Fowey Pirates

Pirates, like smugglers, have a rather romantic image. Cornwall was home to several notorious pirates and John Mixstow, or Michaelstow, of Fowey was well known in the fifteenth century. The difficulty is that many of these men were also at times acting on behalf of the Crown as privateers and at other times were simply merchants and shipowners going about their lawful business. They were certainly opportunists who took advantage of the turbulent times and they had some interesting supporters.


The Edward and the Mackerel

On 26th July 1433 John Chirche, a merchant of London, described to the Chancery Court how his ship travelling from Seville in Spain to Sandwich in Kent was captured off Cape St Vincent. The crew were put ashore in Portugal and the ship and its contents taken to Fowey.

In his statement he named the pirate ship as the Edward, which he said had 200 men on board “armed and arrayed for war”. The stolen goods were dispersed through Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Wiltshire. Chirche accused the following men of being involved in the seizure and redistribution:

  • John Mixstow of Fowey
  • Thomas Adam of Polruan
  • John Waterman of Polruan
  • John Porth of St Austell
  • John Perkyn
  • William Phelyppe
  • John and Martin Roch
  • John Evyll of Taunton

In November 1449 the Edward was again involved in an act of piracy, this time with the Mackerel of Fowey, master John Cornewe. Both these vessels were also employed in more legitimate trades such as wine importing and carrying pilgrims to France and Spain. They captured a galley called the St Antony and St Francis which was owned by a wealthy merchant of Barcelona, Francis Junyent. The cargo was extremely valuable, worth over £12,000 at the time.

The prize vessel and its valuable cargo was taken to Fowey and the contents rapidly dispersed. Men associated with the Edward and the Mackerel included Thomas Philip, John Attred and Hugh Courtney. The known receivers came from across Cornwall and included such apparently respectable persons as the Vicars of Pelynt and Altarnun and the head of a priory, together with other known local names such as Trelawney, Arundell and Killigrew.