After being inundated with centuries of Captain Kidd-style, eyepatch-wearing swashbucklers shivering their timbers in diabolical Tim Curry-style British accents while burning landlubbers on the deck of Spanish galleons, most folks probably wouldn't think the cruelest, most despised, and most horrifically-brutal buccaneer cutthroat in the history of badass pirate shit would be some random French dude named Jean-David.
Well, my friends, this is a statuary representation of a dude named Francois L'Ollonais – and even though he's sporting a stylish/foppish hat, has long, flowing curly locks, and kind of looks like a Musketeer (the historical Musketeers, not the version sailing around on airships in the new film, which, as far as I can tell from the previews, seems to have more in common with the candy bar than the Dumas novel) this cutlass-toting psychotic madman from a dimension one step worse than Hell was such an unbelievably brutal badass that his mere presence on the high seas literally caused many Spanish galleon troops to leap overboard to their deaths rather than risk falling into his nefarious clutches:
The man who would one day be feared and reviled as "The Flail of Spain," (because when Spaniards saw him they started screaming and flailing their arms around wildly like they were being electrocuted) Francois L'Ollonais was born with the name Jean-David Nau, sometime around the year 1635. He's from a town called Les Sables d'Olonne, which is located on the Western coast of France, not far from where fellow badass Richard the Lionheart grew up. But while Le Coer d'Lion spent his teenage years cutting people in half with a broadsword and then beating their family members to death with the lifeless torso of their former kinsman, Jean-David Nau grew up as a penniless pauper and was sold into slavery and/or indentured servitude at the age of fifteen. He was brought to the Spanish-controlled island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean (the present-day Dominican Republic), and spent the next ten years of his life in exceedingly harsh conditions, working back-breaking, fuck-my-life menial labor in the blazing heat and stifling humidity of the tropical summer and then getting the ever-loving shit beaten out of him by his masters any time he complained about it or failed to produce whatever his arbitrary quota was for that day.
Jean-David served his time, and, at the end of his tenure, was released back into the wild as a free man without so much as a tracking chip through the year. He changed his name to Francois L'Ollonais, probably because he really enjoyed names that are pretty much impossible to spell, and decided to get involved in the kicking-asses-for-money business. In 1660 he moved to Tortuga, a French-controlled island just north of the Haitian mainland that was pretty much right up there with Port Royal in terms of being some of the most wretched hives of scum and villainy on the planet. It didn't take much wandering through a city that led the world in per-capita syphilis infections for this beefy Frenchman to find work, and before long L'Ollonais had signed on with a shipload of scurvy buccaneers ravaging the high seas for booty and adventure and then the other kind of booty.
Now the crazy shit about L'Ollonais is that he wasn't even really a pirate – this guy was a buccaneer/privateer, meaning that he had a license to kill from the King of France, and was granted free reign to murder, rob, and plunder Spaniards in a sort of gunpowder-era state-sponsored terrorist campaign aimed at disrupting the transfer of wealth from the New World to Spain. And he was damn good at it – after just a few missions, this guy had proved himself such a gunslinging, cutlass-hacking hardass that the Governor of Tortuga (!) gave him a ship of his own and a letter of marque, and told him to get out there and keep up the good work re: murdering everyone in the Caribbean Sea who didn't have a Fleur d'Lis flag above their mainmast. L'Ollonais walked the docks, recruited some unkempt-looking "Brethren of the Coast", and went on an epic cross-ocean murder spree – plundering ships, destroying galleons, and leaving no survivors Dread Pirate Roberts-style
L'Ollonais's brutal wrath soon came back to bit him in the ass a little bit, when in 1663 he sailed into a nasty storm and found himself shipwrecked on the Yucatan Peninsula. Even though the buccaneer managed to get most of his crew through the storm alive, the scurvy scalawags were immediately attacked by Spanish landlubbers, who were more than eager to show the already-notorious Frenchman the same professional courtesy he'd been showing to their galleons. The Spanish opened fire immediately, and a hail of bullets cut through L'Ollonais's troops, exploding people like blood packs in the hospital microwave. Seeing that the battle was lost, and badly wounded by a musketball through some non-musketball-friendly portion of his body, L'Ollonais dropped down to the sand, covered himself with the dead bodies of his fallen men, and pretended to be dead in a ruse not dissimilar to Liam Neeson in that scene from Taken. As soon as the Spaniards left, L'Ollonais climbed out of the corpse-pile, took some clothes off a dead Spaniard, walked right into the city of Campeche, bluffed his way past the guards (he spoke fluent, accentless Spanish, having picked it up during his indentured servitude), and reconned the city. That night he freed a couple French slaves from a local prison, killed a couple dudes, stole a pair of canoes from the dock and started rowing for freedom.
