Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire


Dubbed the "pirate queen" by the Vatican and Spain's Philip II, Elizabeth I was feared and admired by her enemies. Extravagant, whimsical, and hot-tempered, Elizabeth was the epitome of power. Her visionary accomplishments were made possible by her daring merchants, gifted rapscallion adventurers, astronomer philosophers, and her stalwart Privy Council, including Sir William Cecil, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Sir Nicholas Bacon. All these men contributed their vast genius, ...
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Dubbed the "pirate queen" by the Vatican and Spain's Philip II, Elizabeth I was feared and admired by her enemies. Extravagant, whimsical, and hot-tempered, Elizabeth was the epitome of power. Her visionary accomplishments were made possible by her daring merchants, gifted rapscallion adventurers, astronomer philosophers, and her stalwart Privy Council, including Sir William Cecil, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Sir Nicholas Bacon. All these men contributed their vast genius, power, greed, and expertise to the advancement of England.

In The Pirate Queen, historian Susan Ronald offers a fresh look at Elizabeth I, focusing on her uncanny instinct for financial survival and the superior intellect that propelled and sustained her rise. The foundation of Elizabeth's empire was built on a carefully choreographed strategy whereby piracy transformed England from an impoverished state on the fringes of Europe into the first building block of an empire that covered two-fifths of the world.

Based on a wealth of historical sources and thousands of personal letters between Elizabeth and her merchant adventurers, advisers, and royal "cousins," The Pirate Queen tells the thrilling story of Elizabeth and the swashbuckling mariners who terrorized the seas, planted the seedlings of an empire, and amassed great wealth for themselves and the Crown.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Popular historian Ronald (The Sancy Blood Diamond, 2004, etc.) struggles mightily to find a fresh promontory from which to observe Elizabeth I's favorite rovers: John Hawkins, Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, the Earl of Essex. They helped fill her coffers, weaken Spain, lay the foundation for Britain's empire. Is there anything new to say about these celebrated folks and their often execrable behavior? This author's success is moderate. Her framework is the oft-told biography of the Virgin Queen. Ronald quickly assesses the sorry economic and geopolitical state of the country in 1558, when young Elizabeth assumed the throne. The country needed cash, and Spanish treasure ships were queued up across the Atlantic delivering the bounties of the New World. Enter those aforementioned English pirates. Ronald offers the biography of each, narrates the necessary adventures, pauses periodically to quote (sometimes at excessive length) from relevant documents or to sketch biographical, political and geographical background. She rehearses a bit of the story of the first successful English slave trader, John Hawkins (for much more, see Nick Hazlewood's The Queen's Slave Trader, 2004). Then the text, like Elizabethan history itself, comes alive with Francis Drake swaggering onto the stage and quite literally stealing his way into the queen's heart. Ronald chronicles Drake's voyages with confidence, knowledge and patent admiration for his naval skills: At one point she describes him as "one hell of a captain and navigator." Eventually, he circumnavigated the globe, defeated the Spanish Armada, sort of retired, died. Mary, Queen of Scots, Essex and Raleigh lost their heads, but by the time James I mountedthe throne in 1603, England was poised for global greatness. What will certainly strike many readers is Elizabeth's serial dissembling-lying was one of her greatest talents-and the use by all European powers of deception, theft and violence as their principal instruments in the cacophonous symphony of international relations. Oft-told stories about people as familiar as family still retain their power to animate and educate.
From the Publisher
"Authoritative...accessible and absorbing, this is a surprisingly fresh perspective on one of the most popular subjects of royal biography." —-Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060820671
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/24/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 942,851
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Ronald is one of the world's leading experts on commercial activities in historic sites and the author of The Sancy Blood Diamond.

British actress and narrator Josephine Bailey has won ten AudioFile Earphones Awards and a prestigious Audie Award, and Publishers Weekly named her Best Female Narrator in 2002.

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Read an Excerpt

The Pirate Queen
Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire

Chapter One

The Lord's Doing

November 17, 1558

The dominion of the sea, as it is the ancient and undoubted right of the crown of England, so it is the best security of the land. . . .
The wooden walls [of ships] are the best walls of the kingdom.

—Thomas Coventry, first Baron Coventry, 1635

When Elizabeth Tudor inherited the kingdom from her half sister Mary I, in November 1558, England was on the brink of ruin. The feeling of despair among the nobles can only be imagined: not only had the country been torn between the ultra-Protestant reign of Elizabeth's half brother, Edward VI, followed by the fanatically Catholic Mary, but the crown was now proffered to the daughter of the reviled Queen Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth, who had lived her life as an unwelcome reminder of the union of Henry VIII and her mother, would most assuredly have been burned at the stake by Mary without the intervention of the queen's absentee husband, Philip II of Spain. If there was one thing Elizabeth Tudor understood intuitively, it was life on the edge.

Personal security was a luxury of which she must have dreamed as a child and young woman, and barely dared to hope for when her sister was queen. Mary had kept her prisoner, removing the Lady Elizabeth from palace to palace to prevent the next heir to the throne from plotting against her. During Elizabeth's time locked away in the Tower of London, each day could have brought the royal command for her execution, yet each day, the queen hesitated. It was in the Towerthat Elizabeth's lifelong devotion to another prisoner, Robert Dudley, blossomed.

Dudley, too, knew life on the edge: his father and grandfather had been executed for high treason, and it looked highly likely that he would follow them to the scaffold for plotting to overthrow Queen Mary. Dudley's loyalty to Elizabeth had been absolute before their imprisonment, often to the detriment of his own security. After their time together in the Tower, Elizabeth could never doubt his loyalty again. It was the only sure thing in her vulnerable life.

When Mary's latest phantom pregnancy in the spring of 1558 did not produce a child, it was obvious to King Philip, the Privy Council, and the court that the swelling in Mary's abdomen was a tumor and not the heir that the king and queen had so desired. With only Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, remaining as a potential heir apparent, this left Philip in no doubt as to the course of action to be undertaken: Elizabeth must be set free and named as his wife's heir. If Mary Queen of Scots were to take the throne of England, she would have become queen of Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and England. These titles and kingdoms would have been added to her title as Queen of France, since she had lived in the French court since the age of five and had married the Dauphin Francis earlier in the year. Although Catholic, Philip was not prepared to allow the teenagers Mary and Francis to become the powerful pawns to Francis's mother, Catherine de' Medici. At all cost, he must stop the French crown from trying to abscond with Elizabeth's throne.

Besides, Philip could not promote Mary Stuart's claim to the English throne above his own, since he, too, had a direct claim through his mother, Isabelle of Portugal, a descendant of John of Gaunt of Lancaster. No, Elizabeth was a far better alternative as heir presumptive for Philip despite the fact that he had long known that she practiced the Protestant rites in private. This may have been the most important act of religious tolerance and clemency in the history of his long rule.

While Philip was agonizing over his deliberations and eventually paving the road for Elizabeth to take the crown, the English nobility—Protestant and Catholic alike—had already made up their minds. A mood of desperation had crept over the country. As the autumn of 1558 turned chillier in early November, the roads to Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, Elizabeth's childhood home, were gridlocked with those who had served her half sister, as well as others who had been exiled from power. All of them were singular in their purpose: to serve the new queen and better their positions.

For the power brokers like William Cecil, who had served faithfully as secretary of state for Mary and Philip, Elizabeth not only represented the only viable successor, but also a fiercely intelligent one with whom he could do business. Others had different viewpoints. Philip's ambassador, Count Feria, who had also made his way to Hatfield, wrote to the king on November 10 that "she is a very vain and clever woman. She must have been thoroughly schooled in the manner in which her father conducted his affairs and I am very much afraid that she will not be well-disposed in matters of religion. . . .

There is not a heretic or traitor in all the kingdom who has not joyfully raised himself from the grave to come to her side. She is determined to be governed by no one."1

This was no "news" to Philip.During Elizabeth's imprisonment in the Tower, she had written to Mary that "I so well like this estate [spinsterhood] as I persuade myself there is not any kind of life comparable unto it . . . no though I were offered to the greatest prince of all Europe . . . [I would] rather proceed of a maidenly shamefastedness than upon any certain determination."2 For Elizabeth, who had undergone so many wrongs and near rape at the hands of her uncle, the hapless Thomas Seymour, the future queen had learned all the brutal lessons required of a young, handsome woman that were necessary in the art of sexual politics of the sixteenth century. No man would ever become her master and make her insecure in her position. . . .

The Pirate Queen
Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire
. Copyright © by Susan Ronald. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Illustrations     x
Acknowledgments     xii
Author's Note     xiv
Introduction     xx
The Desperate Quest for Security
The Lord's Doing     3
A Realm Exhausted     8
The Queen, Her Merchants and Gentlemen     17
The Quest for Cash     26
The Merchants Adventurers, Antwerp, and Muscovy     38
The Politics of Piracy, Trade, and Religion     55
Raising the Stakes     67
Cunning Deceits     78
The Gloves Are Off     96
Lovell's Lamentable Voyage     106
The Troublesome Voyage of John Hawkins     112
Harvesting the Sea
The Queen and Alba's Pay Ships     129
The Cost of Failure     138
Undeclared Holy War     144
Drake's War     144
The Dread of Future Foes     154
Drake at the Treasure House of the World     164
From a Treetop in Darien     170
Success at a Cost     175
Dr. Dee's Nursery and the Northwest Passage     179
Dark Days at Rathlin Island     191
Drake's Perfect Timing     197
The Northwest and the Company of Kathai     206
In theShadow of Magellan     214
Into the Jaws of Death     221
The Famous Voyage     225
The World Is Not Enough     237
Elizabeth Strikes Back in the Levant     244
Katherine Champernowne's Sons Take Up the American Dream     248
The Defeats of 1582-84     256
Water!     263
Roanoke     269
The Spanish War
The Queen Lets Loose Her Dragon     277
The Camel's Back     291
Cadiz     295
The Plundering of the Spanish Armada     306
America Again...and Again?     316
The Last Gasp of the Early Roaring '90s     321
Dawn of Empire
The Alchemy That Turned Plunder into Trade     335
Essex, Ireland, and Tragedy     346
Raleigh, Virginia, and Empire     356
The East and the East India Company     363
Epilogue     370
The Petty Navy Royal     374
The Flotilla from New Spain of August 1587     384
Endnotes     386
Glossary     419
Select Bibliographical Essay and Suggested Reading     430
Index     443
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