There are a number of cases in history where women chose to become pirates rather than get married. In a response to the lack of freedom imposed on wives and mothers, one of the only escapes for women was to turn to piracy. In a world where not wanting to be someone’s wife was cause to become an outcast or where women were forced into arranged marriages, the life of a pirate was a very attractive alternative to marriage.
In Viking history, there are a couple of renowned cases of women choosing to be pirates to avoid marriage, not so much in an effort to defend a cause but to live their life free from the bondage of marriage.
Alwilda and Prince Alf of Denmark
Princess Alwilda is said to have run away from an arranged marriage after Prince Alf of Denmark had overcome the challenges set by Alwilda’s father to be worthy of her hand in marriage. It is said that, with the help of her mother, Alwilda ran away with a ship and became a pirate captain of an all female crew employed from her friends and ladies in waiting. Her reign as pirate princess was successful until Prince Alf caught up with Alwilda and made her his wife. Legend says that they fell in love upon meeting. In this case, piracy was not enough to avoid marriage and the pull of true love!
Viking Princess Stikla is another example of a woman who had no desire to get married. She is reported to have said something along the lines that she would prefer a life of war than to be married. She stuck to her words and spent her life as a pirate terrorizing the shores of northern Europe including Britain, Denmark and Iceland with her sister Rusla.
The Red Maiden
Rusla’s story is no less interesting. She is perhaps the more famous of the two pirate sisters owing to the fact that she was killed at the command of her brother, King Tesondus, beaten to death with the oars of her ship. This was in response to Rusla having sunk her brother’s ship in anger for letting the Danish empire take his crown. Although she let her brother escape alive, he was not as generous when he caught up with his sister.
What is clear is that, for centuries, women did not have the freedoms of their male counterparts, enjoying very few options: wife, nun, prostitute, witch or pirate!
Daring Pirate Women, Anne Wallace Sharp, (Lerner Publications 2002)
The Complete Idiots Guide to Pirates, Gail Selinger with W.Thomas Smith Jr. (Penguin 2006)