The Pirates’ Code: Laws and Life Aboard Ship (Hardcover)

The Pirates’ Code: Laws and Life Aboard Ship By Rebecca Simon Cover Image
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Fall captive to the code—the real-life buccaneer bylaws that shaped every aspect of a pirate’s life.
Pirates have long captured our imaginations with images of cutlass-wielding swashbucklers, eye patches, and buried treasure. But what was life really like on a pirate ship? Piracy was a risky, sometimes deadly occupation, and strict orders were essential for everyone’s survival. These “Laws” were sets of rules that determined everything from how much each pirate earned from their plunder to compensation for injuries, punishments, and even the entertainment allowed on ships. These rules became known as the “Pirates’ Code,” which all pirates had to publicly swear by. Using primary sources like eyewitness accounts, trial proceedings, and maritime logs, this book explains how each one of the pirate codes was the key to pirates’ success in battle, on sea, and on land.

About the Author

Rebecca Simon is professor of history at Santa Monica College. Her books include Why We Love Pirates: The Hunt for Captain Kidd and How He Changed Piracy Forever and Pirate Queens: The Lives of Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Praise For…

"In eight snappy chapters, the reader is smuggled aboard brigs, schooners and sloops, each infested with rats and chittering cockroaches. . . . Simon’s writing is informative and packed with fascinating detail. . . . It all makes for a hair-raising adventure, and a handy guide for anyone hoping to understand—or prepare for—the pirate way of life."
— Daily Telegraph

"In her impressively researched book, Simon offers an engrossing account that goes well beyond the romanticized Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow view of life as a criminal on the high seas. Her chapters on health and safety, sex and relationships, weapons and battle tactics, and entertainment on pirate ships are particularly enlightening. . . . For a rollicking account of the reality of the 'Golden Age' of piracy, Simon’s book should float your boat."
— Independent, "Books of the Month"

"In this zesty and eye-opening history . . . Simon has combed a variety of sources to paint a colorful and evocative portrait of that ‘golden age of piracy’ in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth Century."
— Mail on Sunday

"Simon’s book delves into the codes that pirates had to live by and how they were the key to their success in battle, both on sea and on land. The Pirates’ Code . . . uses primary sources such as eyewitness accounts, trial proceedings, and maritime logs, to examine how each code was instrumental."
— History Hit, "Book of the Month"

"In her new book The Pirates' Code, Simon addresses this growing legend head-on. Pulling apart the four main extant versions of the pirates' code, she uses their various articles as starting points for eight thematic chapters . . .  illustrating her points with gripping stories of individual pirates and their crews. . . . The Pirates' Code doesn't just repeat the old legends; in some cases it blasts them into splinters. . . . It is mythbusting par excellence, because it is not just based on opinion but on an impressive grasp of the primary sources. . . .  Simon holds a mastery of the sources that leaves the reader in awe. . . . she shows pirates in all their complexity and individuality, and she rejoices in it. Their stories, beautifully told, are so much more wonderful than the standard legends allow.”
— Get History

"You know how pirates used to punish people by making them walk the plank? Well, the thing is, they didn’t. . . . The surprise is one of many in Simon’s book about the ‘golden age of piracy’ in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries."
— Daily Mail

"There are many books that focus on pirates and their lives at sea, but Simon brings a fresh perspective to this topic by examining them from the lens of their articles of agreement. She provides snippets from contemporary documents and eyewitnesses, be they pirates or victims, to showcase how aspects of the rules impacted what pirates did and how they lived. Specific pirates, some well-known and others who are not, are showcased to validate what is discussed under each rule. Throughout the book she emphasizes that these codes served specific purposes: to safeguard their environment, to minimize conflict among themselves, to maintain loyalty within each crew, and to provide protection from the hazards of working at sea. In other words, the goals of these articles were to gain wealth and stay alive."
— Pirates and Privateers

"Arguing that pirates did more than lawlessly pillage the high seas, Simon’s fascinating book The Pirates’ Code reveals their rules of engagement—and the steep consequences of eschewing these. . . . Perfect for fans of Black Sails or Our Flag Means Death, The Pirates’ Code is an engaging book that demythologizes pirates, exploring the historical underpinnings of their rogue sailing lives."
— Foreword Reviews

"This 'rollicking account' of pirates’ codes—the strict rules deemed essential for survival at sea—explains how they determined everything, from how much each pirate earned from their plunder to compensation from injuries, punishments and more."

— Bookseller

"This 304-page hardback book by Rebecca Simon sets out a rollicking account of pirates’ codes, which gave the strict rules essential for survival at sea."
— Pirate Plunder

"A series of chapters looks at every aspect of the pirate’s life. . . . While this is a work of scholarship with an extensive list of references and a twenty-three-page bibliography, it is very readable and is strongly recommended to members of the Naval Review."
— Naval Review

"A fascinating glimpse into life aboard ship during the golden age of piracy."

— Adrian Tinniswood, author of "Pirates Of Barbary"

"A comprehensive and highly engaging study of the operations and everyday life at sea on pirate ships in the 'Golden Age' of piracy. Using a wide range of archival material, Simon has produced a meticulous examination of how pirate crews used 'articles' to organize their ships and lives. An in-depth exploration of not only the most notorious pirates and their lesser-known brethren, but every aspect of pirate life from the motivations of men to turn to piracy, to how they shared out plunder and food, to discipline and health care for injured pirates. The Pirates' Code is a pleasure to read."
— Elaine Murphy, associate professor of maritime history, University of Plymouth

"Real history, so much more exciting than any pirate legend."
— Dan Snow

"Simon is at her best when she focuses on court transcripts and first-person accounts. In its discussions of the daily lives and careers of pirates, this slender volume makes for absorbing reading . . . Recommended."
— Choice

"Simon argues that the code, far from being a romantic peripheral, was in fact central to the success of a pirate company as an enterprise. . . . Myths and tropes are ruthlessly throat-slit throughout the book. . . . The material is so strong, and the scholarship so impressive."
— Fortean Times
Product Details
ISBN: 9781789147117
ISBN-10: 1789147115
Publisher: Reaktion Books
Publication Date: June 28th, 2023
Pages: 336
Language: English