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Bessie James
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The Fowey Gallants       



Between 1337 and 1453 (the Hundred Years War), Fowey found favour at Court for its support at the siege of Calais and Battle of Agincourt.  Privateers (small, privately financed men of war) were given licences to attack and seize French vessels in the Channel and Western Approaches.

 This was a very lucrative trade and attracted other ‘entrepreneurial’ seamen to Fowey, including the renowned Dutch pirate Hankyn Seelander.

 Seelander, Mixtow, Treffry, Wilcock and a number of other highly successful ‘privateers’ were tasked by the government with protecting Cornwall and  its seafarers from pirates!

So powerful and wealthy did the port become, and so corrupt were the commissions of enquiry set up to investigate acts of piracy against English and ‘friendly’ trading vessels, that the ‘Gallants’ of Fowey came to regard themselves as being pretty much above the law.

Many foreign vessels and even the odd English one (the cargo of a ship from Dartmouth was seized by Seelander) were captured and sold, with their rich cargoes, to the local gentry. Following a treaty of friendship with France, these activities became an embarrassment to Edward IV, who employed “willing men from Dartmouth” first to trick Fowey’s leading sea captains to a rendezvous at Lostwithiel and then to seize their ships and remove the harbour’s defensive chain.  Several seamen were hanged and others fined.

Fowey’s leading family, the Treffrys, was banished at about this time for supporting the Earl of Warwick’s insurrection against Edward IV.  Their fortunes were reversed a few years later when John Treffry was knighted by Henry VII on the field of Bosworth and rewarded with land and favours.

Piracy continued well after Edward’s reign but ‘twas never the same again!

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