Sailing the seas was never a professional fit for women, at least in the minds of most pre-modern societies. In fact, to have women aboard a ship was considered bad luck back then. Yet in actual history many women defied this unjust norm, becoming able sailors and competent naval commander. This included examples in the not so respectful profession of piracy. Below we list some of most infamous pirate queens to terrorize the seven seas.
7. Anne Dieu-le-Veut
Alive during the golden age of piracy, Anne Dieu-le-Veut was sent a criminal to the penal colony of Tortuga, where she married a buccaneer by the name of Pierre Lelong. The union lasted 6 years before Pierre was killed in a bar fight with the famous Dutch pirate Laurens de Graaf. Anne challenged de Graff to a duel to avenge the death of her late husband but de Graaf, in admiration of her courage, asked her hand in marriage and she strangely agreed. Thus her career began as a pirate on the high seas, fighting by his side in acts of piracy and even sharing the command on his ship.
Following a raid by the English navy at Saint Dominique, Anne and her three children were captured and kept as hostages for three years. After her release, she reunited with her husband and settled in Louisiana.
According to legends, after De Graaf died in midst of a battle with the Spanish, she took command of the ship and along with her pirates hurled herself at the adversary with great fury. Unfortunately, being outnumbered, she and her crew were captured and imprisoned. But her fame was already so great that the French Monarch, on being made aware of this, intervened and secured her release.
6. Jacquotte Delahaye
Jacquotte’s childhood was tragic; her mother died after she was born, her brother was mentally handicapped and later, her father was murdered in cold blood. Having no means to support herself or her brother, she turned to a life of piracy and took to the sea. Her notoriety earned her many enemies so she faked her own death and lived for many years disguised as a man.
Eventually, she removed the façade and made her return, earning the moniker- Back from the dead Red. In 1656, she and her pirate crew captured a small Caribbean island and called it the “Freebooter republic”. Several years later, she is said to have died in a shootout while defending the island.
Or did she?
5. Jeanne de Clisson
After her husband, Olivier de Clisson IV, was betrayed and executed by the French in a manner that shocked even their own nobility, Jeanne swore vengeance and made a vow to make the French King, Philip VI, pay for his crime. Selling her estates, she raised an army and with assistance from the English, received three warships, painted black with red sails. The flagship bore the name, “My Revenge”. For 13 years she patrolled the English Channel hunting for French vessels, killing entire crews, save for a few witnesses to transmit the news to the French King. This notoriety earned her the nickname ‘The Lioness of Brittany’. She later married the English noble, Sir Walter Bentley, who himself was a distinguished military commander.
4. Anne Bonny
From childhood, Anne was known for her fiery temper and after her father disowned her for marrying a pirate, some say she burned his plantations to ash. She and her husband moved to the Bahamas, where she met the infamous pirate Calico Jack. It was love at first sight so she divorced her husband and tied the knot with Jack while at sea.
Calico Jack, she and their pirate crew spent years in the Caribbean capturing many vessels and amazing great wealth. It is during this time she met with Mary Read, a woman disguised a sailor on board a captured English ship. After inducting her into the crew, they became close friends. She was known for fighting fiercely and was respected by her shipmates.
She and rest of Calico Jack’s crew were captured by the English Navy in 1720. She and Mary avoided the gruesome execution meted to Jack and rest of the crew. Read died of fever while in prison. It is unknown what became of Bonny. Some speculate her father ransomed her release and she settled in South Carolina.
3. Lo Hon-cho
Operating off the East Chinese coast in the early 20s, Cho was a young widow who commanded a fleet of 64 pirate vessels. Despite her reportedly charming appearance, she was extremely ruthless, even by standards of a pirate. Her pirates raided the coastal villages, pillaging property and kidnapping women for sale in the still flourishing slave trade.
Her stint did not last long, however, as in 1922, the Chinese navy intercepted and destroyed most of her fleet. The surviving pirates mutinied and handed her over to the authorities in exchange for clemency.
2. Sayyida al Hurra
As a child, she and her family were exiled from Granada after its conquest by the Spanish. By age 16, she was married off to a lord 30 years her senior. After his death, she inherited his governorship and made plans to seek revenge against the Spanish who exiled her. Allying herself with the famed Corsair, Barbarossa, her fleet quickly became a dreaded force in the West Mediterranean, plundering numerous Christian villages and taking many prisoners for ransom.
She later married the Moroccan king but forced him to come from the capital to her domain to formalize the union. This is the only instance in the country’s history when the king married away from the capital. After 30 years of her reign, she was overthrown by her son-in-law and stripped of all power. Her subsequent fate remains unknown.
1. Ching Shih
Shih and her pirate fleet weren’t just a menace of the seas but an actual power in conflict with the likes of Qing China and the British Empire. At the height of her power, she commanded a fleet of over 300 ships manned by nearly 40,000 pirates. Her hegemony extended beyond the seas to many coastal settlements in China and Southeast Asia. Her most notable achievement, however, was issuing a standard code of laws, enforcing discipline into her subordinates and turning her pirate fleet into a formidable force. According to the captured Englishman Richard Glasspoole, the code “gave rise to a force that was intrepid in attack, desperate in defense, and unyielding even when outnumbered.”
Her reign of terror finally ended when she was meted a series of devastating defeats by the Portuguese Navy at the battle of Tiger’s mouth. She accepted amnesty from the Chinese government, agreeing to surrender and retire from the life of piracy. One of the most successful pirates in history, she kept her amassed wealth and later opened a gambling house. She lived to an old age of 69 and died wealthy.