Sayyida al Hurra – Child Refugee
I was born to a prominent Muslim family of nobles in Granada, a great city in what is sometimes known as “Moorish Spain,” around 1485. I often wonder how different my path in life might have been had I grown up in Granada instead of being driven away when I was a child. You see, the Christian Reconquista had been slowly conquering Muslim kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries, culminating in the fall of Granada, my home, in 1492. To stay meant persecution and forced conversion from Islam, so we fled.
My family, like many refugees, crossed the Alboran Sea to safety and solace in Morocco. For me specifically, that meant the city of Chefchaouen. Perhaps this seafaring voyage helped shape the pirate I would become, but the harrowing escape certainly left its mark. While my childhood was wrought with no other immediate dangers, the ghost of my home across the sea never stopped haunting me.
The one thing that came closest to excising that phantom, though, was education.
Once safely in Morroco, I continued my education and became fluent in many languages, including Spanish and Portuguese. My gift for languages would be invaluable in my later life as a Governor, diplomat, pirate captain and Queen. My growing intellect and thirst for knowledge would serve me well in my next adventure: marriage.
My first husband was Abu Hassan al-Mandari, a fellow refugee who was governor of the northern port city of Tétouan. This union proved vital in my rise toward becoming a truly powerful woman. With Al-Mandari, I learned the ins and outs of business and governance and was very often left fully in charge of the city when he was away.
The populace so embraced me as their ruler that, after my husband’s death, I became the sole governor and earned the name by which I am most known: Sayyida al Hurra, Hakimat Titwan, the “Sovereign Lady, Governor of Tétouan.” To many, though, Sayyida al Hurra would soon come to mean “Pirate Queen.”
Thinking their colossal vessel, laden with valuable commodities for the New World, was impervious to pirates, the multi-decked Spanish sailing ship made for the Strait of Gibraltar. As the galleon neared the narrow birth to the Atlantic, my smaller, faster, and more maneuverable fleet came at them from the southern coast like blades, poised to run them through. The Spanish captain made a desperate attempt to veer north as his gun ports flew open and cannons were readied. The wind that day was mostly due west, though, and while the galleon’s rudder allowed it to turn quickly, the sails couldn’t be adjusted in time, and the large ship slowed. This allowed my nimble galley to streak across their port side before a single ball could be fired, while the rest of my fleet unleash a barrage on the galleon’s unprepared starboard.
Huge splinters littered the sea as cannon fire tore through the galleon’s gun deck, aft mast, and rudder. I ordered my ships around the bow of the thwarted galleon so we could begin climbing the shrouds and ratlines, weapons at the ready should the Spaniards offer any resistance – they did not. While we took stock of our new booty and restrained our captives, my fleet created a perimeter in case Spanish backup or other corsairs should hope to claim our prize.
As it turned out, the day would be ours with no further struggle. It was a decisive victory!
As their leader, I ushered in a time of unprecedented wealth and prosperity for the people of Tétouan, and I did so in large part thanks to the plundered gold, goods, and riches I looted from various Spanish and Portuguese ships.
My vengeance grew slowly from the seed that was planted as a child until it finally bloomed in the form of merciless maritime combat and ruthless ransoms I would personally negotiate thanks to my gift for language.
When I combined my nautical might with notorious Barbary Coast corsair Barbarossa of the Ottoman Empire, true domination of the Mediterranean Sea ensued. With our combined strength, not even a well-armed Spanish galleon was safe.
I first grew interested in Barbarossa when I learned of his efforts to transport Muslim refugees from Spain to North Africa. Together, we patrolled and controlled the frothy blue Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean and many of the towns and villages dotting the southern coast of Spain. Additionally, because Morocco had no formal navy, our ships became the de facto force that would protect my adopted home from those who would colonize and enslave my people, much like they had my home in Granada.
Queen of Morocco
My reputation had grown to such proportions that a Sultan of the Moroccan Wattasid dynasty, Ahmed al-Wattasi, wished for my hand in marriage. I agreed, but to show that I would remain the sovereign governor of Tétouan and not merely take my place at the side of my would-be husband, I demanded the Sultan travel from Fez to be married in my city. This was the only time in recorded history that such a wedding would take place anywhere other than the capital. I had become accustomed to getting my way – such is the life of a Pirate Queen!
Pirate Party: Women of the High Seas
Sayyida al Hurra is one of six historic women pirate captains in the competitve card game.
Race to collect sets of cards featuring vibrant, diverse, historical women pirate captains with special powers. Period ships are beautifully illustrated. Plunder, pillage and raid from other players to take the largest pirate booty. If you are lucky, a mermaid may help you. Just beware the Kraken!
Did you enjoy this sea story about a legendary women pirate captains? Which pirate captain would you like to hear about?
Pirate Party: Women of the High Seas is coming to Kickstarter soon! Follow along and get first access to the game and game news.
Marge is a game designer and owner of Seaport Games, an indie tabletop game design studio and publisher.