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Woman: in all ages and in all countries (Volume 9) online

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brutality through the hearts of the brave seamen who
manned the craft of legitimate commerce, at a time when
the trade routes of the sea were the paths of piracy, and
the sabre, the cutlass, and the newly invented gunpowder
were depended upon to establish the right of way for the
ships of the nations, there appears no more daring character
than Grainne O'Malley. Many stories of her prowess are
still current in the west of Ireland, and the political ballads of
her time make frequent allusion to the sea queen. For the
greater part of the sixteenth century she lived, an example of
that splendid virility which is yet characteristic of the hardy
Irish peasantry, when not under the shadow of famine.

She came of right by her seafaring proclivities, for from
the earliest period the O'Malleys have been celebrated as
rivalling the Vikings in their love of the sea. In the four-
teenth century a bard is found singing:

"A good man never was there
Of the O'Mailly's but a mariner;
The prophets of the \yeather are ye,
A tribe of affection and brotherly love."


Grainne O'Malley, with all her depredations upon the
sea, was no common pirate; through her veins ran the
royal blood of the line of Connaught, and, despite her
serviceability to the English as a freebooting ally upon
the western coasts of the island, she acknowledged no
higher power than her own. Her title of dignity was re-
garded as inviolable. Quite worthy of the brush of an
artist was the scene presented by the reception at court
of the wild Irish chieftainess. Disdaining land travel, she
performed the whole trip to London by water, sailing up
the Thames to the Tower Gate. The little son who was
born upon this voyage was fittingly called Theobald of
the Ship. There has come down to us no account of the
meeting of the two queens, but one may readily imagine
the scene — the blonde Elizabeth, thin, unbeautiful, her
scant features lined by petulance, but with indomitable
will shown in the turn of her mouth and the strength of
her chin, and the large-limbed, full-bodied Irish woman,
dressed in the semi-wild attire of her race and of her call-
ing, her arms, her wrists, her ankles, gleaming with cir-
clets of gold, a fillet of massive metal binding her hair, her
mantle caught up at the shoulder by an immense, ornately
wrought brooch. Courteously, but with no sign of inferior-
ity in her demeanor, her swarthy skin showing the dash
of Spanish blood in her veins, and her eyes flashing with
the light of an unconquered spirit, stood the female bucca-
neer before the woman who had rule of England. The best
tradition of the results of the interview tell us that a
treaty was effected between the two, but that the Irish
chieftainess did not yield an iota of her royal claims.

Thus was cemented a union between the English throne
and the piratical leader. It must be borne in mind, how-
ever, that piracy was not then the despicable vice that it
afterward came to be regarded. The commerce of the


enemy was always lawful spoil, and, even when there
was not actually a state of hostilities existing between
countries, preying upon one another's commerce was often
regarded as a semi-legitimate industry; and if the free-
booter kept out of reach of the enemy, he was not likely
to be seriously sought out for punishment by the authori-
ties of his own country. The exploiters of the New World,
under the title of merchant-adventurers, were for the most
part pirates; the Spanish galleons were always lawful
spoil for the English merchantman, who knew the trick of
painting out the name of his craft, giving it a garb of pirat-
ical black, using a false flag, spoiling the enemy after some
swift, hard fighting, and then resuming again his real or
assumed pacific character. In the light of her times must
Grainne O'Malley be regarded.

As a sea queen she is without parallel in any time; and
if the stain of their piracy does not attach to her English
contemporaries, Drake, Raleigh, and Gilbert, no more
should it to her. By force of a powerful individuality,
she ruled a race of men who were noted as the most law-
less of all Ireland, men among whom women as a class
were so little esteemed that they were not allowed to hold
property. An early traditional account of this woman of
the waves, which is preserved in manuscript at the Royal
Irish Academy, Dublin, describes her as follows:

'* She was a great pirate and plunderer from her youth.
It is Transcended to us by Tradition that the very Day
she was brought to bed of her first Child that a Turkish
Corsair attacked her ships, and that they were Getting
the Better of her Men, she got up, put her Quilt about
her and a string about her neck, took two Blunder Bushes
in her hands, came on deck, began damming and Capering
about, her monstrous size and odd figure surprised the
Turks, their officers gathered themselves talking of her; this


was what she wanted, stretched both her hands, fired the
two Blunder Bushes at them and Destroyed the officers/'
Many are the deeds of prowess ascribed to her, and so wide-
spread was her fame that desperate characters came from
all parts to enroll themselves under her standard. Her ser-
viceability to the English, to whose extending power she
had the good sense not to put herself in opposition, secured
to her the right to continue her depredations.

