1. The Jolly Roger is French
The Jolly Roger, the pirate flag, gets its name from the flag that was used before it. It was plain red and was known in French as “jolie rouge” (which means “pretty red”). Eventually this became Jolly Roger, probably due to pirates slurring their words a lot.
2. Or is it? A different Jolly Roger theory
Other historians believe the term Jolly Roger refers to “Old Roger” . “Old Roger” used to be the nickname of the devil!
3. There were female pirates
Pirates weren’t just dudes - there were plenty of female pirates too! Two of the most famous were Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who both spent some of their pirating career disguised as men.
4. Anne Bonny had a bit of a temper
Legend has it, Anne Bonny set fire to her father’s house when she found out he’d cut her out from her inheritance for marry a poor sailor and minor pirate. That’s what we call a fiery temper!
5. Anne Bonny’s relationship status was: “It’s complicated”
She later left Mr Bonny and fell in love with “Calico Jack” eventually being captured some years later. The only reason she wasn’t executed with Calico Jack was because she was pregnant with his child!
6. Calico Jack was named after his trousers
The pirate captain Calico Jack was named after the material his clothes were made from!
7. Pirates really did have parrots
Pirates really did sometimes have parrots - if the opportunity came to steal one, they’d go for it, as a parrot was a lot more entertaining than anything else available in those pre-TV days. Nobody ever thinks about how boring it must have been sailing around everywhere between fights. A parrot was pretty, colourful and entertaining - very much the iPad of its day.
8. Long John Silver’s parrot was a pirate captain too!
Fictional pirate, Long John Silver named his parrot after his old Captain, the terrifying Captain Flint who he believed to be dead…
9. Pirates didn’t really make people walk the plank
There are very few documented accounts of people being made to walk the plank, and where these do exist it is NOT as a result of piracy.
10. Pirates helped science
Charles Darwin, who first came up with the idea of evolution, was inspired by a pirate. He read the diaries of the pirate William Dampier, who had made really impressive notes and drawings about all the unusual animals, birds and plants he saw on his travels.
11. William Dampier wasn’t just a botanical legend
He was also a cruel pirate captain. Let’s not forget that when he was in the royal navy, William Dampier was also court-marshalled for “the hard and cruel usage” of a member of his crew. He avoided execution by being acquitted of the murder of his boatswain on the same voyage!
12. Treasure maps were fictional
A lot of the sayings and customs we think about when we hear of pirates came from one book. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson invented the ideas of pirates saying “Matey”, treasure maps with X marking the spot, singing “Yo ho ho” and giving each other the Black Spot.
13. Blackbeard was one SCARY guy
Blackbeard was the scariest real pirate ever. even He used to set his beard on fire before going into battle. No wonder pirates say “Argh!” all the time!
14. Blackbeard’s crew also inspired the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson
Blackbeard’s crew-mate Israel Hands also appeared in the novel Treasure Island.
15. Official Pirate to the Queen?
Whether or not someone was a pirate often depended on who they were stealing from. Often, warring nations would pardon pirates, in return for their help attacking enemy ships.
16. Eyepatches were sometimes worn by pirates who had both eyes intact
Aye! It's thought that with all the going up and down, from below deck to out in the sun, keeping one eye covered would help adjust to the different light levels.