What do you think of when I say "Pirate"?

          Few historical figures ensnare the imagination in the same way as pirates do. The rum, the talking parrots, the hats and cloaks and treasure—all make for dramatic, theatrical tales.  But what if I named Sayyida al-Hurra, Lady Mary Killigrew, Anne Bonny or Mary Reed?  The first was the 16th century Morroccan pirate queen and the second was a "sea-dog" for Queen Elizabeth I.  The third and fourth earned fame in the Caribbean in the 17th century.  Through time these women's stories have become embellished so that it becomes virtually impossible to separate fact and fiction.  Many of the stories came down out of oral traditions only later to be recorded.

          In the Caribbean it became a free for all much of the appeal was in the opportunity to divest oneself of the societal roles and take part in what in essence was a multinational masquerade and make oneself anew.

         While there have been no first hand accounts from these ladies we do have the second and third hand reportage.  Were there successful female pirate commanders?  I give to you the commander pirate Cheng I Sao, her fleet was larger than many of the legitimate fleets of the day.  She married into a decent pirate operation but then expanded it beyond her late husband’s wildest dreams.  Cheng I the most successful woman pirate of all time. Cheng I enforced a code of conduct that was unique in its harshness.  Penalties for the offenses were above the norm for the era and the strict proscription of sexual activity, both consensual and nonconsensual, on- and off-board of the ship [Raping female captives was punishable by death and even if captives had consensual sex they would still be killed]. 

 

          The way she surrendered only amplified her success.  Her surrender was one for the books. She was able to secure pensions for her crew. She was so terrifying that she basically forced the Chinese government to pay her to stop pirating.  It seems her calculation [with the surrender] was, the government is expecting somebody coming to them with a phalanx of burly bodyguards armed to teeth. And she comes in with a bunch of ladies. That would’ve at the very least been very surprising and shifted the balance to power, and forced everyone to reconsider. She was incredibly successful in her negotiations, so it was a smart gambit.

           While quite probably many women pirates dressed in male attire others did not.  There is the story of Grace O'Malley (Irish pirate of the 16th century giving birth to her youngest son aboard a pirate ship.  The problem is we only have record of those who got caught.

          The Vikings had their own Lady of the Seas; Ladgerda, the Viking pirate who said it was better to rule without her husband and murdered him after rescuing him. His fleet was in distress after he left her for another woman. She sailed in to save the day but had a knife in her skirt and stabs him and says, "ok I’m in charge now."

Anne Bonny and Mary Read are just two of the famous female pirates who pillaged their way to fame. (Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library/Alamy)

 

Information found on Smithsonian.com and in the book by Laura Sook Duncombe "her new book Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas.



 

To leave a comment, please sign in with
or or

Comments (26)

  1. EZWAYZ

    There be monsters ’ere!

    April 12, 2017
    1. SEC

      ayup

      April 13, 2017
      1. EZWAYZ

        I also think, Kenny Chesney: Better as a Memory

        April 13, 2017
  2. willsblog

    It’s a typical Liberal double standard. If a male stabs someone, he’s violent. If a female stabs someone, she is just exercising her “rights”.

    April 13, 2017
  3. magnocrat

    Excellent. Separating fact from fiction might be a good job for Mr Trump for my part fiction makes the facts readable, or perhaps the facts are just accepted fiction.

    April 13, 2017
  4. noahbody

    Well said. Women pirates… women’s lib at an age when it was unheard of?

    April 13, 2017
    1. SEC

      yup and some were quite successful just not as famous

      April 13, 2017
  5. Nightbane

    Sayyida was a queen, the title al Hurra means precisely that. She ruled Tetouan in her own right after her husband’s death, was the last woman of Islam to be a queen in her own right. She was also a colleague of the infamous Barbarossa. She wished revenge for the catholic reconquest of Granada when she was child, it had forced her and her family to flee thier peaceful and happy home. She avenged that through piracy and and padded her legitimate coffers witht he wealth came of it. it would seem form what I can find piracy was a sort of second job, she was a queen first. With her subjects, she was fair, with the invaders of her home, she showed no mercy.
    Mary Wolverston ( Lady Killigrew ) was pure pirate, daughter of a pirate and wife of a pirate, a nasty creature. She was eventually arrested, tried and condemned for receiving and fencing stolen goods though granted pardon some time later by Elizabeth I. It is thought the monach was persuaded to mercy because Mary was in her 60s, was probably given pardon to go home and die. nowhere have there been found she had Letters of Marque, was not a privateer in any sense. she was a pure and evil criminal by reports of all who knew her and survived it.
    Madame Ching was legendary! Her husband was Cheng I. Cheng I Sao simply means Cheng’s widow. Her birth name was Xia, she was born in Guangdong and was a prostitute from early age. Cheng’s lot raided the brothel, he tookher in the raid and married her. She apparently cared for him and supported him, learnt his business and did astonishingly well at it. He had begun making a larger force of many smaller one at the time of his death, she took that and put it together in a way far larger than he’d envisioned.
    yes, she required a very strict code, all booty was brought for examination by the community, twenty percent was given back to the one took it, the rest went into the community fund. The community fund was used to support the ships that had not been as successful, none starved. They did not raid the villages supported them, was a high offense so to do. If one of the men fancied a female captive, he was required to marry her and was expected to be faithful to her. Rape was punishable by immediate beheading of the rapist, consensual sex with a female prisoner found the man executed at once and the woman thrown overboard with heavy weights tied to her, cannonballs were a reportedas being the choice by Western observers but this makes no sense as cannonballs were ammunition and therefore a necessity of the community’s survival.
    Madame Ching was Cantonese. My dear friend Mrs Q is Cantonese, she tells me Madame Ching also required hers ( men, women and children ) to bathe regularly and be presentable when not working. Madame Ching was actually paid to retire by the Government of the day ( they feared her, ) was permitted keep her wealth and open a gambling house to keep her to the end of her days. She died at age sixty – nine in the year 1844.
    Interesting and entirely brilliant woman, Madame Ching….

    dunno anything about the others listed.

    April 13, 2017
    1. SEC

      seems I’ve struck a topic of interest to milor Nightbane

      April 13, 2017
      1. Nightbane

        Privateers are more my style though they differed little in practices from those lacking Letters of Marque. I mentioned Madame Ching to Mrs Q and she bubbled and sparkled, there is a remote relationship. I can see it in Mrs Q’s mind, she is brilliant, a most excellent negotiator, very community minded though not nearly so harsh in presiding over her huge and farflung family.
        ~
        Yes, I enjoy playing pirate, is a favourite persona of mine in anachronistic adventures in warmer climes and times.

        April 13, 2017
        1. SEC

          I can definitely see the swashbuckler in you

          April 13, 2017
          1. Nightbane

            Dunno which I prefer, boarding by way of a swinging over on a line or boom or firing cannon.

            April 13, 2017
            1. SEC

              A good sword fight might be the enticement too?

              April 13, 2017
          2. Nightbane

            I use only well plated guantlets, no blades. i take swords but don’t use them in that persona. Is a half Elf, couldnt pull i off if I werent’ fast ans well versd in arts of defense meself. I enjoy it immensely, I kill none, I make few enemies and never seem to have trouble parting ladies from their valuables….. Dunno about the rest of ’em THIS pirate gets awhole lotta booty…….

            April 13, 2017
            1. SEC

              It suits you

              April 14, 2017
          3. Nightbane

            I know that sounded awful but I really did mean the sort is jewells and the like.

            April 14, 2017
            1. SEC

              gotcha LoL

              April 14, 2017
          4. Nightbane

            Keep forgetting young people keep attempting to give wrong meanings to words.

            April 14, 2017
            1. SEC

              true that they do I took it both ways the original and the new double entante

              April 14, 2017
          5. Nightbane

            You would do, bless you. Is true on either count, though not so much in the modern term, I’m going steady and se no other but that one.

            April 14, 2017
            1. SEC

              now that is wonderful

              April 14, 2017
          6. Nightbane

            Not hurting my feelings one bit.

            April 14, 2017
            1. SEC

              Ever the gallant Knight

              April 15, 2017
  6. monicaspeaks

    I think of highschool as we were the pirates.

    April 15, 2017
    1. SEC

      LoL that happens

      April 15, 2017
  7. redeemedmind

    How very informative. I never knew! Reading your bio, I see you do not enjoy historical fiction. I’ve always wanted to find someone to discuss my loathing of Diana Gabaldon with. I don’t expect that of you. An historic romance series is not something a person would read if they had no use for historic fiction. I’m so glad to have come across your blogs. It’s not easy to find enjoyable stuff such as yours, especially on this site.

    April 15, 2017