With all her daring and the romance with which tradi-
tion has surrounded her, she was not, nor does the report
of her times represent her as having been, handsome. In
fact, notwithstanding that the Anglicized form of her given
name is Grace, its real meaning is "the ugly." Her first
husband was an O'Flaherty, the terror of which name is
preserved in the litany of the Anglo-Norman, recalling the
capture of the city of Galway and the surrounding country:
*'From the ferocious O'Flaherties, — Good Lord, deliver
us." The same words, as a talisman, were inscribed over
the gate of the city. We know little of the representa-
tive of this family who became the husband of Grainne
O'Malley. Her second husband was Sir Richard Bourke,
of the Mayo division of a great Norman-Irish clan. It was
after contracting this alliance that Grainne O'Malley put
herself under the protection of the English rule in Con-
naught. Sidney, the lord-deputy, referring to his visit to
Galway in 1 576, says: '' There came to me a most famous
female sea-captain, called Granny-I-Mallye, and offered
her services to me, wheresoever I would command her,
with three galleys and two hundred fighting men, either in
Ireland or Scotland. She brought with her her husband,
for she was, as well by sea as by land, more than master's
mate with him. He was of the nether Bourkes, and now,
as I hear, MacWilliam Euter, and called by the nickname
' Richard in Iron.' This was a notorious woman in all the


coasts of Ireland. This woman did Sir Philip see and
speak with: he can more at large inform you of her."

The personal character of this female buccaneer was
never called into question; saving only her piratical pro-
clivities, she seems to have been exemplary. The cir-
cumstances of her life at the death of her first husband
forced her, a daughter of a pirate, to the seas as a ''thrade
of maintenance," as she apologetically put it to Queen
Elizabeth. She founded and endowed religious houses,
and the attitude she maintained toward the powers higher
than she was in the furtherance of the peace of her coun-
try. Yet her good deeds have not been borne in the same
remembrance as her piratical performances. With this
account of the adventurous Irish woman, we may turn to
a very different picture, taken from Scotland.

The annals of the Scottish border are replete with stories
of cruel warfare and of savage vengeance. The wars of
England with the valorous Scots present hardly more in-
stances of heroism and of brutality than do the accounts
of the feuds which arose between the clans themselves. Of
the first sort was the expedition which Bluff King Hal sent
out to punish the Scots for becoming incensed at the insolent
tone and the humiliating conditions he imposed on the nego-
tiations looking to the marriage of his young son, afterward
Edward VI., and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots.

The English conducted a series of savage forays across
the Scottish border. Their success led the leaders of the
invading army to represent to Henry that, owing to the
distracted condition of Scotland on account of the internal
disorders, the time was peculiarly auspicious for a perma-
nent conquest of a large part of the border. Under com-
mission of the English king to effect such a conquest, they
returned and renewed their attack. The tower of Broom-
house, held by an aged woman and her family, was consigned


to the flames, and she and her children perished in the
conflagration. Melrose Abbey was wantonly plundered
and ruined, and the bones of the Douglases were taken
from their tombs and scattered about. Next, the little vil-
lage of Maxton was burned. All its inhabitants had made
good their escape excepting a maiden of high courage and
deep devotion, who remained with her bed-ridden parents.
The approach of the enemy meant their destruction. The
village maid had a lover, who, on finding that she was not
with the refugees, returned to the town and forcibly car-
ried her off, although he was grievously wounded in the
act of doing so. After he had effected her rescue, the
brave savior, breathing with his expiring breath a prayer
of thankfulness that he had been permitted to yield up his
life for her who was more than life to him, died of ex-
haustion and of his wounds. The measure of iniquity
was complete, and, although many other bloody deeds
were perpetrated in this warfare, the instrument of venge-
ance was at hand; when the hour came that marked a turn
in the tide:

"Ancrum Moor
Ran red with English blood ;
Where the Douglas true and the bold Buccleuch
'Gainst keen Lord Evers stood."

