Étienne (or sometimes Ixtebe) Pellot “Montvieux,” aka le Renard Basque (the Basque fox) was the last in a long line of legendary Basque corsairs, privateers, or buccaneers (to put it another way, pirates who had been officially authorized to attack and raid their paymaster countries’ enemy ships). These legendary figures included the fourteenth-century figure Pedro Larraondo from Bizkaia, Antton Garai from Gorliz, Bizkaia (? – 1509), the seventeenth-century Joanes Suhigaraitxipi from Baiona, aka Le Coursic (the little corsair), and Jean Dalbarade (or d’Albarade) from Biarritz, Lapurdi (1743-1819).

Plaque_Saint-Jean-de-Luz

“To Our Basque Corsairs, Sailors, and Fishermen.” Plaque in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), Lapurdi, bearing the names of many noted seafarers, with Pellot at the end. Photo by Salvatore Poier. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Born in Hendaia (Lapurdi), he was especially renowned for his skill and bravery and some of his ships, like the Deux-Amis and the Général Augereau, have gone down in corsair legend. Indeed it was on-board the latter that he enjoyed his most spectacular victory, capturing two English ships in the process. Philippe Veyrin, in his classic The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre  (p. 242) tells the story of the last great Basque corsair:

…at sea, the Basque corsairs, given a new lease of life during the Revolution under the leadership of one of their number, Dalbarade, continued to fight the English. But privateering was tending to decrease, especially in terms of the tonnage of the ships that were involved. Their range was now limited to (successful) actions just off the coastal areas, sometimes within sight of localities on the Basque coast. The last of the corsairs, Etienne Pellot-Montvieux, from Hendaia (Hendaye; 1766–1856), owed his legendary popularity to his remarkable feats and the picturesque sallies of his very individual character, as well as to his extremely long life. Captured on several occasions, he managed to make the most daring escapes, right from under the noses of his British jailors. In his still sprightly old age, he considered his finest exploit to be his victorious battle on April 4, 1804, on board the Général Augereau against two powerful English ships, one of which, armed with twenty-two big cannons, was boarded and captured. In 1830, Pellot had a painting done of this episode and offered it to the Institute of Hydrography of Donibane Lohizune, founded in the eighteenth century by another well-known Basque, the abbot Garra de Salagoïty, from Heleta (Hélette; 1736–1808). This school of navigation is no longer in existence, but the painting offered by the old corsair is still, as far as we know, in the Maritime Registry of Baiona. Pellot died at the age of ninety-one years; only in 1843 had he been awarded the Legion of Honor.

Every January, on the occasion of Hendaia’s patron saint’s festival (Saint Vicent, or Bizente in Basque), children dress up as corsairs and parade the streets of the town to celebrate the safe return of Étienne Pellot, the last Basque corsair. Peillot is even celebrated in song by the great Ruper Ordorika, who, in “Hargiñenean” (on the album Hurrengo goizean) sings the lines “Biba Pellot, biba festa!” (Long live Pellot, long live the party!”). Listen to this great tune here (track 3 in the four-song playlist).

There are plenty of corsair stories in the latest publication by Bill Douglass, Basque Explorers of the Pacific Ocean. Interestingly, though, here the corsairs tend to be English and adversaries of Basque explorers in the service of the Spanish Crown.