Part 3 – The History of Conflicts

The Flibuste

French and English, Dutch sailors against Spanish and Portuguese

The Pope forbade the Norman Vikings to continue to go to America.

It was following the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 that French, English and Dutch sailors were banned in the new world by the Roman papacy.

The origin of this situation goes back to the trade conducted by the Vikings and then by the fleet of the Knights of the Temple with Mexico and the Andes. The papacy who participated in the destruction of the Temple Order soon learned that the Andean civilization around Tiahuanaco bore knowledge that contradicted the Bible on the explanation of the origin of humanity and on the knowledge of the universe.

This knowledge of Andean civilizations, disseminated by the monks and the Templar Knights, had not disappeared among the sailors, and when it was rediscovered by the Spanish and Portuguese, the threat became unbearable for the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Spaniards who had just liberated themselves from the Arab occupation apparently did not know the history that contradicted the Bible, and the Portuguese had preserved the maritime maps brought to their country by part of the Temple fleet that found refuge there after the destruction of the Order of the Temple in France on Friday, October 13, 1307 by the King of France, Philip the Fair. The Portuguese knew the New World.

To defy this prohibition imposed by the papacy of Rome and this monopoly of trade with the new world granted to the Spanish and Portuguese, the French sailors, heirs of the Templar and Viking fleet, from the ports of Normandy and Brittany, hunted the Spanish and Portuguese ships. As soon as Christopher Columbus traveled to the Americas, French ships followed Spanish ships because the French knew the direct route, the route of the trade winds taken by the Templar ships based in the port of La Rochelle before their departure for Portugal, Scotland and Mexico in the autumn of 1307.

The conquest of Central America and then South America

From these bases of the large West Indies, Castilians, however, launched recognition expeditions along the coast of Central America. One of them led by Hernan Cortés led, in the early 1520s, to conquer the powerful and prosperous kingdom of the Aztecs. Following Mexico, the Castilians went masters from all of Central America, from Mexico to Venezuela.

The conquest of Peru and Chile, following twenty years later that of Mexico, reported even more gold, and especially money, than the first. All these conquests and discoveries obviously attracted the lusts of the opponents of Spain, at the head of which were France and England, excluded from these rich lands by the Pope himself.

Indeed, as early as 1481, by the Aeterni Regis bubble, the Pope had allocated to Portugal all the land located south of the Canaries. In 1493, an amendment to this bubble granted Portugal all the lands located east of the meridian passing through the 38th degree of west longitude, and to Spain all the land located west of this meridian to enjoy the discoveries of Columbus. But, the following year, the Treaty of Tordesillas postponed this line to 46 ° 37 ‘west, which will then allow Portugal to claim Brazil.

The riches of the Americas attract European nations.

At the origin of the filibuste, there was trade, the will of the European nations to find a new path to India and its riches: gold, silk, spices and precious stones.

Already, in the first decades of the 15th century, under the leadership of one of the king’s sons, Prince Enrique, Portugal had undertaken the exploration of the Western coasts of Africa and probably also from Brazil. But the passage to the Indies by the CAP of good hope, at the southern end of the African continent, was going to be borrowed, for the first time by Europeans, at the very end of the century, towards the same time when A navigator of Genoese origin, who had formerly served Portugal, had just “discovered the Indies” by crossing the Atlantic to the west.

Western India and East India

The discovery of the Western Indies (future Americas), thus baptized as opposed to the East Indies (the real Indies), first disappointed the promoters of the company, the sovereigns of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, immediate commercial rivals of Portuguese.

These new lands, or rather islands, discovered by the Genoese Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus), were poor and the populations who lived there were very primitive to the taste of newcomers. There was certainly a little gold, but nothing to fill the crown chests, just enough for the Castilians who gradually colonized the most important of these islands (Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico), which they enslaved the inhabitants.

French sailors organize the flibuste.

Thus the French decided to “run under” the Spanish and Portuguese on the two major sea routes of the West and East Indies. Individuals, such as the Frenchman Jean Ango, armed themselves in the race.

The ships they were going to intercept were carrying fabulous cargoes.

