a place the like of witch I never saw Lundy Island (Lundy means 'puffin' in
Norwegian) is a great isolated rock in the middle of the Bristol Channel, an
ideal base for piracy. Not only the English used it.
Lundy Island was invaded by
various groups of pirates to be used as a stronghold and base for operations
against the heavily laden merchant ships passing by; en route to and from
Bristol, Barnstaple, South Wales, Chepstow, and Bridgwater; and also against the
Irish fleets bringing pilgrims to the North Devon coastline.
In 1067 Danish pirates
invaded Barnstaple from Lundy.
Sir William de Marisco
married into the Archbishop of Dublin’s family and inherited Irish estates. He
held an important position at the Court of King Henry 111 and for his services
to the Crown was awarded estates along the North Devon and Somerset coastline.
From his Manor at Portishead in 1235 he was outlawed from the Court at
Westminster for slitting the throat of the King’s messenger and so fled to the
remote island of Lundy where he felt safe, using the steep village of Clovelly
on the mainland as his port of supplies.
He built an almost inaccessible castle on top of the high cliffs and from there sallied out to intercept passing ships; not only to plunder them of gold and silver but to take victuals, since the island was barren and could not sustain life.
soon found it profitable to capture the many passing Bristol merchant ships
bringing back valuable goods from overseas. Because of the dangerous shingle
banks in the fast flowing River Severn and Bristol Channel, with its 32 ft tide,
they had to navigate close to his big rock 12 miles out. He was soon into piracy
and ransomed the more wealthy passengers, including the brother of the Mayor of
Bristol. His menace infuriated the King even more and when de Marisco sent some
of his brigands to Woodstock to murder the King, for seizing his Irish estates
he provoked retaliation by an angry Henry who sent in the dragoons one misty
night. They scaled the steep cliffs and captured him alive in his castle (which
is now a pub) and at Clovelly, dragged him up the steep cobbled high street by
tying his legs to two separate horses to be taken back to the King. Most of his
corpse became detached at Glastonbury and only his ankles and feet were left by
the time the dragoons reached Woodstock.
was the haunt of pirates. Many skeletons have been dug up on the island,
including one measuring eight feet two inches in length. Could this be Long John
Silver's? The island abounds with strange names such as Puffin Gully, Rat
Island, Hell's Gate, Devil's Slide and Mouse Island. There are many unexplored
caves where pirate's treasure could be lying mouldering in the dark.
In 1345 the French there
planned a raid on Bristol to burn it down.
In the 1440s Colyn Dolphin,
a Frenchman, was based there. Edward Stradling of Coity Castle married a
daughter of Henry VI's great uncle, Cardinal Beaufort, and became Chamberlain of
South Wales in 1423. His son Harry was captured by the pirate Colyn Dolphyn a
native of Brittany.
Operating out of Lundy
Island, Dolphyn captured of Sir Harry Stradling in 1449 while sailing back
to Wales from Minehead in Somerset, where he had stayed for a month. Sir Harry
Stradling, his faithful man Dewryn, and the crew of the St. Barbe, were kept
close prisoners by Colyn Dolphyn, on board his barque the Sea Swallow for about
2 years. Stradling was ransomed for a price of 2200 marks and forced to sell his
manors of Bassaleg and Rogerstone and other estates to regain his freedom.
According to the old
chroniclers, Colyn Dolphyn was a tall, athletic, and mighty man, "like Saul
in Israel." He "towered head and shoulders" over the Welsh and
English alike. Colyn Dolphyn's name was a terror in South Wales.
Some time later Dolphyn was caught in a storm and ran aground on Colhugh Beach and the Nash rocks in Glamorgan. Sir Harry Stradling and his men met them and captured Dolphyn and his men. They were hung the next day.
The Arabs and Lundy
the early 16th Century Moslems from the north coast of Africa, known as Moors,
having been expelled from Spain and still smarting from their defeats by the
Crusaders decided upon revenge. In fleets of light-weight, fast, lateen-rigged
ships they raided ports in the south-west of England. Because of the threat
posed by these raiders, villages were built away from the coast. The tower of
the village church was used as a look-out.
raiding ships were armed with a cannon mounted in the bow with which, using
chain shot, they could bring down the rigging of the slower, English ships and
then board them and capture them intact with all their crew. These men and women
were then taken back to the Barbary Coast as slaves.
Between the 16th and 17th Centuries corsairs from the Barbary Coast of
Africa descended from Lundy to intercept ships going to and from Ireland and the
Americas. In all, they seized some four hundred and sixty-six vessels. Some of
their women captives were taken back to Algiers or Tunis or Morocco: DNA testing
today would reveal some unusual ancestors.
one time more than twenty thousand were being held as slaves and hostages in the
dungeons of the fort. They included prominent men that were passengers bound for
Bristol, including the brother of the lord mayor and held for ransom.
1520 King James I decided that enough was enough and sent a Royal Navy battle
squadron to blockade the Sultans ports and demand the release of the captives.
was to take Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s to sort them out. He found the sailors
along the south west coast ports were frightened to venture out.
When they caught an Arab they were brought back to the
gibtaylor in Bristol to be drowned.
Murat Reis, the Arab pirate captain, was on Lundy in about 1645. He had
taken 310 prisoners off the southwest coastline to Salee Castle, Algiers, to be
fattened up for sale. Cromwell got fed up with the Arab menace and insurance
prices rising on Bristol merchant ships, that he commissioned two brave west
country men to clear the Arabs off Lundy and chase them back to Tunis. Robert
Blake from farming stock in the North Devon hills and William Penn from
Redcliffe, Somerset took the fight to the enemy and bombarded their stronghold
till they surrendered. They released 20,000 people. Penn had been paid privately
by Bristol merchants to clear the Severn. He could speak Arabic as his father
Giles senior had been ambassador in Africa on behalf of the King Charles.
The 2 Penn brothers from Malmesbury came to Redcliffe (Giles and
William) and were not allowed to trade by the Bristol cartel. So they traded
with the Arabs instead, and had to become ruthless pirates themselves to
survive. As a result, when the Mayor of Bristol, who had his own brother held to
ransom... put up a reward to clear the Arab menace, lying in wait off Denny
Island, Portishead..(they were waiting for the trading ships full of young white
boys to be chained to their oars ,sold as slaves at the Horsefayre since 1242,
and bound for Ireland with its Viking origins).
Insurance rates were escalating. So it was worth some reward to be
paid to a mercenary..so this is how Captain Penn, son of Giles, the English
ambassador to Tunis, became famous and eventually an admiral.
a result both men were made up to Admirals and Penn was sent to capture the
Jamaica and the sugar islands in the Caribbean from the Spanish in 1655. Henry
Morgan, who later became governor of Jamacia (he died of drinking too much rum)
was with him. The Penns eventually colonised Pennsylvania USA and lived on
Portland Bill, Dorset complete with its pirate graveyard.
Even plunderers and modern
pirates used the island as a base in World War II ...U-boats used to lurk there
in the shelter of the steep cliffs to avoid detection from radar.