[Review] Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century: The Final Flourish by Mike Rendell

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Pirates and Privateers tells the fascinating story of the buccaneers who were the scourge of merchants in the 18th Century. It examines their lifestyle, looking at how the sinking of the Spanish treasure fleet in a storm off the coast of Florida led to a pirate’s gold rush; how the King’s Pardon was a desperate gamble – which paid off – and considers the role of individual island governors, such as Woodes Rogers in the Bahamas, in bringing piracy under control.The book also looks at how piracy has been a popular topic in print, plays, songs and now films, making thieves and murderers into swash-buckling heroes. It also considers the whole question of buried treasure – and gives a lively account of many of the pirates who dominated the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of Piracy.

I’ve long had a fascination with pirates (thank you Pirates of the Caribbean and Black Sails) so when this book arrived in a box full of books from the lovely guys at Pen & Sword, I knew it had to be the first one I picked up. And I devoured in within three days, picking it up to read a bit whenever I had a few spare minutes.

This book tells the story of the end of what was known as the Golden Age of Piracy, giving case studies of various pirates and privateers who sailed the seas during that time. It also goes over what the differences were between a pirate and a privateer (honestly, they were practically the same thing. Privateers simply had a letter stating that they were allowed to do it whereas pirates did not.) and also goes over how the mythology of piracy has changed over the years, how it has been portrayed in books and media.

Rendell has managed to write a wonderful book here – his writing style make it an incredibly easy and enjoyable read. Whilst I would have liked a bit more information on the pirates he writes about – Charles Vane and Jack Rackham being just two of them – he provides an excellent introduction to the history of the era and the people who dominated it. Each section was concise and readable and really does keep the reader interested throughout without simply just throwing information at the reader and turning into a dry read. Rendell also makes use of documents from the time – however what I did find slightly disappointing that there were no footnotes or any references of any kind. I feel that this is a book that would have needed them – so that the reader can check out where these documents are and perhaps look at them for themselves. All history books, in my opinion, should make use of references.

All in all, however, a very concise introduction to the topic at hand that is written in an engaging manner. Those with no background in the history of piracy would be able to access this book and I feel that those with knowledge of the era would find it a good read as well. I certainly look forward to reading more of Rendell’s work in the future given what a wonderful read this one has been.

A huge thank you to Pen and Sword for sending me a copy of this book to review.

4/5 stars.

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Ferrara Day 3 – Museo del Risorgimento e della Resistenza, Pinacoteca Nazionale & Monastery of San Antonio in Polesine

Our final day in Ferrara loomed and we decided to finish off the allowance of museums on our MyFE cards (highly worth the money if you ever visit Ferrara, 14 euros for 3 days. AMAZING). So we got up and headed out and made our way towards the Pinacoteco Nazionale (National Museum of Ferrara), taking a short pit stop at the very sweet Museo del Risorgimento e della Resistenza.

This museum tells the story of soldiers from Ferrara during a number of wars, with particular attention being paid to the soldiers who freed Ferrara from the Nazis in World War 2. It’s not a very big museum, but it really is very sweet and the exhibits are labelled in both English and Italian. I highly recommend visiting this place if you have a spare half an hour.

After this, we headed to the National Gallery of Ferrara which has to be one of my favourite places that we visited over the few days we were in Ferrara. I do love an art gallery, and the moment we walked in and saw the early Renaissance artwork I was completely in my element. The gallery is housed within the Palazzo Diamanti, a beautiful Renaissance era palazzo and the art held within date from the thirteenth century to the eighteenth. Whilst not on the same scale as the huge Uffizi gallery in Florence, this is still an art gallery that you can waste a good few hours in.

We swung back to the hotel following our jaunt around the art gallery for a quick pit stop. Once we were refreshed and sure that the lunch time ‘siesta’ was finished with, we decided to head across down towards the Monastery of San Antonio in Polesine – like Corpus Domini this is still a working convent and houses nuns, these ones of the Benedictine Order. San Antonio was originally founded by Augustinian hermits in an area that was once a high piece of land surrounded by water (hence the name Polesine) but in the 13th Century, Beatrice d’Este received the monastery as a gift from her father. She moved into the monastery as a Benedictine nun in about 1257 and since that day it has been home to Benedictine Nuns.

When we arrived, we were greeted by scaffolding and I found myself slightly disappointed. Thinking that the place was closed for visitors, we began to walk away but then a little voice came over the loudspeaker they have by their doorbell. It was a sweet little nun, talking in Italian, and she invited us inside. Now it must be mentioned that as this is a working convent, it isn’t specifically open to the public despite having ‘opening hours’ – the nun was so incredibly sweet and very patient as she showed us around the place, understanding that we spoke very little Italian. I was particularly awe struck inside the Church when she showed us a number of frescoes painted by the Renaissance master Giotto. They truly are stunning pieces of work despite being faded with age and it truly was an honour to see them.