In 1523, off the coast of Spain, Jean Fleury, a valiant captain in the service of Jean Ango, attacked a fleet of three Spanish caravels.

They carried some of the loot that Cortez had looted from the Aztecs.

It weighed several tons and was composed of three enormous cases of gold ingots, 230 kilos of gold powder in bags, 310 kilos of pearls, many cases of silver, jewelry cases inlaid with precious stones, emeralds, topazes, gold and silver tableware, idols encased with precious stones, gold masks, thousands of large gold plates, bracelets, shields and Aztec helmets as well as statues of gold New World animals, polished obsidian vases and mirrors…

caravelles espagnoles
Spanish caravels

In addition to the incredible treasure that was transported, Jean Fleury appropriated Cortez’s report on his conquest of Mexico and what was of enormous value to him – the nautical charts of the Spanish pilots, so valuable for organizing eventual expeditions to the West Indies. Cortez did not consider it necessary to arm his three buildings. To make matters worse, the escort of warships, charged with protecting them at the end of their voyage, was waiting for them only off Cape Saint Vincent.

Spanish and Portuguese vessels must be armed and accompanied

Learning of this disaster, the Casa de Contratacion forbids ships of less than one hundred tons to cross the ocean. Those who set sail were to be armed with at least four large artillery pieces “with sixteen gunners to serve them, plus twenty-six soldiers with spears, swords, espingoles and armor”.

Vessels carrying precious cargoes also had to be escorted by galleons.

Flibustiers settle in the West Indies

Colorful narratives exalting the splendor and enchantment of new discoveries had an irresistible seductive effect. A multitude of men, enamored of freedom, cruel but courageous, would flock to the West Indies, fleeing the civil wars that ravaged Europe.

The poor and discontented of all classes, the victims of royal taxes and military servitude would create a continuous exodus which the great maritime powers like France, England and Holland facilitated as a first step towards the conquest, at least commercial, of the regions coveted and from which they had been plundered.

The poor and discontented of all classes, the victims of royal taxes and military servitude would create a continuous exodus which the great maritime powers like France, England and Holland facilitated as a first step towards the conquest, at least commercial, of the regions coveted and from which they had been plundered.


The bravery of the buccaneers

They were called “flibustiers,” this name coming from the Dutch word “vrijbulter,” literally “free loot maker.” Free, the freebooters remained so until France, Holland and England, weary of the abuses committed in their name, took umbrage and forced them either to join the ranks or to gain the maquis of the sea, thus becoming, until their death, pirates. For a century, from 1630 to 1730, they would engrave in blood and gold letters their acts of bravery, openly provoking the proud Spain, then at the height of its power.

Another type of man lived with the buccaneers. They had inherited the custom of the Caribbean Indians cutting their prisoners to pieces and roasting and smoking on a charcoal fire. They called their pyre “barbacoa.” This word will become “tail-barb” and will give, with the cowboy accent, “barbecue”. European hunters who will use the same methods, but for pieces of cow or wild pig meat sprinkled with salt, will therefore be called “buccaneers”.

la bravoure des flibustiers, tableau

The Turtle Island hideout

All these French, Dutch and English adventurous sailors united by a common hatred for the crown of Spain found themselves quickly a hideout that will become their new homeland, the famous “Turtle Island”. Located 6 miles north of Haiti, this island, 23 miles by 3 miles, was named by Christopher Columbus himself because of its resemblance to the reptile’s shell.

île de la tortue carte de Haïti

The first adventurers

In June 1522, the master of Mexico, Cortés had sent a building loaded with much of the personal treasure of the Aztec king Moctezuma, in order to gain the favor of the young king of Spain, Emperor Charles V.

Giovanni Verrazano, Florentine navigator and privateer in the service of France.

However, between the Azores and Spain, this ship was captured by Giovanni Verrazano, a navigator and Florentine privateer in the service of France. Financed in Dieppe by Jean Ango, the objective of Verrazano’s trip was much more ambitious: the discovery of a new westbound passage to China and India, through North America.

