Jean Fleury or Florin was a famous 16th century French Corsair who was responsible for capturing one of the greatest treasures of all time during the privateering era. He was one of the first French corsairs to take up the fight against the Spanish Empire and assisted in helping spawn the later English Sea Dogs and the Dutch Sea Beggars as well. He began his privateering career as a French naval officer from the Dieppe in Normandy. He was a pilot under Jean Ango and fought during the Four Years War.
Spanish Treasure Fleet
In 1522 three Spanish ships loaded to the brim with treasures seized from the toppled Aztec Empire under the command of Hernan Cortes were on their way to Seville to be presented to king Charles V. The three ships were commanded by Captain Quiñones and Alonso de Ávila and had just left Havana and were on the last leg of the route coming back to the Iberian Peninsula. Informants and spies for the privateers informed them of the ships location between Cape Saint Vincent and the Azores Islands and Fleury decided to mobilize his privateer fleet and strike.
Fleury commanded a squadron of five ships and when he encountered the ships he quickly overtook them. They attempted to flee but the treasure laden ships were no match for Fleury's privateer vessels. The treasure that they seized was incredible. Featuring the most lavish and prized loot from the Aztec Empire, the French had struck an immense blow against Spanish hegemony in the Spanish Main.
The treasure of the ships contained tons of gold bullion along with exotic animals, gold and jade ornaments, pearls, Aztec art, masks, fine stones, and all sorts of other plundered treasures from the New World. Fleury presented the items to king Francis I and was considered a hero in France. He had managed to capture one of the greatest prizes in all of history and forever changed the course of history as it showed the Spanish were not invincible.
The next year Fleury set out on another expedition with Jean Terrian with an upgraded fleet of eight ships and captured over thirty Spanish and Portuguese ships before 1524.
Death & Legacy
Eventually Fleury was captured by the Spanish and was imprisoned. He was sent to trial in the city of Toledo and found guilty of piracy against the monarchy. He was sentenced to death and hung along with his officers Michel Fere and Mezie de Irizar in 1527. Thus ended the life of the French corsair who literally started the concept of piracy against the Spanish.
The greatest legacy of Jean Fleury is being the first person to really expose the wealth of the Spanish Empire to the world. He revealed the vast, unimaginable wealth being drawn from the New World which became immediately coveted by the other monarchies in Europe. Fleury filled the imagination of the general public with all sorts of images of wealth and in the impoverished Europe coming out of the Middle Ages the concept of privateering and piracy seemed like a viable alternative to trying to eek out a subsistence existence in Europe.
Fleury was responsible for showing the world that Spain did not control the entire New World and it did not have enough fortifications to actually enforce its massive claims. This left it ripe for empires like the British Empire, the Portuguese Empire, the Dutch Republic and even Denmark to cash in on the action and establish colonies of their own in pursuit of the fantasized treasure.
The Spanish would respond to Fleury's attack by reinforcing all of their major colonial ports and begin building massive forts along with maintaining troop garrisons in order to protect the flow of wealth. These actions would lead directly into the buccaneering era when French, English and Dutch pirates would continue to chip away at the Spanish Main and carve out territory for their respective empires.