I didn’t take any photographs inside this incredibly moving place – I was more concerned with listening to the wonderful Nun as she told us the stories and, more importantly, I didn’t want to intrude on her home more than we already had. They did have small gifts available however, which you could purchase with donations, so we picked up a couple of postcards of the frescoes and left a little more money for them as well. Honestly if you have a chance please do visit this wonderful place – it feels so incredibly peaceful there and I found myself feeling at peace in the presence of such a kind and humble lady as the Nun who we had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with.

The below photographs are not by me, however were found on wikimedia commons.

We returned for dinner that night to the Hostaria Savonarola, the wonderful resteraunt in the Piazza Savonarola, and we had the most amazing meal. Tagliatelli al Ragu and a beautifully tender pork shank, along with some very tasty local wine!

Ferrara truly is a beautiful place and it is chock full of history. You certainly won’t need many days to see it all, however, as it is a very small place. But it really is worth taking the time to visit. I fell in love with the place and all it’s crooked medieval streets as well as it’s wonderfully friendly people. It’s not every day that you can visit a place where you are allowed inside working convents to see where people from history were buried, or to walk the same streets as your favourite historical people. So please do visit Ferrara, and if you do make sure to pick up the MyFE museum card – excellent value for money!

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Ferrara Day 2 – Botanical Gardens, Museo della Cattedrale & Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Ferrara

Day 2 didn’t begin so well. After a night of constant hypos (low blood sugars) I woke feeling like death and couldn’t face eating breakfast. Once the other half had eaten though and I managed to get up and about we headed out for our second day!

We started out at the Botanical Gardens which is tucked away by the University of Ferrara. And let me tell you, it’s an incredibly peaceful place with some beautiful flowers and, the most important part, a pond for tortoises!

Right before we left, we watched one of the tortoises make a break for it. Literally he was so determined to get out he yanked himself up on the side of the pond and found a hole in the fence. And once he was free….people say these creatures are slow but this guy moved like he was strapped to a rocket!

After the gardens we decided to head to the Archaeology Museum. It was a bit of a walk, however we ended up walking along the Via Savonarola. This street was renamed in 1870 due to it’s links with Savonarola – it is said that the friar was born on this street at number 19. It was also the road on which Lucrezia Borgia’s lover, Ercole Strozzi, was murdered in 1508.

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The archaeology museum is housed within a Renaissance Palazzo known as the Palazzo di Ludovico il Moro, but actually named the Palazzo Costabilli. Legend has it that the Palazzo was commissioned by Il Moro as a place to escape should things get gnarly in his home town, however it was actually commissioned by a member of the Este’s court – Antonio Costabilli.

Today the palazzo houses a collection of beautiful Etruscan artefacts found at the archaeological site of Spina – once a thriving city that was then swallowed by the waters of the Po delta. Given that I studied archaeology at university and then worked in the field for a time, this place brought back some wonderful memories and reminded me why I loved studying archaeology so much. The artefacts on display are utterly beautiful ranging from pottery bearing mythical scenes to gold diadems and gorgeous jewellery.

We were the only people in the museum while we were there, meaning that we got to wander about unhindered. Whilst this was nice, it did make me wonder just how the place survives on so little footfall.

After a pitstop at the hotel whilst we waited for things to open after their lunch time siesta, we headed to the little Cathedral museum. Sadly the Cathedral itself was closed for renovation work so we didn’t get to see inside, however the little museum just over the way from it was open and let me tell you – bloody wonderful. And of course we stopped for some gelato on the way…

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The museum, set within the Church of San Romano, holds a number of artefacts relating directly to the Cathedral and the patron Saint of Ferrara, Saint George. It’s not a very big museum however I highly recommend popping in if you have a spare half an hour or so, as they have some utterly stunning artefacts and works of art inside, including the famous Madonna della Melagrana (Madonna of the Pomegranate) – a sculpture by Jacopo della Quercia that is considered to be one of the greatest Renaissance works of all time.

The works of art are utterly stunning and many of them show Saint George killing the dragon or undergoing execution. And yet again there were very few people in this museum while we were there, which really does seem a shame as this museum is well worth a visit.

Another pleasant day in all, finished with another fantastic dinner of Tagliatelle and chocolate salami. The next day would be our final full day in this gorgeous city so we planned to get an early night. Alas, this didn’t happen. It just so happened that our hotel room faced the courtyard of the hotel which served as a restaurant, a restaurant not actually owned by the hotel which was kind of weird. Anyhow, the noise went on until midnight, meaning that we wouldn’t get much sleep for the last day. Never mind, at least the bed was comfy and the AC was on!

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Ferrara Day 1 – Castello Estensi, Museo Civico di Storia Naturale and Corpus Domini

The city of Ferrara is somewhere I have wanted to visit for a long time given it’s connection to both Girolamo Savonarola and Lucrezia Borgia. The city itself has a long and varied history but is best known for the buildings that went up during the Renaissance, including the magnificent Castello Estensi (which let me tell you, is STUNNING). The City was also one of the first truly modern cities and a hub of both art and culture.

