Letters of Mark

A Letter of Mark (also called Letter of Marque) was authority given to private persons to fit out an armed ship and use it to attack, capture, and plunder of enemy merchant ships in time of war.

Following are several examples of these Letters of Mark.

(Check out the Letters of Margue webpage at the Isle of Tortuga website by clicking here.)

Grant to the Captor of Ships, 1205

The King to all to whom these presents shall come, Greeting. Know ye that we have granted to the crews of the galleys, which Thomas of Galway has sent to us, one half of the gains which they may make in captures from our enemies; and we will, besides, recompense them for their service, according to the advice of G......, the son of Peter, our Justiciary, and the said Thomas, and other our lieges, in such sort that they shall be well satisfied. Witness, &c.

Rex omnibus, etc. Sciatis quod concessimus galiotis galias, quas Thomas de Galweie nobis fecit venire, medietatem lucri sui quod facient super inimicos nostros, et insuper eis servicium suum bene reddemus secundum quod ipsi nobis servient juxta consilium G......, filii Petri, Justiciarii nostri, et predicti Thome, et aliorum fidelium nostrorum, ita quod bene erunt pacati. Teste me ipso apud Nottingham, xij die marcii.

Letter of Marque Against Scotland, 1400

The King to his well-beloved William Prince, master of a certain barge called the Christopher of Arundel, Greeting. Know ye that we have appointed you to arrest and take as many mariners as may be necessary for the proper management of the said barge, wheresoever they may be found, within liberties or without, and to put them on board the aforesaid barge, at our wages to be paid to them forthwith by you, to go to sea in our service. And, therefore, we enjoin you that you be diligent in executing the premises, and in doing and performing them in manner aforesaid. And by these presents we straitly command all and singular, sheriffs, mayors, bailiffs, keepers of ports of the sea, officers, and all our lieges whatsoever, as well within liberties as without, that, as often as they are called upon by you on our behalf, they be obedient and attentive to you in doing and executing the premises, as beseems them. Nevertheless, it is our will that neither you nor any of our lieges, who set forth in company with you in the said barge, under colour of these presents, in any way seize any ships, barges, or other vessels, or any merchandise, goods, or chattels, belonging to subjects of the kingdoms of France, Spain, Portugal, or of any other countries whatsoever, but those only which are of the kingdom of Scotland. In witness, &c.

English Letter of Marque, 1404

The King to all and singular Admirals, captains, castellans, and to their lieutenants, and to keepers of ports of the sea and other maritime places, and to majors, bailiffs, constables, provosts, and officers, and to masters and owners of ships, and mariners, and also to victuallers of ships, and to all other our lieges and subjects, whether on land or at sea, within liberties or without, to whom these presents shall come, Greeting. Know ye that we have granted and given leave to our well-beloved Henry Paye to sail and pass to the seas with as many ships, barges, and balingers of war, men-at-arms and bowmen properly equipped, as he may be able to provide himself with, to do all the hurt he can to our open enemies, as well for their destruction as for the safe guarding and defence of our faithful lieges, and for the safety of our realm. And therefore we command you, and each of you, that you supply the said Henry with ships, barges, and balingers, victuals, and all other things necessary and useful to him in this behalf, he paying for the same as shall be rasonably agreed between you and him; and that you be aiding, advising, and assisting to him, Henry, in the performance and execution of the premises, as beseems you. In witness, &c. These presents to endure according to our pleasure. Witness the King, &c.

English Letter of Marque, issued by Henry IV, 1405

The King to all and singular Admirals &c., Greeting. Know ye that we have granted and given to our well-beloved John Wellys, master of a certain ship called the James of Bristol, and to Philip Taillour, master of another ship, called the Trinity of Bristol, liberty to equip in the port of the town of Bristol, at their own charges, the aforesaid ships with as many mariners, men-at-arms, and bowmen as shall be necessary for their navigation and defence at sea against our enemies, whosoever they may be, and for subduing, capturing, and destroying the same; and liberty to set forth with the same ships, so equipped, upon the sea for the purpose aforesaid. And we will that whatsoever they, John and Philip, succeed in winning, gaining, and having by capture from our enemies aforesaid, they may have and keep for their own proper use, without claim or hindrance by or from us, or our heirs or ministers, or the ministers of any our heirs whatsoever. Provided always that under colour of this licence they, John and Philip, their mariners, men-at-arms, and bowmen aforesaid, neither do nor permit to be done any violence, hindrance, or hurt to any who are in friendship with us. Witness the King at Westminster on the 4th day of February.

