Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pirate Headgear

I’ve written about how to make pirate hats, but I’ve never written about the actual fashion of pirate hats. By my reckoning, the Golden Age of Piracy spanned the time between 1690 and 1720. Fashion in mens’ hats changed over this time, but some things stayed the same.

To begin with, the basic structure of the man’s hat had not changed much since the early 1600’s. The basis of men’s hats was a large piece of heavy felt, shaped to the top of the head, with a wide brim. Some of the hats were round in the crown, and some were flat topped.

A major fashion divergence (in England) took place during the age of the Puritans and the English Civil War. Put very simply, this was a conflict between religious conservatives (who strongly supported a “plain” lifestyle and dress code) and Royalists,  supporters of the English king, who espoused a more luxurious lifestyle.

Of course, the political clash was much more complex. But the two sides showed their loyalties by their dress, especially their hats. In fact, the conservative religious side became known as “roundheads” for their tendency to wear their hats with the brims flat and the round crowns unadorned. In contrast, the Cavaliers adorned their hats and lavishly, especially with plumes. They also turned up the brims of their hats in a fashionable manner.

By the late 1600’s, the style – for the stylish – was to turn up the brim of the hat in 3 sections, making the early form that we know as the “tricorn” – literally “three horned” from the three points made by the turned-up sides.

A very battered fabric tricorn

This is the form that we most strongly associate with pirates. But pirates did not in any way have a monopoly on these hats. In fact, throughout most of the Golden Age, pirates wore hats of this shape simply because, if a person set out to buy a “men’s hat” this is what they would be offered.

The style had first come into use during warfare between France and Spain during the 1650’s. The style then moved to France where it became “fashionable.”

The English tended to offer these hats plain- with no more than a contrasting colored trim around the edge of the brim. Italians tended more toward metallic trims around the brims, while the French added a fluffy feathered detail all around the edge of the brim.

Now, how did pirates use these hats?

In the first place sailors did not wear their hats in the same way as landsmen. Today, we see hats worn always with one of the tips pointing perfectly forward, directly over the wearer’s nose. But men did not always wear their hats this way. For example, soldiers who marched with a rifle or musket on their shoulders, put the flat side of the hat on that side. This made it less likely that they would knock the hat off with the musket. It also gave the front of the hat an odd, lopsided look, with the front point off center.

Sailors wore their hats with a flat side in front, and a point in the back. This looks strange to us, but it allowed the wearer to work in close quarters without knocking the hat off. The point coming over the owner’s neck may also have offered some protection from the sun.

However, hats were expensive, and many plain sailors wore a simple fabric cap with a narrow brim. Owning a real hat would have been a step up that pirates might aspire to.

Working pirates also probably wore some kind of bandana or fabric headband. This was for the pragmatic reason of keeping sweat out of the eyes. Pirates had more money to buy scarves with, and may also have cut down stolen clothing to make brightly colored head scarves. People of the time valued bright colors, because they were expensive as well as being pretty.

A captain and a common sailor

As well as hats, rich men also wore huge, elaborate wigs. There is some contention as to whether pirate captains wore these wigs or not. To people of the time, it would seem entirely natural that a person in authority. But pirate captains often came from working-class backgrounds. They may have valued the comfort of a wig-less existence, and profited from a more egalitarian look among their men.

It does seem, however, that lower-tier pirates wore the wigs during attacks. The startling look of tanned, hard-bitten men in elegant wigs must have been startling, even frightening to pirate victims. This may be a reason why pirates would have favored the most elaborate hats that they could lay hands on. Since they didn’t have to pay for them, they could afford the very best.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pictures, Pirates and Bunny Ears

Why do I write this blog?

I began this blog over four years ago because I was researching the pirate books I was writing, and had discovered so many really cool facts about the Golden Age of Piracy that I wanted to share. As I have learned more, I’ve celebrated pirates in pop culture – always an interesting topic – and delved into several aspects of 18th century life.

This last is one of my longest-lasting topics. It has become one of my goals to help people to see what was going on in the heads of people who became pirates, even as I try to understand that myself. 

