Many readers of my blog are sleep-deprived. They spend hours tossing and turning, wondering where to find a good book about women pirates. Well, no longer do you have to be sleep-deprived, my friends. For I have found a good book. It does have its drawbacks, which I’ll explain later, but overall it is a fascinating look at female pirates through the ages.
When we think of women pirates, most of us draw a blank. Or, those of us who spend much more time thinking about pirates than is healthy, will come up with names such as Anne Bonny or Grace O’Malley. While these two were indeed formidable pirates, it seems there is a whole undiscovered multitude of female pirates swaggering and cursing across the pages of this book.
It begins with the highly organized Lady Ch’ing Yih Szaou, who commanded a whole fleet of ships manned by 70,000 people and terrorized the Sea of China. Then we are transported to the Mediterranean to meet the pirate queen Elissa (aka Dido), the founder of the city of Carthage, and other formidable female pirates such as Teuta, who was not afraid to provoke the Roman Empire.
And of course, the authors recount the adventures of women pirates in the Golden Age of Piracy, when the Carribean was home to countless rebels and vagabonds who abandoned the ways of “civilized” society to live a life of freedom.
Anne Bonny’s many adventures and close escapes are described in detail. While Bonny is usually mentioned in connection to Calico Jack Rackham, the authors of Women Pirates proclaim Bonny to be the real leader of her crew, with Jack merely the figurehead. She was in fact a formidable pirate and strategist in her own right, so it’s great to have an account focused on Anne Bonny rather than her significant other.
And most interestingly, the authors theorise that one of the most successful pirates ever, Bartholomew Roberts was actually a woman!
There is something humorous about feminist scholars asserting that women were just as competent as men at pillaging and plundering. But if there’s something we could always use more of it’s female action heroes, and I guess that’s what those pirates are to us nowadays as the centuries have softened the rough edges of their robbing and pillaging.
I remember growing up with action movies from the ’80s and ’90s in which female characters would scream and run away or wait to be rescued when the action began. Great was my excitement when the first Tomb Raider movie came out. Here finally was a female heroine who didn’t scream with fear, but neither did she have to pretend to be a man or act manly. She could simply be herself and do what she did best — raiding tombs — and still the other characters in the movie took her seriously and considered her a dangerous opponent or a powerful ally.
If there’s one criticism I have regarding Women Pirates it’s that it lacks the Tomb Raider’s calm poise. It comes across as shrill and desperate, as if the authors were trying to overcompensate for the lack of attention previously given to female pirates by declaring that women made the best pirates ever, and that all the best and most fearsome pirates in the world without exception were women. And — and — and that male pirates weren’t even nearly as good as women pirates. So there.
Women Pirates also strays off topic a few times, as it discusses other women who were not pirates and their position in society. Still, I didn’t mind this since it was pretty interesting. According to the authors, there were probably many other women disguised as men doing “men’s jobs” in all walks of life, but history tells us mostly of the pirates and seafarers because these are the venues in which women were most likely to be discovered due to the complete lack of privacy on board ship.
The Weird Introduction
It’s safe to skip the introduction altogether. It’s much too academic, and talks about how women have a natural connection with the sea because of our femininity and so on. The mind-boggling conclusion once again reverts to the academic. Here, the authors refer to pirates as being “molecular but by no means molar.” No, I’m not making this up.
This is one of my favorite parts of the book. Authentic pirate recipes from ancient Roman times to the Golden Age of piracy are provided, complete with cooking instructions. I haven’t dared to try any of these in real life yet, but if I do, I will certainly blog about it!
This fourteenth-century Viking recipe serves about 30 pirates:
Ingredients6 kg ship’s biscuits2.5 kg salted veal 25 onions 20 garlic sprouts 30 herring filets 20 sour pickles 1 kg red beets 0.5 kg pork lard for frying
Cook the meat and onions in a big pot until tender, then chop them finely. crush the biscuits and stir into the stock from the meat. Coarsely chop the garlic sprouts, pickles, herrings, and red beets. Melt the lard in a large pot and add everything. Bring once to a boil, stirring constantly. Spice with pepper.