Letter of Reprisal Against France, 1411

The King to all and singular Admirals &c., Greeting. Our well-beloved lieges, William Bentelee, Stephen Destmaux, John Aubyn, Nicholas Brigges, Gilbert Destmaux, and Thomas Weddesbury, and many others of their company, have informed us, with grievous complaints, that on Good Friday in the eleventh year of our reign, whilst they were at sea in a hulk of Zealand, in company with another vessel, which they were bringing to our realm of England, laden with wines to be sold there in the way of trade, there being then a truce between our adversary of France and ourselves, they, our lieges aforesaid, together with the aforesaid hulk and the wines in her, were captured by certain of our enemies of the parts of Normandy, [namely,] the lord of Pons, in violation of the aforesaid truce; and although of late many applications have been made to those of our adversary whom it concerned for the restoration to our lieges aforesaid of their vessels, wines, and other goods and merchandises, as well by our Admiral of England as by the venerable father in Christ, the bishop of St. Davids, and our well-beloved clerk, master John Catryk, our ambassadors sent of late to France under authority of letters addressed to them under our privy seal, nevertheless our lieges aforesaid have altogether failed to obtain justice in this matter, and hitherto justice has not been done to them, as will more fully appear by a public instrument thereon made; Now we, in consideration of the losses and injuries done, as aforesaid, to our said lieges, have granted unto them letters of marque and reprisal, to the end that they be empowered to capture the bodies and goods of any of our enemies of France, wheresoever they may be found, whereby they may have a reasonable chance of obtaining recompense for the loss of their vessels, wines, goods, merchandise, and other things, or their true value, together with their money losses, costs, and expenses, which, as we hear, are estimated to reach 5250 marks; and that our aforesaid lieges may be empowered to have and hold the bodies and goods of our enemies aforesaid, and to dispose of the same at their will, until restitution shall have been made to them as aforesaid, and that without claim or hindrance being made by us or our heirs, or by the officers or ministers of us, or our heirs, whosoever they may be. In witness, &c.

English Letters of Marque Against Genoa, issued by Henry IV, 1413

The King to all to whom these presents shall come, Greeting. Our well-beloved lieges William Waldern, Drugo Barantyn, Walter Cotton, John Reynewelle, William Flete, Thomas Brown, William Brekespere, John Glamville, John Sutton and their fellows, merchants of the city of London, have shown unto us that of late they, with our licence, despatched certain factors and attorneys of theirs with a great quantity of wools and other merchandise, to the value of 24,000 shipped in divers ships, to be carried carefully and in safety by way of the Straits of Morocco to Western parts, there to be sold for the advantage and increase of our realm; and, to the end that the aforesaid ships so laden should have sure and safe passage, we caused our letters of recommendation to be sent to the Governors, worthies, and community of Genoa, which letters were, as we hear, duly presented to them by certain of the aforesaid factors; but they of Genoa, paying no regard at all to our letters aforesaid, and wickedly scheming, to the injury of the commonweal of our realm aforesaid, to hinder their passage, first of all detained the aforesaid ships, and afterwards compelled them to enter the harbour of Genoa, and, after their entry, spoiled them of the wools and merchandise aforesaid, and took them into their own hands, and sold them for their own use and profit; and, further, that the aforesaid factors were prevented from writing to their own magistrates upon the matter, and were, and now are, to the grievous hurt and injury of our said lieges, unable to get possession of any part of the aforesaid wools and merchandise, for their own support, or of any of the money arising from the sale thereof. Wherefore they have prayed us that we should think fit to issue to them our letters of marque and reprisal. And we, in compliance with their prayer, of our especial grace, and with the assent of our council, have, for ourselves and our heirs, given and granted to the aforesaid William, Drugo, Walter, John, William, Thomas, William, John, John, and their fellows aforesaid that they of themselves or by their deputies may seize, keep, and retain such and so many Genoese, or subjects or inhabitants of Genoa or the confines of Genoa, or their factors or agents, as they think fit, whether on this side of the sea or beyond it, and whether on land or sea, together with their ships, vessels, goods, and merchandise of what kind soever, until full restitution and satisfaction shall be made to them for the value of the aforesaid wools and merchandise, to the amount aforesaid, together with their costs, damages, outgoings, and expenses, which by fair estimate amount to the sum of 10,000 and that they have liberty to put into execution or cause to be put into execution these present letters of marque and reprisal so often as they think fit, without hindrance by us or our heirs or by the Admirals of us or our heirs or by their lieutenants or other our officers or ministers whatsoever, and that notwithstanding any letters of safe-conduct granted or hereafter to be granted to the aforesaid Genoese, or subjects or inhabitants of Genoa or its confines, or their factors or agents, or anyone else of the country or territory of their community or confederacy. Moreover, we straitly command all and singular our Admirals, captains, castellans, and their lieutenants, customers, keepers of ports, keepers of the sea and sea coasts, sheriffs, mayors, bailiffs, constables, ministers and other our lieges and subjects, as well on this side of the sea as beyond it, that in the execution of the premises they be aiding, helping, and assisting to the aforesaid William, Drugo, Walter, John, William, Thomas, William, John, and John, and their fellows, as beseems them, &c. In witness, &c. Witness the King at Westminster the 3rd day of February.

