Letter of marque (document)

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Definition from the Era

(The information in this section is from the 1771 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Please do not make edits to this section. Content is presented in its original form as to spelling and grammar use. This is what an educated person of Aubrey and Maturin's time would have known)

Letter of mart or marque is a letter granted to one of the king's subjects, under the privy seal, impowering him to make reprisals for what was formerly taken from him by the subjects of another state contrary to the law of mart (C-L 968)

In military affairs, are letters of reprisal, granting the subjects of one prince or state liberty to make reprisals on those of another.

Letters of marque among us, are extraordinary commissions granted by authority for reparations to merchants taken and despoiled by strangers at sea, and reprisals is only the retaking, or taking of one thing for another. (M-Z pg 27)

Additional information

Properly a Letter of Marque and Reprisal, this was a document issued by a national government to the owner and/or captain of a private man-o'-war, giving permission to attack and capture vessels owned by or flagged by enemy countries. A vessel operating under the auspices of such a letter was also called a "Letter of Marque." Another term for the same vessel was "privateer," although that term was abhorred by the officers aboard because the practice had in previous eras degenerated to piracy.

In the Canon

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "Reverse of the Medal and The Letter of Marque"  follow.

Jack Aubrey reluctantly accepts a letter of marque in order to captain HMS Surprise (now owned by Stephen) in order to continue their joint "private war" against Napoleon

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