One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
nounusually letters of marque
1A licence to fit out an armed vessel and use it in the capture of enemy merchant shipping and to commit acts which would otherwise have constituted piracy.
- ‘Her business and diplomatic skills proved crucial after a raid on the Catholic-led colony early in 1645 by a ship captain armed with letters of marque from England's Protestant Parliament.’
- ‘Privateering involved the issuing of letters of marque by a supposedly legitimate authority, but they were not always choosy about the grantees.’
- ‘Semi-official entrepreneurs, carrying government-signed letters of marque and reprisal, and known as privateers, also were a significant force in commerce raiding up until the nineteenth century.’
- ‘If, for example, a French vessel seized a British ship, then a letter of marque could be granted that would allow the legal seizure of an item of like value from any French vessel on the high seas.’
- ‘It is conducted by individual ships (naval warships or privately owned ships armed with guns and authorized by government letters of marque to engage in legal privateering) or small squadrons.’
- 1.1 A ship carrying a letter of marque.
Late Middle English: Law French marque, from Old French marque ‘right of reprisal’.
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