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Framing 'Piracy': restitution at sea in the later Middle Ages

Dick, Bryan (2010) Framing 'Piracy': restitution at sea in the later Middle Ages. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

The focus of the thesis is the diplomatic and legal implications of the capture of ships at sea in the later Middle Ages. It challenges key assumptions in much secondary literature concerning the definition of piracy, seeking to explore several major themes relating to the legal status of shipping in periods of war or diplomatic tension in this period. The thesis draws primarily on diplomatic, legal and administrative records, largely those of English royal government, but also makes use of material relating to France, Holland and Zealand, Flanders and the Hanse. The majority of studies on this subject stress the importance of developments which occurred in the fifteenth century, yet I have found it necessary to follow the development of the law of prize, diplomatic provisions for the keeping of the sea and the use of devolved sea-keeping fleets back to the start of the thirteenth century. This thesis questions the tendency of historians to attach the term ‘piracy’, with its modern legal connotations, to a variety of actions at sea in the later Middle Ages. In the absence of a clear legislative or semantic framework a close examination of the complexity of practice surrounding the judgement of prize, the provision of restitution to injured parties, and diplomatic mechanisms designed to prevent disorder at sea, enables a more rounded picture to emerge. A detailed examination of individual cases is set within the broader conceptual framework of international, commercial and maritime law. Chapter 1 provides a study of the wartime role of devolved flees by means of a case study of Henry III’s Poitou campaigns of 1242-3. It demonstrates that private commissioned ships undertook a variety of naval roles including the transport of troops, patrolling the coast and enforcing blockades. Further, it argues that it is anachronistic to criticise private shipowners for seeking profit through attacks on enemy shipping as booty was an integral incentive in all forms of medieval warfare. Chapter 2 provides a detailed examination of the application of letters of marque, one of the principal means of obtaining redress for injuries suffered at the hands of the subject of a foreign sovereign. It demonstrates that far from being a justification for ‘piracy’ letters of marque were highly regulated legal instruments applied in the context of an internationally accepted body of customs. Chapter 3 examines the concept of neutrality and the relationship between warfare and commerce through a study of Anglo-Flemish relations during the Anglo-Scottish wars between 1305 and 1323. It argues that universal standards of neutrality did not exist in this period and that decisions on prize took place within the context of an ever-changing diplomatic background. Chapter 4 focuses on the provision of restitution once judgement had been made through an examination of a complex dispute between English merchants and the count of Hainault, Holland and Zeeland spanning the opening decades of the fourteenth century. It emphasises the ad hoc nature of restitution with a variety of means devised to compensate the injured parties and the difficult and often inconclusive process undergone by litigants against a backdrop of competing interests, both local and national. The thesis concludes that the legal process surrounding the capture of shipping was civil rather than criminal in nature. The plaintiff’s need to obtain restitution was the driving force behind such actions rather than the state’s desire to monopolise the use of violence at sea. The reliance of the English crown on devolved shipping made such a policy fiscally impractical.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Piracy, medieval, sea, law, diplomacy, naval warfare, restitution, trade.
Subjects: J Political Science > JX International law
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Small, Dr. Graeme
Date of Award: 2010
Depositing User: Dr Bryan Dick
Unique ID: glathesis:2010-2244
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2010
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:53
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/2244

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