Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Showing posts with label Mutiny of the Heart. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mutiny of the Heart. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Luck of the Irish or Just Sheer Irish Grit?

Daughter, wife, mother, businesswoman, landowner, seafarer, leader, chieftain, rebel, pirate, legend—all these terms would accurately describe the infamous Grace O’Malley.

Gráinne Ní Mháille (Grace O’Malley) was born in 1530. Her father, Owen “Black Oak” O’Malley, was the elected chieftain of the Ó Máille (O’Malley) clan. He was also a seafarer successful in trading cattle, tallow, and salt fish as far south as Portugal and Spain. The O’Malley were one of the few on the western coast to sail beyond Ireland’s shores. As a result, they controlled much of County Mayo and all who fished off their coasts were taxed. Upon her parents’ deaths, she inherited her father’s trading business and her mother’s lands. That with and the land holdings from subsequent marriages, she was a wealthy woman.

Rockfleet Castle
Even as a child, Grace was a spitfire. She scorned societal conventions placed on girls and women, favoring adventure over what was suitable for her gender. She wanted badly to go to sea on a trading expedition to Spain with her father. Her parents forbade it. Ah, but she was fiery and independent. She cut off her long red hair to disguise herself as a lad in hopes to trick her father into taking her.
A stunt such as this was surely a precursor to what was to come.

At 16, she married Dónal O’Flaherty, who was heir to the chieftain of the O’Flaherty clan which controlled Connacht.  This was a good political match for the clans. Plus, bonus, he owned castles. One of these castles—Bunowen—is where she operated her first shipping and trade business, in part out of necessity as Dónal’s gallivanting brought the clan near to poverty.  Over the course of their marriage, she had three children with Dónal—Owen, Murrough, and Margaret. Not only did the family grow, but so did her pursuits. She controlled their fleet and oversaw all the business dealings, legitimate and otherwise. No doubt plying skills she learned from her father. And when she was not allowed to trade in Galway, a key trading port, for sketchy practices, she simply laid in wait off the coast for merchant ships, negotiating fair fees that guaranteed their safe passage. If they refused, she relieved them of their cargo. If they further resisted, well, things got violent and deadly.

Like Grace, Dónal was an ambitious sort. But he preferred warfare. Not surprisingly, that didn’t end well for him. He had taken an island fortress from another clan over some sort of revenge, but in the siege was killed. Grace didn’t take the death of her husband too kindly. She sailed to the island to avenge his death and successfully defended the castle. In another attack on the castle by the English, she not only defended it, but she alerted her fleet, launched an attack, and soundly defeated them. As you might imagine, she had many, many loyal men who followed her anywhere she went.

Grace O'Malley and Queen Elizabeth
She married a second time in 1566 to Richard Bourke, purportedly for more holdings, and the couple had one child together. But Grace still wasn’t one to settle down and quickly divorced him, keeping his Rockfleet Castle for herself.

Grace is known for many exploits that have become legendary. One thing for certain, she was not one to be slighted or crossed. She purportedly defeated a Turkish pirate ship, killing the crew, just one day after giving birth to her fourth son. Can you imagine how cranky she might have been to be disturbed while nursing her newborn? Grace had once abducted an earl’s grandson after she was denied hospitality by the family because they were having dinner. She released the boy only after the promise that the castle’s gates were always open and a place set at the table for visitors—a promise still kept to this day. Don’t underestimate a woman in love. She sought deadly revenge on a clan for killing her lover Hugh de Lacy, snatching away the lives of those responsible and seizing their castle. The woman was mighty!

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Her piratical ways both on sea and land eventually caught up to her. English power had increased over Ireland and set to control the chieftains who had been self-governing. She was no fool. Like most chieftains, she submitted her fealty. Ah…appearances. With a troublemaker like Grace, England took notice, especially Governor Sir Richard Bingham who, in 1584 was tasked with overseeing and controlling chieftains and their clans. Bingham made it a personal mark to take Grace down. He stripped her clan of wealth by overtaxing them, ordered the murder of her oldest son, raided her home, took her livestock, imprisoned family members for treason, and impounded her fleet. Ouch. In 1593, Grace intended to restore her clan’s rights and free her family. How? By petitioning Elizabeth I, Queen of England, of course.

Elizabeth must have been intrigued by the intrepid Irish woman with such a colorful reputation for she granted Grace an audience…in private. Perhaps they were a lot alike. Perhaps there was a mutual respect. Whatever the case, it must have been quite a meeting that September day between the two powerhouses. The queen granted all of Grace’s requests, including monetary aid and the release of her impounded fleet. In the queen’s letter to Bingham, she also stated that Grace O’Malley had her permission to act as a privateer on England’s behalf. And so a-pirating Grace did go.

