Saturday, June 11, 2011

Women and the Jolly Roger

The Articles of Agreement that pirates swore an oath to uphold often included a ban on women aboard their ships. After all, "women were weak, feckless, hysterical beings who distracted men and brought bad luck to ships, calling forth supernatural winds that sank vessels and drowned men.” (Cordingly, Women Sailors and Sailors’ Women

Historical records provide evidence that women did go to sea -- sometimes as pirates or sailors. While Anne Bonny and Mary Read [illustrated here] were perhaps the most famous women pirates, others of equal or lesser renown included Alwida, Grace O'Malley and Cheng I Sao.

In order for a woman to succeed in her new persona, she had to do more than don a disguise. She had to adopt the mannerisms common to men ... fighting, carousing, swearing, walking and dressing as the men did. Getting aboard a ship disguised as a man wasn’t that difficult in the Age of Sail. A sailor’s clothes easily disguised a woman’s shape and mariners wore their hair long, tied in a pigtail and tarred.  Petticoat-breeches and the baggy shirt worn under a jacket easily hid her curves, especially if she bound her breasts. Sailors rarely removed their clothes and the only time a doctor insisted they undress was to treat their wounds.

Billy Bridle, a daring sailor who served aboard a vessel for two years, challenged a shipmate to climb the highest mast. The mate was reluctant, but finally agreed to the challenge. Soon after he climbed down, Billy followed, but burned his hands as he slid down the topgallant halyards.  Twenty feet above the deck, Billy lost his grip, fell to the deck and died. Not until the inquest did anyone discover Billy was actually Rachel Young.

Taking care of bodily functions posed a more challenging problem, but not an impossible one.  Some affixed a tube inside their breeches to appear to urinate as a man when they went to the head. Since many sailors contracted venereal diseases, they wouldn’t have thought anything strange about a sailor bleeding. It was a common complaint. As for having her period, there’s a good chance she ceased menstruating from the poor food and strenuous exercise of working aboard a wooden ship. Since she didn’t shave, men just assumed she hadn’t gone through puberty yet.

Furling and unfurling sails, working the pumps and capstan, rowing boats and a myriad of other tasks requiring hard labor wouldn’t have been a problem for most working-class women of the seventeen and eighteenth centuries. Even as women living ashore they worked long hours and did physically demanding chores. If she were strong and able, a woman was capable of doing sailors’ work.

It took a remarkable woman to assume a male persona and carry it off successfully. Why would any woman choose to do so? Perhaps because she wished to earn her way in life without prostituting herself and to keep her wages instead of having to relinquish them to her husband or father. She could learn a trade forbidden to women. As a man, she had rights, unlike a woman who had few if any rights under the law. As long as men believed her to be one of them, they treated her as a man. As soon as her true identity was discovered, she was no longer taken seriously and had to return home to mind her place.

While an untold number of accounts of male pirates and warriors exist, the same isn’t true of  women who donned male attire and changed their names. Many pirates were illiterate as were the majority of the lower classes. Women would have been doubly so, for educating them was seen as folly.

Pirates, who kept journals or diaries, rarely mention women, “except as victims of men.” In spite of this dearth of primary documentation, we know women became pirates, sailors and soldiers.  As Mary Livermore, a Sanitary Commission agent, wrote in 1888 about disguised women who fought in the Civil War:

“Some one has stated the number of women soldiers …as little less than four hundred. I cannot vouch for the correctness of this estimate, but I am convinced that a larger number of women disguised themselves and enlisted … than was dreamed of.  Entrenched in secrecy, and regarded as men, they were sometimes revealed as women, by accident or casualty. Some startling histories of these military women were current in the gossip of army life; and extravagant and unreal as were many of the narrations, one always felt that they had a foundation in fact.”

The same was probably true of women pirates throughout history. Some disguised their sex.  Others did not. Some achieved notoriety in their lifetimes. Most, however, disappeared without anyone being the wiser. 

The list of women pirates numbers approximately 40. Some are real and others are of legend. But each seemed to have one real reason for becoming a pirate or privateer. Escape ... e
scape from prostitution, poverty, oppression, arranged marriages, servitude and more. Each was determined to live their lives the way they chose ... not by the laws, conventions and standards of their time.

VIDEO ~ My Jolly Sailor Bold

Friday, June 10, 2011

Early Pirates

Queen Teuta
Queen Teuta of Illyra
Years Active: 232-228 BC
Country of Origin: Illyra
Comments: Adriatic Sea

Elissa ~ "Dido"
Years Active: 470 BC
Country of Origin: Mediterranean
 Comments: Legendary founder of Carthage

Ch’iao K’uo Fuu Jeen
Years Active: 600 BC
Country of Origin: Chinese
Comments: Possibly Mythical

Queen Artemisia
Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus
Years Active: 480 BC
Country of Origin: Mediterranean

Viking Age & Medieval Pirates

Years Active:
Country of Origin: Norwegan Viking
Comments: Fought against her brother Thrond for the thrones of both Denmark and Norway. Possibly fictional. Recorded in Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danoram (History of the Danes). Johannes Steenstrup linked her to the Ingean Ruadh (Red Maid) of Irish folklore.