Letter of Marque Against Scotland and France, issued by Henry VIII, 1543

The King's most royal Majesty being credibly informed that divers and many of his most loving faithful and obedient subjects inhabiting upon the sea coasts, using trafic by sea, and divers others, be very desirous to prepare and equip sundry ships and vessels at their own costs and charges to the sea for the annoyance of his Majesty's enemies, the Frenchmen and the Scots, so as they might obtain his most gracious licence in that behalf, Hath, of his clemency, tender love, and zeal, which he beareth to his subjects, by the advice of his most honorable counsel resolved and determined as hereafter followeth:

First his Majesty is pleased, and by the authority hereof giveth full power and licence to all and singular, his subjects of all sorts, degrees, and conditions, that they and every of them, may, at their liberties, without incuring any loss, danger, forfeiture, or penalty, and without putting in of any bonds or recognizance before the Counsel, or in the Court of the Admiralty, and without suing forth of any other licence, vidimus, or other writing, from any counsel, court, or place, within this realm, or any other his Majesty's realms and dominions, prepare and equip to the seas such and so many ships and vessels furnished for the war, to be used and employed against his Grace's said enemies, the Scots and Frenchmen, as they shall be able to think convenient for their advantage and the annoyance of his Majesty's said enemies. And his Majesty is further pleased, and by this presents granteth to every of his said subjects that they, and every of them, shall enjoy to his and their own proper use, profit, and commodity, all and singular such ships, vessels, munition, merchandise, wares, victuals, and goods of what nature and quality soever it be, which they shall take of any of his Majesty's said enemies, without making account in any court or place of this realm or any other of the King's realms or dominions for the same, and without paying any part or share to the Lord Admiral of England, the Lord Warden of the Five Ports, or any other officer or minister of the King's Majesty, any use, custom, prescription, or order to the contrary hereof used heretofore in any wise notwithstanding. And his Majesty is further pleased that all and every his said subjects which upon the publication of this proclamation will sue for a duplicate of the same under the great seal of England, shall have the same, paying only the petty fees to the officers for writing the same.

And, seeing now that it hath pleased the King's Majesty, of his most gracious goodness, to grant unto all his subjects this great liberty, his Highness desireth all mayors, sheriffs, bailiffs, aldermen, and all other his Grace's faithful officers, ministers, and subjects of this realm, and other his Highness' realms and dominions, and especially those which do inhabit in the port towns and other places near the seaside, to shew themselves worthy of such liberty, and one to bear with an other, and to help an other, in such sort as their doing hereupon may be substantial, and bring forth that effect that shall redound to his Majesty's honor, their own suerties, and the annoyance of the enemies.

Provided always that no man which shall go to the sea by virtue hereof presume to take any thing from any his Majesty's subjects, or from any man having his Grace's safeconduct, upon the pains by his Majesty's laws provided for the same. And his Grace is further pleased that no manner of officer, or other person, shall take any mariners, munition, or tackle from any man thus equipping himself to the sea, but by his own consent, unless his Majesty, for the furniture of his own ships, do send for any of them by special commissions, and where need shall require. His Majesty will also grant commission to such as will sue for the same for their better furnitures in this behalf.

