AMA: Badass Lady Pirates

Posted by John Barton on November 5, 2018.

A little while back I put the call out on twitter to do a bit of an "Ask Me Anything" series of blog posts. Kris Howard was pretty quick off the mark with her request.

Now some of you might wonder - how are famous lady pirates particularly relevant to a SAAS product marketed to the managers of software developers? That would be an excellent question and one worth answering. The short answer is that it isn't. The longer answer is what's the point of going through all the heartache of founding a business if you can't indulge your sense of whimsy on the company blog?

Also, it's important to respect the "Anything" in "Ask Me Anything" lest you make a mockery of the genre.

So, here's just a sample of the often-overlooked women who pursued a life of piracy on the high seas:

Grace O’Malley

When it comes to lady pirates, Grace O’Malley is an excellent place to start. On land Grace (or Gráinne) O'Malley was an influential chieftain, from the Ó Máille clan in west Ireland. In 16th century Ireland, the country was divided into the ‘English’ east, which included Dublin, and the west, which was divided into autonomous kingdoms. Her clan was unusual in that they were seafaring, deriving some of their income from piracy, robbing or extracting ‘tolls’ from passing ships, but also protecting their land with coastal castles.

Legend says that as a child she cut off her long hair in an attempt to fool her father into taking her as a crew member on his boat, a legend that galvanised her connection to the ocean. Through a combination of her exploits at sea, her skill in international trade and two ‘political’ marriages, she became an even more influential figure.

Amassing serious wealth, and known for her daring exploits, Grace was dubbed The Sea Queen of Connacht. During a time when England greatly expanded their occupation of Ireland, her lands remained under Irish control. If she seems at all familiar, you might be a Game of Thrones fan. Rumour is that Grace O’Malley even provided the inspiration for the character of Yara Greyjoy.

Ching Shih

The captain of the feared Red Flag Fleet, Ching Shih was originally named Shi Xiang Gu. She’s first on record in 1801, and it’s thought that she was a prostitute who became the wife of pirate captain Cheng I (Zheng Yi). After her husband was killed, Ching Shih picked up his mantle. At that time, the Red Flag Fleet was composed of 300 ships and an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 crew members .

Her force was large, and her influence was complete. Her forces were kept loyal by a brutal code, which included punishment by death for most infractions. Where the Red Flag Fleet went, mayhem followed, as the force was generally considered unstoppable. They didn’t hesitate to seek action at sea, and would even head ashore to attached unprepared villages.

By 1810, the government hadn’t been successful in defeating her, despite support from both the Dutch and the British. To be fair, by then she reportedly had a force of over 80,000 crew members spread across over 1,800 ships. This gave her considerable leverage in the negotiation that saw her free to retire from piracy and live out her days. She began a second career running casinos, and probably also brothels, and lived to be 69.

Jeanne de Clisson

Born in 1300, and originally married off at the age of twelve, Jeanne de Clisson could just have been a nice noble and enjoyed a comfortable like. As mother of seven living in Brittany, her life was changed when her second husband, Olivier III de Clisson, was decapitated for alleged treason during the Breton War of Succession between England and France.

She swore revenge on France's King Philip VI and sold her property to buy three warships. These became her black fleet, and they were painted appropriately and topped off with red sails. The fleet was feared, and with good reason. She is rumoured to have sought revenge with a lot of intensity, possibly even personally decapitating any high-ranked prisoner, like captured French nobility.

Known as the Lioness of Brittany, her bloody quest continued even after the death of Philip VI. After a 13-year piracy career, she walked away, remarried, and went to live in England, eventually dying in France.

The Summary and Obligatory Call To Action

Nautical tales are awesome. Badass lady pirates are even more awesome. Writing about whatever you want and it technically counting as work is awesome.

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Photo by Cezary Kukowka on Unsplash