An idea of the response of the Papal States, and other countries, to Barbary piracy, can be seen from reports in the London Gazette over the period (available online).
Civita Vecchia - a free port and main port of the Papal States at this time. On the west coast of Italy.
Ancona - another Papal port, on the east coast. Expanded from 1730s onwards.
Corsica - part of Republic of Genoa, but effectively independent from 1755 to 1769 when annexed by the French. The Papal states had the Corsican Regiment of two battalions, but dispersed throughout the country and mainly used for policing.
Leghorne (Livorno now) - a thriving international port on the east coast above Civita Vecchia, part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
Tartane - a small ship with a single mast on which was a large lateen sail. Used for both fishing and trading in the Mediterranean.
Fellucca - a felucca was a sailing boat with one or two lateen sails, used in the eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea. Usually with a crew of two or three and up to ten passengers.
Galiot/ half galley - a ship with both oars and sails. Those used by the Barbary pirates usually had two masts and sixteen pairs of oars, with between two and ten small cannon and between 50 and 150 men.
A Spanish Galiot fighting Barbary pirates in 1738 (Wkipedia)
Xebec – a fast type of sailing ship with a distinctive hull and long over hanging bowsprit. Favoured by pirates because of their speed, those used by the Barbary pirates could carry up to 400 men and 40 guns.
When a set of alter and plate were sent for the chapel of the King of Portugal from Rome via Civita Vecchia it was accompanied by a Maltese ship of war. As detailed in my previous post, there were very close links, militarily and in other ways, between the Order of Malta and the Papacy. Meanwhile the Kingdom of Naples, which seems to have borne the brunt of much of the fighting against Barbary pirates and slavers, was fitting out two frigates, four half galleys and some converted merchantmen to cruise against them.
In January storms wrecked 5 of a squadron of 11 Algiers xebecs on the Neapolitan coast. In April, the Pope’s galleys at Civita Vecchia were ordered to put to sea to cruise against Barbary corsairs which had appeared off the coast, supplemented with 200 soldiers. By May, the Genoese also had a galliot, two felluccas and four galleys at sea to protect against Barbary corsairs in addition to the Neapolitan fleet.
It wasn’t just the Mediterranean powers who were at risk. In May, the Dey of Algiers sent a letter to the commander of the English Mediterranean fleet apologising for the rough treatment of a captured English captain (actually almost strangling) and saying the person responsible had been dismissed and assuring him that it would never happen again, presumably a reflection of the size and power of the English fleet at the time rather than any particular sense of contrition.
By June, the numbers of Barbary corsairs infesting the Papal coast raised worries that they might actually attack sites on land, leading to reinforcements of 100 foot and 100 horse being sent to the coast. Naples was still doing most of the heavy lifting, with both Royal ships and ships outfitted by merchants patrolling the coast
In June the Grand Master of Malta, at the request of the Pope, sent two frigates to patrol the Roman coast against Barbary corsairs, “who greatly infest those seas”, in conjunction with the Pope’s galleys. In August a Portuguese squadron of two frigates of 30 guns each and two armed vessels was despatched to protect the Portuguese coast. By October the Neapolitans were already outfitting ships for the next year, and the Pope’s galleys were dispatched to Corsica to rendezvous with some Genoese armed vessels to cruise against Barbary corsairs off the coast. A French vessel reported that in Tunis four large galliots and two tartanes were fitting out to cruise in Spanish waters next month.
Ships of the Order of Malta fighting Algerian pirates in 1719
In May an engagement was reported between some Neapolitan vessels and five Algerine off Messina, in which one Neapolitan vessel was severely damaged and two Algerine sunk and the other three severely damaged. At the same time 200 soldiers were sent from Rome to Civita Vecchia to board galleys sent to attack Barbary corsairs.
Two frigates and four armed xebecs were sent from Naples to patrol the coast. In May, two Portuguese frigates were sent out against Barbary corsairs that had appeared there, whilst in June a squadron of Spanish ships was sent out to find and destroy Barbary pirates there. Also in June, a Venetian vessel captured a vessel from Tripoli off Sicily and released 30 Christian slaves.
An engagement was reported in the Catalonian sea between seven Algerine Xebecs and a Spanish force of two frigates and four xebecs, in which two Algerines were sunk, two captured and the rest escaped.
By this time Pope Benedict XIV clearly considered that his naval forces needed beefing up, with the purchase of two 30 gun frigates from England, the St Peter (formerly Lowestoft) and St Paul. The two frigates were based in Civita Vecchia, though one had been fitted out in Genoa and the other in Leghorne. They were sent out against Barbary pirates off the coast.
