John Crabbe: Flemish Pirate, Merchant, and Adventurer

John Crabbe: Flemish Pirate, Merchant, and Adventurer

By Henry S. Lucas

Speculum: A Journal of Mediaeval Studies, Vol. 20, No. 3 (1945)

Introduction: A good way to illustrate the character of mediaeval piracy and some of the innumberable vicissitudes incidental to the life of merchants, especially at the opening of the Hundred Years’ War, is to recount the fortunes of one John Crabbe, whose name was mentioned with shudders by the people who sailed the narrow seas between England and the continent.

For Flaundres is staple, as men tell me,
To all nacyons of Crystiante.

Crabbe, although rarely mentioned in historical literature, was a splendid example of a merchant who with equal facility engaged in commerce, war, and piracy and finally even won the favor of King Edward III of England. The type was common in ancient times as we know from Homer. But we are better acquainted with men who followed piracy during the Middle Ages, chiefly because we possess a greater abundance of sources. The general condition of state, society, and business during the early as well as the later Middle Ages made piratical activity relatively safe and profitable. The decades before the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War were notoriously fruitful in commercial violence. The antagonisms of the English and Scots, the rivalry of England and France, the close economic relations between England and the Low Countries bred much ill will and violence which proved a contributing cause of the catastrophe of the Hundred Years War.

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