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Cardiff and its Pirates

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During the Middle Ages, even after Henry VIII’s Act of Union, Cardiff was, more or less, a coastal village that saw Bristol develop while it struggled to survive. Cardiffians watched international trade sail by to Bristol, which became a city in 1542, and the realisation came about that this was an excellent base for pirates. The reason for this was Cardiff’s quite remote location and if investigators were sent from London, they had difficulty communicating because of the Welsh language. And it seems that the local aristocracy was often involved with the pirates, or even had them as family members.

Ships were wrecked by lighting beacons on cliffs that led them onto rocks, or by simply boarding them and hauling them into port and selling their cargo in Cardiff Market. Some of the world’s most famous pirates used the port. Captain Henry Morgan was typical of the sort of pirate who came from a well-off family near Newport and sometimes worked for the government and sometimes worked for himself, specialising in raiding Spanish ships that came back to Europe loaded with gold. John Callis, from Tintern, was also from an affluent family in Tintern but became the most wanted pirate in Britain in 1570. Finally, Bartholomew Roberts, aka Black Bart, who was from west Wales, sometimes used Cardiff as a base but spent most of his life around the Caribbean and South America where he became perhaps one of the best known pirates in the history of buccaneers.