Letter of Marque Against Spain, issued by James I, 1625

Imprimis, That all merchants and others who shall desire to have letters of reprizall for the takinge and detaininge of ships and goods of the Kinge of Spaine, or his subjects, shall first make proof or exhibitt such information before the Lord Admirall, or his leeftenant judge of the Admiraltye, or either of them respectively, as they shall thinke fitt and agreeable to his Majestye's intention, that their shipps and goods have bin taken out and detained from them, and that their losses and damages have bin such as they pretende to have susteined.

Item, That it shalbee lawfull for the merchants and others authorized by letters of Reprisall to sett uppon by force of armes, and to take and apprehende uppon the seas, or uppon any river, or in any porte or creeke, the shipps and goods of the Kinge of Spaine, or any his subjects whatsoever.

Item, That the said merchants, and others, shall give bond before the said Lord Admirall, or his leeftenant judge of the Admiraltye, that they and every of them shall bringe such shipps and goods, which they shall soe take and apprehende, to some such porte of his Majestye's realme as shalbee most convenent for them.

Item, That all shipps and merchandise taken by vertue of any commission aforesaide shalbee kepte in safetye, and noe parte of them solde, spoiled, wasted, diminished, or the bulke thereof broken, untill judgment hath firste passed in the highe courte of Admiralty that the said goods are lawfull prize; otherwise the said commission to bee voyed, as well to the taker, as to all others that shall buy or intermeddle with the said goods, or any parte of them.

Item, That yf, by reason of opposition in the adjudication of the shipps and goods taken for lawfull prize, there bee necessitye, before the adjudication, to sell them because they bee peritura, and servando sine damno servari non possunt, in this case the judge of the Admiralty shall graunte commission to take a true Inventory and Appraisement thereof by five honest and sufficient men, and sell the same plus offerenti, and to returne the proceed, together with the said Inventory and Appraisement into the courte of Admiralty, there to remaine to the use of them to whom of righte they shalbee adjudged to appertaine.

Item, That those merchants, and others, which shall have the said letters of Reprizall, shall not attempte any thinge against any of his Majestye's lovinge subjects, or the subjects of any other Prince or state in good league and amitye with his Majestye, but only against the Kinge of Spaine, and his subjects.

Item, That after adjudication passed in the highe courte of Admiraltye as aforesaid, it shalbee lawfull for themerchants and others to keepe such and soe many shippes, goods, and merchandise as aforesaid, as shalbee adjudged unto them, in their possession, and to make sale and dispose therof in open market, or howsoever ells, to their best advantage and benefitt, in as ample manner as at any tyme heretofore hath beene accustomed by way of Reprizall, and to have and injoye the same, as lawfull prizes, and as their own goods.

Item, That all and every of his Majestye's subjects, or any other person who shall, either in his owne person serve, or otherwise beare any chardge or adventure, or in any sorte further and sett forward the said enterprise, according to the Articles, shall not in any manner of wise bee reputed or challenged for any offender againste anye of his Majestye's lawes, but shall stande and bee by vertue of the said commission from the said Lord Admirall free and freed, under his Majestye's protection, of and from all trouble and vexation that might in any wise growe thereby.

Item, That yt shalbee lawfull for all manner of persons, as well his Majestye's subjects, as any other, to buy of the said goods or merchandise soe taken and apprehended by the said merchants and others, and adjudged for lawfull prize, as is aforesaid, without any daunger, losse, hindrance, trouble, molestation, or incumbrance, to befall the said buyers, or any of them, and in as ample and lawfull manner as if the said goods had bin comen by through the lawfull trafficq of merchants, or as juste prizes in the tyme of open war.

Item, That the said merchants, and others, before the takinge of the said commission, shall give notice to the Lord Admirall or to his leeftenante judge of the Admiralty, of the name of the shipp, and her tonnage or burthen, and the name of the captaine or owner of the said shipp, with the number of mariners and men in her, and for what tyme they are victualled, and alsoe of their ordnaunce, furniture, and municon, to the intent that there may bee an accompte made therof at their returne.

At Hampton Court, the third of November 1625.