Giovanni Verrazano

The capture of the Spanish vessel was apparently only an incident of course, and Verrazano returned to Dieppe from where he left in January 1524 to explore the coasts of the future English colonies of Caroline and New York, probably going north as far as Acadia. A third trip took him to the Lesser Antilles, those “useless islas” which the Spaniards had not deigned to occupy and had abandoned to their inhabitants, the Caribbean Indians, who moreover gave their name to the American Mediterranean. There, in 1528, on one of these islands, Guadeloupe, the navigator found death at the hands of these fierce warriors.

John Rout, an English captain

Verrazano was hardly the first non-Spanish sailor to venture into the Caribbean Sea. Indeed, the year before the Florentin’s death, an English captain, John Rout, whose adventure is far more interesting, had visited it.

After an expedition to the coasts of North America, also in search of a passage to China, Rout had headed for the West Indies and had presented himself, at the end of 1527, in the port of Santo Domingo. The Spaniards were rather friendly to the English and even intended to buy the goods from them. But from the fort, someone fired a cannon close enough to the English ship for Rout to set sail. However, the English returned a few days later and landed 30 or 40 armed men near the town. They wanted to exchange their goods for food, which the Spanish inhabitants refused. With this response, Rout and his men plundered the plantation where they were, then reembarked, promising to return in greater numbers to avenge this affront.

This first contact between the Spaniards and sailors of another European nation in America already gives a glimpse of certain aspects of the relations that the freebooters and the Spaniards will have in peacetime in the next century. Indeed, under Castilian law, any foreign vessel that would trade with the American colonies and did not hold a license issued by the Spanish crown was considered a pirate.

That is why certain captains, English and French, whose primary purpose is in fact trade, will quickly move to reprisals as soon as the colonial authorities, anxious to apply the legislation of the metropolis, refuse them to carry out this legitimate activity.

The French privateers

Not all of the first foreign adventurers to make a fortune in America were smugglers. With France at war with Spain, the privateers of the first of these two kingdoms began to appear numerous in the West Indies in the 1530s.

Norman and Breton sailors already have a long tradition of distant voyages.

For the most part, they armed in the ports of Normandy, at Dieppe more particularly like their predecessor Verrazzano, and also in those of Brittany. These Norman and Breton sailors already have a long tradition of distant journeys. Even before the year 1500, probably as a result of the Portuguese, they frequented the coasts of Brazil in search of a wood essence used to dye the fabrics in red, also called “brazilian wood” and which would have given its name to the country.

To reach Spanish America, French privateers, with their Brazilian experience, first went to the islands of Cape Verde, passed through Brazil and Guiana and then, through the Lesser Antilles, entered the Caribbean Sea. Once there, not only did they take Spanish buildings, but they also attacked small coastal towns and villages that were still poorly defended.

In 1537, a group of French privateers ransacked Numbers of Dios in the Isthmus of Panama and raided Honduras. Three years later, it was the turn of San German in Puerto Rico to be looted. More daring, 300 adventurers seized Cartagena in January 1544, making 35,000 pesos of loot in gold and silver alone, but being less fortunate in front of Havana, from where they had to retreat after losing 15 of their own; So were 80 of their compatriots who were pushed back in front of Santiago de Cuba.

From the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559) ending the wars in Italy between Spain and France, it was admitted by both nations that French individuals could go to try fortune in Spanish America, at their peril, without this compromising peace in Europe.

This principle, probably already applied in the 1540s, is summarized in contemporary expression: “No peace beyond the line of Friendship”. This “line” is in fact the meridian passing through Ferro Island, one of the Azores, to the west of which everything becomes permitted for adventurers. It will serve as a guarantee for the armed attacks committed, in peacetime, against the Spanish colonies in America by the French and English adventurers, who will not all be privateers.

François TRÉBUTOR Flibustier from Dieppe.

Considered the “best pilot in America”, he received (28 Jul. 1669) a commission from M. d’Ogeron, then commanding the frigate La Sainte-Catherine, armed by two merchants of the Turtle and the governor himself. After leaving the island with Captain Gascon, he captured (June 1670) a Portuguese ship from Africa, his men having forced him to commit this act of piracy as he himself told his victims.

He then participated in Morgan’s fleet on the Panama expedition.

