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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing history lesson
Running somewhat contrary to modern beliefs about how pirates behaved during their spare time, this book reveals some remarkable truths about an exceedingly Bohemian era. In fairness, the author does go a little 'overboard' with the seamen jokes, but who could really blame him for wanting to squeeze out every last drop? Anyhow, don't be misled by Burg's penchant for bawdy...
Published on 18 Jun 2008 by Wayne Redhart

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a rare insight into history
This book has been quoted by Alan Bennett in a context that provoked my interest. I find it refreshing in its approach to aspects of social history that were unknown to me.
Published 8 months ago by Nigel C.B. Durrant


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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing history lesson, 18 Jun 2008
By 
Wayne Redhart "@wayneredhart on Twitter!" (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth-Century Caribbean (Paperback)
Running somewhat contrary to modern beliefs about how pirates behaved during their spare time, this book reveals some remarkable truths about an exceedingly Bohemian era. In fairness, the author does go a little 'overboard' with the seamen jokes, but who could really blame him for wanting to squeeze out every last drop? Anyhow, don't be misled by Burg's penchant for bawdy innuendo, for behind all the predictable gags about 'emptying the cannons' or 'entering the poop deck' etc. one finds an extremely engaging history of a rather ill-understood era. Judging from the first-hand sources presented within, you can forget what you saw in Pirates of the Caribbean! I doubt whether Johnny Depp would be quite so popular among teenage girls, had the makers demonstrated what a real-life pirate might have got up to beneath the deck- especially if the film had recreated the tale of some three-way action between one galleon's first-mate and cabin boy, as well as their peg-legged eunuch of a captain (who apparently triumphed over adversity, by uncovering new possibilities where others would merely spy limitations).

Anyway, I learned an enormous amount from this book, not least the etymological origins of the term 'buttpirate'. Incidentally, I understand that Burg is soon to publish a volume about the equally freewheeling behaviour that was rife among workers from the packing departments of Victorian factories (particularly within those that specialised in the production of sugar and butter based confectionary).
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captures the interest, 14 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth-Century Caribbean (Paperback)
I bought this book after a random recommendation on QI, of all things, and haven't been disappointed. Although the book does focus primarily on pirates, there are other chapters which cover general society which does give a good context before moving onto the piratical aspects. The length of biblography is better than I was expecting for a book of this nature, although to be honest I took most things with a pinch of salt. However, the book does give you food for thought on the subject and possibly even approach it from a completely new viewpoint. You could quite happily read this book for entertainment only rather than educational study, and it does make an interesting addition to your coffee table. Just remember to hide it when the mother in law comes over for tea ;)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a rare insight into history, 10 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth-Century Caribbean (Paperback)
This book has been quoted by Alan Bennett in a context that provoked my interest. I find it refreshing in its approach to aspects of social history that were unknown to me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Important and essential reading, even it imperfect., 13 Aug 2013
This review is from: Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth-Century Caribbean (Paperback)
Overall, this book is an excellent assimilation of data that provides a compelling, if sometimes circumstantial, argument that homosexual activity or homosexuality itself was an integral, known and most probably welcome aspect of pirate life in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Taken in the context of its initial date of publication (1983) and subsequent reprint (1995) the message of this book will have initially been perhaps more profound than it is today in western society in 2013 where homosexual lifestyle has in many parts of society become mainstream and often legally protected. There are, however, a few drawbacks that detract from this work without, in my view, undermining its message or significance.

In the extensive discussion on historical context, there seems a degree of selective use of example in articulating the attitudes of society toward homosexuality and homosexual behaviour. At times it feels a bit like the author is bending history to his message rather than concluding his message from an unbiased assessment of history. There are two examples worth noting. In the discussion of Mervin Touchet, Lord Audley, Earl of Castlehaven, his conviction and execution, the author does not extend the discussion to the others involved in the case or point out that they too were executed, perhaps as with Castlehaven not simply for sodomy but this point is left unclear since unaddressed. A second example is the discussion of a pamphlet entitled A Full and True Account of a Dreadful Fire that Lately Broke Out in the Popes Breeches. This the author identifies as anti-clerical rather than anti-homosexual, but nowhere in the discussion is the definition extended to clarify that it in fact relates to a rumoured affair between the well-known wife of the British consul to Venice and the Pope. Perhaps this doesn't detract from the point that the publication is not anti-homosexual, but it does provide better context to see the homosexual element of the pamphlet being used as a satirical and shaming tool in pillorying an actual pope and an actual lady about a known rumour rather than a generic anti-clerical rant.

