Famous Female Pirates and Their Flags: Uncovering the Stories and Symbols of History’s Most Notorious Women

History is filled with fascinating stories about powerful and cunning pirates, most of whom were men, but what about the women who took to the high seas? Female pirates may not have been as common, but they were just as fierce and formidable. In this article, we’ll explore the history of famous female pirates and uncover the symbolism and meaning behind their flags. We’ll take a deep dive into the lives of legendary pirates like Anne Bonny, Ching Shih, and Grace O’Malley, analyzing their flags and the stories behind them. Along the way, we’ll discover why female pirates used flags and what those flags looked like, giving us a better understanding of the incredible women who defied the norms of their time and carved out a place in history as some of the world’s most notorious pirates.

Who were the Female Pirates of History?

Female pirates were women who engaged in piracy on the open seas throughout history. Although female pirates were not as common as their male counterparts, they were just as ruthless and feared. Some of the most famous female pirates include Anne Bonny, Mary Read, Ching Shih, Grace O’Malley, Jacquotte Delahaye, and Charlotte de Berry. The lives and exploits of these notorious women are as fascinating as they are legendary. Female pirates were known to use flags as a symbol of their power and to intimidate their enemies. These flags were just as unique and varied as the pirates themselves and were often adorned with skulls, crossbones, and other sinister symbols. The story and symbolism behind female pirate flags are an intriguing part of pirate history and can be explored in conjunction with numerous other pirate flags and their meanings.

Why Did Female Pirates Use Flags?

Female pirates used flags as a way to communicate their identity and intentions to other ships at sea. Historically, pirates were seen as outlaws and threats to be avoided or destroyed. However, displaying a recognizable flag could work in their favor by warning potential victims to surrender without a fight, or signaling to other pirate ships that they were friendly and should not be attacked.

The use of flags among pirates was not uncommon, but it was the Jolly Roger that became the most recognizable symbol of piracy. The Jolly Roger flag typically featured a skull and crossbones design, although other variations existed. Female pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Read often flew the Jolly Rodger, and added their own personal touches such as a heart or dagger to customize the flag.

Using a flag not only signaled to other ships their intentions, but it could also intimidate potential victims. The design and colors of the flag were chosen to inspire fear and strike terror in their enemies. For example, the black color on the Jolly Roger represented death and darkness, while the red symbolized bloodshed and violence.

Aside from the practical purposes of identifying themselves and intimidating others, using flags allowed pirates to express themselves and their beliefs. Some flags included religious imagery or political statements. For example, Calico Jack Rackham’s flag featured a skull with crossed swords, but the skull wore a bandana and was depicted with an earring, which made it seem more relatable and less frightening.

The use of flags by female pirates helped to establish their identity and intentions while at sea. It was a useful tool that not only communicated their standing as pirates but also acted as a warning sign for others. Female pirates, like their male counterparts, used flags to their advantage, both practically and even psychologically.

What Did Female Pirate Flags Look Like?

Female pirate flags were just as varied and unique as their male counterparts. However, since there were fewer female pirates overall, there are fewer surviving examples of their flags. Anne Bonny and Mary Read, two famous female pirates who sailed together, reportedly had their own flags. Anne Bonny’s flag depicted a woman holding aloft a sword, and Mary Read’s displayed the image of a skull with crossed swords.

Ching Shih, the notorious pirate who commanded hundreds of ships in the South China Sea, had a red flag with a white skull and crossbones, similar to the most common pirate flag design. However, her flag also featured two large red characters in the top left corner, which read “qián fēng,” meaning “money wind.” This symbolized her desire for wealth and prosperity, as well as her commitment to protecting her crew’s earnings.

Grace O’Malley, the Irish pirate queen, flew a green flag with a golden harp emblem in the centre, representing her Celtic roots and prowess as a musician. She also flew a banner with a red fox, symbolizing her cunning and strategic thinking.

Jacquotte Delahaye, a lesser-known but nonetheless formidable female pirate, is said to have flown a flag featuring a skull with an hourglass between two crossed sabres, indicating that time was running out for her enemies.

Charlotte de Berry, who dressed as a man to become a sailor and pirate, supposedly flew a flag with a skull and crossbones, surrounded by a wreath of roses. This combination of a fearsome warning and a romantic gesture symbolized her defiance of gender norms and her desire for adventure.