When the battle was over and the English had been
driven with great slaughter from the field, the body of the
English general was found near that of a young Scottish
soldier with flowing yellow tresses, who was mangled by
many wounds. The delicacy of feature soon led to the dis-
covery that the slayer of the English leader was a woman,
and her identification as the maiden Liliard of the hamlet of
Maxton followed. So had she avenged the cruel slaughter
of her aged and helpless parents and that of the devoted
lover who had laid down his life in her behalf. In a borrowed


suit of armor and weapons she had arrayed herself under
the Red Douglas, that she might seek out him who was the
author of her calamities, to visit upon him the vengeance of
her desolation, and yield up the life she no longer valued.
Upon the bloody field her compatriots interred her who
was thereafter to be held in dear regard as one of Scot-
land's noblest daughters. Above the head of '' Liliard of
Ancrum '' was erected a gravestone with the following in-
scription to commemorate her valor:

" Fair maiden Liliard lies under this stane,
Little was her stature, but great was her fame;
Upon the English loons she laid mony thumps,
And when her legs were cutted off, she fought upon her stumps."

Ancrum Moor was fought in 1544. James V. had died
two years earlier, and the crown of Scotland had devolved
upon his infant daughter, Mary. Henry VIII. was bent on
securing the Scotch kingdom, and to that end persisted in
urging the betrothal of Prince Edward to the infant Mary,
Queen of Scots; but the Scots were equally averse to the
alliance, hence Henry continued to harass the kingdom by
armed forces. After Edward VI. succeeded his father, he
continued to sue for Mary's hand, and made use of military
force in the hope of accomplishing his object. The child-
queen's safety being in constant jeopardy, she was be-
trothed to the Dauphin of France, and in 1548 left for the
court of France. In her sixteenth year she married
Francis, making at the same time a secret treaty bestow-
ing the kingdom of Scotland on France, in case she died
without an heir. Francis II., however, died in 1560, and
Mary returned to Scotland the following year. Here, her
Roman Catholic practices soon brought her into conflict
with Knox, but for a time she managed to rule without
serious troubles. Romantic adventure, however, best

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describes the life of this lovely queen. She was beset with
suitors and pestered with intrigue for her favor. The most
popularly known story in connection with her life is that
of her relation to Rizzio, her Italian confidant. He it was
who arranged Mary's marriage to Darnley, and it was his
influence over her that finally led to his own assassination
by Darnley and his companions in Holyrood Palace in
1566. Shortly thereafter the queen gave birth to Prince
James; and from this time troubles and conspiracies con-
stantly involved the unhappy queen, until her execution
in 1586 for her association in the Babington conspiracy
against the life of Queen Elizabeth.

It was while the partisans of Queen Mary and those of
her young son James were imbruing the soil of Scotland
with one another's blood, and when all the horrors of
internecine warfare were being perpetrated, there was
lighted a flame that added a heroine to the country's list
of women who have honorably earned that title. There
appeared one day before Corgaff Castle, in Strathdon,
Captain Kerr and a party of men, sent by the deputy
lieutenant of the queen. Sir Adam Gordon of Auchindown,
to capture and to hold it. Between the houses of Gordon
and Forbes existed a deadly feud, although they were
united by marriage. The Forbeses had espoused the
cause of the king, while the Gordons were arrayed on
the side of the queen. This added to the bitterness of
their feeling, and accounts for the stubbornness which
Lady Towie displayed when called upon to surrender.
Her husband, John Forbes, the Laird of Towie, was in the
field with his three sons; the defence of the castle accord-
ingly fell upon her. When the Gordons appeared before
the castle and demanded its subjection, its noble defender
replied in such scornful terms to Captain Kerr, the leader
of the besieging force, that he swore that he would wipe


out the stigma of her insult with her blood. As it was im-
possible to carry the castle by assault without the aid of
artillery, he resorted to fire — not, however, before the
brave lady had shot her pistol at him pointblank, missing
her aim, but yet grazing the captain's knee with the bullet.

