It’s ‘Speak Like a Pirate Day’ today.
Pirates and their way of speech may conjure an image of a scruffy drunk man with an eyepatch, a tricorn hat, a peg leg and a parrot on his shoulder. It’s not an inaccurate image, but it is not entirely accurate either. Over the course of pirate history, some of the most notable pirates were in fact female. In honour of ‘Speak Like a Pirate Day’, here are some of notable female pirates.
Ching Shih (1775-1844)
From prostitute to one of the most successful pirates in history, Ching Shih was the wife of Ching – who commanded the Red Flag Fleet. Together, they ran the fleet and it grew from 200 ships to over 600 ships and eventually, over 1,800 ships. 6 years into their marriage, Ching died and Ching Shih took control of the fleet and led over 70,000 men. The pirate lady had a strict code of conduct, including:
- Disobeying an order = beheading
- Raping a female captive = beheading
- Desertion = cutting off one’s ears
- A pirate who wishes to take a female captive as his wife must be faithful to her, failing which he will be executed.
Under her rule, the Red Flag Fleet was undefeatable and unstoppable, even despite efforts by the Chinese government and Portuguese to assassinate her. After bargaining with the government, Ching Shih was granted amnesty upon retirement in 1810, where thereafter she opened a gambling house and brothel.
Fun fact #1: Her real name isn’t Ching Shih – it means “widow of Ching”.
Fun fact #2: Soon after her husband’s death, Ching Shih took Chang Pao (her husband’s right hand man, adoptive son and his lover) as her lover and thereafter, husband.
Another infamous Chinese female pirate was Lo Hon-Cho. Following her husband’s death in 1921, she took command of his 64-ship fleet. Apart from ruthlessly attacking villages and fishing fleets, she also also took women from the villages as prisoners to sell into slavery. Two years later when her ship was intercepted by a Chinese warship, her crewmen handed her in to authorities in return for clemency.
Anne Bonny (1702-1782) and Mary Read (1690-1721)
Anne Bonny was born out of an affair between an attorney and the family maid. In 1718, she married John Bonny but left him when he became a snitch for the governor of the Bahamas. After which, upon becoming involved with the infamous pirate, John “Calico Jack” Rackham, she sailed with him on his sloop.
Mary Read was born to the widow of a sea captain, spent much of her life disguised as a man. On one occasion, she pretended to be a sailor on a Dutch merchant ship which was thereafter taken over by Captain Jack Rackham where she met Anne.
The two women forged an improbable friendship and were known for their ruthlessness and ferocious fighting. In 1720, the crew were discovered by pirate hunters and it was said that as they were cornered, Rackham and the other pirates hid below decks while Read and Bonny stood fighting.
Anne and Mary were tried, found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, but were granted stay of execution as they were pregnant.
Jeanne de Clisson (1300-1359)
Born to a wealthy and influential noble family, Jeanne de Clisson married her first husband, Geoffrey de Châteaubriant, at the age of 12. After his death, Jeanne remarried to Olivier III de Clisson and they had 5 children. However, Olivier was sentenced to death by beheading as he was a suspected to be a traitor by his friends, Charles de Blois and King Philip VI, despite having served the French in defending Brittany from the English. Jeanne swore vengeance on Charles de Blois, King Philip VI, the French nobility and military.
Jeanne de Clisson sold off her lands and belongings, and bought three warships which she painted black with red sails, earning the name “The Black Fleet”. The Black Fleet attacked ships in the English channel that were owned by both the French nobility and King Philip VI. They would kill the entire crew and leave one to two men alive to deliver news of her attack to the king. She became known as “The Lioness of Brittany”.
By: Violet Koh