Barbary Corsairs in the Regency?!?

by Charisse Howard (first posted on

redcoats1If you saw my previous post “The Regency Abroad,” you’ll recall my rereading Jane Austen and wondering: Who are these “officers” who keep popping up, turning young ladies’ heads, and then marching off again?

When His Royal Highness Prince George took the sove-reins from his ailing father and launched the Regency, his country was at war. (Britain was often at war. It’s an island. Like Manhattan, it depends heavily on imports.) Ever since the French Revolution had paved the way for Napoleon to become Emperor, things were prickly across the Channel.

USmapRegencyNor had Britain forgiven Spain for the Armada, as well as continuing to meddle in the New World. The Americans had booted the Brits out of their former colonies. When Napoleon sold France’s vast Louisiana Territory to the newly United States in 1803, that left only Spain on the south end of the East Coast, hanging onto Florida. On the north end, Canada remained British.

Thus the War of 1812. The U.S. had a vision of stretching from sea to sea, but at this point, that meant from the Gulf of Mexico (we want Spain out of Florida!) to Hudson Bay (we want Britain out of Canada!).

LBB-2014-AReThe British thought it would be nicer if they kept Canada and also got back into Florida. They made friends with the Spanish. They tried to make friends with the Louisiana Bayou buccaneers. That’s the back story for my “Regency Rakes & Rebels” romance Lady Barbara & the Buccaneer.

But America was a minor distraction. Why had Napoleon sold Louisiana? To fund his invasion of Britain. (See “The Regency Abroad.”)

Napoleon was a steamroller on land, but in the English Channel (La Manche, from his side) and on the Mediterranean Sea, he was no match for the Royal Navy. Still, it took years to prove that.

corsair-figsCroptIt also took some help from the Barbary Corsairs.

The Afghan-American writer Tamim Ansary has written a terrific book, Destiny Disrupted, which describes in detail how the mainly Christian world and the mainly Muslim world cohabited. Switching for a moment to the Muslims’ point of view: Europe was a little peninsula, Britain a tiny faraway island. The center of the world–culture, commerce, civilization–was the Maghreb and the Levant. That’s roughly the area which today’s Westerners call North Africa and the Middle East.

Dotted along the northern rim of the Maghreb were major ports such as Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli. Collectively, this was the Barbary Coast, so called for the Berbers who lived there. The ruler of each port collected fees from other local shippers, from Europeans, and also from the corsairs–the Mediterranean version of buccaneers.

Barbarossa_Hayreddin_PashaThe corsairs’ heyday ended two centuries before the Regency era. Its central figure, Hayreddin Barbarossa, started as a pirate and wound up a pasha, thanks to his naval victories for the Ottoman Empire.

During the Napoleonic Wars, France’s blockade of Britain opened up a new market for corsairs. Naval battles were the gentlemanly way for the Brits to win control of the northern Mediterranean. But why overlook the usefulness of freelancers? The need to capture enemy ships and their cargo created a new generation of corsairs.

And that is the back story for my new “Regency Rakes & Rebels” romance, working title Lady Caroline & the Corsair, due out the first of February!