Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal, Wikipedia.


former usage of war permitting privately owned and operated war vessels (privateers) under commission of a belligerent government to capture enemy shipping. Private ownership distinguished the privateer from an ordinary warship; letters of marque and reprisal (commission issued by a government) distinguished it from a pirate craft. The primary object of privateering was to harass the enemy, but it was often practiced as a retaliatory measure. Licensed privateering dates back to the 13th cent., but the great era of privateering was the period from 1589 to 1815, when privateers became auxiliaries to or substitutes for regular navies, and when weaker naval powers used privateers as an effective method of injuring a more powerful maritime rival. Privateersmen, who kept all or a part of their booty, often gained great wealth. After the defeat (1692) of the French fleet by the Dutch and English, France commissioned privateers, who preyed upon English commerce. In the American War of Independence and in the War of 1812 American privateersmen captured hundreds of prizesprize,
in maritime law, the private property of an enemy that a belligerent captures at sea. For the capture of the vessel or cargo to be lawful it must be made outside neutral waters and by authority of the belligerent.
..... Click the link for more information.
. The Confederate States issued letters of marque to the last privateers in history, but the Union blockade limited their effectiveness. In attempting to curb the abuses of privateering, nations required that captures be condemned in prize courts and that commissions (in restricted number) be granted only in the name of the sovereign. Privateersmen were free of naval discipline, and their desire for prize often led them to make no distinction between friendly and enemy shipping, to violate the rules of war, and to indulge in lawlessness after the conclusion of peace. These abuses led to the abolition of privateering by the Declaration of Paris (1856). This declaration does not prohibit the creation of voluntary navies consisting of private vessels under the control of a state, such as those used in World War II in the evacuation from Dunkirk.


See E. S. Maclay, History of American Privateers (1924, repr. 1968); W. B. Johnson, Wolves of the Channel (1931); C. W. Kendall, Private Men-of-War (1932); J. P. Cranwell and W. B. Crane, Men of Marque (1940); D. Woodward, The Secret Raiders (1955); D. B. Chidsey, The American Privateers (1962); C. L. Alderman, The Privateersmen (1965).



maritime military operations by privately owned vessels with special government permits (letters of marque) to seize and destroy ships of the enemy and of neutral countries engaged in shipping for an enemy country.

Privateering was especially widespread in the Middle Ages. Initially, private persons exercised the right to seize and prey upon enemy ships without any special permit; subsequently states used privateering as a means of waging maritime war, regulating it by a definite procedure. Privateering licenses were issued by the state to its own citizens as well as to citizens of neutral countries. The privateers obligated themselves to furnish guarantees in case the state had to idemnify victims of unlawful robbery of ships belonging to neutral countries; a procedure was established to halt and search ships. A seized ship was escorted to a port belonging to the state that issued the privateering license, where a hearing on the legality of the privateer’s action was held. Privateering without a license or by ships not mentioned in the given license was considered piracy.

In practice, privateering almost always turned into piracy and had an especially adverse effect on the development of trade. In the late 18th century a campaign began to prohibit privateering completely. The first legislative attempt to prohibit privateering was made in France in 1792. In the same period a number of treaties were signed among individual states containing provisions to waive the right of privateering. At the Paris Congress of 1856 a declaration was signed prohibiting privateering.

According to contemporary international law, a ship that is not a warship which engages in military actions against an enemy commercial or military ship is considered a pirate, with all ensuing consequences provided for in international conventions.

References in periodicals archive ?
Thomas Paine and George Washington both owned stock in privateering ventures.
Privateering in general weakened an enemy's economy and its ability to wage war.
suits and privateering during the Age of Sail, lie in a period preceding
Economist Alexander Tabarrok provides an answer to this question by identifying privateering as a type of piece-rate system and arguing that navies, like many business firms, can capture benefits by employing bureaucratic production instead of piecerate production when output is difficult to measure (2007, 574-75).
Over time, difficulty (or reluctance) in coordinating official policy in Europe with privateering activity in the Caribbean increased.
Without additional information about the probabilities of success and failure in wartime privateering, Swanson's profitability estimates remain inconclusive.
First, through a historical consideration, it contends that privateering conjures up images of vessels of capability and availability not prevalent in the PMSC industry.
6) The remarkable institutions of ransom and parole also illustrate how the law and custom of the seas regulated privateering.
A useful conceptual tool, it nonetheless fails to account for the "untypical" behavior of such vessels as the ninety-ton Blakeney of Liverpool--a comparative minnow in the mid-eighteenth century privateering fleet--which went in pursuit of deep-water prizes.
The distinction between privateering and piracy--a state-sanctioned method of warfare as opposed to a criminal enterprise conducted for private gain--is important in law and theory.
For example, the end of the War of 1812 created a slump in Baltimore's privateering industry, which, at least indirectly, made these ships and crews available to the insurgents in the Spanish-American revolutions.
This was by the 1860s considered illegal by most countries in the West: the Treaty of Paris, signed in 1856, had outlawed privateering.