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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Empire of Blue Water. Henry Morgan and the Pirates who Ruled the Caribbean Waves. Stephan Talty. Pocket Books (2007)

A wonderfully engaging and informative study of the extraordinary career of Henry Morgan and the pirate city of Port Royal. Henry Morgan and his fellow buccaneers were the last wave of the privateers,private ships and captains with commissions from governments to attack their enemies shipping. They were not pirates, pirates were outlaws with no legal standing, privateers were recognised part of official military and naval strategy. In Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean the privateers fought a war against the Spanish Empire under their own rules, organised as the Brethren of the Coast and with their home in Port Royal, the "richest and wickedest city in the world".
Henry Morgan sailed out to Jamaica in 1654 to make his name and his fortune, the possibilities in the New World were spectacular for the brave and the willing. The Spanish Empire was mining the fabulous riches of South America and shipping them back to Europe. Its was inflexible, unimaginative and deeply autocratic, everything that the Brethren of the Coast were not, and they were to exploit the weakness of the empire in a astonishingly ruthless and effective fashion.
No one did this more effectively than Henry Morgan, the fiercely democratic and open structure of the Brethren suited his talents perfectly. His steady string of successes made his followers rich and allowed his increase the scope and reach of his raids until he his most specular raid on the city of Panama. It was his greatest success and ultimately his most profound failure, it marked the breaking point for social and political structure that allowed the privateers to flourish.
Stephan Talty tells the extraordinary story of Henry Morgan, placing him firmly into his wider historical, political and economic context. He shows how the strengths of the Brethern were closely allied to their weaknesses and how, inevitably, privateers became pirates. This is a superbly written book, Stephan Talty has a glorious story to tell and tells it with tremendous style, momentum and a keen eye for the telling detail. The blazing Henry Morgan is given a fitting stage to stride on, unmissable and unputadownable.

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