Years Active:
Country of Origin: Norwegian Viking
Comments: Sister of Rusila. Became a pirate to avoid marriage. Recorded in the Gesta Danorum.

Years Active:
Country of Origin: Norwegian Viking
Comments: Leader of a group of male and female pirates. Also recorded in the Gesta Danorum.

Princess Sela
Years Active: c. 420 AD
Country of Origin: Norwegian
Comments: Sister of Koller, king of Norway. Horwendil (later to be father of Amleth/Hamlet) was kind of Jutland but gave up the throne to become a pirate. Koller “deemed it would be a handsome deed” to kill the pirate and sailed to find the pirate fleet. Horwendil killed Koller but had to later kill Sela, who was a skilled warrior and experienced pirate, to end the war. Recorded in the Gesta Danorum.

Wigbiorg, Hetha & Wisna
Years Active: c. 800s AD Century AD
Country of Origin: Norwegian Vikings
Comments: All three are listed in the Gesta Danorum as sea captains. Wigbiorg died in battle, Hetha became queen of Zealand and Wisna lost a hand in a duel.

Alvilda ~ alias Alfhild, Aelfhild, Alwilda, Awilda
Years Active: Post 850 AD. Often wrongly dated to 450 AD.
Country of Origin: Swedish Viking
Comments: There is some doubt of Alvilda's actual existence, in fact, the date of her reign cannot be verified. Much of what is known is based on the verbal retelling by bards in the Viking halls:

The story starts with Alvilda rejecting her suitor, Prince Alf (son of King Sigarus or Sigar of Denmark). There is a difference of opinion on how her rejection took place: Some say Prince Alf successfully entered Alvilda's room by besting her 'guard snakes'. Since he was able to pass this feat, he’d win the hand of Alvilda should she agree. The other version of the rejection is that Alvilda's father set up an arranged marriage with Prince Alf, which the princess rejected. Either way, instead of marrying the prince, she fled her home with women recruits who did not want to marry.

Alvilda's recruits soon ran into some mourners who had lost their captain. Alvilda took command of this crew and took up piracy. With a group double in size, she became a menace to the shipping community and her thievery alerted the law around the Danish coast. Prince Alf, who was unaware the pirates were commanded by his bethrothed, attacked the pirate ship. Eventually the prince's crew boarded the ship and killed most of the pirates. When Alvilda was taken to the prince, he recognized her and proposed marriage. She accepted, quit piracy and eventually became Queen of Denmark.

Years Active: c. 870 AD
Country of Origin: Viking
Comments: Ladgerda is the inspiration for Hermintrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Aethelflaed ~ alias The Lady of the Mercias (872-918)
Years Active: 911-918
Country of Origin: English
Comments: Eldest daughter of Alfred the Great of England. Became the military leader of the Anglo-Saxons after her husband’s death in battle against the Danes in 911. Took command of the fleets to rid the seas of the Viking raiders.

14th Century Pirates

Jane de Belleville ~ alias Jeanne de Montfort, Jeanne de Clisson, Jane de Belleville, "The Flame" and "The Lionesss of Brittany"
Years Active: 1343
Country of Origin: French

A French noblewoman who turned against her country when her beloved husband was executed by the French as a spy. With vengeance in her heart, she sided with the English in the 1345 invasion of Brittany. Seeking to enter the fray herself, she purchased and prepared three ships with money from the sale of her possessions. She was a ruthless mistress of revenge at sea and on land, and no ship or town near the coast of Normandy was safe from her wrath. With a flaming torch in one hand and a sword in the other, she must have been a fearsome sight to behold, as she burned whole Norman villages to the ground.

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.

17th Century Pirates

Elizabeth Patrickson
Years Active: 1634
Country of Origin: English

Jacquotte Delahaye
Years Active: 1650s-1660s
Country of Origin:
Comments: Caribbean pirate. Also known as “Back from the Dead Red” due to her red hair and return to piracy after faking her own death and hiding dressed as a man for several years.

Anne Dieu-le-Veut ~ alias Marie-Anne & Marianne (ca. 1650-)
Years Active: 1660s-1704
Country of Origin: French
Comments: Caribbean buccaneer and later based in Mississippi after Tortuga was closed down. Dieu-Le-Veut was a nickname meaning “God wills it” and given to her as it seemed anything she wanted God gave her. Married to a pirate, Ann challenged pirate Laurens de Graaf to a duel after he killed her husband in 1683. He refused and she became his common law wife, fighting by his side and sharing command.