The moment you get to Ferrara it really is like stepping back in time – the buildings are almost all originals and the side streets…oh my GOD, the side streets. As you wander through the twists and turns of old Ferrara it really does feel like you’re back in the 1500’s.

Our first evening was spent basically looking for somewhere to eat after an incredibly long day of travelling and we ended up at a little pizzeria right by our hotel. All I’ll say is this – bloody lovely. As for our hotel – it was situated in a converted Palazzo that dates back to the fifteenth century. All throughout are bits of the original building poking through including these stunning doors half way up the marble staircase.

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On the first day we got up crazy early and ate a hearty Continental breakfast before heading out to the Castello Estensi – somewhere I was REALLY looking forward to seeing. This imposing castle really takes your breath away when you first see it – and even the second time. And third. And fourth. Construction of this castle was began in the fourteenth century after a revolt in the City led to the rather nasty death of Tommaso da Tortuna, a city official whose actions had led to the revolt in the first place. The whole episode convinced Niccolo II d’Este that he really needed to build somewhere more defensive, that could keep his family safe if something like that ever happened again. So construction of the castle began in earnest. Each successive Este ruler added to the construction of this magnificent building but during the Second World War it was badly damaged during extensive bombing of the city. In 2002 an extensive restoration project was began to restore the castle to its former glory. More recently, in 2012, one of the towers partly collapsed after an earthquake and underwent restoration.

From the moment we walked into the Castello, I was in awe. Absolutely in awe.

The strange thing about Ferrara is that most of the museums close over lunch time. This is probably due to the fact that it’s not really a very touristy place. So after a nice lunchtime respite back at the hotel we headed back out and ended up at the Museum of Natural History.

I have just one thing to say about this..damn nature, you scary.

Following this, we took a walk across the city and went in search of the Convent of Corpus Domini. This place was of particular interest to me due to its connection with Lucrezia Borgia. During her years in Ferrara she spent a lot of time there and, when she passed away in 1519, was buried there along with other members of the Este family.

If I’m honest, I really wasn’t expecting to be able to get in. Corpus Domini isn’t what I would call open to the public – rather they will let you in if you ring the bell and ask but it has to be during a small window in the afternoon. Apparently sometimes even if you do that, they don’t always let you in. I must stress as well that it’s very important to speak at least a little bit of Italian. We were let inside by the caretaker who was a lovely gentleman. He showed us the tombs and explained who was buried where and allowed us a few quiet moments of contemplation. I found myself getting very, very emotional standing where Lucrezia Borgia rested with her husband, mother in law and two of her children – it truly was an honour to be allowed inside the very quiet, still working convent and I only have good things to say about the Nuns who reside there and their caretaker. It was an absolutely fantastic experience and one that I will never ever forget.

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On This Day In History – May 19th 1536 – Anne Boleyn is Executed

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May 19th 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn, who had been arrested and tried for the crimes of incest and treason, was executed at the Tower of London.

I’ve been quite open about my Tudor Burnout, however Anne Boleyn was one of the first historical women who I learned about. Her story has always struck a chord with me, and I have always admired her strength and determination. Many still see her as a villain in Tudor history and many still call her a witch who had six fingers. This is, of course, a complete lie. Anne Boleyn was a woman who had so much determination and courage, who sought change and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in. Unfortunately, despite giving birth to a little girl who would one day rule England, she was unable to provide King Henry VIII with what he truly wanted – a son. And, unfortunately, she made enemies of some of the most powerful men in Henry’s court.

At 9am on 19th May 1536, Anne Boleyn knelt down on the scaffold at the Tower of London. She was dressed in a grey gown with a crimson kirtle beneath and it was reported by a witness that she had “never looked so beautiful”. Before she knelt, Anne gave a speech to the gathered crowd, asking that they pray for the King as he had always been good to her. She then asked the crowd to pray for her, “And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me”

Then, with Anne kneeling and blindfolded, the headsman – a swordsman sent from Calais – asked for his assistant to bring him his sword. Anne moved her head to try and track the assistant’s movements. The headsman then stepped up behind the kneeling Queen and removed her head with one swing of the sword.

Her body and head was then gathered up by her ladies and placed in an arrow chest before being taken to the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, within the walls of the Tower. She was then buried in an unmarked grave beneath the altar, near the body of her brother – she would later be joined by another Queen, and her kin, Katherine Howard.

Today, her place of burial is marked by a simple yet beautiful slab by the altar in the chapel, along with those who were buried alongside her. It truly is a peaceful place, a place to sit and reflect upon the history of those who lost their lives and were buried within this sweet little chapel. Today you can visit the chapel and see the grave of Anne Boleyn and the others buried there, whilst on a guided tour of the Tower. I would highly recommend doing so, for anyone interested in the history of the Tudors.

Further reading:

The Lady in the Tower – Alison Weir
The Life & Death of Anne Boleyn – Eric Ives
The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown – Claire Ridgway
1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII – Suzannah Lipscomb

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