Theses Doctoral

Travelers, Traders, and Traitors: Mapping and Writing Piracy in England Spain and the Caribbean (1570-1620)

Velazquez, Mariana-Cecilia

In this dissertation, “Travelers, Traders, and Traitors: Mapping and Writing Piracy in England, Spain, and the Caribbean (1570-1620),” I contend that an array of early modern authors wrote about piracy in order to discuss the meanings of property, articulate jurisdictional boundaries of geographic space, and negotiate the limits of sovereignty. Drawing on a diverse corpus that includes historical accounts, literary texts, legal treatises, epistles, travelogues and maps, I argue that individuals and institutions used the term “the pirate” with constantly changing definitions to stage political, economic, and religious polemics. While following the course of the attacks carried out by the English Captain Francis Drake and primarily focusing on the language and vocabulary employed by national and colonial stakeholders to describe piracy, the project demonstrates that as piracy grew less ambiguous through legal and linguistic standardization, it lost its polemical utility. Challenging classical notions of the pirate as “the enemy of all,” I reexamine the construction of piracy as a social and transatlantic category that overlaps with political, religious and economic affairs. In this way, the project emphasizes the role of piracy as a tool of imperial narratives of power and the development of geopolitical identities in both sides of the Atlantic during the sixteenth century.

The overarching narrative of my dissertation chronologically registers the process by which piracy went from being an unregulated phenomenon—evinced by the instability of the categories employed to refer it— to becoming a legally defined and controlled practice by the beginning of the seventeenth century. The first chapter, “The Plasticity of the Pirate,” addresses the unstable conceptualization of piracy, contraband, and ransom (rescate) in European legal documents, English, Spanish and Caribbean colonial accounts and literary production. The first part of this chapter analyzes Balthazar de Ayala’s De Iure et Officiis bellicis et disciplina militari (1584), Alberico Gentili’s Hispanicae advocationis (c1613) and Jean Bodin’s On Sovereignty (1576), while the second part studies the various meanings of “rescue” and “ransom” (rescate) in the Caribbean context that also account for piracy’s semantic flexibility. In Chapter 2, “Cruising Outer Spaces,” I put into dialogue the narrative and visual construction of Drake’s figure as a maritime knight—after his circumnavigation of the globe (1577-80)—with European territorial claims of possession displayed by the cartographical representation of the Caribbean archipelago. By analyzing the work of sixteenth-century Flemish, Italian, and Spanish cartographers and sailors—such as Giovanni Battista Boazio, Gerard Mercator, Juan Escalante de Mendoza, and Baltasar Vellerino de Villalobos—I reassess the role of piracy in depictions of Caribbean islands and identify contra-cartographies that dispute the Spanish Crown’s territorial order. Turning to the narrative representations of the Caribbean archipelago, the third chapter, “Setting Sails to Rhetorical Piracy: Francis Drake’s Caribbean Raid (1585-1586),” explores the mechanisms employed by Spanish, English, and colonial authors who at the time, took advantage of Drake’s attack to project varied collective and individual ambitions by appealing to and entwining the religious, economic, and political discourses. By exploring the relationship between piracy and entrepreneurship, found in English, Spanish Peninsular and colonial sources, such as Richard Hakluyt’s compilation, Principall Navigations (c1598-1600), Walter Bigges’s travelogue, A Summary (1589) and Juan de Castellanos’s heroic poem, Discurso del capitán Francisco Draque (c1587) among others, the first part of this chapter emphasizes the tensions and nuances of describing maritime predation as an economic transaction or as a multifaceted concept that moves across religious and political realms. By revisiting Spanish chroniclers of the Indies—such as Bernardino de Sahagún, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, and Bartolomé de las Casas—Dutch, English, and Portuguese jurists—such as Hugo Grotius, John Selden, and Serafim Freitas—alongside Iberian legal documents, the second part of the chapter evaluates the debates and descriptions of piracy, in both Caribbean and European waters, to showcase the articulation of the terms “infection” and “infestation” as a means to either legitimize or condemn the right of maritime and territorial possession. Addressing the factual discrepancies, found in historical and literary texts about Drake’s Caribbean raid, the last part of this chapter showcases the production of polemical narratives of blame and their political repercussions in English, Spanish Iberian, and Caribbean scenarios. Chapter 4, “Dropping Anchors: Francis Drake’s Three Deaths and the Beginnings of an End,” tackles the moral, political, and economic considerations that structure the notions of libel and piracy, while also stressing their parallel processes of standardization and criminalization. Through the close-reading of literary texts and divergent historical reports that portray the defeat of King Philip II’s Armada (1588) and Drake’s last Caribbean raid (1595-96) alongside English legal treatises on libeling, the first two parts of this chapter trace the discursive overlapping of piracy and libeling driven by ulterior political and imperial aspirations. In this way, by analyzing Félix Lope de Vega’s La Dragontea (c1598), Henry Savile’s A Libell of Spanish Lies (1596), Thomas Maynarde’s Sir Francis Drake, his voyage (1595) among others, these two parts showcase the textual battles underpinned by English and Spanish disputes of power. Chronologically situated after Drake’s, Phillip II’s, and Elizabeth I’s deaths—1596, 1598, and 1603 respectively— and analyzing legal documents and other material evidence, such as the Treatise of London and Sir Henry Mainwaring’s text Of the Beginnings, Practices, and Suppression of Pirates (c 1617), the last part of this chapter highlights and registers the predominant role played by economic interests within the legal standardization of English libeling and the political agreement between Spain and England to criminalize piracy.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Grieve, Patricia E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 16, 2018