In spite of the plea of her sick stepson, she resolutely
determined to perish in the flames which were spreading
through the castle from the fire started by the enemy in a
breach of the castle wall.

This incident of the siege is described in an old ballad:

"Oh, then out spake her youngest son,
Sat on the nurse's knee :
Says — 'Mither, dear, gie o'er this house,
For the reek it smithers me.'

" ' I would gie all my gold, my bairn,
Sae would I all my fee,
For ae blast o' the Westlin' wind
To blaw the reek frae thee.' "

Next, her daughter appealed to her that she might be
sewed up in a sheet and let down the tower wall. To
this the mother assented. The maiden was thus lowered
to the ground, only to be received upon the spear of the
brutal captain:

" O then out spake her daughter dear,
She was baith jimp and small :
'Oh, row me in a pair of sheets.
And tow me o'er the wall.'

"Oh, bonnie, bonnie was her mouth.
And cherry was her cheeks ;
And clear, clear was her yellow hair.
Whereon the red bluid dreeps.

"Then with his spear he turned her o'er;
Oh, gin her face was wan !
He said—' You are the first that e'er
I wish'd alive again.' "


Of the thirty-seven persons in the castle, Lady Towie,
her stepson, her three young children, and her retainers,
none escaped the holocaust; the roof of the keep fell in
and carried them down into the flames. So perished one
of the bravest and most spirited women of her times. The
retribution which, in the later circumstances of the feud,
was wrought upon those responsible for this massacre
does not concern us here. The heroism of Lady Towie^s
defence of Corgaff Castle has furnished a theme for other
poets than the obscure bard whom we have quoted; the
bravery to the point of rashness which she displayed
endears her to the heart of the Scotchman who glories in
the deeds of courage of his race.

One of the sweetest stories of devotion to be found in
the history of Scotland's women is that which centres
about the knightly house of Cromlix and Ardoch. Sir
James Chisholm was born in the early part of the six-
teenth century, and, as a youth, was sent to France for
the completion of his education. Before his departure he
had exchanged with fair Helen Stirling, of the house of
Ardoch, vows of undying affection. This young lady,
because of her beauty, had achieved wide local celebrity,
and throughout the countryside she was called ''Fair
Helen of Ardoch.'' The two young people had been
brought up in each other's society, and, as they grew in
years, began to feel for each other that tenderness of senti-
ment which, while they were yet in their teens, led to
mutual avowals of love. Their parents were not averse
to the match, after the young people should have arrived
at a more suitable age for marriage. The course of their
love ran smoothly, until the separation came by Sir James
going abroad. As their relatives were not favorable to a
correspondence between the young people, the good offices
of a friend were invoked. He received the letters of both


parties, and saw that they were sent to their respective
destinations. The correspondence went happily on; his
letters were full of pleasing gossip about the belles and
beauties of France, of society and manners, everything,
indeed, that a young lover of reflective and poetic tem-
perament would be likely to pen to the lady of his heart
from whom he was separated by a distance which could
be made communicable only by correspondence.

Almost a year had sped away when the letters received
by Helen became less frequent and then stopped. She
wrote again and again, but in vain; she received no re-
plies. The agent of the young people then professed to
write himself to her recreant lover, and informed her that
he had discovered that the attachment of the young man
for her had waned and that he was to marry a French
beauty. His condolence was apparently so sincere and
delicately phrased that when he proffered her his love
there was in her breast some degree of kindly sentiment
toward him, which, while of a very different nature from
her feeling for the one who had discarded her, was yet such
as to lead her to assent finally to his suit; not, however,
before many considerations had been skilfully brought to
bear upon her, not the least of which were the desires of
her kindred.