1755 saw an escalation with a formal declaration of war by the Bey of Algiers against Tuscany, and many Algerian vessels off the Tuscan coast, even taking a large Florentine ship in the mouth of the Arno. A squadron off Leghorne consisting of two ships, three barques and two xebecs was reported to taken two Neapolitan and two Genoese vessels. In response the Pope offered to send his two frigates in support, as well as reinforcing the towers and small forts along the Papal coast. Detachments of horse were sent to Civita Vecchia, Fiumicino and other sites to prevent landings.
By late May the Pope’s two frigates had cruised in the Channel of Piombino and the island of Giglio and driven away Barbary pirates from the Roman coast, after which they returned to Civita Vecchio. Nonetheless, the Pope ordered a new palisade to be constructed at Fiumicino to protect the vessels there. A Neapolitan half galley, also in the Channel of Piombino, reportedly captured a Tunisian corsair, with 60 “Moors” who were put in irons, whilst forts on the Tuscan coast had been reinforced and a unit of 80 cuirassiers were patrolling the coast.
Attention now seems to have shifted to the Iberian peninsula, with Portugal sending a man of war of 60 guns, three frigates and two xebecs to protect shipping against the expected arrival of Algerine pirates, and the Spanish navy, using xebecs, taking six Barbary corsairs with nearly 400 men on board, who are put into slavery.
In November the St Paul, under Chevalier Pollastron, took an Algerian corsair of 10 guns and 200 men after a three hour fight, with 20 Algerians killed and 2 of his crew. The corsair was taken to Civita Vecchia, although the captain of the ship and his father were later released after paying a ransom. Following this the St Paul and St Peter were sent to Malta for refitting and then ordered back to cruise the coast, the Papal galleys being laid up for the winter.
Valetta harbour, Malta, in 1750
The aggressive activities of Algiers of the previous year continued, not only harassing the Christian European coast but also conquering their fellow pirates in Tunis.
In February, Chevallier Caros of the St Peter was in Malta where the ship was refitted, before joining the St Paul to cruise against Barbary pirates. The St Peter was refitting again in May, in Leghorne, before returning to Civita Vecchia where she and the St Paul were laid up for the summer and replaced by galleys “as vessels more proper for the season”. At the same time, a detachment of 50 soldiers from the Corsican Regiment in Rome were despatched to Ancona to make the port “more commodius”.
Later in the year both frigates were again fitting out in Civita Vecchia, to cruise against Barbary pirates instead of galleys which to be laid up “on account of the season of the year”. The frigates were to proceed immediately to Toulon to get “the anchors and other necessary stores” for the winter season.
In January the two frigates sailed to Corsica and Sardinia, before patrolling the Roman coast, refitting at Civita Vecchia in March and sortieing out in April following news that Algerian and Tunisian pirates had been sighted off the coast.
At the end of May the frigates were laid up in Civita Vecchia and replaced by patrols of galleys, which in June drove ashore a Barbary galley with 160 “Moors”. These then took refuge in the woods of Porcegliano, pursued by soldiers from the galleys and local soldiers, though their eventual fate is not recorded in the London Gazette.
In October, a squadron of Maltese galleys left Civita Vecchia for Malta, the Papal frigates were prepared for sea and the galleys laid up for the season.
Of course, there were other problems beyond the Barbary pirates, though these were the worst. The Seven Years War was raging in northern Europe at this time, and this too had an impact. For example, in May 1758 the English privateer Enterprize captured three tartanes of timber from the Roman state destined for ship building in France. And to add to these problems, in June a plague in the rest of Italy led to imposition of 40 days quarantine on all ships coming in “Eccliastical ports”.
In November, the two frigates St Peter and St Paul, were sent out again from Civita Vecchia to patrol against Barbary pirates.
Again in January 1759, after careening and refitting at Civita Vecchia, the two frigates were sent out on patrol, before being laid up for the summer, and patrolling again in December, after taking on supplies in Marseilles.
And so ends the 1750s. At this point Franco-Roman relations appear to be good, but tensions over the Jesuits were to change that, as can be seen from a report in 1763.....
It was reported in the London Chronicle that two frigates belonging to the Pope were berthed at Marseilles, apparently for sale, but in fact taking on board valuables belonging to the Society of Jesuits. Creditors of the Society objected and applied for the frigates to be detained, but on learning this the Commander refused permission fo anyone to visit the ships, which he oppose by force. At the time this was unresolved, but the frigates “were watched very closely”.