The Five Greatest Women Pirates

Piracy is an ancient trade, both celebrated and vilified. The best known pirates from Blackbeard to the fictional Jack Sparrow are men. However, women throughout history have carved a place for themselves among the sea rovers. Over a thousand years and five continents, these five women have pillaged their way into the history books.

Princess Sela
The earliest known woman pirate, Sela was a princess of Norway and sister of the King, Koller. The ancient historian Saxo Grammaticus described Sela as "a skilled warrior and experienced in roving." Going a-Viking was very much the thing among Scandinavian monarchs in the 5th century. Sela’s brother Koller decided his rival, Horwendil, the king of Jutland, was getting too much glory. Koller led his fleet to battle with Horwendil. Horwendil killed him and later hunted down Sela.

The Lioness of Brittany
When Jeanne de Clisson’s husband was executed for treason by the French King, Phillip IV, Jeane swore she would get revenge. She sold her lands and used the money to equip and pay men to fight for her. When fighting on land became too dangerous, she bought 3 warships and continued her battle as a privateer.

Jeane’s ships were painted black with red sails and became known as "the Black Fleet." She attacked all ships of Phillip IV and his nobles. While the rest of Western Europe was torn apart by the 100 Years War, Jeanne pursued a one-woman war against France. Historians believe Jeanne’s vendetta made it possible for the English to resupply their armies–a critical factor in the English victory. Thirteen years after beginning her quest for vengeance, Jeanne fell in love with and married the English nobleman Sir Walter Bentley.

Ching Shih
No one knows Ching Shih’s real name, but if ever there was a pirate queen, it was her. Ching Shih was a prostitute when the ship she was on was captured by pirates. She convinced the captain of the ship to marry her and became his partner. She helped him become the leader of a large pirate fleet in the South Chinese Sea. When her husband died, Ching took over his fleet and expanded it to more than 1,500 ships and 60,000 sailors.

Ching Shih’s fleet held off the British, Chinese, and Portuguese navies for years. China finally offered her peace and a pardon in exchange for her promise to retire. She did retire, married her second in command, and lived another 30 years in peace and prosperity.

Sayyida al Hurra (Sayyida al-Hurra ibn Banu Rashid al-Mandri al-Wattasi Hakima Tatwan)
Sayyida was born in the Kingdom of Granada in what is now Spain. As a child, she and her family had to flee their home after Ferdinand and Isabella completed the "Reconquista." Sayyida eventually became the ruler of Tétouan. Sayyida always blamed the "Christian" enemy for driving her family from their home and turned to piracy for revenge.

She forged an alliance with Barbarossa of Algiers, whose pirate fleets ruled the eastern Mediterranean. Sayyida’s fleets took control of the Western mediterranean. After 30 years as ruler and pirate queen, al Hurra was overthrown by her son in law in 1542.

Jacquotte Delahaye
Known as "Back from the Dead Red," Delahaye was born in Haiti and became a pirate after her father’s death. Not many details are known of Delahaye’s life, but many legends are told about her. She is said to have faked her own death and lived as a man for several years before returning to piracy. Her nickname came from this ‘resurrection’ and her brilliant red hair. She led hundreds of pirates to take control of a small Caribbean island, The pirates set up a "freebooters republic" on the island. Jeanne died defending the island in 1656.

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