English privateering during the Spanish and French wars, 1625-1630

Appleby, John C.

August 1983

Thesis or dissertation

© 1983 John C Appleby. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

From 1625 to 1630 England was actively involved in that wider, more general conflict which was sweeping across Europe during the first half of the seventeenth century. The main interest of King Charles lay in his determination to see the Palatinate restored to his brother-in-law. It was for this reason that Charles took up arms against Spain: in 1625 a major naval expedition was sent to the Spanish coast to seize the treasure fleet returning from the New World. The disastrous failure of this expedition, perhaps the "low water mark" of English seamanship, increased the King's determination to repeat the operation in 1626. Success again eluded the English fleet. The expedition of 1626 was the last to be sent against Spain for the rest of the war; during the course of that year England became enmeshed in a web of disputes with France. The result was another major naval expedition to aid the Huguenots in the port of La Rochelle. The expedition was under the supreme command of the King's favourite, the Duke of Buckingham. The failure of this expedition goaded Charles into another effort to relieve the Protestant city in 1628. Buckingham was again to take personal charge but following his assassination in August the expedition was eventually led by the Earl of Denbigh.

The successive failure of these expeditions to the continent, or of their inability to achieve even a modicum of success, sapped the English military effort and contributed to the alienation of opinion of many at home: Sir Simonds D'Ewes was not alone in lamenting, during 1628, that "the Protestant cause was well near ruined this year by the unfortunate and unseasonable assistance of England". Dogged by serious mismanagement and financial debility, despite prodigious efforts to raise money, the English military machine was structurally incapable of successfully fighting both Spain and France.

These disastrous expeditions were accompanied by, and related to, growing parliamentary turbulence which affected both the House of Commons and Lords. Feeding upon the failure of the expedition to Cadiz in 1625, the opposition and indignation felt against Buckingham exploded in 1626 with an attempt to impeach him. In 1628, parliament refused to consider any motion concerning supply until the crown accepted the Petition of Right. Relations between crown and parliament failed to improve, despite the King's acceptance of the Petition and the removal of Buckingham from the political scene. With dissidence seeping out from the confines of Westminster into the mercantile community of London and the county communities, a "decade of tension"3 was brought to an end by the dissolution of parliament, following scenes of gross disorder in the House of Commons.

By the latter part of 1628 it was evident that the war effort was being crippled by internal dissension and financial weakness. The futility of continuing the Gars was painfully apparent: early in 1629, therefore, peace was made with France, to be followed in November 1630 by peace with Spain.

The large naval expeditions of the 1620s were accompanied by a privateering war, carried on by hundreds of English vessels which put to sea on voyages of reprisal between 1625 and 1630. This was a very different story to the unrelieved misery and failure of the large-scale expeditions. Sailing alone, or sometimes in packs of three or four, English privateers plundered in the English Channel, the Bay of Biscay, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. While the fortunes of the King's fleet, waned those of the privateers waxed, as prize upon prize was seized and returned to England. The success of many privateers recalled the Elizabethan sea war against Spain, which many in the 1620s looked on as a golden age of English maritime plunder and as a model for the warlike efforts of their own generation.

Department of History, The University of Hull
Andrews, Kenneth Raymond
Sponsor (Organisation)
University of Hull
Qualification level
Qualification name
Filesize: 35,014KB
QR Code