Uncharted 4 and the Pirate King: The Real History Behind Naughty Dog’s New Game
During a preview event last week, we learned more about Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End‘s backstory, and Naughty Dog’s Arne Meyer revealed that the game’s premise is based on real history. More precisely, it takes inspiration from the life of Henry Every, one of the most famous pirates of the 17th century.
Knowing about Every’s story surely won’t be necessary to enjoy the game, but if you love history, maybe hearing a bit more about this “pirate king” (as he’s explicitly called in the Japanese title of the game) will place you closer to Nathan Drake’s mindset as a character, since he would definitely know everything that you’ll read below. Keep in mind that from here on there is information that might be considered of minor spoiler nature.
According to what we were told at the preview event, Nathan Drake and his brother Sam have searched for Every’s fabled treasure in their past, and it’s exactly in that situation that Sam disappeared, leaving Nate to mourn his death.
The tale of Henry Every is definitely a fascinating one, even if not much is known about his early years. In 1689 he served in the Royal Navy, first as a midshipman aboard the HMS Rubert. During this period Every most likely took part in the naval battles of the Nine Years War against the French.
During the war, the HMS Rubert helped in the capture of a large French convoy off the coast of Brest, and this allowed its captain to transfer to a larger ship (the HMS Albemarle), followed by Every himself.
Unfortunately, the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Beachy Head ended with Every being discharged from the Royal Navy and starting a new life on a slave trading ship in Africa. Reports mention that Every ran an illegal slave trading operation for two years, going against the monopoly held by the Royal African Company.
This kind of activity was both extremely profitable and extremely risky, demonstrating Every’s mettle in his early career.
In 1693, Every joined the crew of the privateer warship Charles II as a first mate, part of a fleet of four ships that traded with the Spanish in the West Indies and held a license to legally raid French ships.
This is when Every’s career took a sudden turn: the owners of the ship started holding back in paying the wages of the sailors, and the crew decided to mutiny. On May 7th, 1694, Every led 25 men of the crew to seize the ship while the captain was ashore at Corunna.
After a brief exchange of fire with another of the privateers of the fleet, the James, the Charles II safely escaped at sea. Every was elected as the new captain due to his experience, and the ship was renamed Fancy.
The Fancy plundered three English merchant ships off the coast of Cape Verde Islands, recruiting more men from its victims. At this point, its crew counted about 94 pirates. After that, Every robbed a native African tribe on the coast of Guinea and finally sailed to the port of Bioko in the Bight of Benin where he overhauled his ill-gained ship.
The Fancy‘s superstructure was made lighter with the removal of several decks, and the hull was careened, turning it into one of the fastest ships in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Capturing two Danish privateers in the following months provided a sizable haul in ivory and gold, and more recruits for the crew.
After a stop in Madagascar in early 1695, the Fancy captured a French pirate ship, earning more loot and inflating the crew further to a total of about 150 men.
Interestingly, Every wrote a letter to the British East India Company, pledging not to attack any English ship using a signal that he described, and warning that he would not be able to restrain his men if said signal wasn’t used. Here’s the full text. Enjoy ye olde English.
- To all English Commanders lett this Satisfye that I was Riding here att this Instant in ye Ship fancyman of Warr formerly the Charles of ye Spanish Expedition who departed from Croniae ye 7th of May. 94: Being and am now in A Ship of 46 guns 150 Men & bound to Seek our fortunes I have Never as Yett Wronged any English or Dutch nor never Intend while I am Commander. Wherefore as I Commonly Speake wth all Ships I Desire who ever Comes to ye perusal of this to take this Signall that if you or aney whome you may informe are desirous to know wt wee are att a Distance then make your Antient Vp in a Ball or Bundle and hoyst him att ye Mizon Peek ye Mizon Being furled I shall answere wth ye same & Never Molest you: for my Men are hungry Stout and Resolute: & should they Exceed my Desire I cannott help my selfe.
- as Yett
An Englishman’s friend,
- At Johanna February 28th, 1694/5
- Here is 160 od french Armed men now att Mohilla who waits for Opportunity of getting aney ship, take Care of your Selves.
Having gathered a small fortune and enough men to set his sights much higher, Every finally decided to attempt the heist that would forever inscribe his name in the history of piracy. He knew that the fleet of the Mughal Empire (the name of India at that time), followed pretty much the same route every year for the pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Mughal fleet was known to carry enormous riches, and due to its regular route, it would have been possible to intercept it and capture its flagship with enough men and ships. To that end, Every teamed up with five other pirate captains: Thomas Tew joined on the Amity with sixty pirates, Joseph Faro with the Portsmouth Adventure and sixty pirates, Richard Want with the Dolphin and sixty pirates, William Mayes with the Pearl and 34 pirates, and Thomas Wake with the Susanna and seventy pirates.
This put Avery in command of a fleet of six ships and over 400 men, that sailed to the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb to ambush the Mughal fleet.
Eventually, the treasure fleet sailed right under the nose of Avery and his men, with a convoy of 25 ships led by the 1,600 ton flagship Ganj-i-sawai (the name aptly means “Overflowing Treasure”). Initially the Mughal ships managed to outrun their pursuers, but the pirates managed to catch up four days later after losing the Dolphin.
