The Sovereign and the Pirates, 1332

The Sovereign and the Pirates, 1332

By Fredric L. Cheyette

Speculum, Volume 45:1 (1970)

Introduction: One Monday in early Spring 1332 a galley commanded by two Genoese ran aground on the tiny island of Brescou in the Mediterranean, a mile or so off shore of the episcopal city of Agde. For some time the ship had been preying on merchant vessels and launching tip-and-run raids along the coast, even in the harbor of Aigues-Mortes itself. On the previous day a ship out of Marseille had been its victim, and crew, merchants and goods were on board when the galley met its end. The two Genoese captains and their followers were picked up by agents of the bishop of Agde. Accused of piracy, they were thrown into the bishop’s dungeon. They did not stay there for long.

Marauding pirates had threatened coastal traffic since time out of mind. But in recent years this meaningless war of prize and reprisal, marque and countermarque, hotheaded pursuit and noble robbery had become largely a Genoese export, and the Liguiran city’s ebullient politics had made mercantile seafaring increasingly dangerous. The battle between Guelf ‘ins’ and Ghibelline ‘outs’, the one supported by King Robert, the others by King Frederick of Sicily, had been newly aggravate by the arrival of Louis of Bavaria on the peninsula to claim the iron crow of King of Italy from the hands of three excommunicated bishops and the Imperial title from the people of Rome. From time to time the Ghibellines profited from the absence of the Guelf fleet and attacked the harbor of Genoa, and a Guelf captain launched a retaliatory attack on one of the castle of the expelled nobility around Savona. But the Genoese were seamen above all, and the war could not be confined to the city’s Riviera.

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