The Pope and the Pirate

As you all know, the latest installment of Pirates of the Caribbean has come up.

So, in the spirit of piracy, let Cheapo regale you with the tale of a bishop and the Pirates of the Mediterranean.

Its an incredible tale of corruption involving a 14th century bishop, whose treasure was taken over by pirates on the way to Avignon, France, where Pope Innocent VI was based.

According to Vatican accounts, a French bishop – Thibaud de Castillon – amassed a hoard of treasures through ‘commercial activities’ in the Mediterranean and Atlantic. While the bishop was not required to take a vow of poverty, it was considered a mortal sin to lend money with a high interest and acquire profits through dishonest trading investments.

“He governed and exploited the bishopric through a vicar general for three years while he managed a commercial collaboration with the important Montpellier merchants,” Williman and Corsano wrote in their book. To get around his ‘mortal sin’, de Castillon made “clumsy efforts to pretend that his cash wealth and its profits actually belonged to his agents.”

The pope Innocent VI (reign 1352-1362) and his minsters were happy to ignore Thibaud’s decadence and debauchery as they intended to take all his wealth as spoils when he died. Following the death in 1357 AD, a ship named the São Vicente, filled with his treasures, including gold, silver, rings, tapestries, jewels, fine plates and altars, set sail from Lisboa (modern-day Lisbon) in Portugal, to Avignon in France.

However, while sailing near the town of Cartagena in modern-day Spain, the São Vicente was attacked by two pirate ships. One of the ships was captained by a pirate named Botafoc (“fire blast”), the other by Martin Yanes. “Records indicate that his crew carried cutlasses and war pikes, and his galley had at least seven ballistae.” The pirates won easily and the defeated ship’s crews gave up the whole treasure to save themselves.

The ship captained by Martin Yanes escaped with a bounty of treasure. However, Botafoc’s ship ran aground near the town of Aigues-Mortes in France, and the pirates were captured by the local garrison. The crew were quickly hanged, while Botafoc and a few of his officers were sent to prison to await their fate.

Botafoc “deposited a large amount of gold coin” with the resident Bishop, and thus saved himself and his officers from the hangman’s noose as they were let off with a fine.

The local fishermen were quick to ‘liberate’ items from the ship while local authorities were distracted. It was only on 11th February, 1357, that a clerk of a local judge was able to take an inventory of the remaining goods. As per records, he found the ship’s sail, cordage, oars, armament and rigging, a great mass of clothing and cloth in odd lots along with items like books and ecclesiastical vestments.

All these were sent to the Pope so that he could use them as bribes.

So, my dear readers, the question is this: who were the bigger criminals – the Pope and his officers, the corrupt Bishop Thibaud, the pirates, the poor fishermen or the Bishop who pardoned the pirates in exchange for some doubloons?


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