The Pirates of the Caribbean movies aren't exactly known for their historical accuracy. Hopefully, it doesn't surprise anyone to learn that a movie franchise based on a theme park ride is not a 100% accurate representation of historical events. And yes, all four movies are full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations about the lives of pirates.
But while it might be tempting to assume that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies didn't even try for historical accuracy, that's not true, either. The Golden Age of Piracy of the 17th and 18th centuries actually does somewhat resemble the version portrayed in the films.
Here are historical details that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise got right. Unfortunately, the jury's still out on Johnny Depp's eyeliner.
- Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest / Buena Vista Pictures1
Pirates Actually Avoided Fighting Whenever Possible
The Pirates of the Caribbean movies make it clear that while Jack Sparrow is plenty capable as a fighter, he still avoids combat as much as possible because he doesn't like it. This isn't just a character quirk; it was a common mindset among pirates of his time.
Pirate movies wouldn't be pirate movies without sword fights and ship-to-ship combat, but in reality, most pirates preferred not to fight. In addition to risking injury and demise for themselves and their crew, a pirate captain who chose to fight also risked destroying the cargo they were trying to take. Forcing the target to surrender peacefully was usually the best outcome.
This may also be one reason why Blackbeard wanted that fearsome reputation. According to the book Villains of All Nations, pirates often used intimidation tactics to scare the enemy into surrendering without resistance.Surprised they got it right?
- Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl / Buena Vista Pictures Distribution2
Dropping Anchor And Turning Dramatically To Evade Enemies Was A Real Sailing Maneuver
Several Pirates of the Caribbean movies involve ship fight scenes, and many of these use approximations of real tactics used in ship-to-ship combat.
In the first film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Elizabeth orders The Interceptor to lower the anchor on the right side so it can quickly turn on a dime and get a good visual of The Black Pearl, which Captain Hector Barbossa has taken control of. This was based on a real technique called "club hauling." Ships would lower their anchor and grab hold of the seafloor, then quickly rotate to bring their weapons into position to fire. However, because this required the anchor to be cut off and released, it wasn't a decision captains made frequently.Surprised they got it right?
- Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End / Buena Vista Pictures3
Women Chose Life On The Open Sea As Well
Jack Sparrow gets most of the attention, but Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) is one of the more dynamic characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. At the start of the series, she's the daughter of the English governor of Port Royal, expected to enter into a political marriage. But her adventurous spirit makes that life impossible, so when she first meets Jack, she jumps at the chance to join his crew. Eventually, she becomes a pirate captain in her own right and joins the Pirate Brethren Court.
Elizabeth's story isn't entirely made up, either. Although piracy and sailing, in general, were male-dominated professions, many women still became pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy, for many different reasons. Some of them, like Cheng I Sao and Grace O'Malley, were married to pirates and took over their husbands' positions after they were widowed. But others, like Mary Read and Rachel Wall, became pirates for the same reason Elizabeth did: the excitement. There probably were no daughters of English colonial governors who went on to become pirate queens, but real-life Anne Bonny comes close.Surprised they got it right?
- Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End / Buena Vista Pictures4
There Really Was An Upheld Pirate Code
The third film, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, introduces the idea of the pirates creating laws for themselves. When the East India Trading Company cracks down on piracy, Elizabeth and Jack gather the Pirate Lords and try to declare conflict on the Company. But that's actually not within their power. According to the Pirata Codex, a law book passed down by earlier pirates, only the "Pirate King" can declare war.
Real pirates didn't have anything like a universal Pirata Codex. The closest thing to the Pirata Codex was an informal system called "the pirate code." This was a set of rules outlining on-ship behavior, the distribution of spoils, and customs of the ship. Captain Bartholomew Roberts is credited with developing it. In practice, individual ships would often vote on their own versions of the code, including rules like no lights at night, shares of the loot or booty, and no fighting between pirates on board the ship.Surprised they got it right?