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 Pictures1474 VOTES
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.
- Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl / Buena Vista Pictures Distribution2394 VOTES
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.
- 3323 VOTES
The Brethren Court Was A Real Organization Made Up Of Pirates
At the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the East India Trading Company cracks down on piracy, which forces the various Pirate Lords of the world to convene a pirate governing council to decide on the response. It's called the Brethren Court, and it includes Jack, Elizabeth, and Barbossa.
The Brethren Court is based on a real-life pirate organization called the Brethren of the Coast, but it's a loose adaptation of it. The Brethren Court was founded in 1618 by English, French, and Dutch buccaneers who banded together against the most powerful nation in the region, the Spanish Empire. The pirate organization had no true leader or central location, operating from Tortuga, Nassau, and Port Royal.
- 4340 VOTES
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.
- 5358 VOTES
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.
- Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl / Buena Vista Pictures Distribution6270 VOTES
Tortuga Was A Real Pirates' Haven
The island of Tortuga is a recurring location in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. It's essentially a pirate haven where there are few laws, if any, and it's based on the real-life pirate haven of the same name.
The real Tortuga is an island off the coast of modern-day Haiti. English and French settlers began settling the island in the 1620s when the Spanish Empire was already dominating the Caribbean. From Tortuga, English and French pirates could launch strikes harassing Spanish shipping.
However, the movies did fudge the timeline a bit. France and Spain signed a peace treaty in 1684 that brought piracy to an end shortly after, which is almost 40 years before the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie takes place. While piracy was still a problem in the years when the movies are set, piracy in the 1720s was a threat across the Atlantic, not just the Caribbean.