What do you imagine when you hear ‘pirates’? One-eyed leather masked, bandanna wearing, thickly kohl eyes, beads around the neck, and probably a mustache and a beard bearing man, right? Now, this piece of writing is especially for you it will change your perspective and the next time you’ll hear someone say ‘pirate’ you may be able to take it as a gender-neutral term (which it is!).
Lioness of Brittany
In the midst of French and English war which took 100 years to end, there was a man named Olivier III de Clisson. He had a wife and five children, a happy family. He supported Edward 3 of England in the war. It was considered an act of treason by some and he was tried in the court by Philip VI of England and other noblemen.
Although he switched sides in 1342 and fought with France to defend Brittany the suspicions about his loyalty never faded. Olivier III de Clisson was found guilty and was hung, his head was chopped off to display at the post in order to make sure people see and learn. Charles de Blois was the one who fired up this trial even when Clisson fought by his side.
This is, however, not his story. This is a story of his wife Jeanne de Clisson, known as the Lioness of Brittany. When news of her husband’s execution reached Jeanne she was enraged and sworn revenge against both Charles de Blois and King Philip.
Full of vengeance, Jeanne raised a small army of men loyal to her. She funded her cause by selling off land remained to her after her husband. Her first attack was planned against the pro-French forces in Brittany. Then, when land became hostile for her she bought three warships and took to sea.
She was not only an enraged widow, she was a mastermind who knew how to play with the mind. She painted her warships black and their sails red. It worked well to intimidate her enemies. Due to the color, her warships are known as the ‘black feet’ in history.
She patrolled the English Channel hunting for a French ship. Soon she became the symbol of terror for French ships. Her wrath was gigantic against the ships owned by King Phillip and other French nobles. She was violent in her assault and her men were equally brutal.
When any French ship was captured, the entire crew was massacred. Her army used to spare one or two men from the entire crew only to carry the news that she has been successful again.
She fought for thirteen years and became a known name in the history of pirates. Finally, after thirteen years of battling, she found love again, remarried and embrace a quiet and peaceful life.
The Terror Of South China
It is a tale of a girl who with her courage and strength rose from rags to riches. This is not just a story of a girl who became rich, this story teaches about empowerment that comes from within. Ching Shih born in the Chinese province, Guangdong. She was not born with a silver spoon and was bound in circumstances that forced her to choose prostitution as a profession.
In 1801 pirate Zhèng Yi fell in love with her. Now, there are several theories about how they met but in the end, they got married eventually. Zhèng Yi had a fleet known as ‘red flag fleet’ which became the dynasty of Ching Shih. Their courtship was short and ended with the death of Zhèng Yi after six years only.
Ching Shih was involved in the matters of business and finance from the beginning which was highly uncommon back in those times. The fleet grew from 200 ships to 600 plus ships in six years and there were 50 to 70 thousand pirates in the fleet.
After her husband died, she had only two choices; to take charge or to go back to prostitution. She chose the first one and stayed on board. She became one of the most rigid pirate lords and launched several taxes and laws for her men. Every loot had to be registered before distribution. The ship from the fleet which looted would keep 20% and the rest would be added in the collective fund.
She was extremely strict when it came to unfaithfulness and rape. These two crimes had no tolerance and a pirate was executed if guilty. However, they were allowed to marry female captives. Apart from the ones which were married to pirates, other female captives were released unscathed.
Her fleet was color-coded; the first ship always had red flag then there were yellow, green, black, blue, and white (in no particular order). This color-coded fleet became popular for the severity of laws it had for its own pirates. Disloyal and other criminals would face violent punishments such as quartering and flogging.
According to some, she was a smuggler of opium while others stress that she restricted herself to looting, taxing the coastal villagers, and robbing. She became undefeatable, from British to Portuguese to Chinese all naval ships lost to the red flag fleet. She was known as the ‘terror of South China’.
Her reign over the sea became too much to bear for Chinese authorities and they offered amnesty to the pirates only in hopes to free the sea from Ching Shih. However, the second in command of red flag fleet, Chang Pao was met with a deadlock in conversation with an official over the reserves of loot. The female terror once more took charge and struck a successful deal, she was allowed to keep all her loot.
The Chinese government wanted to pirate to kneel down in front of the officials but to make Ching Shih kneel down an official had to witness the marriage of Ching Shih and Chang Pao. The marriage also officially ended her career and she resorts to a calmer life as an owner of a gambling house.