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date: 05 December 2023

The Spanish Lake: Pirates, Privateers, and the Contest for the Pacific Oceanlocked

The Spanish Lake: Pirates, Privateers, and the Contest for the Pacific Oceanlocked

  • Elizabeth Montañez-SanabriaElizabeth Montañez-SanabriaAustrian Academy of Sciences


Since its discovery in 1513 by Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the South Sea—or Pacific Ocean—had the reputation of a being safe space for Spanish trading and navigation as it had two natural barriers that prevented access to it: the difficult paths of the Isthmus of Panama and the complicated navigation throughout the Strait of Magellan. These barriers—or “locks,” according to the language of that time—made of the South Sea a Spanish Lake. However, the arrival of Francis Drake, in 1579, on the coasts of Lima, the very core of Spanish power in South America, marked an inflection point of this misconception as Drake demonstrated that navigation through the Strait of Magellan was possible. This voyage was the starting event of an age of incursions to the South Sea. The Viceroyalty of Peru, the jurisdictional entity in which the strategic gateways that led to the South Sea were located, was an attractive target for pirates and privateers due to the silver from the famous Potosi mine. From 1578 to 1700, the English and French monarchies and the Dutch Republic sponsored pirate and privateer incursions. There were four main periods: In the context of the Anglo–Spanish rivalry, Queen Elizabeth sponsored pirates’ and privateers’ excursions between 1578 and 1604. From 1598 to 1643, during the Eighty Years War, the United Provinces, along with commercial companies, sent privateers’ expeditions to Peru and Chile. Buccaneers and filibusters succeeded in entering into the South Sea between the 1660s and 1690s, while at the end of the 17th century (1695–1700), French privateers reached the Peruvian Viceroyalty. The combination of these pirate and privateer expeditions made of this Spanish Mare Clausum a global sea.


  • History of Northern and Andean Spanish America
  • History of Southern Spanish America
  • History of Latin America and the Oceanic World
  • 1492–1824
  • Colonialism and Imperialism

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