This week I bought myself a book: Black Flag by Oliver Bowden. This author is the one who transcribed all the games in the Assassin's Creed series into a novel. And this is the adaptation of the very last of the series, the one that has just been released. You are probably wondering why I take it at the risk of spoiling the story. This point is not important to me, I will not be able to touch the game before next January anyway (a matter of place on the PS4 delivery list) so it helps me pass the time. And then it remains a great story of piracy.
Piracy… It has existed since the navy took off and we still find it in our modern era. But only one has ever captured the imagination of the whole West. And this even before its end, with the publication in 1725 of Captain Charles Johnson's General History of the Most Famous Pyrates. This book, historically disputed because certain facts cannot be proven and that one supposes behind this pseudonym a famous author of fiction (Daniel Defoe, the one who wrote Robinson Crusoe) remains the number one source when it comes to dealing with the pirates of the Caribbean. No doubt it was used in the genesis of the story of Assassin's Creed Black Flag. The authors of the series are renowned for their historical rigor. But the epic of the pirates of the Caribbean is peopled with legends, which are considered unmissable when they are based only on a fleeting detail.
Like for example the famous haunt of Tortuga Island. This completely anachronistic name is amalgamated between an island off the coast of Venezuela, which still bears this name today, and the first large base of the corsairs who occupied this sea and whose name is spanish since that time. Since spanish is still an official language of Haiti, it should only be called Tortoise Island. She has no reason to appear in Assassin's Creed Black Flag as her base is abandoned at this time. The occupation of the Turtle and the adventure of the great pirate captains are the beginning and the end of a great adventure. An adventure that all the NPCs in the game must have in mind, like the tales that old people tell by the fireside.
The genesis of the Antillean Flibuste (official name given by spanish historians to this movement) can be dated to 1492. This year two events take place which will make Spain the first European power: the end of the Reconquista and the discovery of "the way to the Indies by the west" by Christopher Columbus. The first is a prestigious victory over Muslims as the Catholic papacy was challenged by the fledgling Protestant Reformation. The second will give access to a new world with very many riches. Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia, that of Assassin's Creed II and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood) will quickly share these new territories between Spain and Portugal, ensuring them exclusivity over all the riches of America. Wealth that will finance the power of the Spanish Golden Age. Power that the Flibuste will succeed in shattering.
The former powers of Spain and England, as well as Holland, were quick to send privateers to intercept ships laden with gold. These captains were mainly Protestants and therefore made it their duty to challenge the Catholic champion. As there is a whole ocean to cross, they set up an international, shared base, north of Hispaniola (an island now shared between the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), the famous Turtle Island. This great alliance will last a few years, until a Spanish counter-attack dislodges them. Spain will judge then that it is time to advance further and sent an army to invade Spanish territories. Hispaniola became Santo Domingo and its governor moved to La Tortue. Not appreciative of having a new rival on this scene, England followed suit and moved to Kingston, Jamaica. The alliance is over, now it was competition.
The situation in the Caribbean Sea is starting to get complicated. Officially, three powers face each other and colonize American lands. The race for gold has fallen a lot, new resources are replacing them in merchant ships. Traditionally, Spain still does not call upon privateers, preferring to favor heavy military ships. And if Spain and England are not officially allies, their captains do not hesitate to play supply and demand between the Tortoise and Kingston, often accumulating race letters (proof that one is indeed a privateer and therefore that one can sell pirated goods in the port) of the two powers.
It is a combination of circumstances which allowed England to pass in front of Spain in this rivalry. Henry Morgan, leader of the English buccaneers, had envisioned a daring raid, which required the cooperation of all the captains present in the Caribbean. The timely disappearance of his spanish rival, l'Olonnais, allowed him to make himself heard at La Tortue. The success of his plan reunited the buccaneer under his command, which means on the side of Jamaica. And this lasted until he retired and returned to London loaded with honors.
This period came to an end because of things that took place in the old world. A delegation of Catalans went up to Paris to ask King Louis XIII to invade them to free them from Spain. The war between the two powers, which had been waged for several generations in a roundabout way, became open. Perpignan and the territories north of the Pyrenees will be quickly taken. Neither the death of Prime Minister Richelieu, nor that of the king who followed, a regency led by a new unpopular minister, a Spanish queen mother or even a civil war partially financed by Spain ... None of this allowed to reverse the trend . At most, to limit losses. The marriage of Louis XIV with his cousin and the Treaty of the Pyrenees only confirm a very obvious situation: Spain has replaced Spain as the first European nation. The reign of the young king will be strewn with new wars against Holland then England, the two other nations which supply buccaneers to the Caribbean Sea.
