of much early modern privateering: there are discrete national histories of pirates and privateers, as there are of national navies, while in commercial or maritime histories, one finds acknowledgement of the way in which a corsair, who was defined partly by his maritime mobility, blurred national boundaries. On the whole, however, this aspect has had little scrutiny. The issue of religion has received some attention, but often only in passing. Where existing scholarship has considered religion, it has not done justice to the transnational nature of Protestant privateering in the late-sixteenth century. In this essay, I seek to foreground religious ideology in our understanding of late sixteenth-century privateering, but at the same time I stress that Calvinist corsairs were not organised along national lines (and thus were not international); instead, rather, like Reformed Protestantism itself, Reformed privateers functioned transnationally. Finally, I argue that, despite the inchoate nature of their military organisation, the importance of plundering in their operations, and the general lack of control exercised over them by Protestant sovereigns, there is evidence of strategic purpose behind the actions of Calvinist corsairs. They sought to obtain mastery of the seas, in furtherance of the wider goals of the Reformed cause.

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Ideologies of Western Naval Power, c.1500–1815


J. D. Davies, Alan James, and Gijs Rommelse





First Department

Church History


FAR Report 2020

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