Because people are products of their time and place. No matter how much we strive to be individuals, or to rebel, our surroundings influence us in ways we may never realize, and can even steer us by giving us something to rebel against.

Even today, lingering echoes from hundreds of years ago influence our thoughts and feelings.

And that brings us to bunny ears.

You all know the pictures where one person puts their fingers behind another person’s head, so it looks like their friend is wearing a pair of rabbit ears. Everyone knows it’s kind of a naughty thing to do, but no one seems to know why.

People did something similar in the 17th and 18th century, although of course, it was done in paintings and engravings. Why? Because in the 18th century, it mean something quite specific. It meant that the guy’s wife was cheating on him.

The two fingers were not bunny ears. They were horns.

This is a really old painting

The phrase “putting horn on him” is supposed to come from Spain, specifically Andalusia, and even in modern times, men there use it to mean that their wives are fooling around. Supposedly, 

Andalusian men don’t like to be seen in public rubbing or scratching their foreheads, because folk might think that they are spontaneously growing horns.

So what do male horns have to do with female sex?

The phrase is so old, it’s hard to tell. My favorite explanation is that Andalusia is an area with many goats. Female goats, unlike female sheep, have horns, and goat’s horns have long symbolized the devil. In this instance, the horns also symbolize female power, specifically female sexual power, which has terrified men at least since the Dark Ages.

A woman with and "evil" hairdo, looking like horns
In this version of the story, the wife, who is acting the part of a man by fooling around, “puts” the feminine horns on her husband, signify that he must now take the female role of standing by while his spouse takes lovers.

This may seem very far-fetched, and almost Freudian. But one thing is certain. However the phrase came to be, people of the early 1700’s were very familiar with the phrase, the image, and its meaning.

In this section of Hogarth’s “Four Times of Day – Afternoon” we see an example of the phrase’s usage in art. The picture show a family visiting a tourist town. Like many families on holiday, things aren’t working out well. The wife, pregnant, is overdressed, hot and uncomfortable. The kids are crying. The husband, struggling to carry a toddler, looks exhausted. 

But if you look closely, you will see that a cow has been strategically placed behind him, so that its horns appear to be growing out of his head. Hogarth loved to put telling details and visual jokes in his paintings and prints, and this one shares the information that this man is caring for children who are not his own. 

It is, if you will, a very early example of “bunny ears” in a picture.

Not only did pictures show things like this, but people used it in real life. There is a story of a French nobleman whose wife began an affair with the King. Now, normally husbands liked it when their wives had a royal affair. Few aristocratic marriages were love-matches, so there was not necessarily any betrayal of affection involved. And Kings were known to reward accommodating husbands by giving them titles, land, and other desirable goodies.

A woman (as a giraffe) her husband (in the horns)
and the men who are "riding" her. 

But this particular nobleman was not happy that his wife was sleeping with another man. So he had a pair of stag’s horns attached to the top of his carriage, and rode through Paris, showing off the fact that his wife wasn’t faithful and he was unhappy about it.

Some people say that, by the early 1700’s the exact meaning that the wife was “putting horns on her husband” had loosened just a little. By this time, a man was able to point out that another man was wearing horns. And the fact of pointing it out brought in a possible additional meaning.

“Your wife is having an affair with ME.”

Today the sense of wickedness in putting up “bunny ears” still exists. But if you’re a pirate, remember that things were different 300 years ago. Be careful in those photos!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Lady Pirate – Mary/Elizabeth Killigrew

The rocky coast of Cornwall (in England) has been home to smugglers and wreckers for as long as anyone can remember. It was also home to a strong female pirate – Mary (sometimes Elizabeth) Killigrew.

Lady Mary

Mary was the daughter of a Phillip Wolverton, Lord of Wolverton Hall, and a former Suffolk pirate. She was born some time before 1525, and was married to Henry Knyvett, who died in 1547.

