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The Killigrews of Falmouth , a Pirating Family

As we continue to explore the world of female pirates, you can’t highlight Lady Killigrew without mentioning other members belonging to the Killigrew family. In this article, you will not only meet two lovely pirating ladies of the clan, but also gain details about their exploits, triumphs, and failures.

Before Lady Killigrew, there were other family members that made a name for themselves in the pirating business, including Thomas Killigrew, who in 1464, attacked a Breton ship with the help of two other vessels. However, it is the female aspect of the pirating family that is especially intriguing. Being the daughter of a Suffolk pirate had a great deal to do with Lady Killigrew’s involvement in piracy, where she was active from 1530 to 1570.

Lady Killigrew was married to a man by the name of Sir Henry, who had already befriended the pirates for quite some time. He was wealthy and constructed a sweeping mansion. Later on, he earned the title of Vice-Admiral and was given the task of getting rid of the pirates situated in the southwestern part of England.

Sir Henry and his Lady Killigrew

When the Admiral took to the sea, Lady Killigrew decided to enter the ranks of piracy on her own. Transforming her household staff into sailors, she ordered them to capture a German ship located off Falmouth. Using her womanly charms, she convinced the captain of the German ship to follow her onto shore, where she took him to a tavern and filled him with liquor. Leaving him in the company of two prostitutes to keep him occupied, she returned to the captain’s ship and ransacked the vessel.

Her servants took the ship to Ireland in an attempt to sell it, but the plan came to light. Not even her husband could prevent her trial at Launceston, where she was sentenced to death. However, on the eleventh hour she received a reprieve and was acquitted by a jury that had been bribed. Sir Henry was given permission to reluctantly take his Lady back to Falmouth. She never returned to pirating since the incident.

Sir John and Lady Elizabeth

The next Killigrews to embark into piracy was Sir John and Lady Elizabeth Killigrew, who enjoying family political ties and made a home at Pendennis Castle at Falmouth Harbour’s entrance. John was the captain of the castle and in 1577, became involved in a scandal centered on stolen French wine. Apparently, he had bought the wine from a pirate, and was found out. He avoided any repercussions by paying the original owners. While he was ordered to make good on his payments, he and his ship vanished. It is believed that he was later involved in the plundering of a Danish ship. In 1582, his wife actually led an attack on a Spanish ship in the harbor. Given a death sentence, she was pardoned.

The family tradition did not stop with Sir John and Lady Elizabeth, as their son (also named John) took a  ‘above the law’ approach in his life. It was not beneath him to take Spanish bribes or sell ammunition to pirates later used against the Spanish. Sir John was known to run with a group of pirates that freely took advantage of the protected region of Falmouth harbor. Although he was in a position to arrest pirates, he instead chose to warn them when forces approached to rid the region of pirate ships.