The wedding day was set, and before the assembled
guests, forming a brilliant gathering, the bride appeared in
rich adornings, but pale, her bosom heaving with sobs.
The ceremony was performed. Then occurred a dramatic
scene; some whisper seemed to reach the bride's ear; to
the amazement of the guests, she turned upon her husband
and denounced him as the blackest of traitors. She de-
clared that her own letters and those of her lover had been
kept back, and that she knew that her lover had landed in
Scotland and would vindicate his honor. She vowed in the


presence of Heaven that she would never acknowledge as
her husband the man she had just wedded, nor would she
ever leave for him her father's roof. Amid shouts of
derision, the false bridegroom hastily left the house. The
young lover had indeed landed in the country, and was
hastening to his beloved that he might prove to her that
he had been grossly slandered and she grievously deceived.
The knowledge of the situation did not reach him in time
to forestall the plans of his rival, and not until his arrival
home did he find out the full facts of the case and have his
mind entirely relieved of the thought of his love's perfidy.
Legal measures were speedily taken for the dissolution of
the hateful bonds, and the young lady was united to the one
to whom, notwithstanding her acquiescence in the wishes
of others, her heart had been true.

The maid of Ardoch's story has been variously told.
The most familiar form of it is that found in Robert Burns's
Observations on Scottish Songs. The romance has taken
strong hold upon the hearts of the Scotch race, through
a simple melody which has held the interest of the people
for nearly three centuries. This ballad was written by
the young lover himself on board the ship that was bear-
ing him back to Scotland. The first verse is as follows:

•' Since all thy vows, false maid,

Are blown to air.
And my poor heart betrayed

To sad despair.
Into some wilderness,
My grief I will express.
And thy hard-heartedness,

O cruel fair!"

As fearless as the Scotch heroine Lady Towie in the
defence of her castle was the Irish heroine Lettice, Baroness
of Ophaly, in the famous defence of the castle of Geashill


in Queen's County. The one lived in the sixteenth, the
other belonged to the seventeenth century. The Baroness
Ophaly was of the famous house of Geraldine, heir in
general to the house of Kildare, and inherited the barony
of Geashill. She married Sir Robert Digby, and after his
death returned to Ireland. She was a model mistress to
her household and her tenantry. Although a woman of
brilliant attainments, she was yet content to live in a quiet
way, performing the congenial duties of administrator
of the affairs of her household, and being held in affec-
tionate regard by all those dependent upon her. In 1641,
however, the quiet current of her daily life was broken in
its flow; civil war devastated the land. The rebels thought
to find in the defenceless situation of the widowed lady, with
her brood of young children, an opportunity for plunder
and ravage with little prospect of serious resistance. A
motley throng appeared before the castle and demanded
possession. They then presented to her a written order as
follows: ''We, his Majesty's loyal subjects, at the present
employed in his Highness's service, for the sacking of
your castle; you are therefore to deliver unto us the free
possession of your said castle, promising faithfully that your
ladyship, together with the rest within your said castle
resiant, shall have reasonable composition; otherwise, upon
the non-yielding of the castle, we do assure you that we
shall burn the whole town, kill all the Protestants, and
spare neither woman nor child, upon taking the castle
by compulsion. Consider, madam, of this our offer; im-
pute not the blame of your folly unto us. Think not
that here we brag. Your ladyship, upon submission,
shall have safe convoy to secure you from the hands
of your enemies, and to lead you whither you please.
A speedy reply is desired with all expedition, and then
we surcease."


To this demand she sent a reply temperate and dignified,
but unyielding. It was as follows:

"I received your letter wherein you threaten to sack
this my castle by his Majesty's authority. I have ever
been a loyal subject and a good neighbor among you, and
therefore cannot but wonder at such an assault. I thank
you for your offer of a convoy, wherein I hold little safety;
and therefore my resolution is that, being free from offend-
ing his Majesty, or doing wrong to any of you, I will live
and die innocently. I will do the best to defend my own,
leaving the issue to God; and though I have been, I am
still desirous to avoid shedding blood, yet, being provoked,
your threats shall no way dismay me.'*

The rebels took no notice of her answer, but kept up
the siege. After two months. Lord Viscount Clanmalier
brought to bear against the castle a piece of ordnance.
Before using this formidable instrument, which was cast
by a local ironworker out of pots and pans contributed for
the purpose, Clanmalier, who was her kinsman, sent her
a letter repeating the demand for the surrender of the

Online LibraryPierce ButlerWoman: in all ages and in all countries (Volume 9) → online text (page 29 of 30)