Pirate Nation : Elizabeth I and Her Royal Sea Rovers
For all the romantic mythology surrounding the court of Queen Elizabeth I, the financial underpinning of the reign of 'Gloriana' was decidedly sordid. Elizabeth's policy of seizing foreign assets made her popular at home but drew her into a public/private partnership with pirates who preyed on the state's foes and friends alike, being rewarded or punished depending on how much of a cut the Queen received, rather than the legitimacy of their action. For this reason the rule of law at sea was arbitrary, and almost non-existent.
Even those, such as the Lord Admiral and the Court of Admiralty, who were tasked with policing the seas and eliminating piracy, managed their own pirate fleets. While honest merchants could rail and fail, the value to the exchequer of this dubious income was enormous, often equalling, on an annual basis, the input from all other sources such as taxation or customs dues. However, the practice of piracy taught English seamen how to fight and, when the nation was at its greatest peril, in 1588, it was pirates who kept the Armada away from the coast.
Effingham, Grenville, Ralegh and Drake, became 'admirals all for England's sake', but this highly original book argues that their deeply ingrained piratical approach to naval warfare almost allowed the Armada to succeed. This is only one of a number of startling insights into the reality of Elizabethan naval policy offered by this honest and eminently readable reappraisal.