This is the text of a Scots Letter of Marque, dated the 20th April 1626.
It was issued to David Alexander captain of the The James of Anstruther
authorizing him to attack ships of Spain.

Charles R.-Oure Soverane Lord ordanis ane letter of markque to be made under the grite seale in dew formemakand mentioun that his Majestie, considdering the manie grite indignities and injuries done to his Majestie and his umquhile darrest father of worthie memorie under cullour of treaties and allyanceis by the King of Spayne, and the many violencis offerit be the said King and his subjectis to divers of his Majesteis subjectis by taking, slaying and ransoning thame in hostilemaner whenas thay intendit thair lawfull merchandice at sea; and his Majestie in his princelie wisdome and providence foirsieing that, whill the said King of Spayne contineweth in these courssis of hostilitie, itis not aggreeable with his Majesteis honnour nor pollicie that his Majestie sould ony longer forbeare these remedies whilk the law of nationis in matteris of this kynd allowis and approves: Thairfore his Majestie, with advise of the Lordis of his Secreit Counsell, hes gevin and grantit, and be tennour heirof gevis and grantis, full power and commissioun, expres bidding and charge, to David Alexander, capitane of the ship callit The James of Anstruther, to arme and furnishe his said ship with men, vittalis, armour and artiellirie grite and small, and with poulder, leid, lunt and all other wearlike furnitout and provisioun, and with his said ship to mak his addresse to the sea, and thair to searche, seik, follow and persew with all hostilitie, and to tak or sink, the shippis or goodes of the said king of Spayne and his subjectis, alsweele of the Low cuntreyis under the governament of the Infanta Issobella, as of otheris his dominionis, according as the necessitie of the tyme of the persute sall fall oute; and alsua to impeshe, stay, and arreist all otheris shippis of whatsomever cuntrey or natioun whome he may apprehend going to West Flanderis or ony other of the said King of Spayne his dominionis with victuall, money, armour, or with intention to goe to the same with ony provisionis serveing to build furnishe, or arme any shippis of warre or ony munitioun for the warre or materiallis for the same, and to bring in the saidis shippis and goodes to ony port or harhorie, thair to be sauld and ordoured as goodes dewlie foirfeytted to his majestie; the companie and equippage of the Spanishe or West Flanderis shippis so taikin to detene or ransoun as the said David sall think expedient; the commodities and goodes being within the same shippis to meddle and intromet with, and to use the same shippis and goodes as pryise laufullie foirfeytted to his Majestie; and to use suche militarie lawis agains the companie equippage of the saidis shippis as is usuall in matteris of this kynd agains profest and avowwed enemies to his majestie and his estate; and generallie with power to the said David to doe and performe all and everie other thing that towardis the execution of the premissis is necessarlie requisite: Ferme and stable halding and for to hald all and whatsomevir thingis sal be laughfullie done heirin, and that the said commissioun be extendit in the best forme with all claussis neidfull, and be direct to all kingis, princes, dukes, governouris, and republicquis, magistrattis of burrowis and commanderis of navyis, and to all otheris his Majesteis freindis and confederattis whome these presentis doe or may concerne; requesting thame to acknawledge the said David and companie and equippage of his ship as his majesteis goode and laughfull subjectis authorized with his Majesteis warrand and commissioun for executioun of the praemissis; and if the said David salhappin to come in thair boundis with ony pryise or pryises tane be him, thast thay suffer and permitt him to mak laughfull merchandice thairof, and to sell and dispone upon the same at his pleasure; and that thay furneis him with vittaillis and otheris necessaris upoun his reasounable expenssis, and withstand and resist all violenec that salbe offerit unto thame; and that thay shawe all otheris commoun dewties of friendship unto thame, as his Majestie salbe carefull in all occurrentis of this kynd to caus the like be shawne unto thame and thair subjectis. And that thir presentis be ane warrand to the gritte seale without ony furder preceptis to be direct thairupoun, and dureing the tyme of the warre after the date heirof but revocatioun to indure.

Gevin at Halyrudhous, the tuentie day of Aprile 1626.
Sic subscribitur, Geo.Cancell., Mar, Montrois, Wyntoun, Linlithgow, Perth, Wigtoun, Roxburgh, Bugcleugh.




1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 200, 2005, 2006 Ron Knight
Baron Modar Neznanich, OPel

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