Definition of letter of marque in English:

letter 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.

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Privateering involved the issuing of letters of marque by a supposedly legitimate authority, but they were not always choosy about the grantees.’
    • ‘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.’
    1. 1.1A ship carrying a letter of marque.


Late Middle English: Law French marque, from Old French marque right of reprisal.