The first victim was the Fateh Muhammed, a 600-ton escort ship carrying a quite sizable treasure of its own. It gave little resistance and was captured with limited losses, netting the pirates an haul of between £50,000 and £60,000. Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite enough, since it had to be split between the crews of six ships.
The pirate fleet resumed its pursue of the Ganj-i-sawai, that was left alone due to the scattering of the Mughal convoy. They had lost the Amity due to the death of Thomas Tew in a previous skirmish, leaving only four ships against the enemy behemoth that was armed eighty cannons and had a crew of 400 men and 600 passengers.
Luck was on Every’s side, and his fleet managed to catch up with the prey. The Fancy‘s first broadside broke the Ganj-i-sawai‘s main mast, incapacitating it. Yet, the Mughal crew was not yet defeated and it took several hours of hand to hand combat before they surrendered, even due to the chaos created by the explosion of one of the ship’s cannons.
Accounts from eyewitnesses mention that the pirates were absolutely brutal in their pursuit of the ship’s riches. They tortured crew and passengers to force them to reveal the location of their treasures, and raped the women on board. These claims were confirmed by a few of Every’s own men who were afterwards captured and tried.
The loot was valued between £200,000 and £600,000 (£200,000 was the estimate by the East India Company, while £600,000 was the insurance claim filed by the Mughals), making Every one of the richest pirates to ever set sail.
Romantic tales mention Every’s meeting with the daughter of the Mughal Emperor during the pillage of the Ganj-i-sawai, resulting in the princess falling in love with the pirate and deciding to follow him, but there’s probably very little truth in this.
Since dividing the loot with the crew of the remaining ships would have thinned it considerably, Every is said to have persuaded his fellow captains to leave the haul in the larger hold of the Fancy, and like the scoundrel he was, he quietly vanished in the night leaving his allies with nothing.
In November of 1695, the Fancy reached Ile Bourbon, where the loot was split among its crew. Every pirate was granted about £1,000 ( which translates to between $133,000 and $182,000 in today’s currency), which is more than what an honest sailor made in his whole lifetime.
Unfortunately, the prize was so large, that it started to cause problems. The Mughals knew that the pirates were mostly English, and they brought their outrage to the British empire.
This happened before Britain gained control over India, and the Mughal Empire was a valuable and extremely rich trading partner. In response to the atrocities committed by the pirates, Emperor Aurangzeb (who descended from Genghis Khan himself, and was no pushover) closed four local factories owned by the British East India Company, captured and jailed several of its officers, and threatened to wage war on the British Empire itself.
The British East India Company was forced to pay the full £600,000 insurance claim in reparation, and the British Crown was definitely not pleased. The English government branded Every’s pirates “Enemies of the Human Race” and issued the promise of a pardon and £500 to anyone who revealed Every’s location.
After a while, the British East India Company raised the reward to £1,000, while the government pledged to exclude Every from all future pardons, effectively making him a hunted man for his whole life, and starting the first worldwide manhunt in recorded history.
In the meanwhile, Every reached Nassau and bribed the local Governor, Nicholas Trott, in order to gain entrance into the port. Trott was promised the Fancy and a sizable sum of money as part of the deal.
The Governor knew that the pirates outnumbered his men and the Nine Year War was still ongoing. With the French at his doorstep, he decided that he could use the Fancy and the pirates themselves to discourage an enemy attack, so he accepted.
Eventually, the request to apprehend Every reached Nassau, and Trott was forced to decide whether to protect the pirate, risking to reveal his corruption, or to side with the British authorities to protect his reputation. He opted for the latter, but he gave the pirates enough warning to allow 113 of them, including Every, to escape again.
In the following years, only 24 of Henry Every’s pirates were captured, and six of them hanged.
What happened to Every is a mystery. His crew is likely to have split up to avoid capture, with some heading to North America, and others back to Britain under the guise of false names. The hunt for Henry Every continued for years, but he was never captured. Sightings were reported, but never confirmed.
British pirate biographer Charles Johnson suggests that Every was cheated out of his fortune by diamond merchants in Bristol, and died in poverty as a lone sailor in Devon. That said, this report seems strange because this kind of lifestyle would have probably led to Every’s capture, which never happened.
Other reports allege that Every changed his name, and lived peacefully in Devon until his death, but those are also considered unreliable.
A fictional memoir published in 1709 claims that Every returned to Madagascar, where he lived as a king in a mighty fortress in the pirate utopia of Libertalia with his beautiful princess, a fleet of forty warships and an army of 15,000 men, even minting coins with his face on them.
The stories of Henry Every, who was also known with quite a few aliases like Benjamin Bridgeman and Long Ben, inspired an entire generation of British boys to take up piracy, fueled by a Robin Hood-like flavor attributed to the king of pirates, who had pledged not to attack English ships. He was pretty much seen by many as a hero of the people.
Every’s deeds are considered between the elements that revitalized piracy at the beginning of the eighteenth century, with many pirates paying homage to him by naming their ships Fancy.
While the version of Every’s fate that sees him living as a king in Madagascar has probably very little foundation in reality, this is where Naughty Dog’s fiction begins, and the foundation of the story of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
And it’s where history ends and Nathan Drake’s final adventure begins that I leave you, as you probably prefer to enjoy it on your own while playing the game, possibly managing where many historians have failed in tracking the last whereabouts of the Pirate King.