Sunday, January 6, 2013

Pirate Codes, Laws, Rules, and Guidelines by Teresa Knudsen April 10, 2009 Republished January 06, 2013

Pirate Codes, Laws, Rules, and Guidelines

From Treasure Island "Israel Hands" attacking Jim Hawkins  Painting by N. C. Wyeth 1911

Lawless Pirates Actually Made Rules for their Ships
Apr 10, 2009
Teresa Knudsen

Illustration from Treasure Island - N.C. Wyeth

Pirates are seen as outcasts, lawlessly sailing seas. Yet, research shows pirates made a code, rules, laws, or articles. These guidelines are shown in pirate films.

One of the most famous scenes from Hollywood is from Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl.. Confronted with desperate pirates ready to kidnap her, Elizabeth Swann, played by Keira Knightly, fights back, with words and a pirate code being her only weapons.

"Parlay! I invoke the right of parlay! According to the Code of the Brethren, set down by the pirates Morgan and Bartholomew, you must take me to your Captain!"

The Pirate Code of the Brethren

Did the real-life pirates Morgan and Bartholomew create a pirates' code together?
According to the article "The Pirates' Code," by Ed Foxe, "No, they did not, but the era of buccaneering in the late 17th century did see the beginning of pirate codes. Pirate codes did exist, but there was no single code which all pirates recognized and subscribed to."

The Rules of a Pirate's Code

Pirate codes often contained similar rules, no matter which captain and crew developed them.
  • Fighting between crew members could be punished by death or marooning both men.
  • Pirates who brought women disguised as men aboard ship were threatened with death.
  • Sexual assault was punished with death.
  • Drinking during watch was punished by death.
  • Gambling for money was forbidden.
  • Musicians had to play every day, with rest only on Sundays.
Pirate Codes Provided Insurance Plans

Pirate ships often sailed under the guidelines of codes that provided better insurance coverage than many modern people have today. There was compensation to a crew-member for injuries suffered during the work of sailing and plundering. Here is an example from Morgan's articles,

"Lastly they stipulate in writing what recompense or reward each one ought to have, that is either wounded or maimed in his body, suffering the loss of any limb, by that voyage."

Some of the payments included six hundred pieces of eight, or six slaves, for the loss of a right arm. There was discrimination against the left-handed pirates, though, who would only receive five hundred pieces of eight or slaves for the loss of a left arm.
It appears that the freedom and laws on pirate ships arrived on land. Pirates who retired from the sea to farm or to go into business often used the pirate codes as guidelines in their new lives. Thus, the lawless pirates and their rules, or guidelines drifted into society and culture.

Captain Blood with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland

An example of the pirate code in action is also shown in the film Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn as Dr. Peter Blood and Olivia de Havilland as Arabella Bishop.
A physician unjustly arrested with rebels in England, Dr. Blood and his friends are sold into slavery in Port Royal. Arabella saves the proud physician from the worst slavery on the island, and instead helps him become the governor's physician.

Longing for freedom, Dr. Blood and his friends take over a Spanish ship, where he becomes Captain Blood. His first order of business is to write articles, a code of conduct to sail under. Later, when Blood returns to society, he brings the ethics of the code to land.


Pirates of the Caribbean. Walt Disney Pictures Directed by: Gore Verbinski Written by: Tedd Elliott &Terry Rossio from a story by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert based on Walt Disney's `Pirates of the Caribbean' Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom Screened at: Beekman, NYC, 7/9/03.

“The Pirates’ Code.” Pirate Mythtory. Ed Foxe. 2004.

Surowiecki, James. “The Pirates’ Code.” The New Yorker. July 9, 2007.

Wyeth, N.C. Preparing for the Mutiny. Oil on Canvas, From Robert Lewis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911.

Copyright Teresa Knudsen. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Teresa's writing appears in the British Library, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Online she has written for USA Today and E How.
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Feb 6, 2010 11:53 AM

Guest :

Hmmm...interestng, I presume.

Feb 9, 2010 4:46 AM

Guest :

is it true

Feb 13, 2010 4:27 PM

Guest :

just what i needed for my projet thx #:o)

Feb 24, 2010 12:58 PM

Guest :

wat about pirate code of conduct...where no light is on at night, and drinking only on the deck?

Apr 27, 2010 1:44 AM

Guest :

Pirates lived by the rules of their Captain, who could be deemed unworthy by the crew anyway.
Few laws were kept to as a "code", but as mentioned before, there were many "Pirate Codes" per ship that were vaugely similar (remembering that a pirate often jumped ship to follow the swag).
Good Article.

Jun 3, 2010 7:15 AM

Guest :

I'm doing a hmwk project, do u recur mend this site?

Oct 19, 2010 10:55 AM

Guest :

no you spelled recomend wrong

Nov 30, 2010 11:54 AM

Guest :


Nov 30, 2010 11:55 AM

Guest :

this is cool.

Dec 2, 2010 5:23 AM

Guest :

not very good

Feb 10, 2011 10:52 AM

Guest :

hoping this is true, cause im using it on a project ( ; Pirates FTW!!! i still prefer ninjas though...


Pirate Codes, Laws, Rules, and Guidelines by Teresa Knudsen April 10, 2009 Republished January 06, 2013

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