During the great days of buccaneers and the ‘pirates of the Caribbean’, Llanelli had its very own ‘private warship’ which successfully captured several ships on the high seas. It has been possible to reconstruct this vessel’s career using reports in the state papers of Charles II’s reign, and from old documents that have lain virtually unseen in the archives of the High Court of Admiralty in London for over 300 years. On 22 September 1666, the Lord High Admiral, James, Duke of York, ordered that letters of marque and reprisal should be issued to the ship ‘Revenge’ of Llanelli, of fifty tons and carrying ten guns.
This was at the height of the second Anglo-Dutch war, so called despite the fact that at the time when the ‘Revenge’ was commissioned, the French and Danes had also declared war on the Dutch side. Letters of marque and reprisal gave a ship official sanction to attack the vessels of named enemy countries, and it was this distinction that made the ‘Revenge’ a privateer (and legal) rather than a pirate (and illegal). The ‘Revenge’ was owned by a consortium of gentlemen from the Llanelli area. The leader of the group, and nominally her captain, was Henry Mansell of Stradey. His co-owners were Richard Gwynn, said to be of Llanelli in the official papers but actually from Llandybie, and Walter Lloyd, of Llandeilo Talybont near Pontardulais. Mansell seems to have quickly delegated actual command to John Ware, who is named as the ship’s captain in most reports of her activities.
The ‘Revenge’ was almost certainly fitted out in the Burry Inlet over the winter of 1666-7. She was completed in February 1667, when she sailed to Milford. She then went cruising in the mouth of the Bristol Channel, and quickly had success: in April, she captured three French ships, taking them in to the Scilly Isles before escorting them across to Oxwich Bay and then, at the end of May, into the Burry Inlet, where the cargoes were sold. The prizes were the ‘Anne’ and ‘Mary’ of Croisic in Brittany, each of twelve tons and laden with salt, and the ‘St Anne’ of Morbeau, fifty tons, laden with twenty-two tons of wine. The ‘Revenge’ later captured another French ship, which she took into Fowey. As the navy could spare no warships for the defence of the Bristol Channel, Llanelli’s privateer was also used to convoy merchant shipping between Tenby, Swansea, and Plymouth. In August 1667 the ‘Revenge’ captured a Dutch ship laden with salt off Cornwall, but as she was taking her towards Falmouth, the entire Dutch fleet appeared. One of the enemy warships tried to recapture the merchantman, but Captain Ware chased her and forced the Dutch to burn the prize. It was the last action that the ‘Revenge’ of Llanelli saw, for peace was being signed almost at that very moment. The ‘Revenge’ was by no means the largest or the most successful privateer of the Anglo-Dutch wars, but her story represents a unique and little known episode in both Llanelli’s maritime and military histories.