Henry Morgan pirate anglais
Henry Morgan, English corsair

On his return from this undertaking, he was arrested by Mr. de Villepars for taking the Portuguese vessel the previous year. However, taking advantage of the sinking, at the Tortoise, of the ship of King Le Mazarin on which he was detained, he escaped (Sept. 1671). Untroubled by his misdemeanor, it seems that he was one of the captains whom M. d’Ogeron recruited in 1673 to go down to Curaçao or Puerto Rico; or was he one of those who followed Pouancey in 1678 to join the fleet of the Count of Estrées? In any case, at the end of 1673, he descended around Mérida (Yucatán) with another French captain, having in his crew Roc the Brazilian: but he was repelled by the Spaniards, who killed several of his own and even captured Trebutor, if they did not kill him.

English Interlopes

The activities of the French privateers in the West Indies in the decades of 1530, 1540 and 1550 certainly eclipsed the less spectacular activities of the English smugglers who, as successors to Captain Rout, risked going to trade with the Spanish colonies, with or without the agreement of their government.

However, they, too, will be forced to use the strong way to force the Spaniards to grant them the right to trade. From the mid-1560s, their exploits against the Spanish earned them an international reputation.

John Hawkins

The most famous and ambitious of these merchant seamen was John Hawkins. Like his father and brother before him, he first frequented the coasts of Brazil and Guinea. On the occasion of these trips, he made influential allies among the notables of the Canary Islands, a large Spanish colony off West Africa. From his contacts with the Portuguese and the Spanish, he learned that there was much money to be made by supplying the American colonies of Spain with black slaves.

John Hawkins

In 1563-65 he made two trips to the West Indies, the second with the secret financial support of the Queen of England and her ministers. Wherever he went, in Hispaniola and Venezuela in particular, Captain Hawkins was very well received both by the local populations, neglected by the metropolis, and by the colonial authorities, often corrupt, with whom, in violation of Spanish laws, he treated the negroes he had bought in Africa. But the Englishman sought to achieve a higher goal than to enrich himself: He intended to gain for his nation a legal share in the trade of the Indies, hence, for example, the fact that he paid customs duties on each of his transactions with the Spaniards.

Quickly informed of this intrusion, the King of Spain lodged a complaint with the Queen of England and temporarily halted the departure of a third expedition under Hawkins’ orders. However, she left Plymouth at the end of 1566, with John Lovell at her head, if not Hawkins. He joined forces with a small fleet of French smugglers under Jean Bontemps and went to Île Margarita, where he sank some of the slaves he had taken from Guinea. But in Venezuela itself, in Rio de la Hacha, where Hawkins had received a particularly warm welcome in previous years, a new governor refused Lovell permission to deal.

By the end of 1567, this time with the official approval of Queen Elizabeth, who provided the two main ships of the expedition, Hawkins was once again bound for Spanish America. Like Lovell the previous year, Hawkins encountered problems with the Spanish authorities, which caused him many difficulties. The situation was also worsened by the presence, alongside the English, of a few French adventurers, much more interested in pillaging the Spaniards than in dealing with them as slaves. Hawkins was joined by Captain Blondel, who had taken part in the expedition Le Clerc a dozen years earlier, and by a fellow named Guillaume Le Testu, privateer but above all a cartographer and navigator.

To make matters worse, Hawkins’s third voyage ended in September 1568 with a naval battle at San Juan de Ulua, in front of the Vera Cruz, against the Spanish fleet. Several of Hawkins’ men were captured by the Spanish and the rest, with their leader, painfully returned to England. Spain’s intransigence prevented the English from trading peacefully: in subsequent years they will use the strong way.

Francis Drake

Although victorious in the San Juan de Ulua affair, the Spanish were nevertheless astonished by the boldness of these foreign sailors who had dared to approach the port of La Vera Cruz, through which Mexico’s wealth passed before being sent to Europe. They were not, however, at the end of their troubles with the English in the second half of the 16th century. Indeed, a young relative of Hawkins, Francis Drake, will follow in his footsteps in the Caribbean Sea and gain a great reputation as a pirate for some and a faithful servant of the crown for others.

