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Showing posts with label pirates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pirates. Show all posts

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Damn, Girl-Sayyida al-Hurra

Though she's been largely forgotten to history, Sayyida al-Hurra--known as the 'Pirate Queen of Morocco'--ruled the entire west Mediterranean, as well as a sizable Moroccan city state in the 1500s. She harried the Spanish and Portuguese, invaded modern Gibraltar, and forced the smitten King of Morocco to marry her on her own terms. She was a remarkable woman, and we don't even know her name.

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Artists rendering of Sayida al-Hurra. There are no
surviving portraits that are definitively of her.
'Sayyida al-Hurra' is a title, not a name. It means 'noble lady who is free'. The title al-Hurra was given to women who ruled a kingdom (or queendom!) in their own right. For Sayyida, that kingdom was the coastal city state of Tétouan, where she ruled for a quarter of a century.

Sayyida was born in the then Muslim held Andalusia region of Spain. Her father, Moulay Ali ibn Rashid, was a tribal chief, and a wealthy man of Moroccan descent. However, they, along with many other Muslims, were forced out of Spain during the Reconquista. They fled south to Morocco, and with other refugee families, established the city of Chefchaouen. Sayyida's father was declared king, and as his daughter, Sayyida was given a good education, learning at least two languages and gaining an understanding of international diplomacy.

When she was sixteen Sayyida was married to the ruler of Tétouan. Though she was very young, her husband relied on her for political advice and support¹, and she soon became his chief wife. Tétouan had important trading connections with the Portuguese city of Ceuta, and Sayyida's language skills as well as her grasp of economics and diplomacy was an enormous asset to her husband.

Sayyida's husband died sometime between 1515 and 1519, and Sayyida was made the queen of Tétouan. As we've discussed before, it wasn't too unusual for a woman to be a regent to a young heir, or be a regent and then refuse to relinquish power, but in Sayyida's case she was named queen in her own right, and not a regent. According to Islamic historians, she was the last such queen to hold a city or region in her own right.²

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Modern Tétouan
At this time, thousands of refugees were still streaming in from Andalusia, and the Spanish and Portuguese were starting to sniff around Morocco. They were raiding, colonizing, and enslaving everyone and everywhere they could, and Sayyida, justifiably, had a massive beef with the Iberian's, so she decided to team up with the notorious pirate--Barbarossa.

With the help of Barbarossa, Sayyida assembled a fleet, and set about dominating the west Mediterranean. With Barbarossa controlling the east and Sayyida the west the pair gave the Spanish and Portuguese hell, invading and raiding all over the Iberian peninsula, seizing money, goods, and prisoners.

All of this raiding made Sayyida ridiculously wealthy, and extremely popular. In 1541 she caught the eye of Sultan Ahmed al-Wattasi, and he proposed. Sayyida accepted his proposal, but refused to leave her city, and marry in Fez. The fact that the Sultan acceded to her demand and married her in Tétouan is a testament to her strong will and the respect that Moroccans had for her.

However, Sayyida's power was waning. The Portuguese had had enough of her raiding, and the city of Ceuta cut off trade ties, putting many of Sayyida's people out of work. That combined with a coup led by her son-in-law led to Sayyida fleeing Tétouan in 1542. She returned to the city of her childhood--Chefchaouen--where she lived for another twenty years.

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Tétouan, Morocco
Today Sayyida is known as a great pirate queen, but there's more to her than that. She robbed and pillaged Spanish and Portuguese ships, but she also conducted refugees from Andalusia safely to Morocco. She used her network of pirates to protect her people from Iberian incursions into Morocco. The Moroccan's had no formal navy at the time, so Sayyida used her pirates to protect Morocco's coast This raises the question--was Sayyida a pirate or a protector?


¹This sort of thing was not uncommon. Andalusian Muslims had a strong tradition of women in leadership positions, and as such women's opinions and advice were respected and followed. This, however, does not nullify the fact that Sayyida was a remarkable leader.
²'al-Hurra' denotes a woman who is queen of a region in her own right.

Sources
Sayyida al Hurra
Lady Pirates: Queen of the Barbary Corsairs
Sayyida al-Hurra, Islamic Pirate Queen
Malika VI: Sayyida al-Hurra

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Damn, Girl-Teuta, Queen of the Illyrians

Ancient Illyria covered the same space as modern Albania. Or modern Bosnia-Hezergovinia. Or modern Serbia. Or modern Croatia. Or modern Montenegro. Historians really can't agree. No matter where they may have lived, the Illyrians were a fierce nation of seafarers, with a penchant for piracy. The pillaged all around the Adriatic, making themselves rich off of the goods of trading ships. They were a wealthy nation, and in the early 200 BCE's, they were still holding strong, despite the rise of the land hungry Roman Republic.

