Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lady Pirates: Queen Of The Manannans Part 2

When we left off yesterday, Grania ni Maille was making Barbary corsairs hurry below to change their underwear with her swagger. Unfortunately there was another redhead preparing to put her fist squarely down on Ireland. Despite the rebellious spirit of the people of Erin, Elizabeth I wasn't used to taking "no" for an answer.

In 1576, when Grania was in her 40's, Sir Henry Sidney became the English Governor of the Western provinces of Ireland. He had orders to bring the area to heel because the Crown was concerned that the wild Irish would team up with Spain in her war with England. Grania evidently smelled the change in the air and, though she did not disband her pirate fleet, she presented herself and her husband to Sidney as loyal subjects. Sidney went with it, even knighting Richard-an-Iarainn making he and Grania Lord and Lady Burke in 1583.

Lord Burke died the same year, but that didn't slow down the now fifty-something Lady. Her predations around Galway were legendary and Queen Elizabeth decided it was time to get things under control. She sent Richard Bingham in as the new Governor of Connacht in 1584. Bingham, who seems to have been especially well suited for the job, was specifically ordered to destroy Grace O'Malley.

Grania was finally apprehended by the Governor's men in 1586 and unceremoniously chained in Dublin Castle's dungeon. Bingham built a gallows. His mission was almost accomplished. But he was foiled by valiant behavior when Grania's own son-in-law, Devil's Hook, showed up and offered himself as hostage in exchange for his "elder mother". Bingham was stuck; he'd look like no gentleman at all if he hung an old woman when one of her clan had offered himself as a replacement. Grania walked out of Dublin Castle and Devil's Hook walked in. There he would stay for many years.

Bingham wasn't finished though. If he couldn't kill the pirate queen outright he'd shut her down and starve her out. He sent his brother John to Clare Island where Owen O'Flaherty was looking after things for Ma. John requested asylum on the island for he and his men. When Owen granted it, as was custom, Bingham's men treacherously slaughtered Grania's people and turned to rounding up her cattle and horses. Owen was stabbed over a dozen times.

Grania retaliated by mounting a guerrilla war against the English in Western Ireland. It worked for awhile, but the world was changing around the aging pirate. In 1592 Bingham managed to blockade and seize Grania's fleet in Clew Bay. Left without income, she was forced to seek asylum inland with Red Hugh O'Donnell. Her sons and daughter were on the lamb too and things looked bleak for the O'Malley's.

The pirate queen treated all this as no more than a setback, though. She decided, quite shrewdly, to petition the most powerful person in England. In July, 1593 she wrote to Elizabeth I directly. Grania asked that her two sons be allowed to hold their lands under English law and that some provision be made to "grant her [Grania] some reasonable maintenance" for life. She wanted her sons made rightful lords and herself to receive a pension from the crown. A bold request, indeed.

The Queen, obviously curious, sent back a series of interrogatories to which Grania promptly responded. Then Grania packed up her things and headed off to Greenwich Palace on the off chance that she might meet Elizabeth face to face. As Grania travelled, Bingham continued his assaults. By the time she reached England, her favorite son Tibbot-ne-Long was in chains at Dublin Castle.

In September of 1593, Grania ni Maille was granted a private audience with Elizabeth I. History is unfortunately silent on the meeting of two great Queens. Whatever was said, though, Elizabeth was clearly impressed. She granted Grania an English privateering commission and wrote to Bingham to free Grania's relatives, make Murrough and Toby proper Lords and see to Grania's pension.

Bingham went into a lather. He call the commission a "grave oversight on the part of her Majesty" as if he thought Elizabeth didn't know what she was doing. The lady who funded Drake and Hawkins knew what she was doing. He freed Toby and Devil's Hook but refused to acknowledge Murrough or Toby as English Lords, and he denied Grania's pension. Grania's fleet was returned but, on Bingham's orders, an English soldier was required to be aboard each of her galleys to make sure things were above board.

Grania returned to sea raiding, while continually petitioning the privy council for redress. It took some time but by 1595 Bingham, in hot water over other issues, was recalled to London. Grania again fell afoul of England when one of her galleys was taken by an English warship. She countered any bad blood by putting Toby in charge of her fleet and ordering him to sail only in England's service. He fought for England at the Battle of Kinsale, and was officially knighted as Sir Theobald Burke for his trouble. The year was 1603.

Grania saw her son become a Lord and then, at age around 73, she died. The great Elizabeth passed away shortly before. Two surprisingly successful women, the Virgin Queen and the Queen of the Manannans, gone in the same year.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Wow, part 2 was even better than part 1... Why hasn't this story been made into a movie (or maybe it has and I just don't know about it)? That would be typical of me. Nicely done, Pirate Queen!

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! And oh how I shudder to think what even an Indy film house would do with Grania's larger than life story. Screw it up royally. Good thing lots of talented people have written books about her.

Undine said...

I can't believe I've never heard of this woman before! Do you suppose there was anyone else during Elizabeth's reign who stared the Queen down and actually got her to blink?

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Undine! Good question. I'm betting there weren't any other women that came off as well when facing the great Elizabeth. I always compare Grania's success to Mary Stuart's calamity. But then Mary was family. I guess she got her's back when her son became King of England?