Wednesday, 26 July 2006
Lundy Island Pirates - William de Marisco
One of the most famous families in Lundy history is that of William de Marisco. Some sources state that Sir Jordan de Marisco was the first recorded lord of Lundy, early in the reign of Henry II, but other sources say the family were already on the island during King Stephen's reign. Whichever is the case, not a lot appears to be known about them until 1155 when Henry II tried to take Lundy Island from them and give it to the Knights Templars. The Mariscos refused, and were fined, and the island was cut off from necessary supplies. This may have been what turned William and his family to a life of piracy, but it also also quite likely that they were already highly experienced in this role.
They acted as if Lundy was under their own jurisdiction and regularly raided the coast and ships passing to and from the Bristol Channel. It soon became a base for other pirates and criminals, all of whom were keen to defend the island from any attempt to enforce English laws. A strong castle (which still stands) and other defences were built, making it extremely difficult for anyone to take the island from them by force, or otherwise.
William de Marisco was implicated in the murder of one of the King's messengers (it is said he slit the man's throat), but having returned to the safety of Lundy Island, he was safe from arrest. Rather than thinking of this as a lucky escape, this was probably seen as a mighty success.
The Mariscos later joined a plot to murder King Henry III, in revenge for his seizing some of their other properties. This was unsuccessful, and the king finally decided that enough was enough. In 1242 he sent his best men to scale the island's cliff on a misty night, and William de Marisco and his accomplices were captured alive.
Some stories tell of William de Marisco being dragged back to the King tied to the legs of two horses - some even say only his feet were left when he arrived! However, it seems more realistic that he was hanged, drawn and quartered (possibly the first person to receive this death as a legal punishment, although I don't have enough evidence of this - anyone want to find out for themselves and let me know?), and each quarter was sent to one of the four principle cities of England as a grisly reminder of the consequences of treason.
The island was taken from his family and, although it was not the last it was to see of the Mariscos, it was the end of their reign, and the turn of other pirates to assume control.
In the next Lundy post, I will tell you about one of these, a pirate called Colyn Dolphin.