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Female Pirates in History

Ever since 600 B.C., there has been rumors of female pirates. The first one is Ch'iao K'uo Fuu Jeen from China. Nobody is sure if this is true. But we know for sure that Queen Teuta of Illyria was also a female pirate in 232 B.C to 228 B.C. in Illyria named Queen Teuta of Illyria. So throughout history, there has been more female pirates than the two we always hear about; Mary Read and Anne Bonny.


Not many women were up to the physically demanding tasks that the crew had to. In fact, a lot of the men were not either. Also women were regarded as bad luck, so it was widely believed that they did not belong on the boats. It was feared that arguments would break out between the male members about the women. On many ships, women, young boys, even different acts like gambling were prohibited by the ship's contract that the crew all signed. Also, many women who were on pirate ships wouldn't identify themselves as such. Anne Bonny for instance dressed up as a man. It has been said that they were creative and innovative. But they really dressed up as men to take an effort to take advantage of the rights, privileges and freedoms that only men could have. They did dress up like men but they had their own style. For instance, a popular trend among female pirates of the South American Pacific coast and Caribbean was using common sailing equipment like fishing nets, jackstays, trunnels, chocks and cordage into their clothing. This is how fishnet stockings came into existence.

In the Viking Age and Medieval Age, there were quite a few pirates. Rusila in Norway who fought her brother Trond for the thrones of both Denmark and Noway. Nobody knows if this is true. Also Stikla also in Norway who was sister to Rusila. She became a pirate to avoid marriage. This has been recorded in the Gesta Danorum. Princess Sela in Norway around 420 A.D. who was the sister to Koller, king of Norway. Horwendil was King of Jutland, but gave up the throne to be a pirate. So Koller decided to go after Horwendil and try to kill him. But he got killed instead by Horwendil. And in turn Horwendil had to kill Sela who was also a skilled warrior and an experienced pirate to end the war. What's up with all of those royals giving up their throne to be pirates? Who knows?

Alvid in Norway was a leader of a group of male and female pirates. In about 8th Century A.D, Wigbiorg, Hetha and Wisna were all female sea captains. Wisbiorg died in battle, Hetha became queen of Zealand and Wisna lost a hand in battle. Wow. All ended up very differently. There's also someone named Alfhild in Switzerland, in about post-850 A.D, but nobody knows if this is true and is often disputed. Ladgerda, in about 870 A.D., who was the inspiration of Hermintrude in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Wow, this certainly means Ladgerda was very well known at the time. And finally in 911-918, an English female pirate named Aethelfaed (not sure how this is spelled in English). She was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great of England. She became the military leader of the Anglo-Saxons after her husband's death against the Danes in 911. She also took command of the fleets to get rid of the Viking Raiders on the sea. Also in France, from 1343-1356, Jeanne-Louise de Belleville who was a French woman that became a pirate to take revenge because of her husband's execution. She only attacked French boats. She was called the "Lioness of Brittany."

In 16th Century, there were even more pirates and more of them were from Europe. In Ireland, Grainne Ni Mhaille, also known as "The Sea Queen of Connaught", was a pirate and the Queen of Umaill, chieftain of the O Maille clan in 1530-1603. She was an very important figure in Irish folklore and a historical figure in the 16th Century. The Red Lady or Veronica was a pirate in 1528-1534. But she was one of the most cunning pirates. She would disguise herself as a singer or an entertainer, so she would go on the ships. And if the crew attacked her or leave her by herself, she would take off her disguise and kill everybody then take the boat for herself. Underneath she would have a top, pants and weapons all ready to be used. Sayyida al Hurra was allied with the Turkish corsair named Barbaros of Algiers. She was a pirate from 1510-1542 in Morocco. She would control the western Mediterranean Sea while Barbaros would control the eastern. She was also perfect of Tetouan. In 1515, she became the last person in Islamic history to legitimately hold the titel of "al Hurra" or Queen after her husband who ruled Tetouan died. She later married the King of Morocoo, Ahmed al-Wattasi, but she wouldn't leave Tetouan to even marry him. This also marked the only time in Morocco History that a King has been married away from the capital Fez. In England, from 1520-1570, Lady Mary Killigrew was the daughter of a former Suffolk pirate. Her husband, Sir Henry Killigrew who was also a pirate, was made a Vice-Admiral by Queen Elizabeth I to suppress piracy. But Mary would engage in piracy every time her husband went off to the sea. This was possibly with the Queen Elizabeth I's knowledge. In 1570, Mary captured a German merchant ship off Falmont that was owned by a friend of Queen Elizabeth I. So Mary had been arrested by the Queen and brought to trial. But what happened in that trial is not for sure. They are not positive if her family bribed the jurors or the Queen arranged a short jail sentence. Whatever happened, afterwards she gave up pirating and took up fencing stolen goods instead until she died a few years later. Lady Elizabeth Killigrew who was also a English in 1570s to 1582. Elizabeth and her husband Sir John lived in Pendennis Castle in Falmouth Harbour. In early 1981, a Spanish ship, the Marie of San Sebastian was blown down by a storm and had to be dis-masted and take refuge in Falmouth Harbour. So Lady Elizabeth actually led an attack on the ship and fenced whatever she could salvage. She was later arrested and sentenced to death, but pardoned. Nobody is sure if she's a true pirate because they do not know if she even went on the ship itself.

