I should save this for March, Women’s History Month. Bah!
Aw…this poor little quickie newsletter article is being totally rewritten to focus on O’Malley. Incidentally, the musical “The Pirate Queen” is about Grace (or Granuaile) O’Malley.
So here goes:
Women’s History Month: Lady Pirates
March is National Women’s History Month. While there have been many wonderful, inspiring women throughout history–from Cleopatara to Alice Walker–several women have made names for themselves as some of the most infamous, merciless pirates ever.
Grace O’Malley, Pirate Queen, was born in 1530 in County May, Ireland. She had her own prosperous fleet of sailing ships, but turned to piracy against Turkish and Spanish ships later in her life. She was almost sixty when she captured the ship of Don Pedro de Mendoza and slaughtered hundreds of Spaniards on the ship. She also met with Queen Elizabeth to demand the release of her son and brother. There’s even a legend that she abducted Baron Howth’s grandson when he refused her hospitality, only returning him when his family promised always to set an extra place at their table for an unexpected arrival, which they do to this day. She died in the year 1603.
Cheng I Sao and her husband established an organization of over 50,000 pirates in the South China Sea. When Cheng’s husband died in 1807, she took control of the pirates. The Chinese Imperial Fleet lost over 60 boats to Widow Cheng’s fleet. Whole villages were held for ransom. She retired after a few years later when British and Portugese ships joined the hunt for her and negotiated such a favorable settlement that most of the pirates got to keep all their stolen loot–anything to break up Widow Cheng’s pirate confederation! Widow Cheng retired rich and took over a gambling house, dying peacefully at the age of 69 in 1844.
Freydis Eiricksdottir was born in Greenland around 970 A.D., the illegitimate daughter of Erik the Red–Leif Eriksson, the discoverer of Vinland (modern-day Newfandland, Canada) was her half-brother. Freydis was a tough woman who was once abandoned on Vinland while pregnant, gave birth, and worked as a farmer for a year before she could be rescued. On one expedition, she and her husband killed the captains of the other ships on their expedition and stole their ships! On another (or possibly the same one), she ordered the execution of an entire shipful of prisoners, chopping off the heads of the five women on board herself when the other pirates couldn’t do it.