Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Grace O'Malley: The Pirate Queen

Queen to Queen

Grace had been left destitute and devastated by Bingham. Her life was now one of hardship and resentment. She spent years trying to recoup her losses, but was continuously thwarted by Bingham. Unable to ply her trade by sea or land, Grace's frustration increased her hatred for the man. The years passed and Grace eked out whatever income she could to take care of herself and her people.

In 1588, the Spanish Armada sailed toward England and was defeated by Sir Francis Drake. Bingham returned to Connaught. Shortly afterwards, a rebellion broke out in Ireland.

Sir Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake

Eventually, peace talks were established. Demands were made by the Burke, O'Malley and other clans for the removal of Sir Richard Bingham as governor. Demands were also made for the re-establishment and recognition of the McWilliam title. Irish chieftains presented a signed book of charges against Bingham. Bingham was acquitted and vengefully mounted attacks against the rebellious Burkes and all their supporters.

Anne Chambers relates that Grace finally had enough. She decided to go over Bingham's head to a higher authority. In 1593, Grace O'Malley began sending petitions and pleas by correspondence to Queen Elizabeth I. In her letters, Grace shrewdly assessed and presented her dire straits by saying that the situation "constrained your highness fond subject to take arms and by force to maintain herself and her people by sea and by land the space of forty years."

Grace also promised that if she could maintain her power and army, they would "during her life to invade with sword and fire all your Highness's enemies whosesoever they are or shall be without any interruption of any person or persons whatsoever."  

Elizabeth, who knew of Grace's reputation, was surprised at the fiery female pirate's command of the English language and responded with a list of eighteen questions. Grace further amazed and intrigued Elizabeth by sending back a set of astute and intelligent and answers. But corresponding did not satisfy Grace. She set sail for England to personally present her pleas to Elizabeth.

Grace O'Malley meets Queen Elizabeth I
Grace O'Malley meets Queen Elizabeth I

Grace arrived at Greenwich Castle and announced herself at court to everyone's surprise. Everyone expected the Queen to have her arrested and executed for her brashness. But, instead, Elizabeth granted Grace an audience in her private chambers. To this day, nobody knows what exactly transpired between Grace and Elizabeth behind those closed doors. Out of whatever favors were granted, one was quite obvious. Bingham was ordered to release Grace's son, Tibbot.