Henry Knyvett

Mary's second husband was Sir Henry Killigrew, a pirate who was later made a Vice-Admiral by Queen Elizabeth I. These were the days when piracy was something of a national pastime in England. Because of its official Protestant religion, (among other things) England was at odds with Spain, and Spain was in the process of looting gold, silver and emeralds from the New World. There was money to be made in stealing from Spain.

Sir Henry was heir to Arwenack castle, a Cornish stronghold near what is now the town of Falmouth, and in a position to control the mouth of the river Fal – the third-largest natural port in the world.

Arwenack House

Sir Henry had been in trouble under Queen Mary, the last Catholic queen of England. He and his father were even imprisoned for their opposition, though their actual jailtime amounted to only 3 weeks. When Elizabeth I, a Protestant, came to the throne, the Killigrews were back in favor.

Not that any of them were angels. A national beauty in her day, with her long auburn hair, Lady Mary Killigrew became Cornwall’s own super villain (or hero, if you like); leading a double life as noble aristocrat by day and ruthless pirate by night! It is said that she often entertained nobles and ship captains in order to extract information about treasure. Both she and her husband used this information later in their robberies. Lady Mary was said to love the excitement. 

Under Elizabeth’s protection, Sir Henry became notorious for engaging in cattle theft, "evil usage in keeping of a castle" and for abuses of his power as a Justice of the peace. By the time he was appointed a Commissioner to inquire into piracy, he was heavily engaged in that activity himself, and traded with smugglers and pirates who frequented the waters around his home castle. He was the subject of an official investigation in 1565.

But pirates brought money into the royal coffers (good pirates of the period kicked back to the ruler they sailed under) but appearances must be maintained. Elizabeth I needed to placate her Spanish peers, even as she was accepting money from men like Francis Drake.

Elizabeth had her reputation, too.

 Mary was, by all accounts, an enthusiastic supporter of her husband’s less than legal activities. She re-designed Arwenak to better hold stolen goods, cut deals with smugglers, and occasionally sent her servants out to raid ships driven into the huge natural harbor by storm or other misfortune. It’s possible that all this took place with Queen Elizabeth’s approval, or at least while she turned a blind eye.

The final straw, however, came in 1570.

A ship came in to the Far-mouth harbor, sadly knocked about from a major storm, possible dismasted. Some sources call the ship a German merchant. Others say the ship was Spanish (which I believe is the more likely.) Mary was at home with only her servants – Sir Henry was out pirating.

Raid on a Spanish treasure ship

 Seeing the opportunity to make a huge profit, Mary sent a raiding party out in the dead of night to capture the ship. The more romantic pirate fans say she led the attack herself. This is unlikely, though she probably planned it. And who knows? There's no proof she didn't either. 

Her men did not do things halfway. They not only captured the ship’s cargo, but the ship itself. After unloading their plunder, they supposedly sailed the ship to Ireland to sell it. With all the cargo hidden in a castle, and the ship itself sold far away, it looked like the perfect crime.

But the ship’s owner went directly to the Queen. Faced with such obvious evidence of piracy (the robbing and stealing of the ship) something, at last, had to be done.

(This, by the way, is why I believe the ship was not German. Germany wasn’t even a country yet… Nobody cared if the Germans were angry. Rich, powerful Spain, however, was another matter.)

Queen Elizabeth had Lady Mary arrested and brought to trial. Some sources say she was sentenced to death and then pardoned by the Queen. Others say her family bribed the jurors and she was acquitted. (The family had been bribing government officials to cover up their nefarious activities for generations. Piracy is profitable enough to make that kind of thing possible.) Whether due to bribes or the efforts of Queen Elizabeth, Mary served only a short term in prison, though two of her servants were hanged.

Lady Mary

 It was about this time that Mary began to be known as Elizabeth. This has confused historians, and everyone else, and many sources speak of Mary and Elizabeth Killigrew as two separate female pirates. But these were times when changing one’s name was pretty much as simple as asking people to call you something else. Did Mary, bearing the name of Elizabeth’s former rival, change her name to Elizabeth to curry royal favor? We will likely never know, but it seems plausible.

