Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Jolly Roger is the traditional flag of European and American pirates, envisioned today as a skull over crossed bones (see skull and cross bones), on a black field. However, there were many variations and additional emblems on actual Jolly Rogers. Calico Jack Rackham and Thomas Tew used variations with swords. Edward Teach (a.k.a. Blackbeard) used a skeleton holding an hourglass in one hand and a spear or dart in the other while standing beside a bleeding heart. Bartholomew Roberts (a.k.a. Black Bart) had two variations: a man and a skeleton, who held a spear or dart in one hand, holding either an hourglass or a cup while toasting death or an armed man standing on two skulls over the letters ABH and AMH (a warning to residents of Barbados and Martinique that death awaited them). Dancing skeletons signified that the pirates cared little for their fate.
Black flag with skull and crossbones is also the flag of chetniks.
Origins of the term
The origins of the term "Jolly Roger" are unclear.
One theory is that it comes from the French term "joli rouge," ("pretty red") which the English corrupted into "Jolly Roger". This may be likely as there were a series of "red flags" that were feared as much, or more, than "black flags". The origin of the red flag is likely that English privateers flew the red jack by order of the Admiralty in 1694. When the War of Spanish Succession ended in 1714, many privateers turned to piracy and some retained the red flag, for red symbolized blood. No matter how much seamen dreaded the black pirate standard all prayed they never encountered the joli rouge. This red flag boldly declared the pirates' intentions: no life would be spared. No quarter given, none asked.
The term was subsequently used for the black flag with skull and bones which appeared in use around 1700.
There is another theory, also using "joli rouge" as the origin for the name. Apparently a Catholic order of fierce warrior monks, known as the "Poor Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon", first used the "joli rouge", the red flag. The link between the monks and pirates is provided by the fact that they were fighting for their cause on the open seas, effectively becoming pirates. In combat practice many merchants were surprised when a fast ship changed a fellow national flag for the more portentous Jolly Roger, which was the desired effect.
Another theory proposes that the leader of a group of Asian pirates was entitled Ali Raja , "king of sea", English pirates appropriated and corrupted the term. A further theory is that the name may derive from the English word "roger", meaning a wandering vagabond: "Old Roger" was a term for the devil.
In his book "Pirates & The Lost Templar Fleet," David Hatcher Childress claims that the term was coined after the first man to fly the flag, King Roger II of Sicily (c.1095-1154). Roger was a famed Templar who had a public spat with the Vatican over his conquests of Apulia and Salerno in 1127. Childress claims that, many years later after the Templars were disbanded by the church, at least one Templar fleet split into four independent fleets that dedicated themselves to pirating ships of any country sympathetic to Rome. The flag was thus an inheritance, and its crossed bones are an obvious reference to the original Templar logo of a red cross with blunted ends.
Use in practice
At first sight, it might seem a bad idea to forewarn your quarry by flying the Jolly Roger. However, its use may be seen as an early form of psychological warfare. A pirate's primary aim is to capture the target ship intact along with any cargo it may be carrying. With a sufficiently blood-thirsty reputation, a pirate flying the Jolly Roger could intimidate the crew of a target ship into surrender, allowing the ship to be captured without firing a shot. Typically, if a ship then decided to resist, the Jolly Roger was taken down and a red flag was then flown, indicating that the pirates intend to take the ship by force and without mercy. It was hoped by many crews that this course of action would help spread the word that resistance was a poor idea for ships.
Flying the Jolly Roger too early as the only flag has its drawbacks. The quarry might have sufficient warning to attempt an escape. Also, warships were often under standing orders to fire at will at a ship flying this flag.
Use by submarines
Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson VC, the Controller of the Royal Navy, summed up the opinion of the many in the Admiralty at the time when he said in 1901 "Submarines are underhand, unfair and damned un-English. The crews of all submarines captured should be treated as pirates and hanged". In response Lieutenant Commander (later Admiral Sir) Max Horton first flew the Jolly Roger on return to port after sinking the German cruiser SMS Hela and the destroyer SMS S-116 in 1914. During World War I, the submarine service came of age winning five of the Royal Navy's fourteen Victoria Crosses. The first by Lieutenant Norman Holbrook, Commanding Officer of HMS B11 . In World War II it became common practice for the submarines of the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy to fly the Jolly Roger on completion of a successful mission where some action had taken place, but as an indicator of bravado and stealth rather than of lawlessness. The Jolly Roger is now the emblem of the Royal Navy Submarine Service .
The event which bought the Jolly Roger to the attention of a post World War II public was when HMS Conqueror flew the Jolly Roger on her return from the Falklands War having sunk ARA General Belgrano. In May 1991 Oberon class submarines HMS Opossum and her sister HMS Otus returned to the submarine base HMS Dolphin in Gosport from patrol in the Persian Gulf flying Jolly Rogers, the only indication that they had been involved in alleged SAS and SBS reconnaissance operations. In 1999 HMS Splendid participated in the Kosovo Conflict and became the first Royal Navy submarine to fire a cruise missile in anger. On her return to Faslane, on July 9 1999, Splendid flew the Jolly Roger.
After Operation Veritas, the attack on Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, HMS Trafalgar entered Plymouth Sound flying the Jolly Roger on March 1 2002. She was welcomed back by Admiral Sir Alan West, Commander-in-Chief of the fleet and it emerged she was the first Royal Navy submarine to launch tomahawk cruise missiles against Afghanistan. HMS Triumph was also involved in the initial strikes and on returning to port had a Jolly Roger that was emblazoned with two crossed Tomahawks to indicate her opening missiles salvoes in the war against terrorism and HMS Superb's whose flag had a dagger, for force protection, a bee for her nickname (the Super B), and two communications flashes.
More recently, on April 16, 2003, HMS Turbulent, the first Royal Navy vessel to return home from the war against Iraq, arrived in Plymouth flying the Jolly Roger after launching thirty Tomahawk cruise missiles.
- Royal Navy Submarines "A TRIBUTE TO THE PAST"
- HMS Triumph and HMS Superb
- Royal Navy Submarine Museum: WWII flashes added to a Jolly Roger
- Royal Navy Submarine Museum: Jolly Roger Examples
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