Monday, February 10, 2014

Pirates in Love

Pirates are a sexy bunch, but they aren’t generally associated with romance. That’s a shame, because there are some really good pirate love stories in history, and they should be known and enjoyed.

Sam and Mary

I’ve told the story of Sam Bellamy – the dashing pirate revolutionary – before. But with Valentine’s day, let’s remember Mary Hallett, Sam’s true love, left behind in Boston wile Sam went off to the Caribbean in search of a treasure that would make him a rich enough to marry her.

For Sam and Mary it was love at first sight. Sam was in his mid-twenties, Mary only sixteen. They met in a tavern after Sam had been discharged from the English Navy in 1715. Mary was a girl from a respectable family, and Sam was a man from a poor family, with no job and no prospects. They spent the night together on the day they met.

Mary’s parents would never allow the two to marry, so Sam vowed to make a fortune on his own. News had just reached the area of the wreck of the Spanish Treasure Fleet. Gold, men said, was lying on the beaches of Florida, waiting for adventurers to come and claim it. Mary stole a silver teapot from her parents and gave it to Sam to finance his journey south. He vowed to return as soon as he could.

It turned out that gold was not lying on the beaches of Florida, and it took Sam several years to gather enough riches to come back. And in the meantime, Mary had a problem. She was carrying Sam’s child. She hid her pregnancy from her family until she gave birth.

Mary was found with the dead child in her lap, laughing madly. Her family was too important for the authorities to pursue an arrest for infanticide, but public opinion held that the child’s death was Mary’s fault. After that, she lived as a recluse.

When Sam finally did return, a massive storm was right behind him. Some villagers claimed that they saw Mary standing on the headlands waving her arms and raising the sea with her witch’s powers. They claim that this was her revenge for being left so long alone.

But others claim that Mary spent her magic in rescuing Sam from the storm. It’s historical fact that his body was never recovered. So he may have been rescued by his old love, and the two of them went off together with chests full of stolen gold. There are many stories in New England about Sam and Mary. This could be the one that’s true.

Mary's Heart

Mary Read fought beside Calico Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny, but she was not really their lover. Mary was no lesbian, and no woman besides Anne was ever going to sleep with Jack. Mary had already wed and lost a husband when she became a pirate.

She did not live celibate however. Mary took a lover on the ship.

It has been said that women on a ship cause trouble because men fight over them, and this may be the reason that another pirate challenged Mary’s lover to a duel.  For whatever cause, the challenge was issued, and Mary’s friend had no choice but to accept.

History does not record the man's name, but Mary had chosen him for affection, and not for any fighting skills. But if she tried to prevent the fight, her lover would be found wanting among the pirates. Mary had her own solution, however. She challenged the challenger, met him in battle, and killed him before the time of the man’s duel with her lover.

The Lioness of Brittany

Jeanne de Clisson's husband was killed by King Philip VI of France, who believed him guilty of treason. Jeanne did not take this lying down. She raised money by selling her family’s land, her own personal possessions, and her body, which she prostituted to the French nobility.

She then turned on the same nobility, using this money to buy three of the best warships available. She painted the ships black and began a thirteen year pirating spree that entirely targeted French vessels. De Clisson took personal revenge on every nobel she caught, beheading them herself with an ax. After the king who had killed her husband was dead, she retired. She also married an Englishman, Sir Walter Bentley, who had personally fought against Charles de Blois, the person she believed had prompted her husband's execution. Now that's revenge. In the name of love.

The moral of these stories? Don’t mess with a pirate, be true to your vows, and never underestimate the power of a woman’s love. Happy Valentine’s Day, all.

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