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East Indiaman Kent battling Confiance, a privateer vessel commanded by French corsair Robert Surcouf in October 1800, as depicted in a painting by Ambroise Louis Garneray.

A privateer (sometimes called corsair or buccaneer) was a private person or ship authorized by a government by letters of marque to attack foreign vessels during wartime. Privateering was a way of mobilizing armed ships and sailors without having vessels be commissioned into regular service as warships. The crew of a privateer might be treated as prisoners of war by the enemy country if captured.

Historically, the distinction between a privateer and a pirate has been subjective, often depending on the source as to which label was correct in a particular circumstance.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref> The actual work of a pirate and a privateer is generally the same (raiding and plundering ships); it is, therefore, the authorization and perceived legality of the actions that form the distinction. At various times, governments indiscriminately granted authorization for privateering to a variety of ships, so much so that would-be pirates could easily operate under a veil of legitimacy.


Privateer sections
Intro  Legal framework  Ships  Overall history  See also  References  Bibliography  Further reading   External links   

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