Assassins Creed, Women & Piracy

Settle down class, it’s time for a history lesson – she says fully aware that you’ve probably already clicked away. But if you’re still reading we’re going to take a look at the pirates; Anne Bonny and Mary Read, both of whom appear as characters alongside other historical seafarers in Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag. Black Flag takes place during the Golden Age of Piracy, a period of around eighty years from the mid seventeenth century and most, if not all, pirate fiction is based on this period. Everything we know to be ‘piratey’ comes from the Golden Age, a time when piracy was rampant, especially in the Caribbean, giving us enough charismatic gents to romanticise for as many films/games/books etc we can hope for.

rackham flag

Exhibit A: This flag. Specifically Jack Rackham’s Jolly Roger

But what about pirate women? Where be they? You wouldn’t find a woman on a pirate ship, for the same reasons you wouldn’t find a woman on any ship of the time. We might think it was because women were considered physically inferior and therefore incapable of the demanding rigours of a seaman’s job, but actually it had nothing to do with this (and actually the women who did work on ships proved this false) instead it was simply a matter of discipline. Women on a ship would disrupt the crew, most of whom wouldn’t have seen a woman for long periods of time at sea. They promoted infighting and jealousy, not to mention the danger they were in from the sexually frustrated sailor. That said, there were a surprising number of women who became pirates, except they had to do so in the disguise of a man and risk being put off the ship. During the Golden Age ninety one women were revealed as sailors, most of whom were serving on pirate ships after previously serving (in male guise) in European navies and left unemployed at the end of various wars. (Consequently this was the reason most male sailors turned to piracy too, after their government cut them adrift without hope for a new job).

Ninety one is a fair number and that just accounts for the number of women posing as men that were caught, who knows how many were caught and not recorded or how many were not caught at all. Obviously I’m not saying that every man serving on a pirate ship was actually a woman in disguise but I think it was not as uncommon as we might first think. Especially as women could apparently pull off such disguises with surprising ease. Women with their higher voices and generally slimmer bodies than the bulky, muscular seaman could easily pass for an adolescent cabin boy, considerably younger than their actual age, much like Elizabeth Swan does in Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest. There are even records of women who created a “horn pipe” to hide in their trousers so that they could take a piss without being noticed as not having a dick. That said, the number of women who made a career at sea is utterly negligible compared to the thousands and thousands of men, the number of cross dresses known to be women smaller still and the number of women who made a name for themselves as woman at sea is pretty low.The two most famous of the female pirates were Anne Bonny and Mary Read, and after that little soiree into history we’re back to Black Flag. Both Anne Bonny and Mary Read appear in the game as fairly major characters and the games narrative works their real life escapades into the fictional biography of Captain Kenway. (Spoilorz: Mary Read wasn’t really an Assassin). Unusually, both women at one point served together on the same ship under the same captain and were captured together when said captain, Calico Jack, decided to go out on the piss and get himself and crew captured by pirate hunters. Incidentally a sober Read and Bonny acquitted themselves so well in the battle against the hunters they were the last two standing, while Jack was among the first to fall. Different sources suggest that it was the hunters night attack that caught them by surprise, while the details conflict the opposing captain mentioned in his report that Bonny and Read had fought them “most fiercely” and had actually held the troops at bay for far longer than they had any business doing.

Exhibit B: Tits

Exhibit B: Tits

Calico Jack Rackham either thought he was the luckiest or unluckiest captain in the Caribbean to have landed himself with two women on his crew. He met Anne Bonny while taking advantage of the governor’s pardon which the head honcho of Nassau extended to all pirates. Basically he assured any pirate that they would be granted a full pardon for their previous crimes if they promised never to take to privateering again. Rackham was one of many who took up the offer, but while at Nassau he embarked on an affair with Bonny which invoked the anger of her husband. Long story (involving Rackham offering to buy Bonny) short, the two ran away to sea together nullifying Rackham’s pardon, and they began a life of piracy together. Even though they were lovers, Bonny remained in male disguise until she fell pregnant at which point disguises proved useless and after leaving the baby with Rackham’s family, she resumed her adventuring as the Captain’s acknowledged mistress.

Some time later Bonny became taken with a young man who had recently joined Rackham’s crew after a long career in the Dutch army and navy. Of course when Bonny made her advances the youth was forced to reveal that he was also a she; Mary Read. Bonny kept Read’s secret until Rackham threatened the latter, thinking that he had a rival for Bonny’s affections. Bonny let Rackham in on the secret and he allowed her to stay on. Read later fell in love with one of Rackham’s prisoners and declared herself a woman so she could have an affair with him. When they were captured both Bonny and Read plead pregnancy to stay their execution and were imprisoned instead (Rackham wasn’t so lucky). Bonny died possibly, supposedly in childbirth, during her imprisonment while Bonny disappeared into legend. Which is interesting in itself; if she’d died there’d be a record of her death, if she’d been released there’d be a record of her release, but there are no records. So she’s probably still there, pissing about in the prison pretending to be pregnant every time someone comes near her.

Exhibit C: Calico Jack not looking too hot.

Exhibit C: Calico Jack not looking too hot.


This editorial was adapted from a post on fanta’s blog about historical characters and stories in the media.

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