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A reasonable guess as to where Illyria may have been.
Teuta was the second wife of king Agron. Agron was your typical ancient king. He liked pillaging, booze, and sex. And after a particularly successful raid, he engaged in all three so enthusiastically that it lead to his demise, leaving Teuta to serve as regent for their young son, Pinnes.

Impossibly enough, Teuta liked pillaging even more than her dead husband. One of her first acts upon being appointed regent was to give out letters of marque to the majority of the ships in her navy, authorizing them to pillage whoever they wanted, so long as they paid their tax.

In Illyria, piracy was just as much an industry as fishing. It was an acceptable career, and the Illyrians didn't see anything wrong with it. Teuta encouraged it among her people, and told them to attack everyone and anyone. Not only did piracy bring in money to the Illyrians, but it also brought in new lands and cities, because the Illyrians weren't content to just steal things, they also had to conquer lands.

Teuta was known to have led some of these raids herself, and for several years the Illyrians were the scourge of the Adriatic. No one could stop them, until someone snitched to Rome.

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Bust of Teuta
The Roman Republic was about 250 years old, and going pretty strong. The senate was dedicated to protecting the financial interests of Roman citizens, so when reports of Illyrians indiscriminately attacking their ships reached Rome, the senate sent out two ambassadors--the Coruncanius brothers--to try and broker a peace with Teuta.


Unfortunately for all involved, one of those ambassadors, Lucius, wasn't very good at being an ambassador. Lucius and Gaius approached Teuta when she was in the middle of a seige, pulling her away from the thick of the fight. When they presented their argument she was obviously distracted, and when they finished speaking she told them that she and her government couldn't regulate the actions of private citizens. This is when Lucius lost it.

There's no account of exactly what Lucius said to Teuta, historians just record it as 'plain speech'. However, the gist of what he told her was that Illyria should change its customs to suit the needs of Rome. Bad move.

When the brothers were on a ship back to Rome Lucius was killed by an assassin that is widely believed to have been sent by Teuta. Killing an ambassador is a major no-no, so when word reached Rome, the Romans retaliated brutally, sending 200 ships and 20,000 infantrymen to suppress the Illyrians.

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Teuta on Albanian currency.
Teuta held her own for a very long time against the Romans, and would have been able to beat them back, if not for the treachery of Demetrius. Demetrius was a high ranking Illyrian with designs on the throne. He sold out the Illyrians to the Romans, and Teuta was forced to surrender, and ceed Illyria to the Romans.

Today Teuta is remembered most often as a Pirate Queen. She's on the back of Albanian currency, and she's claimed as a national hero by the Albanians. Teuta was known in her day for being fierce and indomitable, to the point that following her peace treaty with Rome she was no longer allowed to sail out of her harbor with more than two unarmed ships. Despite not knowing much about Teuta before or after this incident with Rome, there is no doubt that she was a strong, fearless woman.

Sources
Queen Teuta and Rome
Teuta-The Pirate Queen of Illyria
Lady Pirates-Queen of the Illyrians
The Fierce Queen of the Illyrians: Teuta the Untameable
Ancient Piracy and Teuta: The Illyrian Pirate Queen
Queen Teuta

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Damn, Girl-Grace O'Malley

Granuaile Ni Maille, or Grace O'Malley as she is known in English, is the undisputed pirate queen. She was a fierce chieftain, a shrewd businesswoman, and she knew the ocean like the back of her hand. She was a formidable woman to cross, and heaven help any who tried. She would do anything to protect her lands and family, and she was so fierce that Elizabeth I, the queen of Grace's enemy, bestowed a pension on her, and showed her the greatest respect.

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Clew Bay
Grace was born in County Mayo in 1530. Her father, Dubhdara, was the chieftain of the O'Malley clan, and controlled the southern part of Clew Bay. Like Grace, Dubhdara earned his living from the sea as well as from the land, something highly unusual for a chieftain.

At the age of 15, Grace married Donal O'Flaherty, the incompetent leader of Connemara. By all accounts their marriage was unhappy though three children came of it. It was during this time that Grace started to flex her muscles as a political leader. Donal was a poor, petty leader who insisted on fighting with the Joyce clan. He was killed by the Joyce's while trying to defend Cork Castle, and that was the start of Grace's true political career. She lead the remaining men of the O'Flaherty clan, and reclaimed Cork Castle from the Joyce's. She fought so fiercely that the castle was renamed 'Hen's Castle', the name it carries to this day.

Grace had a very short temper, and she was 100% dtf--down to fight. She amassed a great amount of wealth by taxing and stealing from the sailors who came through her waters, and clashed frequently with her neighbors, as well as the English officials who were attempting to encroach into Ireland.

