Friday, March 7, 2008

Friday "mie"-ography

I know, I know. It isn't a picture of a woman. But this woman, she flew that picture.
Today, we are going to talk about Grace O' Malley. Also known as Grania, or, Granuaile.
She was born in 1530, in County Mayo, Ireland. Her father was a famous sea captain, Owen O' Malley. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be a sailor, but since she was a female, she was "discouraged" from that choice. Once, when her father refused to take her on a trip on his ship, it it said she cut off all her hair, and dressed herself in boys clothing to show her parents she could live the seafaring life. Her father, however, just laughed, and tagged her with the nicname "Grainne Mhaol", meaning, Bald Grace. She remained persistent in her desire to sail, though, and eventually was allowed to go to sea with her father, on his fleet of ships.
On a trading mission overseas to Spain, their ship was attacked by an English vessel. Grace had been instructed to lock herself below decks were this to ever happen. Did she? No. Instead, she climbed up the rigging. From above, she saw an Englishman sneaking up on her father, so, she jumped down upon him, screaming the whole time. This distracted the attackers, and the O'Malleys regained control of their ship.
Eventually, Grace learned the ways of sailing enough, and got her own fleet of ships. The O'Malleys gained their wealth mainly through fishing, and trade, however, Grace branched out into piracy, taking on the Turkish, Spanish, and English fleets. She eventually grew her estate to include not only her ships, but several islands, ad castles on the west coast of Ireland.
Her reputation grew, and she was regarded as a fearless leader. Legend has it that Grace gave birth to one of her son's on board ship. The next day, a Turkish ship attacked the ship she was on, and she did not hide. She fought.
She married twice in her life, the first to Donal O'Flaherty, son of a chieftain, and next in line. She was 16 at the time, it was an "arranged" marriage. The O'Flaherty's were a seafaring family as well, and Grace learned much from them as well about the seafaring life. She was soon in charge of their fleet of ships, and and ruled the waters surrounding their land as well. Her husband had a reputation for his fierce temper, and he was killed by a rival clan. They ad been married for 19 years.
After his death, according to Irish law, Grace was entitled to a portion of her husbands estate. The O'Flaherty's saw it differently, though. She was forced to rely on them for her support. She didn't like this, so she set out on her own, and traded on the sea's to earn her own way. She broke free of the O'Flaherty's, went back into the O' Malley's, and ended up becoming a chieftain in her own right.
Her second husband, Richard Burke, she married in an effort to strengthen her hold on Irelands west coast. They were married for 17 years. She had a total of 4 children, 3 with Donal (Owen, Murrough, and Margaret) and with Richard, one son, (Tibbot).
In 1593, after years of fighting the English, and the capture of her brother, Grace went to see Queen Elizabeth, to make peace, and gain her brothers release England had taken over much of Scotland by this time. Grace, as a chieftain, became rebellious because of this, and never wished to give up her independance or her land. She held out longer than most, but in her later years, the pressure from the English began to really weigh heavily on her.
When she was 56 years old, Sir Richard Bingham, a ruthless governor sent to Ireland to rule over the lands, captured her, and scheduled her for execution, along with many members of her clan. At the last minute, her son in law offered himself in her place, as a hostage for the promise that she would never return to her ways. She was released, but Bingham took away her cattle, forced her into poverty, and even plotted to kill her eldest son, Owen. (the plot succeeded)
During this time, the Spanish Armada was terrorizing the Irish and Scottish coastlines. Around 1588, she was responsible for slaughtering hundreds of Spaniards on a ship near Clare Island. She was in her 50's, yet, still fierce in battle.
Still penniless and under the thumb of Bingham, Grace was writing letters to Queen Elizabeth demanding justice. She got no response. In 1593, her son, and brother were arrested and thrown into prison. Irritated, Grace went to London in person, to gain their release, and to get help in regaining her lands and wealth.
No one really understands why Elizabeth actually met with her, but she did. She conversed freely with the Queen, explaining that her moves over the last years had been self defense. She told about how both inheritances from her husbands were held from her, and asked for their return, and she agreed to use her strength and leadership to to defend the Queen against her enemies.
The Queen agreed, and Grace returned to Ireland, demanding the release of her son and brother, and her wealth returned. Her son and brother were set free. Her wealth? Not so much. But, as she was now "defending the queen against her enemies", Grace returned to her life of pirating and trading.
She died in 1603.


sybil law said...

Kick ass! I really enjoyed this! I think the Queen met with her because this was also a fierce woman, leading many.

holly said...

that was cooooool! now i wanna be a pirate.

although i just need a nap first...