Gilbert and Sullivan's light opera The Pirates of Penzance, and the swashbuckling films of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks senior, give the impression that most pirates were romantic and carefree adventurers led by aristocrats who had fallen on hard times.
In reality, most pirates were hard and ruthless robbers and murderers who were notorious for their foul language and heavy drinking.
A study of the lists of pirates brought to trial between 1700 and 1715 (the period often called the golden age of piracy) shows that more than 90% of pirates were former seamen.
Until 1700 all cases of piracy by British subjects or in British colonies came under the jurisdiction of the High Court of Admiralty in London. This meant that any pirates who were captured were sent back to London and locked up in the prisons of Newgate or the Marshalsea before being sent for trial at the Old Bailey.
After 1700 pirate trials could be held by Vice-Admiralty courts overseas. Large numbers of pirates were tried and hanged in Boston, Charleston, Williamsburg, Nassau and Jamaica. However, a great number of pirates continued to be tried and executed in London.