Francis Drake corsaire
Sir Francis Drake

In the mid-1620s, after more or less successful attempts in French Guiana, the English and French began to settle in the Lesser Antilles, these useless islands, disdained of the Spanish, from which they gradually chased the Caribbean Indians. More important, however, was the Dutch action against the Spanish in America until the middle of the century. Both pirates, rebels and heretics, these former subjects of the Habsburg who occupied the thrones of Castile and Aragon for a century already will deliver to this master of yesterday a ruthless war

The Compagnie des Indes allowed France to obtain a share of the gains of the conquest of the Americas

In 1626, a certain Belin d’Estambuc, a Norman gentleman, founded a company which, with the support of Richelieu, was to open to his country a share of the gains of the conquest of the Americas.

This “Compagnie de Saint-Christophe” (named after the island of the Antilles where he stayed) would become, in 1635, the “Compagnie des Isles d’Amérique” and finally, in 1664, the famous “Compagnie des Indes occidentales” which would be created by Colbert at the same time as the “Compagnie des Indes Orientales”.

les îles des petites antilles

Chased by the Spaniards in 1630 from Saint Christopher Island, Belin d’Estambuc took possession of this island shortly after. 80 of his companions, French and English, decided to take refuge in Turtle Island. The 25 Spaniards who stayed there were thrown mercilessly into the sea. Some Dutch men, driven from the island of Sainte Croix, soon joined them in their hideout. Well located on the road between Cuba and Europe, this island became the ideal base for those whose sole purpose was to attack Spanish treasures.

The flibatist, which stood out from piracy, was therefore mainly a reaction phenomenon.

Colonies were growing, and buccaneers were no longer accepted

At the beginning of the 18th century, the settlement of the Spanish succession had dealt a serious blow to French buccaneers who no longer had any pretext to attack the Spanish.

In the West Indies, the establishment of a strong organization with increased security, the establishment of operating colonies with a powerful administration and the influx of European settlers forced the buccaneers to take more and more risks.

They were increasingly fascinated by the booming trade in the Orient Road.

Merchant ships, poorly escorted, always unloaded dream cargoes in European ports, representing so many potential spoils.

Hunted down in the West Indies, many buccaneers did not resign themselves to leaving this adventure life to which they had become accustomed.

They decided to go offshore and become pirates in the Indian Ocean.

After crossing the Atlantic and overtaking the Cape of Good Hope, they went up to the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the coast of Malabar. Madagascar, which the Western powers had not yet succeeded in fully colonizing and which offered incomparable shelters, would become their ideal base.

Their hideouts were located in Fort-Dauphin, in the Bay of Antongil and, in particular, in the small island of Sainte-Marie, located in the north-east of Madagascar which would become, in the 17th century, the favorite base of pirates of the Indian Ocean. There will be up to 1,500

French buccaneers side with Protestants.

Flibustiers and privateers armed by the King of France were the heirs of the Temple fleet and long constituted the only unofficial French fleet because the prohibition to go to the Americas following the Treaty of Tordesillas imposed by the papacy of Rome effectively condemned France to renounce its navy.

King Francis I still did not have an important royal navy. Chased out of Holland by Charles V, the Dutch sailors took refuge in England, whose Anglican religion sheltered them from the orders of the popes, and soon, to remain consistent in their struggle against the popes of Rome, the freebooters sided with the Protestants and became the Protestant fleet.

The Admiral of Coligny was one of the Protestant chiefs and one of the wealthiest in the kingdom because he led Protestant and buccaneer sailors and the fortune taken on Spanish and Portuguese ships.

Gaspard de Coligny
Gaspard de Coligny

Following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV, the Protestants left France with their wealth from the Americas, many went to Holland, which had become Protestant and liberated from Spanish domination, others settled in Germany in the Saar or in England and with their wealth they embarked on the first industries.

This is one of the origins of Alain Peyrefitte’s “French Evil”, in which the author explains the difference in culture between the more decentralized Protestant societies, which are based on entrepreneurship and social Christianity and trust individuals while the Latin and Catholic societies remain centralized, bureaucratic and collective in the sense of collective ownership directed by elites different from members of the social group. The departure of the Protestants under Louis XIV is one of the causes of the French evil still present in 2022.