This leads to the next point of concern, the absence of discussion of the significance of homosexuality as a source of humour and the similarity of this between 17th/18th century England and late 20th century Britain and America. It is a widely known and discussed fact that the humorous use of homosexual references in late 20th century Britain and America was often intended to humiliate and ridicule homosexual acts and homosexuality and those involved in it. It seems from the examples cited in this book to be similar in this respect to the manifestation of homosexual reference in literature, satire, theatre and account in 17th and 18th century England. This does challenge the assertion that homosexuality was more normal and tolerated as a part of 17th/18th Century English life than the late 20th century condemnation within the military, scouts and other institutions. But, this perspective is not addressed in this book. Further to this, there is an interpretation that could be made of the proven preference for 17th and 18th century English courts to be satisfied prosecuting attempted sodomy rather than the more serious sodomy and the equally proven mild penalty upon most convictions that this reflects a powerful component of shame or social damage that makes more severe conviction or punishment redundant. This too is not discussed.

In the discussion of the factors leading a man or boy to choose long distance sea voyage with its well understood characteristic of entirely male companionship over countless months or years, the motivation of escape and freedom of lifestyle is not adequately discussed. For the most part, the implication of a tolerant English society implies this decision is about a man or boy choosing to immerse himself in a homosexual lifestyle - almost gratuitously since the author argues that homosexual lifestyle was not severely curtailed in England at this time. There is another explanation, much more consistent with late 20th and early 21st century society, that this was about achieving freedoms to be oneself and not hide one's homosexuality. As such, it could be viewed as a means of escaping social persecution in England by entering a society embracing homosexuality. This may be particularly the case within a non-Catholic country with fewer segregated male communities and institutions than catholic countries would have offered without long sea voyage.

A great deal of energy is spent discussing the association of cabin boys and similar with individual, older sailors and this evidence of homosexual or paedophilic preferences of more experienced or leading seamen. It is discussed mostly in terms of an execution of a power balance and compared to late 20th century prison populations in this respect. Whilst this argument is well presented and there is no reason to question it, a further explanation necessary for consideration has been ignored. It is clear from the data provided by the author that a percentage of pirates were heterosexual and may have had homosexual encounters as a matter of necessity or desperation. It is reasonable to consider - if for no other reason than to disprove - that the androgynous physic of male youth, being closer to the feminine ideal than the average seaman may be expected to have been, was a more palatable compromise for this heterosexual minority.

These observations lead me to conclude that in writing this book, the author may have feared that without building up a very solid foundation of context, his argument and conclusion would not be accepted. Again, in the contexts of 1983 and 1995 this may be fair and an acceptable explanation for the concerns I raise above.

Other than this, the only minor criticism of the work itself is a degree of repetition of facts that makes it seem that part of the book was originally written as articles and consolidated with insufficient editing.

