The Pirate Queen of Morocco

The Pirate Queen of Morocco

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.”

Pirate Captain

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.

Strategic Alliance

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!


box for pirate party women of the high seas card game. 2-4 players ages 10+
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 Rosen

Marge Rosen

Game Designer

Marge is a game designer and owner of  Seaport Games, an indie tabletop game design studio and publisher.

Pirate Party: Women of the High Seas

Pirate Party: Women of the High Seas

When I first started designing a card game, a pirate theme seemed like so much fun!

Pirate Party card game has been through numerous playtests and revisions but has always featured a historical pirate captain for each suit in the deck. As I started reading up on the history of pirates of the Caribbean and Barbary Coast corsairs, I discovered some of the most powerful and successful real-life pirates were women!

Anne Bonny woman pirate of the caribbean pirate party women of the high seas a card game from Seaport games

Anne Bonny

As I dug a little deeper, I discovered several books, articles and fan fiction about historical women pirates and this really intrigued me. I imagined there were probably a few women pirates, such as Anne Bonny, who dressed and acted like men to sneak by.  Just like there were women soldiers who disguised their gender and fought in wars.

Ching Shih powerful female pirate captain pirate party women of the high seas a card games from Seaport games

Powerful Pirate Captains

There are accounts of very powerful and successful female pirate captains who did not hide their gender throughout history. Famous woman pirate captains, such as Ching Shih, ruled the seas.

Sayyida al Hurra pirate queen of Morocco pirate party women of the high seas a card game by Seaport Games


Historical accounts vary and some facts may have inaccuracies, but there were female pirate captains spanning different eras, coming from regions around the world, representing many races, religions, and socio-economic levels.

Sayyida al Hurra was a Queen of Morocco and also a pirate captain. She raided Spanish and Portuguese ships to fight against the colonialism of North Africa and the forced religious conversions of Muslims.

What circumstances would cause a woman to choose the life of a pirate? Considering that many civilizations did not allow women to have any power, independence, or inherit wealth, how did famous female pirates become leaders of fleets of ships and command hundreds and even thousands of men? What were the political or economic motivators?

box for pirate party women of the high seas card game. 2-4 players ages 10+

Pirate Party: Women of the High Seas

I quickly realized these courageous women need to have their stories uncovered and uplifted!

The Pirate Party card game now features six historic women pirate captains – one for each suit.

Pirate Party: Women of the High Seas from Seaport Games is coming soon to Kickstarter.

I’ll be posting sea stories about these these legendary women pirate captains in the future. Which pirate captain would you like to hear about?  

Pirate Party: Women of the High Seas is coming soon!  Follow along and get first access to the game and game news.


Marge Rosen

Marge Rosen

Game Designer

Marge is a game designer and owner of  Seaport Games, an indie tabletop game design studio and publisher.

Women Pirates

Women Pirates

Were there any famous female pirates? 

Happy International Women’s Day!  Let’s celebrate these famous female pirates. 

Women pirates, female pirates, Anne Bonney, pirate party, card game

Anne Bonny

Anne Bonny (1697-1733). Engraving from General History of the Pyrates (1st Dutch Edition 1725) by Captain Charles Johnson 

Anne Bonny was one of the most famous female pirates of all time.

Bonny was an Irishwoman that dressed like a boy from childhood.   She married then moved to Nassau in the Bahamas, a safe haven for pirates of the Caribbean.  

She had an affair with another pirate captain, John “Calico Jack” Rackham, escaped with him and became his lover and partner. Anne disguised herself as a man aboard ship, but was happily surprised to meet another woman pirate aboard Calico Jack’s sloop named Mary Read.

In popular culture, Bonny is featured in the video game, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag


Mary Read, Mary Reed, Mark Read, famous female pirate, pirate party card game, women pirates

Mary Read

Mary Reed (1685-1721), also known as Mark Read, was an English pirate.  Read lived most of their life as a man, favoring men’s clothing from an early age.  Read acted and lived as a man and even served in the British army. Read worked as a “powder monkey” carrying gunpowder to the cannons on a British ship.  It is reported that she fell in love with another soldier, revealed her gender, and the two married.  After her husband’s untimely death, Mary Read returned to living as a man.  

In 1715 Read sailed to the West Indies, but the ship was raided by Buccaneers and she joined them, either by choice or by force.  Read developed a reputation for ruthless violence and foul language.  

In 1720, Reed met Calico Jack and joined his crew.  Shortly after, Mary Read was captured along with Calico Jack and Anne Bonny.  All three were sentenced to hanging, but Anne and Mary had their executions stayed because both were pregnant.


Ching Shih, Cheng I Sao, Chinese pirate, famous female pirate, pirate party card game

Ching Shih

Ching Shih (1775-1844), born Shih Yang, also known as Cheng I Sao, was a Chinese pirate captain.  

She was a prostitute or madame who worked in a floating brothel.  Cheng developed  skills of manipulation, deception and survival which she leveraged to become one of the most successful, feared, and influential pirates in history.  

In 1801 she married Cheng Yi, a successful pirate captain.  This was one of many strategic partnerships that launched her great pirate career, leading to success and prosperity. She commanded a fleet of hundreds of ships know as junks that raided the fishing vessels, merchant ships, and coastal villages of Southern China.

After her husband died and she secured the fleet’s leadership position, Ching Shih started uniting the fleet of 50,00 men by issuing a code of laws. Some sailors were allowed to bring their wives and children to live aboard ship.

Ching Shih inspired the character Mistress Ching, played by actress Takayo Fischer, in the 2007 film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.