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Framing ‘Piracy’: restitution at sea in the later Middle Ages
Dick, Bryan D.
PhD Thesis, University of Glasgow, January (2010)
The focus of the thesis is the diplomatic and legal implications of the capture of ships at sea in the later Middle Ages. It challenges key assumptions in much secondary literature concerning the definition of piracy, seeking to explore several major themes relating to the legal status of shipping in periods of war or diplomatic tension in this period. The thesis draws primarily on diplomatic, legal and administrative records, largely those of English royal government, but also makes use of material relating to France, Holland and Zealand, Flanders and the Hanse. The majority of studies on this subject stress the importance of developments which occurred in the fifteenth century, yet I have found it necessary to follow the development of the law of prize, diplomatic provisions for the keeping of the sea and the use of devolved sea-keeping fleets back to the start of the thirteenth century. This thesis questions the tendency of historians to attach the term ‘piracy’, with its modern legal connotations, to a variety of actions at sea in the later Middle Ages. In the absence of a clear legislative or semantic framework a close examination of the complexity of practice surrounding the judgement of prize, the provision of restitution to injured parties, and diplomatic mechanisms designed to prevent disorder at sea, enables a more rounded picture to emerge.