Blackbeard is kind-of a big name in the world of piracy these days. He was the main villain of the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and he looks set to be the main villain of the upcoming Peter Pan flick; ‘Pan‘.
Ray Stevenson as Blackbeard in Starz’ TV series Black Sails
He’s a popular character in history, in part because of sheer theatricality. We all know how he wore six pistols (actually less fearsome if you realise they are one-shot weapons) and tucked six flaming tapers into his hat before battle. And yes, we know about the big black beard (although Warner Brothers seem to have missed the boat on that one).
But here’s the thing, Blackbeard wasn’t actually the most successful/dastardly pirate of his day. Not by a long way. The best contender for that title is a man whose name is now mainly used to sell rum.
Henry Morgan, by contrast, was much more successful; achieving a degree of legitimacy by working for the British. He was knighted for his efforts to rob the Spanish blind, and was promoted to Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica. By the end of his career, Morgan was a sodding Admiral, which throws some serious shade at Jack Sparrow and his whole ‘Captain’ deal.
While Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach was busy taking on one or two ships, and promoted himself to the rank of commodore, Morgan was capturing entire cities. There’s not really any contest.
The other major contender for that title was another Welshman; Bart Roberts (you begin to see why Davy Jones was so popular; the Welsh were kings among pirates). Forbes puts him at #5 of their list of the richest pirates ever. Roberts is particularly famous for his code, which was significantly more progressive than the codes of chivalry.
While he crops up in many pirate video game series, he is yet to make a big impact in TV and Video. Nonetheless, it’s nice to note that, in the Pirates of the Caribbean At World’s End video game, Black Bart was voiced by Cary Elwes, effectively reprising his role as the Dread Pirate Roberts from the Princess Bride 30 years previously! Have to respect the fan service.
Pirates are always going to have one foot firmly in the land of fantasy. Pirates of the Caribbean, The Princess Bride, Assassin’s Creed, Peter Pan and Monkey Island have all stretched reality in one way or another. With this in mind, it would make sense that one of the most theatrical of pirates would inspire (or simply be dragged into) these fantasy stories. Nevertheless, Blackbeard needs to move over and make room for the real lords of the sea.