Challenging order at sea
The early practice of privateering
in The Sea and International Relations
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When the European polities started looking overseas in earnest in the late fifteenth century, the Iberian powers were able to secure papal sanction for a global duopoly. The Treaty of Tordesillas gave Spain and Portugal exclusive rights to half of the world each. A century later, both the duopoly and the religious order of Europe had been upended. A key practice in this upending was that of privateering. Privateering played a crucial part both in the survival of Protestantism in Europe and in the spread of the European-dominated state system, accounting for how polities beyond the Iberian ones went overseas and how they came to settle around the world.

Understanding privateering opens up the door to making sense of the challenge posed by the sea to different European polities, how they managed to overcome the obstacles posed by the sea, and how the sea became a political fibre, structuring the reach of their political authority. By challenging traditional dichotomies of public and private, sea and land, state and empire, trade and war, engaging with privateering is a clear-cut example of a rethinking of international relations with the sea.

We approach the topic in four steps. Starting with a brief overview of what privateering consisted of and how it was practised and regulated, we then discuss the continental context of confessional divides and how they impacted the policies of Protestant states. The main part of the chapter is concerned with the three cases of protestant privateering: Huguenot, English and Dutch.

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