Women pirates were just as ruthless and cunning as the men
New York Post
8th April 2017
In 1720, two women — Anne Bonny and Mary Read — sailed together, enjoying a brief period as two of the fiercest pirates on the seas. After Read fell in love with a fellow pirate, he angered another man and was challenged to a duel. Read was determined to save her lover’s life, but had to do so carefully.
“Mary, eager to rescue her love but unwilling to do it in a way that emasculated him, challenged the other pirate to a duel to take place before the one scheduled with her lover,” writes Laura Sook Duncombe in her new book “ ” (Chicago Review Press.) “She killed the pirate, thereby negating her lover’s duel and saving his life. ” Like Bonny and Read, the history of piracy is filled with badass women who sailed, stole, fought and killed — and were easily as ruthless and cunning as any man.
Duncombe reveals dozens of fascinating tales, starting with the earliest known female pirate — Queen Artemisia I of Halicarnassus in the 5th century BC — who was depicted by Eva Green in “300: Rise of an Empire. ” (Reporting on the early tales was often anecdotal, notes Duncombe, and should be regarded as such.) Maria Cobham, who “raised hell all over the Atlantic from 1720 to 1740,” was one of history’s most vicious pirates.
After marrying pirate Eric Cobham, attracted to his tales of violence, he brought her aboard his ship. His crew was initially dismissive, but her cruelty won them over. Once, after capturing a ship, Maria decided she wanted the captain’s uniform.
“In front of the crews of both ships, she made the captain strip. Once he was completely naked and humiliated, she shot him and two other crew members. From then on, she wore the uniform at all times.
” The couple eventually retired, using their fortune for a rather bourgeois purpose — to purchase a French estate. Grace O’Malley, the “Pirate Queen of Ireland,” lived in the 1500s and was married to a brutal chieftain named Donal O’Flaherty. When he was killed in battle, O’Malley “rallied her late husband’s troops and staged a retaliatory attack” on Cock’s Castle, a former prize of O’Flaherty’s that had been taken by enemy forces.
She won it back, “which Donal had been unable to do. ” O’Malley became known for her sailing skill, which allowed her to escape to safety after plundering English ships. Because she couldn’t be named chieftain due to Irish law, she formed her own clan of 200 men.
O’Malley became known for her sailing skill, which allowed her to escape to safety after plundering English ships. When her son, Tibbott, was captured by the English, O’Malley boldly wrote to the woman who could have had him killed — Queen Elizabeth I. O’Malley claimed that “circumstances forced her to take arms to maintain her family and her people,” and pledged to “devote her life to sailing against Queen Elizabeth’s enemies.
” When Elizabeth sent a letter with questions, O’Malley braved possible execution by sailing to England, where she walked among “the rotting corpses of hanged criminals, including pirates,” to answer the queen’s interrogations in person. Details of the meeting are lost to history, but Tibbott was released and O’Malley was “allowed to resume her pirating, this time with Queen Elizabeth’s blessing. ” The greatest feat of Bonny and Read’s crew was the taking of the William, a British warship equipped with a “deck that could hold 18 guns,” which was “stolen in August 1720 out of the Nassau harbor.
” When they were eventually captured on board the William, Bonny and Read were on watch and the men were below deck. The women screamed to the men to come quickly, but were left to face the invaders themselves. The crew captain and Bonny’s lover, “Calico Jack” Rackham, was sentenced to hang, and visited Bonny the night before his execution.
“Knowing Anne as he did, he likely did not expect words of comfort,” Duncombe writes, “but even he probably did not expect her last words to him to be that she was ‘sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a man, he need not have been hang’d like a dog. ’”.
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