Female pirate flags were just as diverse and creative as male pirate flags, with each flag representing the unique personality and goals of the pirate who flew it. For more information about pirate flags in general, check out this guide to pirate flags and their meanings.

Famous Female Pirates and Their Flags

Famous Female Pirates And Their Flags
Anne Bonny and Mary Read were two of the most well-known female pirates in history, both hailing from the 18th century. Anne Bonny was known for her fierce temper and fighting skills, while Mary Read disguised herself as a man to participate in piracy. Their flag featured two women with swords, symbolizing their strength and willingness to fight. Another famous female pirate was Ching Shih, who commanded a fleet of over 300 ships and was one of the most successful pirates of all time. Her flag featured a golden lion, symbolizing her power and authority. Grace O’Malley was another notable female pirate from Ireland, known for her bravery and rebellion against English rule. Her flag featured a skull and crossbones with a sword, symbolizing her willingness to fight against her enemies. Jacquotte Delahaye was a French pirate known for her cunning and intelligence, and her flag featured a black skeleton holding an hourglass, symbolizing the inevitability of death. Finally, Charlotte de Berry was a legendary pirate who may or may not have actually existed, but is still celebrated for her supposed feats of piracy and her flag featuring a skull and crossbones with a heart, symbolizing her passion for the life of a pirate.

Anne Bonny and Mary Read

Anne Bonny and Mary Read are often cited as two of the most famous female pirates in history. Anne Bonny was born in Ireland and moved to the Caribbean with her family. She was known for her fiery temper and love of adventure. In the 1710s, she met and fell in love with Calico Jack Rackham, who was already married. She became a member of his crew, dressing as a man to avoid detection. Mary Read, on the other hand, was born in England and disguised herself as a man to join the army. She later found work as a pirate, also dressing as a man to hide her true identity.

Anne and Mary became close friends on the pirate ship and were feared by many. They were notorious for their fighting skills and ruthless tactics. In fact, when Calico Jack was captured, it was reported that Anne told him, “Had you fought like a man, you need not have hanged like a dog.”

Anne and Mary’s flag was a representation of their shared identity as female pirates. Their flag, which featured a skull with a red bandana and crossed swords, was a symbol of their tough exterior and willingness to fight to the death. The red bandana was a nod to the typical headwear worn by pirates, while the crossed swords implied a willingness to engage in battle.

Anne Bonny and Mary Read were important figures in pirate history for their fierce and unrelenting attitudes. Their flag, with its striking imagery, represents their bravery and determination to live as they pleased despite societal norms. To learn more about other notorious pirate captains and their flags, check out this article on the subject.

Ching Shih

Ching Shih was one of the most renowned pirate queens in history. She was a former prostitute who married Chinese pirate Zheng Yi and together they terrorized the South China Sea in the early 19th century. After her husband’s death, Ching Shih took control of the fleet and expanded it, commanding over 1,800 vessels and 80,000 pirates.

Ching Shih was known for her strict code of conduct which included no stealing from the poor or harming women. She enforced harsh punishments for those who disobeyed her orders, such as beheading or flogging. Her military tactics were also impressive – she divided her fleet into divisions and appointed trusted subordinates as leaders.

While it is not certain what Ching Shih’s flag looked like, it is believed to have represented her power and authority. Some reports suggest that her flag may have featured a red and black color scheme with a skull and crossbones emblem. Others believe that her flag may have been a depiction of a traditional Chinese female warrior, known as a “mu guiying.”

Ching Shih’s success as a pirate queen was not only due to her military prowess, but also her ability to negotiate with government officials. In 1810, she accepted an amnesty offer from the Chinese government and retired with her wealth. She lived a long life and was able to enjoy her riches until her death at the age of 69.

The story of Ching Shih and her flag represent the power and influence of female pirates, who were able to break gender norms and rise to the top of a male-dominated industry. Her legacy and impact on piracy continue to inspire and fascinate people today.

Grace O’Malley

Grace O’Malley, also known as Gráinne Mhaol, was a famous Irish pirate in the late 16th century. She was born to a wealthy family and inherited her father’s fleet of ships and considerable influence in the clan. Driven by a thirst for adventure, she became a pirate queen and challenged the English rule in Ireland.