The French Royal Navy helps the Dutch and the insurgents who claim the independence of the English colonies of North America

Suffren donne une leçon de marine aux Anglais à la bataille de Porto Praya
la bataille de Porto Praya, îles du Cap Vert

Suffren gives a naval lesson to the English at the battle of Porto Praya. This naval battle is involved in the context of the American war of independence supported by the French.

The British declared war on the Dutch, the latter having the overhang of continuing their trade with the insurgents. Holland then requests assistance from France, while the British intends to launch an offensive against the Dutch colonies of CAP (South Africa)..

On April 16, 1781, Suffren stopped for a refueling in Porto Praya, a Portuguese island off Cape Verde. Its five vessels then come face to face with five British lines and three frigates under the command of George Johnstone.

Suffren immediately engaged in the fight against British ships at the quay. The outcome of the battle is indecisive, each camp eventually won, even if some British ships are starting to lower a flag. However, the operation allows enough to slow down Johnstone. The latter is indeed forced to stop his offensive on the CAP for maintenance. Suffren will arrive first on site and will assist the Dutch as agreed.

At the court of Louis XVI, we classify the battle of Porto Praya as a French strategic victory.

Illustration : Combat de la baie de la Praya dans l’île de San Iago au Cap-Vert, le 16 avril 1781, par Pierre-Julien Gilbert (1783-1860).Pour aller plus loin : Louis-Gabriel Michaud, « Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne : histoire par ordre alphabétique de la vie publique et privée de tous les hommes avec la collaboration de plus de 300 savants et littérateurs français ou étrangers », Paris, éditions Michaud, 1843.

Note from Vincent Helrelle, Facebook 04/17/2022 :

In theory, Suffren had 5 ships but in fact only the Annibal and the Artesian followed his hero in combat. In addition, the Artesian does not engage in the fray and attacks two merchant ships. The avenger stupidly attacks the convoy and the sphinx does not even get closer to less than two miles! In fact, Suffren fights with 2 vessels against 6 English vessels because the English are 6: Monmouth, Hero, Fortitude, Jupiter, Iris and Active. Then Suffren breaks the fight. And Johnstone takes all his time to repair … (History of the French Navy of Claude Farrère)


San José finds itself at the center of a new battle

More than three centuries after being sunk by the British fleet off the coast of Cartagena de Indias, in the clear waters of the Baru Peninsula, Colombia, the San José is at the center of a new battle. This is the diplomatic one between Colombia, Bolivia and Spain, which are fighting over the ownership of the wreck of the legendary Spanish galleon, found in December 2015 after decades of excavations. On Thursday, February 10, 2022, the Colombian government finally made progress, after the publication of a presidential decree authorizing official exploration of what remains of the ship, which has never been manipulated.

le San José galion espagnol coulé par la flotte britannique
San José Spanish Galion flowed by the British fleet

Spain and Bolivia are likely to see red. Ever since the ship’s location was identified, both countries have asserted ownership over its extraordinary content: It is estimated that the San José docks contain no less than 200 tons of gold, silver and emeralds, an estimated minimum of EUR 3 billion in loot. Some are raising this amount to 17 billion!

An indigenous group from Bolivia, the Qhara Qharas, recalls that it was its ancestors who were forced to extract silver from what was, in the 1500s, the largest silver mine in the world; Colombians, finally, believe unquestionably that the loot that lies in its territorial waters is a “national treasure”.

The San José was sunk by a fleet of English privateers on 8 June 1708 while en route to Cartagena, India, which, according to the chronicles of the time, was laden with nearly ECU 11 million of gold and silver which he had collected at the Portobelo fair in Panama. He then had to go to Havana, Cuba, where, like all the “gold fleets”, he was forced to stop before taking the Spanish route in a convoy to deliver the treasure to King Philip V. But four British ships – the Kingston, Portland, Vulture and Expedition – were waiting for him in an ambush and attacked the convoy in a battle now known as the Battle of Baru, fought on 7 and 8 June 1708. Commanded by Commodore Charles Wager, the Expedition sent the San José down the river, leading to death 78 passengers and crew. Only 11 sailors survived.

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