Friday, June 10, 2011

16th Century Pirates

The meeting of Gráinne Ní Mháille &
Queen Elizabeth I
Grace O'Malley ~ alias Granuaile, Granny Wale, Grana Weil, Graun'ya Uaile, Granuaile, "Queen of the West," "The Great Sea Pirate" & Gráinne Ni Mháille
Years Active: 1500s
Country of Origin: Atlantic
Comments: Commanded three galleys and 200 men.

The famed "Pirate Queen of Connacht" was one of the most recognized pirates and her story is legendary. There’s a mix of history and myth in the legend of the Irish noblewoman who led a band of 200 sea-raiders from the coast of Galway.
Grace was born at sea in 1530. Her parents (clan chieftain Dudara "Black Oak" and noblewoman Margaret O'Malley) were both seafarers, combining legal activities with piracy. Grace grew up on Clare Island, off the coast of Country Mayo, Ireland. It’s here where, as a young girl, she decided to stop a brood of eagles that were carrying sheep off to their cliff dwelling. Grace climbed the cliff and slaughtered the birds, though not before the eagle talons deeply gashed her forehead. This left scars which remained her entire life. Soon after this feat, her father began training her as a warrior both on land and sea and Grace began wearing her hair short as a man's. In fact, "Granuaile" means 'bald'.
After her father's death, Grace took command of his fleets and castles. She soon began her own piracy, 'waging a private war against England.' The Queen of England put a price on her head and tried to take one of her castles, but could not. Grace's fleet was so large, the Queen didn’t dare attack them and retreated.
Grace went through two husbands and gave birth to several children. After her second husband died she found herself without lands or financial support, as Irish law did not guarantee a wife could inherit her husband’s land. She began raiding the English holdings nearby which incurred the wrath of Sir Richard Bingham, the Governor of the province, who had her fleet impounded in 1593.
Grace felt this was unjust and appealed to Queen Elizabeth I by letter and again in person when Bingham arrested her son. She asked the Queen to release her fleet and give her an annual stipend to live on for the rest of her days … this, she claimed, was so she could give up piracy. She also vowed to fight the Queen’s enemies. No record was made of the meeting although there are many stories and poems of the encounter. It did occur, however, since the Queen wrote to Bingham asking him to do as Grace wished. Bingham kept the ships impounded until he was replaced by his successor. Grace’s son took over the fleet, and was as loyal to the Crown as his mother. He was made Viscount Mayo in 1627.
Grace continued her piracy well into her sixties. It was said that during one of her later raids against a Spanish vessel, the Spanish took one look at her and dropped their weapons. She was noted to be on board in her nightgown, her grey hair loose and her scars very noticeable. She was holding a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other. She died in 1603.

Sayyida al Hurra
Years Active: 1510-1542
Country of Origin: Moroccan
Comments: Allied with the Turkish corsair Barbaros of Algiers. al Hurra controlled the western Mediterranean Sea while Barbaros controlled the eastern. Also prefect of Tétouan. In 1515 she became the last person in Islamic history to legitimately hold the title of “al Hurra” or Queen following the death of her husband who ruled Tétouan. She later married the King of Morocco, Ahmed al-Wattasi, but refused to leave Tétouan to do so. This marriage is the only time in Morrocan history a King has married away from the capital Fez. *al Hurra is also the name of an American Arab language pirate radio station used as a counter to al Jazeera.

The Red Lady (1500-1534)
Years Active: 1528-1534
Country of Origin: English
Comments: One of the most cunning pirates of the sixteenth century who never revealed her identity. She commonly disguised herself as a singer or an entertainer to be brought on ships and once the crew ever advance on her or leave her by herself she would take her disguise off having a top, pants and her weapons underneath. She would then immediately kill all aboard the ship and sail to sea.

Mary Killigrew
Lady Mary Killigrew
Years Active: 1530-1570
Country of Origin: English, Atlantic

Mary was the daughter of a former Suffolk pirate. Her husband, Sir Henry Killigrew, was a former pirate himself and was made a Vice-Admiral by Queen Elizabeth I. He was tasked with suppressing piracy. Whenever her husband went to sea Mary engaged in piracy using the staff of her castle (Arwenack Castle in Cornwall) as crew and possibly with the Queen's knowledge. In 1570 she captured a German merchant ship off Falmouth and her crew sailed it to Ireland to sell. However, the owner of this ship was a friend of Queen Elizabeth, who had Lady Mary arrested and brought to trial at the Launceston assizes. Some sources say she was sentenced to death and then pardoned by the Queen but this is due to confusion with another family member. According to sources, her family either bribed the jurors and she was acquitted or Queen Elizabeth arranged a short jail sentence. Whatever transpired, she gave up pirating and took up fencing stolen goods until she died several years later.

Lady Elizabeth Killigrew
Years Active: 1570s-1582
Country of Origin: English

Elizabeth and her husband Sir John lived in Pendennis Castle in Falmouth Harbour. In early 1581 a Spanish ship, the Marie of San Sebastian was blown down Channel by a storm and was forced, dismasted, to take refuge in Falmouth Harbour. Lady Elizabeth led an attack on the ship and then fenced the proceeds. She was later arrested and sentenced to death but pardoned. Sir John was ordered by the Privy Council to restore the vessel and goods to their owners but went into hiding along with the ship which resulted in several warrants for his arrest being issued for acts of piracy committed over the next eight years. It is possible that Lady Elizabeth did not actually board the vessel herself, so it might be incorrect to describe her as a pirate.

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