PortCities London

London and the pirates

Pirate trials

Swift justice

Seamen and their families were very aware of the penalty for piracy. The publicity surrounding the trials and executions of pirates made sure of that.

Most trials lasted no more than one or two days, even when 20 or 30 prisoners were involved. This was mainly because there were no arguments in their defence. It was the usual practice for the accused men to conduct their own defence.

Pirate defences

Captain Kidd hanging in chains
View full size imageCaptain Kidd hanging in chains. © NMM
Since most of the men on trial were seamen with little or no education they could not make a good case for themselves. Their response was usually one of the following:

  • they said nothing at all in their defence
  • they simply said they were drunk at the time
  • they claimed they were forced men - their ships had been captured by pirates and they had been compelled to do as they were told.

The trial of Captain Kidd took place at the Old Bailey, London, in May 1701. Kidd was found guilty of murder and piracy and was hanged at Execution Dock.