Name’s Captain Digory Piper, pirate. Born at Pipers Pool, Launceston. One lucky day, myself and my partner, Richard Hodges, were given a privateers license to attack Spanish ships by the judge of the Admiralty, one Julius Caesar. Us and our ship the Sweepstake, were to sail off on the high seas to take the ships, goods and merchandise belonging to the King of Spain. We were not to take the ships of our Queen Elizabeth’s friends. Every Spanish ship had to be taken to the nearest port and a list made of everything and the value added up. The thing was, I didn’t like rough seas, I liked calm seas where I could relax and play my lute. Instead of sailing over the high seas tracking Spanish galleons, I sailed up and down the English Channel, looting every ship I saw. We attacked French, Flemish and Danish boats and took all the treasure into Cornwall. (Seems they were the wrong ships.)
‘Spect you’ve heard the grand tales of Frances Drake. He’s a pirate same as me but his adventures are admired whereas mine come to nothing. For Drake it all goes right. They say he even took water to Plymouth. That’s right, I’ll tell you about it. The people of Plymouth had very little water, they had to send their clothes to Plympton to be washed. Frances Drake was proud of Plymouth and promised everybody he would sort out the inconvenience. He rode onto Dartmoor and found a spring, he whacked his horse’s side and said some magical words. The horse galloped off and the water followed Drake all the way to Plymouth.
One day when we were sailing the Sweepstake out on the channel we saw a galleon, a foreign one as well. We plundered it for what we could get and took the spoils back to Cornish shores. Cases of coins, handsome. Jewels, chests of gold and silver, barrels of brandy and wine, all Launceston could wish for. Everything good you can think of, they had on that ship for me to take home. Now, I’ve been told to give my takings to the Queen Elizabeth, on reaching shore. Why would I want to do that? What is mine is mine and like I said, this Danish ship had everything could keep a man happy..so I kept the treasure, and kept happy. Aye, aye my hearties.
I know, I know, she wasn't a Spanish ship. I never saw a Spanish ship on the channel to be honest. I’ve been thinking of a good way to sink the Spanish galleons without them expecting, that is when I do come across one. I’d get myself a good tree trunk and chop it into blocks with my hatchet. I’d throw each block into the sea and they would come up a fire block and sail right into the galleon before they even noticed. I could have a whole fleet of burning Spanish ships before they were the wiser. I would be Sir Digory Piper, our Queen’s hero.
As it is, Drake is seen as a hero by our Queen Elizabeth, for sinking the right ships. I’m not long for this world for sinking all the wrong ones. Not that it matters, I’ve had a time of it. Not everything went right for Drake mind. Drake’s wife nearly married another chap right in the middle of Plymouth.
He’d been abroad for years and his wife thought him dead. She thought she was free to marry another man she had grown fond of and the church was fixed. It happened Drake was at the opposite end of Devon and his spies told him he was about to lose his wife. He got up and fired one of his great guns so that it fired right across the county and into the church, exploded and fell between his lady and her intended. Of course she knew he was alive and the wedding was abandoned. They say Drake ‘shot the gulf’ meaning his ship turned over the upper plane onto the waters of the other. He used his pistol to shoot the gulf. Well I never heard anything so ridiculous. I expect he just kept sailing after the Spanish and found himself on the other side of the world.
I did have some luck in the end. I was sent to the Justice of the Admiralty again, this time to be tried for sinking the Danish ship, but I kept my life, which is more than can be said for most. Had to pay back what I’d taken which was a little on the difficult side, seeing as I had given it all away. Took up busking with my lute on the streets of Launceston, not what you would expect from a pirate but locals seemed to enjoy it.’
retold by Anna Chorlton
Elizabethan composer John Dowland visited Launceston and wrote tunes for Digory Piper.
Drake tales - Mrs Bray ‘The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy’