Female Pirates

We’ve all heard the stories about Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the badass chicks who dressed as men because woman couldn’t do anything back in the Middle Ages, found work on pirate ships and happened to end up on the same crew. They were the only ones to fight the privateers while the men drank downstairs, and when their trials came they both pleaded for mercy because of their pregnancies. The full tale can be found here, but there were many more woman pirates.


Jeanne de Clisson, the Lioness of Brittany, ruled the seas between 1346 and 1356. Clisson was a wealthy noblewoman who lived in luxury until the French cut off her husband’s head. Vengeful and angry, she sold all of her land and nice possessions to buy three huge warships, which she painted black and dyed the sails crimson. Her usual mode of operations was to stab everyone on board a ship except one, who remained to tell the king of what she’d done. She was never caught, despite having huge, flashy ships and being wanted by pretty much everybody, and eventually married an Englishman and retired to France, even though she’d been terrorizing France her whole life, because she was the Lioness of Brittany and she did what she wanted.


Grace O’Malley, who earned the nickname “The Pirate Queen of Connaught”, cut off her hair and dressed like a boy to prove to her sea captain father she could go on his seafaring adventures, but was married at 16 to Donal O’Flaherty. The O’Flahertys were seafarers too, and Grace rose throughout her marriage to rule the O’Flaherty fleet, by the simple process of being more competent than anyone else. Legend has it that Grace gave birth to one of her sons at sea, and the very next day Turkish pirates attacked. Even though she was still exhausted from the birth, she grabbed a gun and went out on deck to shoot people. And that was before she was a pirate. She became a pirate when her husband died after 19 years of marriage, and the O’Flahertys refused to give her any part of her husband’s estates, as was the custom in Ireland. She had to rely on them to support her, which was not a pleasant prospect, so she set out on her own with a loyal group of followers and started trading on the seas to buy land. At first she just started taxing the people who moved through “her” waters, but if people refused to pay the toll she hopped on their ship, kicked their ass, and took the money. Eventually she stopped calling it a tax, and launched a pirate operation. Before long, she recruited a group of warriors known as the Gallowglass, who were the result of Vikings intermarrying with Scottish Highlanders, and were the most badass guys around. With them at the head of her fleet, along with her loyal Irishmen, she not only hit the seas but started conquering huge swathes of land from the people unfortunate enough to live in her territory. Once, an English Earl refused to let her in when she stopped by for dinner, so she held the Earl’s son hostage until he gave her bacon and promised to set a place for her every single night just in case she decided to stop by. When she was 50 years old, she led an attack to capture a Spanish war galleon. However, eventually the English decided they couldn’t just let her do whatever she wanted, so one of their lords kidnapped her brother and sons. Grace took a stroll up to London to have a chat with the Queen of England at the age of 53, during which she tried to bring in a dagger, failed, accidentally threw someone’s handkerchief in the fire, and spoke Latin to the Queen because she didn’t want to speak English. The Queen agreed to force the man to let her brother and sons go as long as O’Malley agreed to retire from piracy and stop supporting rebellions from Irish nobles. O’Malley agreed, and went home to her piles of treasure.


A woman named Anne Dieu-Le-Veut, also called Marianne, was one of very few female buccaneers, or French pirates. Born in 1650, she was a criminal deported from France to Tortuga between 1665 and 1675. While in Tortuga she was married to a buccaneer named Pierre Length. Her husband was killed in 1683 by another famous buccaneer named Laurens de Graff. Anne challenged him to a duel, he pulled his sword, Anne pulled her gun. Struck by her spirit, he proposed to her on the spot, presumably over the body of Anne’s dead husband. She accepted. They actually weren’t married, because Laurens had a wife he’d abandoned long before, but they then acted as man and wife. Anne accompanied Laurens on his pirating as his second-in-command, and earned the title Anne God-Wants. She was considered great good luck by the buccaneers who followed Laurens. In 1693, her husband invaded Jamaica, and was, as a thanks, awarded the title of Chevalier, the position of Major-Lieutenant, and the commission of Ile-a-Vache, but the year after the English took their revenge on Tortuga, and Anne and her two daughters were kidnapped. She was held hostage for three years, but was treated with great respect. One of her daughters settled in Haiti, where she became famous for challenging and beating a man in a duel.


There are several more. A Swedish princess from the time of the Vikings, Alfhild of the Valkyrie went to sea with an all-woman crew to avoid marriage to Danish prince Alf, and sailed around raiding any ships and settlements they could find. Jacquotte Delahaye, a half-French, half-Haitian buccaneer, was forced to turn to piracy after her mentally disabled brother was left in her care. Active in the 1660s, Delahaye faked her own death, lived as a man for several years, and returned to piracy, earning the nickname “Back-From-The-Dead-Red,” for her lovely red hair. Ching Shih, a Chinese pirate, was one of the most successful pirates in history. She had a fleet of 400 ships that defeated the Chinese, British, and Portuguese navies, leading the Chinese government to offer her amnesty in exchange for her ceasing piracy. She negotiated full amnesty for all of her crew, (A good 2-3 thousand people) and everyone got to keep their loot. The officers got positions in the Chinese navy. She then settled down with her riches and opened a gambling house.


These tales of female pirates are, oddly, rather inspiring, don’t you think? I mean, how badass are these chicks?


Goodbye for now, I’ve got to go write a story about female pirates.


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One Response to Female Pirates

  1. 1Alive says:

    I love these stories! So glad you shared as they gave me a boost of belief in myself. Very inspirational.

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