Look, everybody knows chick pirates are hot. From actual flesh and blood women like Anne Bonny and Cheng I Sao to fictional lasses like Morgan Adams and Paulette Flynn (if you don't know that last lady yet, keep coming back to Triple P; you will!), nothing gets the blood pumping like a swinging sword and a flash of boob - all at the same time! Cha-ching! So today's topic comes as no surprise.
In 1837, at the fair beginning of what would blossom into the full silliness of the Victorian era, Charles Ellms wrote "The Pirates' Own Book: Authentic Narratives of the Most Celebrated Sea Robbers". He published it in all earnestness, saying that what he had written down was exact and true and maybe he thought it was. What comes across today as a decidedly lurid, "you can only imagine" style of story telling that was clearly meant to titillate the sheltered audience he hoped would devour his prose. Grungy pirates carry off innocent maids and use them to death, toothless villains hack up heroic sea captains without a flinch, tortures abound and eventually the menace is put to the sword, drown or hanged for his black crimes. Its too good to just review. We'll be visiting this again and again. I highly recommend this book, which is currently in publication by the Marine Research Society of Salem, Massachusetts. If you have a true interest in pirate history, this one is worth the price of admission for its complete lack thereof. Bless you for a storyteller, Mr. Ellms.
The first entry in the book tells us of the she-pirate Alwilda. The picture above is from the book, and it shows our Viking heroine curiously dressed in the oddly hermaphrodite garb of a confused 1830s sailor. Not very flattering, but I'm thinking the illustration may have influenced Amelia Bloomer's "reform" costume. Anyway, Ellms tells us that Alwilda was the daughter of a "Gothic king" listed as Synardus. Her father insisted she marry Alf, prince of Denmark. Alwilda would have none of it and so she dressed as a man and, accompanied by a band of like-minded babes, set to sea in her own ship. What rocks harder than a lady pirate? A ship full of lady pirates! She had so much success that male Vikings joined her band and she was "so formidable, that Prince Alf was despatched (sic) to engage her." If you can't see what's coming, you haven't read much Victorian prose (or a modern romance novel).
During a "severe action in the gulf of Finland, Alf boarded her vessel, and killed the greatest part of her crew, seized the captain, namely herself". She was wearing a helmet so he didn't recognize her but when the helmet came off he "persuaded her to accept his hand, married her on board, and then led her to partake of his wealth, and share his throne." It seems his valor in battle - I mean he killed all those women, right? - totally threw Alwilda over and she swooned into his arms. Like butter, baby!
The history is a little less defined and a lot less romantic. According to the Danish historian Saxo-Grammaticus (I am not making that up) writing in the 12th century, Alwilda was the daughter of the Goth King Siward. What turned her to a life of sea roving is not mentioned in her brief history, but some Viking women went to sea, either with their men or on their own. She may very well have been one of those people who fit the "pirate model" over all. Alwilda may have been different and she wasn't going to try to fit in.
The history reports that Prince Alf eventually defeated Alwilda in a sea battle and took her as his wife. How she felt about that is not recorded. Perhaps the lack of care for her opinions and desires was why she went to sea in the first place. Or maybe she just had the itch. I'll leave it to you to decide my Brethren. Leave me a note and let me know what side you fall on. I'll look forward to hearing from you!