04 September 2008

Women: 13 Criminal Women in History

By Jacquie Rogers

History tends to mix up ruling women with criminal women in a way that doesn't seem to happen to men. For example, Dido, Queen of Carthage, would be considered a founder and ruler had she been male.

Then there's the POV aspect. Joan d'Arc is a good example, where she's a British criminal but a French and Catholic saint.

Try as I might, I couldn't find a female Jack the Ripper anywhere in history. Not saying there weren't any--just that I couldn't find any. That said, we did have some extraordinary women who either led a life of crime (mainly on the high seas) or straddled the legal lines when convenient. So here goes:

1. Jeanne de Clisson (1300 – 1359): "Lioness of Brittany," she preyed mercilessly on French ships after France convicted her husband for treason and killed him.

2. Lucrezia Borgia (1480 - 1519): Whether she was actively involved with her brother's and father's crimes or a political pawn isn't known. Her husbands had a habit of turning up dead.

3. Grace O'Malley (1530-1603): Irish pirate. Commanded both a private army and a fleet of ships for nearly 60 years. See her castle on the right.

4. Lady Mary Killigrew (mid to late 1500s): When Mary's husband, a Vice Admiral under Queen Elizabeth, went to sea, Mary took the castle staff as her crew and went a'pirating.

5. Sayyida al-Hurra ibn Banu Rashid al-Mandri al-Wattasi Hakima Tatwan (early to mid 1600s): Moroccan pirate who ruled the western Mediterranean. In 1515 she became the last woman in Islamic history to legitimately hold the title of "al-Hurra," or queen, following the death of her husband who ruled Tétouan.

6. Jacquotte Delahaye (mid to late 1600s): French/Haitian beauty who became a pirate upon her father's death to support herself and her retarded brother.

7. Esther Abrahams (c.1771 - 1846): Jewish Convict & First Lady. Convicted of stealing lace, then transported to Australia, she married George Johnston and became unofficial first lady of the colony.

8. Cheng I Sao (wife of Cheng) or Ching Shih (active from 1807-1810): Commanded 1,500 pirate ships and controlled the Chinese coastline. She also ran a protection racket inland from the rivers. Her temper was short and she had a tendency to behead those who annoyed her. See picture.

9. Lola Montez (1818-1861): Born Eliza Gilbert in Limerick, Ireland, 1818. A bad dancer and paramour of Franz Liszt and Alexandre Dumas, she became mistress of King Ludwig and de facto ruler of Bavaria. Belle of the California gold rush, she had a vicious temper and carried a whip.

10. Lizzie Borden (1860-1927): In 1893, she was acquitted of hacking her father and step-mother to death with an axe.

11. Belle Star, or Myra Maybelle Shirley Starr, (1848-1889): The "Bandit Queen," she was accused of stealing horses, fencing goods, and robbing stages. No one knows the true extent of her criminal life.

12. Pearl Hart (c.1870-?): First known woman stage robber in the Old West.

13. Etta Place: Little is known about the woman who was either the Sundance Kid's wife or girlfriend. See Carrie's post below.

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