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The Dutch Freebooter in the Golden Age

  • Virginia West Lunsford

Abstract

It is difficult to reconcile the Golden Age Dutch Republic’s stringent legislation regarding privateering and piracy—as well as the Dutch population’s loathing for piracy in general—with its courts’ erratic dispensation of justice. Numerous Dutch laws meticulously delimited conduct that constituted “piracy” and emphatically forbade Dutch seamen from engaging in it. Yet, surprisingly, the Dutch authorities often neglected to act on these edicts. While judges sometimes did deliver the prescribed harsh penalties, consisting of brutal corporal punishment and execution, many convicted zeerovers and stroomrovers escaped such severe sanctions, instead receiving lighter sentences, pardons, and even public approval. Occasionally, archival sources disclose reasons why the authorities chose to be merciful.1 In general, however, one can find no outward, discernable rationale for the Dutch authorities’ reasoning. Why were there so many exceptions to explicit Dutch rules about piracy? Why did the Dutch public’s proclaimed repugnance for piracy not manifest itself as a zealous commitment to prosecute and punish their own errant seamen? Why did popular Dutch literature claim to demonize pirates but then sometimes instead lionize them? How can one explain the Dutch authorities’ peculiar hesitancy to penalize convicted maritime criminals, and, indeed, the Dutch population’s apparent support of this position?

Keywords

Slippery Slope United Province Dutch People Dutch Citizen Dutch Public 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

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© Virginia West Lunsford 2005

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  • Virginia West Lunsford

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