Grace finally retired in 1601. Two years later at the age of 73, she died, the same year as the queen.

About the Author 

Jennifer is the award-winning author of the Romancing the Pirate series. Visit her at www.jbrayweber.com or join her mailing list for sneak peeks, excerpts, and giveaways.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Pirates - Causes for Going On The Account

Pirates of the Golden Age had a nasty reputation. They were feared the world over and with good reason. Many notorious pirates like Blackbeard and Ned Low were cruel and barbaric, their tales of savagery and tortures enflamed their reputations and the notoriety of pirates as a whole. But pirates have been around a lot longer than those that flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries. For as long as there have been boats, there have been pirates. In Ancient Egypt and Greece, there are recorded evidence pirates prowled sea trading routes raiding merchant ships for their goods.

Black Bart
So why did men, and some women, turn to piracy? Was it for the treasures? For fame? Oh sure, there was adventure. Make no mistake, the hours were long, the work hard and dangerous. There was starvation, sickness, and overwhelming boredom. Heck, death was a constant on board. But there was also excitement and reward that came with taking a bountiful prize or leading a successful raid. Pirates worked hard but partied harder, usually blowing all their earnings on food, drink, gaming, and women. Life was short. Those fleeting chances to live with abandon was worth every bit the effort and risks.

While selfish gain had much to do with going on the account, it was rarely as simple as to get rich. There were more compelling factors that lead men to piracy.

Turning pirate might be seen as the lesser evil or a means to freedom.  People rarely rose above their caste. Individual freedom and human rights did not exist and justice was not universal nor always fair. Most people in Western Europe, whether rural or urban, lived in extreme poverty. Hard work didn’t equal high wages and jobs were scarce, especially for those without a skill or education. Good people were forced to become thieves to survive. Many turned to the docks for better employment opportunities.

Signing on to work a merchant ship brought wages and men might learn a trade, such as carpentry, at sea that could give them greater chances for employment on land. Unfortunately, conditions at sea were harsh and pay not guaranteed. Men worked excessively long hours on under-crewed ships and were often cheated by unscrupulous merchants should voyages not be profitable enough.

Joining the navy wasn’t much better. In fact, it could have very well been worse, even if enlisting kept a man out of debtor’s prison. Just as with most ships, conditions on board were brutal and wages might not ever be paid. The British Royal Navy had difficulty finding willing men to recruit and had established the Impress Service. This organization was little more than a gang of rough and tough wharf laborers authorized to forcibly press men into navy service. Scores of men and boys were kidnapped, tricked, beaten, shackled and dragged, and otherwise press-ganged, onto naval ships. No able-bodied male was safe.  Not even in their own homes. Not even the men that made up the Impress Service.

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Piracy presented an escape from conscription tactics, corrupt merchants, and “honest” work from merchants and navies.

Pirates, for the most part, offered a democracy, equal pay, revolving work hours, fair judgment and punishment, workmen’s compensation for injuries, and a voice. It did not matter the class, race, religion, they were treated the same. This gave men freedom that they probably wouldn’t have had otherwise, on land or sea. And freedom is a powerful reason.

Some pirates started out as lawful pirates called privateers. These men were commissioned by their governments (with letters of marque) to attack enemy ships or ports during times of war and shared the gains with their investors. But war between any given nation was sporadic. If news of peace hadn’t reached a privateer, an attack on an enemy that had suddenly become an ally would mean an act of piracy. At any rate, if the profits were good, privateers would have been hard to persuade back into legitimate commerce. One such famous captain who had been a privateer accused of piratical deeds was Captain Kidd. Kidd was captured, tried, found guilty of piracy, and hung.

[Side note. Becoming a pirate wasn’t always a choice. As an example, some men were forced to join the crew, and usually for their skill. Carpenters, navigators, and surgeons were among the experienced spared and/or snatched off an overtaken ship.]

No, the allure of piracy wasn’t always for fortune, but of circumstance or a way out of oppression.

Pirate Bartholomew Roberts, also known as Black Bart, said it best.

For I have dipped my hands in muddied waters, and, withdrawing them, find 'tis better to be a commander than a common man.

He also said:

In an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labor; in this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the hazard that is run for it, at worst, is only a sour look or two at choking. No, a merry life and a short one, shall be my motto.

About the Author
Jennifer Bray-Weber is the award-winning author of the Romancing the Pirate series. Visit her at www.jbrayweber.com or join her mailing list for sneak peeks, excerpts, and giveaways.