Being raised by a mother of the house of Spain has a number of consequences in her outlook on life. The protocol is one of the most obvious elements, if you ever go to visit Versailles. An army museum is another: a musketeer of the company of Tréville had only an obligatory gown and the rest was left approximate, that of the successor of d'Artagnan will regulate even non visible parts. From the point of view of the navy, it abandons the privateer mercenaries to rest on a fleet inspired by the invincible Spanish armada. So he gets rid of a formula which has proved its worth because it does not please him to replace it with a model which accumulates failures. If England also sends its military navy to watch over the security of its colonies, it always favors speed. The differences within the flibuste are accentuated. The governor of Santo Domingo leaves the Tortoise, that of Louisiana no longer names privateers… Unlike the governors of the future founding states of the USA. The balance of power is obvious.
The most important of the wars of the reign of Louis XIV is the War of the Spanish Succession. Like every time a king dies childless, we take a tour of his family. Two potential candidates: the cousin Emperor of Austria and the nephew son of the wife of the King of Spain. The different countries of Europe align themselves according to their alliances or their rivalries. The results of the new navy are too mixed to draw a real result, Spain is recruiting new privateers en masse. Opposite, England follows. A whole new generation is embarking on the Flibuste. It will be the last. This is the generation that follows the story of Assassin's Creed Black Flag.
It is difficult to say who is the winner of the War of the Spanish Succession. England had the upper hand militarily speaking, but negotiated and accepted the spanish claims. But we can consider the privateers as the big losers. A peace under these conditions is made with demonstrations of goodwill, including some disarmament. In this case the disappearance of letters of race between the masters of the colonies in the region. More privateers, while the sailors were more numerous than ever in this area. For several years, they had only one know-how. Against whom to turn it? Spain is no more than a shadow of what it once was. spanish possessions are scattered. Only the English colonies are sufficiently grouped to ensure sufficient potential targets. Too bad for the old allegiance of most.
Captain Benjamin Hornigold will find an island deserted from an intensive gunning during the war: New-Providence (island today almost covered by the city of Nassau). It points directly to the east coast of the future USA. Under the hunting-party (pirate code) inspired by Bartholomew Roberts, he becomes the mentor of the young captains who come to join him. This is the Republic of Pirates. It was also at this time that a symbol greatly associated with piracy but which did not exist before this generation was adopted: the black flag with the skull.
Spain did not wait long to offer its pirates a choice between royal pardon by integrating the army or ignominious execution. England will only do this when the Pirate Republic has reached its peak. And his promises and threats were carried out by former privateer buccaneers: Henry Morgan in Jamaica and Woodes Rogers in the Bahamas (who will make New Providence his governor's palace). A large number of captains, led by the spanish La Buse (whose execution will inspire Eiichiro Oda that of Gol D Roger in One Piece), set off all over again in less supervised lands on the side of Madagascar. Benjamin Hornigold became one of the main pirate hunters of the Caribbean Sea. But others stayed and carved out the first places in the legend.
The remaining pirates retained some allies, such as the Governor of North Carolina. But too many enemies gang up against them and internal betrayals weaken them greatly. The captains fall one after the other, in circumstances that are sometimes difficult to believe (the last battle of Blackbeard for example). And yet ... Pirate hunters will not derive great prestige from their successes. Lieutenant Robert Maynard (Blackbeard's killer) will never get the reward and rank he was promised. Woodes Roger will be locked up in London for debt. Benjamin Hornigold will be betrayed by his crew. Only Henry Morgan did well, but he no longer needed to seek to make his fortune. He was already safe.
Thus ends the great adventure of the Antillean Flibuste. But the legend has already taken hold of it. Evidenced by the General History of the most famous pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson, a period work. Or the life of Calico Jack (Red Rackham for Tintin fans), one of these very last captains, who exploited the reputation of his colleagues much more than he nurtured his own. Quickly, interest in this environment will continue to increase. Israel Hands, a lieutenant of Blackbeard, even ended up as a character in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, the benchmark of the genre. And even if corsairs made their return for the young nation of the USA during their War of Independence, or for Spain of the First Republic and the First Empire, and other pirates continue to scour the various seas of the globe , it is always this period that makes you dream. It is this period that we want to relive. This period in which Assassin's Creed Black Flag takes us.