Whatever transpired, Mary gave up pirating and spent the rest of her life storing her husband’s ill-gotten gains and fencing stolen goods, until she died several years later.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tobacco - Part II - Pirates Stealing and Smoking

Though wild tobacco plants grew in both North and South America, but when the fad of smoking hit Europe, the colonists wanted tobacco farms, and were soon growing the plant in quantities never seen before. The new farming industry required new methods of preserving and transporting the crop. When Europeans first began to harvest tobacco, the plants were simply covered with hay and left in the field to cure or "sweat."

But the use of hay diminished the availability of animal fodder. In 1618, new regulations prohibited the use hay for preserving tobacco. As often happens, government regulations drove innovation. A better method of curing tobacco was developed. The wilted leaves were hung on lines or sticks. Though at first hung outside on fence rails, but the 1620s, tobacco barns for housing the crop were in use.

During this curing period, which lasted about four to six weeks, the color of the tobacco changed from a greenish yellow to a light tan. Mold was a danger during the curing time. The leaves must stay damp and pliable, but must not hold too much moisture.

When the tobacco was ready, and preferably during a period of damp weather, workers struck the tobacco and laid the leaves on the floor of the barn to sweat for a week or two.

Though drying and preserving techniques were constantly being improved, by the Golden Age of Piracy the preparation of tobacco for shipping was still simple. The tobacco leaves were twisted and rolled, then spun into rope, which was wound into balls weighing as much as a hundred pounds. These balls were protected in canvas or barrels. Many inventories of stolen goods or pirate plunder include a notation of one or two barrels of tobacco.  

Although the export of bulk tobacco was not outlawed until 1730, a large barrel called a "hogshead" soon became the favored container throughout the colonial period. Even though its capacity varied slightly, governed by the regulations of the day, the average weight of the tobacco stored in a hogshead barrel was about a thousand pounds.

Captain of merchant vessels did not load up a single-product cargo in a single port. Instead, they traveled from one plantation dock to the next, loading up with barrels of tobacco as they moved along the river. If they had trouble getting their cargos of tobacco into England, they might resort to employing smugglers, the cousins of pirates, to get their cargos into the country.

Back in the Caribbean, pirates smoked “like the devil” to quote a phrase used at the time. Excavation of known pirate camps reveal that as many as one third of recovered artifacts are clay pipes. Divers in the sunken city of Port Royal recover broken pipe stems by the hundreds. Why did pirates smoke so much?

Proof of a serious smoking habit

 For one thing, they had the time. Part of the lure of pirate life was leisure time – something that wasn’t available to most working-class folk. Large crews meant that the work-load on ship was light, leaving time to enjoy activities like smoking

On navy and merchant ships, smoking was strictly controlled and highly discouraged. Boats were flammable. Even on pirate ships, smoking below decks was likely prohibited.

Some pirate ships, however, provided their crews with a small smoking luxury – a means to light their pipes. In the days before matches, pipes and candles were most often lit from an existing fire. Households kept a supply of long wooden splinters at hand. These were lighted from an existing fire, then used as we would a match.

But open fires were not popular on ships. So the pirates got around this by using slow-burning cannon fuse. Ships would allow a length of this material to smolder in some convenient location, often near a tub of water. Anyone wishing to smoke only needed to wander over to ignite a pipe.

In town, taverns often supplied pipes. Tavern pipes were often used by many smokers, being cleaned and kept on pipe stands when not in use. The many pieces of broken pipe stem found at archaeological sites has led some people to believe that 18th century smokers broke the tips off their pipes in order to protect against the transfer of germs or sickness.

It’s a great story, but there is no supporting evidence. People in the 18th century didn’t know about germs. It’s more likely that pipe stems were broken as a method of cleaning, or simply because the pipe stems were long and delicate.

Today, of course, modern pirate re-enactors are more likely to smoke cigarettes. A tobacco product that was not invented until 150 years after piracy’s golden age. But never fear! Creative entrepreneurs have invented a device that hide a modern cigarette inside a false pipe. For your smoking pleasure. 

Vendor here