Yes, there were legal pirates. A letter of marque was given by governments in the 16,17 & 18th Centuries as a license for that private person to attack and capture ships of a nation with which that the government was at war .
The best way to describe it was that it legalised piracy. Some governments did more than that they even honoured the pirates.
For example, on 1 April 1581, Queen Elizabeth I stood on the deck of Francis Drake’s ship The Golden Hind, and she knighted one of the richest pirates of the time, Sir Francis Drake.
The excuse for the knighthood was that Sir Francis Drake, and his crew had covered 36,000 miles to circumnavigate the world, they weren’t the first, but they had done it.
That was the public reward, the real one was that the Queen had agreed to split with him whatever he could plunder on the trip. Plunder he did. He plundered galleons, he sacked ports so that by the time he came home, he was the world’s richest pirate and he split these gains with the queen. That is the real reason he was knighted.
Unfortunately, I believe that is was these actions that were the key reasons that King Philip of Spain started the Armada, he had annoyed the King so much, which, actually, I think Drake had done purposely.
The Armada is such an important event in our history that we have publish a 50 minute musical for Key Stage 2 and 3 children called The Spanish Armada – The Invasion of England with 12 original and entertaining songs to take the story along.
Let your children enjoy and Make History Fun.