From Faversham to Tunis: the pirate’s tale

I don’t, on the whole, recommend that you go to folk song as evidence for what actually happened in one period of history or another. Facts get distorted as stories are improved by the telling (or singing). Nevertheless I’ve found out all sorts of things I wouldn’t otherwise have known by starting with a song and then reading around. Take pirates. I reckon that pirates must run highwaymen a close second in the romantic rogue stakes and there are lots of pirate folk songs, Britain being made up of several seafaring nations. The Scots have Henry Martin (Child Ballad no. 167) and Captain Kidd and the English The Coasts of High Barbary (no. 12 in Cecil Sharp’s One Hundred English Folksongs). King of them all is Captain Ward, the (anti)hero of Child Ballad no. 287 – here’s Spiers and Boden’s version. Moreover it’s all true, and the song doesn’t cover the half of it. I don’t know if Sovay ever existed but Captain Ward certainly did – and he has one of those stories you wouldn’t dare make up for fear of it being thought too implausible, even for fiction:

A Kentish fisherman pressed into the navy only to desert a fortnight later, he captured a ship and turned pirate, first in the Solent and then in the Mediterranean. Along the way he married an Italian woman (whilst always sending cash home to his wife in Faversham) and converted to Islam, taking the name of Yusef Reis; he died of the plague in a splendid palace of marble and alabaster in Tunis in 1622. There’s a tradition he was a Robin Hood type – targeting the Catholic ships of Spain and Venice and sparing both his fellow English sailors and those of his adopted faith. This may or may not be true – either way he was a formidable force in the Mediterranean in the early Seventeenth century, easily defeating the warship sent against him by King James VI & I. As the broadside ballad has it, he thumbed his nose at the king:

“Go home, go home!” says Captain Ward,
“And tell your king from me:
Although he’s king of all dry land
Yet I’m king of the sea!”

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This entry was posted in Child Ballad, folk music, folk song, Music, pirates, Spiers and Boden and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to From Faversham to Tunis: the pirate’s tale

  1. h.harrison says:

    i can not belive that Faversham does not have one of its many pubs named after our famous hero JACK Ward

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