I emphasize that these observations do not detract from the important message of this book that contrary to the pulp-fiction myth of the highly sexed, heterosexual pirate fighting ferocious sea battles in search of gold, jewels and fair maiden women to be devoured, the reality of these characters is evidently far more inclined to ravish the house boy than the mistress even if through misogyny, distrust, disgust or simple convenience the mistress will have been done away with quickly if not so cruelly as well. This book is a must read for anyone seriously interested in understanding the dynamic of the pirate lifestyle and the history which has become so oddly warped in its integration to mainstream 20th and 21st century western culture. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject generally and would expect it to be familiar to anyone wishing to speak seriously about Caribbean piracy.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting assessment of Pirate Private Life., 24 Mar 2012
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This review is from: Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth-Century Caribbean (Paperback)
Being an avid watcher of QI, I was intrigued by this publication mentioned by Stephen Fry and I have to confess, I felt compelled to buy it and read it. I was very pleased to read what can only be described as an informative insight to the ways of the pirate classes above and below decks. Its a brilliant book and everyone should read it before prejudging homosexual behaviour.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating- More about English society than Piratical behaviour?, 13 Jan 2013
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Yes it's true, you won't see Pirates of the Caribbean in the same way ever again if you read this. What I especially found interesting was the cultural background information. It would appear that homosexuality then was rarely held in the contempt to which it became accustomed more 'recently'. I must confess I did not read about 33% of this book, that's because I discovered that the last part of the book was given over to the academic bit where resources are quoted and explained. I recognise that sodomy did not take up the whole of pirates lives, it' was just one part. Having just read a few reviews by others made me realise I'd forgotten one important fact, I too first heard about this book from the TV programme QI. Well done Mr Fry!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good so far, 24 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth-Century Caribbean (Paperback)
Interesting so far, but the new introduction contains a glaring error - the founder of the Scout Movement was ROBERT Baden Powell, not RICHARD as asserted by the author three times. Trouble is that instantly makes me worry how many other errors may be lurking somewhere ........
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointed, 18 Mar 2011
This review is from: Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth-Century Caribbean (Paperback)
I had high hopes for this book, but i've been sorely disappointed. The topic of scial life in London and the colonis is covered well, and indeed takes up most of the book, but Burg fails to convince with his argument regarding piracy and homosexuality. He comes up with some good points, but he offers abslutely no evidence to prove this. A lack of women does not *necessarily* lead to an increase in sodomy - the lack of evidence is not evidence, and the comparison between the 17th century seas and modern-day prisons is ridiculous. The two situations are not the same at all. It is a shame, because it had potential, but as Burg says himself, there is practically no primary source material on the topic. Can someone really write a monograph with absolutely no evidence at all?
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Anchors away!, 9 Jan 2013
By 
BJShalts (Amsterdam) - See all my reviews
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I bought this book after hearing it mentioned on the TV programme QI. The book is well written and covers very interesting subject matter, with some good scene setting to show events in a historical context. The author makes the following points that sodomy was pretty much the norm in the pirate world because
1. Lack of women
2. Men with homosexual tendencies choosing this life.
3. Less condemnation of sodomy among the general population than there is in the modern world.

These points are well made, but after the umpteenth time he had stated these points, I began to wish he would stop banging on about them!
However, it's an interesting read, and packed with insights into how pirating came about, and the political, cultural and financial ramifications of piracy in the 17th century and beyond.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring read, 23 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition: English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth-Century Caribbean (Paperback)
Why does the author use the first 60 odd pages to try to justify sodomy and give constant examples of it not being "a great deal" in 17th century England? Why not get to the point which (I presumed by the title) is the sexual practices of pirates. Instead we are treated to the authors unhealthy fixation of anal sex with young boys. Another 30-40 pages are dedicated to the author telling us that there was not a great deal of opportunity for female company in the West Indies. This lack of women is somehow used as justification so as the reader is persuaded that this lack of females made hetrosexuals into homosexuals! He does not take into account religious beliefs, homophobia or the personal preferences of the men he is writing about.
I have spent time in the forces, female company unfortunately was not as readily available as I and my comrades would have liked, but we did not feel the need for buggery.
Most of the points made in the book are assumptions and plenty of guess work which cannot be based on any written accounts as they obviously did not exist (cabin boy Smith was more than likely illiterate).
The author constantly repeats himself and I have never known an author use the words probably and maybe so much in a book. He also contradicts himself so much it is hard to determine what his point is.
Another problem I have is the constant comparisons made with American convicts and British buccaneers for 300 years previous. The American convict spents most of his time on land. Sexual attitudes of 300 years ago surely have altered considerably. Religion played a stronger role in life in the 17th century, i could go on.
The author has clearly not researched this book well
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