The History of Leith

May 20, 2012

Piracy in the 17th century

In those days, whatever flag was borne, piracy
was a thriving trade in Scottish and English waters,
where vessels of various countries were often captured
by daring marauders, their crews tortured,
slaughtered, or thrown ashore upon lonely and
desolate isles. Long Island, on the Irish coast,
was a regular station for English pirate ships, and
from thence in 1609 a robber crew, headed by two
captains named Perkins and William Randall,
master of a ship called the Gryphound, sailed for
Scottish waters in a great Dutch vessel called the
Iron Prize, accompanied by a swift pinnace, and
for months they roamed about the Northern seas,
doing an incredible deal of mischief, and they
even had the hardihood to appear off the Firth of
The Privy Council upon this armed and fitted
out three vessels at Leith, from whence they sailed
in quest of the pirates, who had gone to Orkney to
refit. There the latter had landed near the castle
of Kirkwall, in which town they behaved barbarously,
were always intoxicated, and indulged
“in all manner of vice and villainy.” Three of
them, who had attacked a small vessel lying in
shore, belonging to Patrick Earl of Orkney, were
captured by his brother, Sir James Stewart (gentlaman
of the bed-chamber, to James VI.), and soon
after the three ships from Leith made their appearance,
on which many of the pirates fled in the
pinnace. A pursuit proving futile, the ships captured
the Iron Prize, but not without a desperate
conflict, in which several were killed and wounded.
Thirty English prisoners were taken and brought to
Leith, where—after a brief trial on the 2 6th of July
—twenty-seven of them, including the two captains,
were hanged at once upon a gibbet at the pier,
three of them being reserved in the hope of their
giving useful information. The Lord Chancellor,
in a letter to James VI., written on the day of the
execution, says that these pirates, oddly enough,
had a parson ” for saying of prayers to them twice
a day,” who deserted from them in Orkney, but
was apprehended in Dundee, where he gave evidence
against the rest, and would be reserved for
the King’s pleasure.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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