He didn't get far before the Spanish saw the trail of bloody corpses and figured out what the fuck was going on. When the local governor learned that L'Ollonais was alive and on the run he sent a crew of pirate-hunters out with very specific orders – get out there and don't return until every pirate is dead, except Francois – he needed to be taken alive so he could be tortured to death at a later date. But the cagey L'Ollonais sniffed out the pirate-hunters, got the drop on those assclowns, boarded their sloop by rowing his canoes right up to them in the middle of the night (!), and then beheaded every man on board except one -- he sent that poor bastard back home to deliver a hand-written note that simply read, "I shall never henceforward give quarter to any Spaniard whatsoever, and I have great hopes I shall execute on your own person the very same punishment I have done upon them you sent against me. Thus I have retaliated the kindness you designed to me and my companions."
Then he stole their ship and sailed back home.
From this point on, Francois L'Ollonais became even more merciless and even more totally fucking insane. Now, not only did this French motherfucker massacre every man aboard Spanish ships except one (he usually put that dude in a rowboat and sent him out to spread terror, so that all the Spanish Main would quake at the pirate's name), he now found a bunch of new, exciting, and horrific ways to torture them to death that were so sadistic that Dexter probably would have cried a tear of joy. The most famous act was the time a totally roided-out L'Ollonaise cut a dude's still-beating heart out, ate a piece of it, and then threw the half-eaten heart in another Spanish dude's face while ROFL'Ollonaising his ass off about it, but that doesn't even begin to cover it. This murderous psycho was also a master at cutting people apart bit by bit, starting with the hands, and he could also keep you alive for a while as he was burning you to death with fire. In his shipboard blood fiesta he also perfected something called "woolding", which sounds like it should be some cute thing involving petting sheep or something but in reality was the practice of tying a rope around a dude's head and then tightening it to the point where the guy's eyes pop out of his head like they've been shot out of a potato cannon. For his extreme brutality, L'Ollonais developed quite a reputation, and everywhere he went the Spaniards resolved to fight this freakshow to the last man and never surrender – even when the battle was over, many enemy sailors would jump overboard to their deaths rather than face the unbelievable wrath of this maniacal Frenchman who was more fit for Arkham Asylum than the deck of a warship. I mean, shit, this dude was so fucking psychotic that his own people deserted him whenever they got the chance – sure, he made them rich with plunder, but WTF, right?
L'Ollonais is also one of the first privateers to attack ports as well as ships, which was seriously bad fucking news for the poor citizens of the towns in his wake. In 1667, he assembled a fleet of 8 ships and 660 men and attacked the port of Maracaibo in present-day Venezuela. The harbor was guarded by 16 cannons, but L'Ollonais docked along the coast, rowed up a small river in a bunch of canoes, and attacked the port from the land side, crushing the defenders in a hail of bullets after a three-hour gun battle. He then spent the next four weeks horrifically torturing the population for their loot, and when the populace didn't give him enough cash he ransomed the city back to Spain for a little extra dough. After that he attacked the nearby town of Gibraltar in a similar way, but since he'd lost so many men in the attack he ordered every guard and citizen put to death. The entire town was wiped out, usually after torture, and burned to the ground. The pirates made out with cases of jewels and a quarter-million pieces of eight, which were promptly brought back to Tortuga and spent on gonorrhea-laden hookers.
L'Ollonais' next cruise wouldn't go quite so swimmingly for him (or for the prostitutes of Tortuga, for that matter) – he plundered Puerto Cabellos and San Pedro in a similarly-vicious manner to what he'd done at Maracaibo, but constant ambushes by Spanish forces continually whittled down his crew. The infamous French psychopath was a little too cocky at this point, and was unwilling to be slowed down by something as insignificant as a crippling lack of manpower. In early 1668 he tried to attack Nicaragua with just one ship and ended up wrecking it on a sandbar just off the coast like a dumbass. The understandably-pissed soldiers of Spain caught up to the heart-eating maniac, wiped out most of his crew, and captured him alive. L'Ollonais, being a resourceful bastard, however, managed to escape, though this didn't work out all that well for him either – he was almost immediately captured by the local Darien Indian tribe, who weren't exactly going to be as humane as the Spanish and simply hang him in chains while birds pecked out his eyes – these guys burned him alive, cut his still-breathing body into pieces bit by bit, then cooked him and ate him. Karma's a bitch, and she has a taste for irony.
|"Here suddenly his ill-fortune assailed him, which of a long time had been reserved for him as a punishment due to the multitude of horrible crimes, which in his licentious and wicked life he had committed. For God Almighty, the time of His divine justice being now already come, had appointed the Indians of Darien to be the instruments and executioners thereof."
The Way of the Pirates
The Pirates' Realm
Exquemelin, Alexandre. The Buccaneers of America. G. Allen, 1911.
Gosse, Philip. The Pirates' Who's Who. Echo, 2006.
Karg, Barb and Arjean Spaite. The Everything Pirates Book. Everything Books, 2007.
Selinger, Gail and W. Thomas Smith. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pirates. Penguin, 2006.