A Pirate's Life: 6 Swashbuckling Medieval Pirates

Battle of Sluys which John Crabbe was involved in. Wikimedia

John Crabbe ( fl. 1305 – 1352)

John Crabbe likely operated as a pirate prior to 1305 but that is the earliest record of his life of piracy. It is known that he was born in the town of Muide in Flanders and there is a 14th century tower in the town where it is believed the pirate was born. He was also thought to be the older brother to Peter and Baldwin Crabbe and uncle to Crabbekin. In 1305, he attacked the Waardeboure of Dordrecht at La Rochelle when it was in the Bay of Biscay. He took all the cargo from the ship which was reported to include 150 tuns of wine and then he burned the ship and kidnapped all the men aboard. Reports say that his ability to capture the Waardeboure was largely due to the fact that he had a catapult built which could be fired from the deck of his ship.

In 1310, Crabbe’s life of piracy was continuing to flourish. He seized a ship with cloth, gold, silver and jewels. The goods belonged to Alice of Hainault who was Countess Marshal. King Edward II of England sent letters of complaint to Count Robert of Flanders for the goods and for subsequent goods stolen from merchant ships in 1311. Though some of Crabbe’s men were punished, Crabbe was never brought to justice nor was restitution made. Therefore in 1315, King Edward ordered that Flemish ships be seized and their goods sold in order to compensate the Countess.

In 1316, Count Robert allowed Crabbe to return and even made him admiral of a fleet of ships. At the time Flanders was being ravaged by famine and they were so desperate for food they were willing to turn to piracy. Crabbe seized merchant ships once again to deliver food to Flanders and once again, complaints came into Count Robert. Robert claimed he had no idea the whereabouts of the pirate but promised that his punishment would come on the wheel if he was caught. In 1318, Crabbe had settled in Berwick, Scotland and proved to be a strong ally to the town when the English tried to capture it. His defense of the town was praised.

In 1332, war broke out again and while Crabbe once again defended Berwick, things did not go as well for him. He was captured by the English and transported to England. In 1333 the English attacked Berwick again but this time Crabbe was in England and the Scots believed that he was assisting King Edward III and killed his Crabbe’s son. From then on Crabbe was pardoned by the English and made Constable of Somerton Castle. He gathered his own fleet and helped Edward III throughout the rest of the war and throughout the Hundred Years’ war that followed. He died in early 1352.

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