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Women and English Piracy, 1540-1720: Partners and Victims of Crime


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Piracy was one of the most gendered criminal activities during the early modern period. As a form of maritime enterprise and organized criminality, it attracted thousands of male recruits whose venturing acquired a global dimension as piratical activity spread across the oceans and seas of the world. At the same time, piracy affected the lives of women in varied ways. Adopting a fresh approach to the subject, this study explores the relationships and contacts between women and pirates during a prolonged period of intense and shifting enterprise. Drawing on a wide body of evidence and based on English and Anglo-American patterns of activity, it argues that the support of female receivers and maintainers was vital to the persistence of piracy around the British Isles at least until the early seventeenth century.
The emergence of long-distance and globalized predation had far reaching consequences for female agency. Within colonial America, women continued to play a role in networks of support for mixed groups of pirates and sea rovers; at the same time, such groups of predators established contacts with women of varied backgrounds in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. As such, female agency formed part of the economic and social infrastructure which supported maritime enterprise of contested legality. But it co-existed with the victimisation of women by pirates, including the Barbary corsairs. As this study demonstrates, the interplay between agency and victimhood was manifest in a campaign of petitioning which challenged male perceptions of women's status as victims. Against this background, the book also examines the role of a small number of women pirates, including the lives of Mary Read and Ann Bonny, while addressing the broader issue of limited female recruitment into piracy.

JOHN C. APPLEBY is Senior Lecturer in History at Liverpool Hope University.


A new and stimulating perspective on early modern maritime plundering. ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW

Appleby's latest offering is well researched and written in engaging prose-a wonderful marriage of academic content and readability. NORTHERN MARINER

Sustained in its excellence. Rivetingly readable and meticulously researched. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

The recovery of the lives of women who supported and maintained pirates, or who were abandoned and abused by them, is long overdue and this book helps to redress the balance. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MARITIME HISTORY

By focusing on the role of women in the development of English piracy Appleby reveals elements of the socioeconomic structure of privateering that other critics have overlooked, offering a more complete picture of early modern seafaring. SIXTEENTH CENTURY JOURNAL

A well written, insightful, and long-overdue study of the various roles women played as supporters and accessories of pirates. REVIEWS IN HISTORY

An enjoyable read, engagingly written. ... Appleby's attention to detail as well as his meticulous archival work, result in a book that is essential reading for all those interested in the history of piracy, women's history, maritime studies, and colonial history. EARLY MODERN WOMEN JOURNAL

Highly recommended. CHOICE


First Published: 19 Sep 2013
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843838692
Pages: 280
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Boydell Press

Details updated on 02 May 2016


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  The Rise and Fall of English Piracy from the 1540s to the 1720s
  • 3  Pirates, Female Receivers and Partners: The Discrete Supporters of Maritime Plunder from the 1540s to the 1640s
  • 4  Wives, Partners and Prostitutes: Women and Long-Distance Piracy from the 1640s to the 1720s
  • 5  Petitioners and Victims: Women's Experiences from the 1620s to the 1720s
  • 6  The Women Pirates: Fact or Fiction?
  • 7  Epilogue
  • 8  Bibliography

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