Siemen Danziger was a 17th-century Dutch privateer and corsair. From fighting the Spanish to marrying a Governor’s daughter, he lived a life of adventure that might be the envy of any buccaneering pirate.
Born at about 1579, he lived when spelling was as much an art as a science, so his name has been written in many ways. Danziker, Dansker, or Danser, in Dutch, he was known by the Turks as Simon Re'is. The English called him Zymen Danseker and Simon the Danser,
Danseker served as a privateer in the Eighty Years' War. This war, which started in 1568 and lasted until 1648, was a rebellion of the Dutch provinces which had been held by Spain. The Dutch, who wished to have political freedom, also wanted to be free to pursue the new religion of Protestantism. We have no real records of Danseker’s success or failure as a privateer, but he left the life, possibly with some level of fortune, and settled in Marseilles, France, where he married the governor's daughter.
Then in 1607 he turned pirate, stole a ship, and sailed for Algiers.
What had happened? Did his money run out? Did he tire of his wife or his in-laws? We’ll probably never know for sure. But given his sudden break for freedom, I wonder if his trip to France had been some kind of dodge, and if his privateering pay had been no more than enough to set up a flash-front with the intention of marrying well.
One on the Turkish side of the Mediterranean, he found service with Redwan, the Pasha of Algiers. Here he "was made welcome as an enemy of the Spaniards" and became one of the leading captains within a year of his arrival. Often bringing Spanish prizes and prisoners to Algiers, he became known under the names Simon Re'is, Deli-Reis (Captain Crazy) and Deli Kapitan among the people on the Barbary coast and the Turks due to his exploits on the sea.
Along with the English pirate John Ward, Danseker became one of the two most prominent renegades operating in the Barbary coast during the early 17th century. Both men, traitors to their Christian and European roots, were said to command squadrons in Algiers and Tunis equal to their European counterparts, and represented a formidable naval power as allies. Danseker captured over 40 ships in a two-year period.
Among Danseker’s accomplishments was said to be the introduction of the Round Ship, or Cog, to the Mediterranean fleets. This vessel, a fore-runner of the galleon, had been designed as a cargo vessel. But the high “castles” at the front and rear of the vessel proved to be excellent perches for armed men – especially those using longbows, a weapon that still dealt more damage than the primitive firearms of the time.
The round ship had another advantage, in that it is considered the first ship to be steered by a central rudder in the back. This rudder was controlled by ropes, and the arrangement replaced the older method of steering using a left-side oar that trailed in back of the ship.
He incorporated captured ships into his fleet, and was supplied by Algiers with men and use of their shipyards. This was a time of rapid advancement in ship design. Danseker was the first to lead the fleet of Algiers out of the Straits of Gibraltar, the farthest distance any had ever successfully navigated. He traveled as far as Iceland, which would later be attacked by the Barbary corsairs in 1616.
After years of pirating he had become quite rich and lived in an opulent palace. Danseker attacked ships of any nation and made trading in the Mediterranean Sea increasingly difficult for every nation. Many nations therefore looked for ways to stop his attacks (by counterattack, bribes for safe-passage or even employing him as a privateer in their navy). This helped to cement the wealth of the Turks, who became enriched by the “taxes” on merchant ships (actually protection money against pirates.)
Eventually, a French fleet under the command of De Beaulieu de Pairsac, assisted by eight Spanish galleys, threatened to capture Danseker, but he was able to escape because of a sudden storm. He sailed along the coast with his ships where his pursuers could not reach them. Eight more Spanish men-of-war, under the command of Don Luis Fajardo de Córdoba, and an English squadron, under the command of Sir Thomas Shoreley, were also trying to capture Danseker, and their captains seem ot have been impressed by his bravado. Some of the exploits of Simon The Dancer are mentioned in a report written by Andrew Barker in 1609.
In 1609, while taking a Spanish galleon off Valencia, Danseker used the opportunity to communicate a message to Henri IV and the French court through the Jesuit priests on board. He claimed to desire a return to Marseilles, having left his wife and children behind long ago. He also wished to be exonerated for his crimes. Whether this was a sincere wish to see his family, or merely a way to escape the increasing pressure in the Mediterranean, the ploy worked.
He was reunited with his family later that year, shortly after arriving in Marseilles with four well-armed warships on November 17, 1609. Once here, Danseker presented to the Duke of Guise "a present of some Turks, who were at once sent to the galleys" as well as a considerable sum in Spanish gold.
He had lived in Marseilles for a year when French authorities asked him to lead an expedition against the corsairs. Rumors that he had been captured spread, but he returned to France later that same year. Then in 1615 he was called up by Louis XIII to negotiate the release of a group of French ships being held by Yusuf Dey in Tunis. According to the account of William Lithgow, Dansker was led ashore in a ruse by Yusuf, captured by janissaires, and beheaded.