One of the more colorful stories of Grace's combative nature is her beef with the Earl of Howth. The Earl had refused hospitality to Grace one night. This was against the Irish traditions, and the Earl's break with tradition so incensed Grace that she kidnapped his heir. In order to get his son back, the Earl had to agree to Grace's demands that the gates of the castle never be closed at dinner time, and that an extra place always be laid for her. The Earl's descendants lay a place for her at dinnertime to this day.

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Hen's Castle
Grace took control of her father's lands after he died, and in 1566 she decided that it was time to remarry. Like any responsible sixteenth century leader, Grace married for political and militaristic power. In her case, it was for a castle.

Richard-in-Iron, chieftain of the Bourkes, was not only in possession of the north end of Clew Bay, but he also had Rockfleet Castle, a pretty nifty fortified tower that looked out over the entire bay, and was almost impossible to sneak up on by water. By marrying him Grace got control of the entire bay, as well as a very strategic castle. However, before marrying, the pair signed a prenup. Richard was given a one year 'trial period'*, at the end of which Grace could put him away or keep him. Either way, however, Grace got the castle. Unsurprisingly, a year later Richard came home to find himself locked out of his own castle. Grace 'dismissed' Richard, effectively divorcing him, but the pair remained close throughout the rest of Richard's life.

This wasn't the only time Grace efectively strong-armed the Bourke's out of their castle. Fast forward a few years to Richard-in-Iron's death, and instead of vacating the premise like the Brehon laws dictated that the widow of a Chieftain should do, Grace and her many, many of whom were Richard's old men, stayed in the castle, and challenged the rest of the Bourke's to fight them for it. Unsurprisingly, Rockfleet remained in Grace's possession.

Marriage and childbearing in no way slowed Grace down. She didn't let small trifles like childbirth stop her from sailing out with her men. On one particularly memorable occasion, she gave birth to a son on one of her ships. The next day, her men were set upon by Algerian pirates. Grace was below decks nursing her son when the pirates attacked. However, when her men started losing, Grace stormed above decks with a gun, cursing the men who made her get up and fight a day after having a child. Grace's arrival turned the tide of battle, and the Algerians were beaten off.

Rockfleet Castle
Grace's greatest enemy was Sir Richard Bingham, the crown appointed governor of the Connaght region. Bingham was a hard man, and he singled Grace and her family out. He dubbed her the "nurse of all rebellions for 40 years", and made it his personal mission to see her and her family wiped out, and her lands come under control of the English crown. He killed her eldest son, Owen, and torched her lands, driving Grace and her people to live in their ships.

Not only did Bingham kill Grace's eldest son, but he also managed to entice her middle son, Murrough to his side. Grace was furious when Murrough and his people defected, so she laid siege to his lands,  and captured his castle, very effectively reminding him who was in charge.

In 1593, Bingham had Grace backed into a corner. He had thoroughly ruined her lands, and he had her youngest son, Tibbott, imprisoned. Never one to be beaten, Grace decided to go over Bingham's head. There was no way she could meet him in combat, so she sent a petition to Queen Elizabeth, complaining that Bingham was treating her unfairly. In June of that year, Grace sailed to Greenwhich, and by September she finally had an audience with the queen.

There were a lot of similarities between England's Queen and Ireland's Pirate Queen. Both were intensely intelligent, fierce women, who were unused to making compromises. They had both succeeded in a man's world, and both were very used to winning. They were both proud and bold. They would either be best friends or worst enemies. Luckily for Grace, they were friends, or at least, friendly.
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The meeting of Grace (left) and Queen Elizabeth
Elizabeth granted Grace's petition. She ordered Bingham to back off, and eventually ended up recalling him to England, where he ended his days in the Tower of London. While she had technically sworn allegiance to the English crown, Grace more or less went back to her pirating ways.

She was an old woman by now, but if childbearing couldn't keep her from the sea, then neither could old age. There are reports of her leading raids in Scotland well into her seventies, and she fought alongside the English at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. With as rough and swashbuckling of a life as she lived, it is very surprising that Grace died of natural causes. She died at age 73 at Rockfleet castle.


*This wasn't so unusual in Irish tradition. In comparison with the rest of the ancient world Celtic women enjoyed many rights, including keeping their own property, and the right to divorce. Additionally, marriages were very fluid, and many ancient Celtic marriages had a one year trial period. Because of their distance from Rome, many of these traditions continued even after St. Patrick 'brought Christianity' to Ireland.

Sources
"Ireland's Pirate Queen" by Anne Chambers--World of Hibernia, Spring 1999
Warrior Women, Episode 2-Grace O'Malley (documentary)
Meeting Grace O'Malley, Ireland's Pirate Queen
Graihne Mhaol, Pirate Queen of Connacht: Behind the Legend