O’Malley was known for her strategic thinking and fierce nature. She commanded a fleet of ships, and her followers were famously loyal to her. She would often lead her men in battles personally, dressed in men’s clothing to disguise herself. She also had a close relationship with Queen Elizabeth I, whom she met to negotiate the release of her sons and to discuss politics.

Her flag was a symbol of her pride in her Irish heritage and her defiance of English rule. It featured a yellow field with a black eagle in the center and a red lion rampant in the upper left corner. The eagle represented her family’s coat of arms, while the lion was a symbol of her allegiance to the Tudor monarchy. The flag also featured a phrase in Latin, “Creidimh, Gráinne, Agus Tiúin,” which translates to “Faith, Gráinne, and Silence.”

O’Malley’s flag symbolizes her bravery and loyalty to her country and family. It was a signal to her crew and to her enemies that she was a force to be reckoned with. Today, her legacy lives on in Ireland, where she is still celebrated as a national hero.

Internal link: Pirate code flag meaning

Jacquotte Delahaye

, also known as Back from the Dead Red, was a French pirate active in the Caribbean during the early 18th century. She was known for her fierce and merciless reputation, and she commanded a crew of both men and women.

Delahaye’s flag featured a skull with crossed cutlasses, and it was rumored to have been designed by a female artist. It is believed that her flag represented her willingness to fight to the death and her determination to protect her crew at all costs.

Despite her fearsome reputation, Delahaye’s fate remains a mystery. While some sources claim that she was captured and killed by the British navy, others suggest that she faked her own death and continued her life of piracy under a new identity.

Some interesting facts about Jacquotte Delahaye’s life:

  • Delahaye was reportedly once a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue, and she later joined forces with another pirate, Laurens de Graaf.
  • She was known for dressing in men’s clothing and disguising herself as a man in order to avoid detection.
  • Delahaye is sometimes referred to as the “Lady Pirate of the Caribbean” and is often cited as one of the few documented female pirates in history.
  • Her reputation has inspired modern-day artists and authors to create fictional accounts of her life, including in the popular video game, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

While her legacy may be shrouded in mystery, Jacquotte Delahaye’s story continues to inspire and captivate people around the world. Her flag, like so many others flown by female pirates, serves as a powerful symbol of courage, strength, and defiance in the face of oppression and inequality.

Check out our article on the flags of other famous pirate ships!

Charlotte de Berry

was a legendary English pirate who operated in the early 18th century. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she did not come from a seafaring background. Instead, she became a pirate after being kidnapped by a crew of French buccaneers who had attacked her husband’s ship.

After being forced into piracy, Charlotte de Berry quickly made a name for herself as a skilled and ruthless pirate. She was said to have personally killed several of her enemies, including a French captain who had dared to underestimate her.

Unfortunately, very little is known about the flag that Charlotte de Berry used to signify her presence on the high seas. It is believed to have featured a skull and crossbones, like many other pirate flags of the time, but beyond that, there is little information available.

Despite the lack of details, Charlotte de Berry remains an iconic figure in pirate lore. Her daring exploits and fearless attitude have inspired countless tales and legends throughout the years. Even today, her story continues to captivate audiences around the world.

Captain Kidd’s flag is one of the most famous flags in pirate history. It featured a skeleton holding a spear in one hand and an hourglass in the other, along with the words “A Call to Arms” written underneath. Although there is no direct connection between Captain Kidd and Charlotte de Berry, it is possible that they would have flown similar flags, given their reputations for being fierce and relentless pirates.

Symbolism and Meaning Behind Female Pirate Flags

Symbols and meanings were crucial to the success of female pirates. By hoisting their flags, female pirates were able to convey specific messages to their enemies and supporters. Female pirate flags often portrayed bold symbols such as swords, hearts, skulls, and crossbones. These symbols were used to intimidate enemies and were also seen as a symbol of unity among pirates.

Anne Bonny and Mary Read’s flag, for example, featured a skull with crossed swords, which symbolized the deadly nature of the two women. Ching Shih’s flag, on the other hand, featured a red background with a golden dragon, which was believed to bring good luck. Grace O’Malley’s flag featured a harp, which symbolized her Irish heritage, as well as her strength as a leader.

