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16th Century Female Pirate: Grace O’Malley Part 3

Did Grace stay away from her rebellious ways or did she ignore the wishes of her opponents? In this article, you will learn of the fate of an influential pirate during the 16th century.

The English had more problems on their plate than just dealing with the rebellious Irish. For starters, the Spanish Armada was waging war against the English, making their way to the Irish and Scottish coastlines. The details behind Grace’s motives for assisting the English against the Spanish were unclear, but around 1588, hundreds of Spaniards lost their lives to Grace, who slaughtered the competition on the ship of Don Pedro de Mendoza near the castle on Clare Island. It didn’t matter that the woman was in her late 50’s, she could still hold her own.

Despite her participation on the side of the English, Bingham still kept tight reigns on Grace, and in the early 1590s, Grace found herself poverty-stricken. With a large rebellion stirring, Bingham took the opportunity to place Grace in an unfavorable light. He feared that she would help the rebels against the English and penned a letter that called her a “notable traitoress and nurse to all rebellions in the province for 40 years.” All along, Grace had written to the Queen for justice, but never received a response.

In 1593, Grace’s son Theobald and brother Donal-na-Piopa were arrested and tossed into jail. This act prompted her to cease her letters and travel to London to make her known in person. She went to request the release of her family members, as well as ask the Queen that her lands and wealth were returned to her. Setting sail, Grace was fortunate to escape detection from the English patrol boats settled in the waters between her homeland and London.

After reaching Greenwich Castle, the Queen and Grace met with one another with an agreement that her son and brother would be released and her assets given back to her. Bingham let go of her family members, but Grace never reclaimed her rightful possessions.

As for the meeting between Grace and the Queen, only a few lyrics speak of their encounter. Interestingly, Grace was able to amuse the Elizabeth with her ‘rudeness.’ Supposedly, during the meeting between the two women, Grace is said to have sneezed in front of the Queen and her lords/ladies. In an act of politeness, a member of the court offered Grace a handkerchief, which happened to be quite striking and costly. After blowing her nose and tossing the piece of lace into the nearby fireplace, the members of the court were taken aback. They couldn’t believe she could rude enough to toss an expensive gesture into the fire.

The Queen scolded Grace and told her that the handkerchief was a gift and should have been tucked away into her pocket. However, Grace responded by telling her that the Irish would never keep a ‘soiled’ item in their pocket and suggested that maybe their standards of cleanliness were higher. An uncomfortable silence is believed to have settled in the room , broken by the laughter of the Queen, who was amused by her response.