In 17th century, there were only three female pirates. One of them we do not know anything about. Elizabetha Patrickson from England in 1634. But Jacquotte Delahaye in 1650s-1660s was a Carribean pirate. She was also known as "Back from the Dead Red" because of her red hair and return to piracy after faking her own death by hiding dressed as a man for a few years. Also Anne Dieu-la-Veut, also known as Marie Anne and Marianne, who was French, but was a Caribbean pirate who was later based in Mississippi when Tortuga was closed down. Her name was a nickname that means "God wills it" and was given to her because she seemed like anything she wanted, god gave her. She was also married to a pirate, she challenged pirate Laurens de Graff to a duel after he killed her husband in 1683. But he refused to do the duel and instead she became his common law wife who fought by his side and shared command with.

The most known female pirates we know of is in the 18th century like Mary Read who was a Carribbean pirate from 1718-1720. At first, she went joined the British Army as a man. Then she got married and settled down as a woman. But once her husband died, she was ship bound for West Indies in male clothes. Her boat got captured by "Calico" Jack Rackham and decided to join his crew. In 1721, she unfortunately died in prison. She was friends with Anne Bonny who was also a Irish pirate operating in the Caribbean from 1719-1720. She was married to pirate James Bonny but had an affair with pirate John "Calico Jack" Rackham and joined his crew. She discovered Mary to be secretly a woman and both became very close friends. But there were others. Maria Lindsay (possibly is Maria Cobham too) in the early 1700s who was a pirate operating on the Canadian east coast and was the wife of Capt. Eric Cobham. Nobody is sure if this is true. Ingela Gathernhielm, an Swedish, who was a Baltic pirate and wife/partner of the legendary pirate Lars Gathenhielm. Once Lars died, Ingela took over in 1718. From 1725-1726, Mary Harvey was a pirate who was married to a pirate. They all were caught and transported as felons in 1725. Thomas, Mary's husband, managed to escape and Mary was released while the other three men with them were hanged. In 1728, Mary Crickett was also caught and transported as felons. But in 1729, unfortunately was hung. Flora Burn in 1751 operated on the east cast of North America. In 1770s, Rachel Wall who was married George Wall who was a former privateer. They operated on the New England Coast. In 1782, her husband and crew drowned in a storm. Then in 1789, she was accused of robbery and confessed to being a pirate which she was convicted and hanged for. She was thought to be the first American female pirate.

In China, from 1801-1810, Ching Shih was a Chinese prosititute who married a Chinese pirate and was a leader of his crew. After he died, she became the commander of the fleet. She commanded more than 1,500 ships and 80,000 sailors. She controlled the waters of the South China Sea. She was hard to conquer by the British, Chinese and Portuguese navies. They finally gave up and offered her peace in 1810 which she took. She retired and married the second in command. In 1806, Charlotte Badger and Catherine Hagerty were widely considered to be the first Australian female pirates. They were convicts who were taken as a crew. Then when the captain left the ship, the crew took over the ship and headed for New Zealand. On the way there, they put Catherine Hagerty with a woman named Charlotte Edger and a child on a island with a bunch of stores. She died shortly after that. And nobody knows what happened to Charlotte Badger. She was never seen again. But Charlotte Edger became one of the first settlers in New Zealand. Margaret Croke in 1809 became a pirate not on purpose. She was on a ship with her three young daughters. And her husband thought that the family was going to be sent to a debtors' prison. So he killed two crewmen and threw the Captain overboard, then commandeering the vessel. The Captain survived and was able to testify that Margaret hit him when her husband was fighting the Captain. Another crew member testified that Margaret was actually afraid of her husband and attempted to escape. But unfortunately both were convicted and hanged for piracy. In 1823, Sweden's last pirate, Johanna Hard, who was recently widowed, was arrested along with other farmers for taking a Danish ship. They killed the crew and plundered the goods. The group was sentenced to death or prison while Johanna was able to be released and disappeared. In 1869, Sadie the Goat, also known as Sadie Farrell, operated around New York State as a member of the Charlton Street. She was a river pirate and would attack the boats while they were anchored in the river. Eventually she was able to capture a sloop and raided villages and boats. She was said to make male prisoners "walk the plank."

Chinese Pirates in the 20th Century was also interesting. Lo Hon-cho who was active in 1920s in East China took command of 64 ships after her husband died in 1921. She was youthful and pretty but had a reputation for being the most ruthless of all China's pirates. Her fleet would attack villages and fishing fleets, taking women as prisoners and selling them as slaves. In 1922, a Chinese warship was able to attack the fleet, destroying all of their boat. She was later handed to authorities by the remaining pirates for clemency. Lai Sho Sz'en who operated as a East Chinese pirate from 1922-1939, operating in the South China Sea and commanded 12 ships. There's not much known about P'en Ch'ih Chi'iko from East China in 1936 or Ki Ming. But Huang P'ei-mei who was a East Chinese pirate from 1937-1950s led 50,000 pirates! And fairly recent, about 20 years ago, Cheng Chui Ping operated in South China Sea. She was a pirate from 1970s-1990s. She was convicted in the United States and sentenced to 35 years in prison and is due for release in 2030. She was smuggling thousands of Chinese immigrants to the United States and Europe. Wow those Chinese girls sure know how to command and create large armies of pirates!

And that's the female pirates in history! Hope this was very informative for you as it was for me.