Jacquotte Delahaye’s flag featured a skeletal figure holding an hourglass, which symbolized the inevitability of death and the fleeting nature of time. Similarly, Charlotte de Berry’s flag featured a skull with an hourglass, which conveyed the same message.

Flags also often depicted specific animals, such as the Jolly Roger flag, which has become synonymous with piracy, featuring a skull and crossbones atop two long bones. Other flags, such as that of Henry Every pirate, depicted a black pirate ship with red sails, which symbolized the success and power of the pirates.

In addition to these symbols, female pirate flags often included phrases or mottos that conveyed messages of unity and defiance. For example, Blackbeard’s flag read “Death or Glory,” while Calico Jack’s flag famously depicted two women, believed to represent his female crew members, and read “Calico Jack Rackham, and his crew”.

Female pirate flags were an integral part of pirate life, conveying messages of unity, strength, and defiance to both allies and enemies. Each flag was unique, featuring specific symbols and mottos that were tailored to the needs of the individual pirate crew. To learn more about the history of pirate flags, read our article on the Flag of Calico Jack, the Story Behind Blackbeard’s Flag, and the Flag of Henry Every Pirate.


To conclude, the stories and symbols of female pirates and their flags are a fascinating part of history that deserves more attention. From Anne Bonny and Mary Read to Ching Shih and Grace O’Malley, these women defied gender expectations and norms to become notorious pirates on the high seas. Their flags, with their intricate designs and symbolism, represented their identities and message to other ships.

Additionally, the use of female pirate flags subverted the stereotypical image of pirates being male and created a sense of fear and respect among their enemies. It also showed that women were just as capable as men in leading and commanding a crew.

The symbols on female pirate flags often represented strength, power, and rebellion. The skull and crossbones were frequently used, but with added elements such as hearts, swords, or hourglasses. These symbols embody the message that these female pirates were not to be underestimated or messed with.

Overall, the legacy of female pirates and their flags is a testament to the power of defiance and the ability to challenge societal norms. Their stories remind us that history is not always what it seems, and that there are often untold stories and perspectives waiting to be uncovered. Let us continue to honor and celebrate the fearless women who dared to sail the high seas and make their mark on history.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Made Female Pirates Stand Out From Their Male Counterparts?

Female pirates were rare during the Golden Age of Piracy, making up only a small percentage of all pirates. They also faced more challenges and scrutiny from society due to their gender.

Did Female Pirates Often Dress As Men?

It was common for female pirates to dress in men’s clothing to avoid detection and blend in with the male crew members.

How Did Female Pirates Choose Their Flags?

Female pirates often chose their flags based on personal symbols or attributes that they felt represented them, such as animals or elements of nature.

What Was the Role of Flags in Pirate Culture?

Pirate flags were a key aspect of pirate culture as they served as a warning to other ships and displayed the pirates’ identity and values.

What Is the Story Behind Anne Bonny and Mary Read?

Anne Bonny and Mary Read were notorious female pirates who fought alongside male pirates in the Caribbean. They were eventually captured and faced execution but were able to avoid the gallows by claiming to be pregnant.

Who Was Ching Shih and What Made Her So Powerful?

Ching Shih was a Chinese pirate queen who commanded over 300 ships and 20,000 pirates. She was known for her strategic leadership and strict code of conduct.

What Did Grace O’Malley Achieve as a Pirate?

Grace O’Malley, also known as Gráinne Mhaol, was an Irish pirate queen who controlled the seas off the west coast of Ireland. She was able to negotiate with Queen Elizabeth I and gain a pardon, as well as continuing to control a large fleet of pirate ships.

How Did Jacquotte Delahaye Gain Her Reputation?

Jacquotte Delahaye was a French pirate who was known for her fierce swordsmanship and leadership skills. She was able to command a large crew and became a respected figure among her peers.

Who Was Charlotte de Berry and What Was Her Role in Pirate History?

Charlotte de Berry was an English pirate who disguised herself as a man and joined a pirate crew. She eventually became the captain of her own ship and was known for her daring raids and exploits.

What Do the Symbols on Female Pirate Flags Represent?

The symbols on female pirate flags often represented the pirate’s personal values or characteristics, such as strength, courage, or freedom. Some symbols, such as the skull and crossbones, were also used as warnings to other ships.


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