Celebrating the life of the Greek patriot Laskarina Bouboulina

by zteve

A short biography celebrating the life and achievements of Laskarina Bouboulina, a great Greek heroine, patriot and a commander of the 1821-1830 Greek War of Independence.

Laskarina Bouboulina (11 May 1771 – 22 May 1825) was one of the most famous female freedom fighters in the history of Greece. She lived in a male dominated era that actively and openly suppressed female expression and personal development. In Greece, as well as the rest of Europe, society was male dominated and a woman's place was very much defined by men.

Laskarina Bouboulina broke the mould of convention and became one of the great leaders of men of her day contributing greatly to the success of the War of Independence. She could hardly be defined as a feminist in today's terms and her driving force was probably pure patriotism rather than feminism. She is remembered today as a great Greek patriot who was a successful business woman who still managed to raise a large family on her own.

Bouboulina by Poucqueville 1850.jpg
Bouboulina by Poucqueville 1850.jpg

The female contribution to the Greek War of Independence

During the 1821-1830 Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire Greek women fulfilled many crucial roles playing an active and significant part in its success.  As well as their traditional roles as wives, mothers and sisters of the fighting men they also supported the Hellenic effort by transporting goods and ammunition, helping care for the wounded and many other important support roles.  There was even a significant number took up arms as warriors themselves and contributed directly to the fighting on the battlefield. 

 

Laskarina Bouboulina contributed to the war right from the start, supply the Greek freedom fighters with ships, arms and ammunition and paying towards the upkeep of a small army from her home island of Spetses. 

Born in a prison

She was born in a prison in Constantinople on May 11th, 1771, while her mother, Skevo, was visiting her dying father; Stavrianos Pinotsis.  He had been imprisoned by the Ottomans for his part in the Peloponnesian revolution of 1769-70.  Her father had been a sea captain from the island of Hydra who had fought the Ottoman rule in the unsuccessful, Russian supported,  Orlof Revolution of 1769–1770.   He died in prison soon after the birth of Laskarina.

 

Despite the loss of the father she had never known Laskarina was to become part of a large family comprising of eight other children.  Her mother returned to live on Hydra with her baby daughter and after four years married the Spetsiot Captain Dimitrios Lazarou-Orlof and the family settled on island of Spetses.

 

Laskarina must have inherited something from her parents.  She was as strong willed as her mother and as patriotic to the Hellenic cause as her father. Growing up on the island she developed a love of the sea and stories and tales associated with it. 

 

Engraving of Laskarina Bouboulina, heroine of the Greek War of Independence
Engraving of Laskarina Bouboulina, he...

Marriage

At the age of 17, she married Dimitris Yannouzas, a Spetsiot sea captain.  He was later killed in a sea fight with Barbary pirates. She married again, at the age of 30, to Dimitris Bouboulis from which her last name is derived. He was also a sea captain and ship owner who had fought, using his own ships, in alliance with the Russian fleet against the Ottomans in the Turko-Russian wars.  He was highly regarded by the Russians who had decorated him for his services, making him an honorary citizen of Russia and giving him the title of Captain in the Russian Navy.  The Russians wanted to weaken the Ottoman Empire which they saw as a threat to their own which is why they supported the Hellenic cause.

 

Sadly, Dimitris Bouboulis was to die heroically, killed by a shot in the head in fight with two Barbary pirate ships that attacked his trading vessel.  Both pirate ships were sunk. 

Business woman or pirate queen?

After the death of her second husband Laskarina now found herself in the unusual position of being the head person in a trade and shipping business dominated by men.  She had a good head for business and was an intelligent and assertive leader and her shipping trade and from 1811 the business flourished greatly increasing in its trade and value.

 

In  some quarters she earned the reputation of a pirate queen and although much of the trade she undertook was legitimate, there was probably some that was not, certainly as far as the Ottomans were concerned.   It is also important to remember that she had lost two husbands to pirates and piracy was rife during her day.  It was often necessary to fight to the death to protect legitimate trading vessels, their cargo and crew from pirates.  She built four ships, one of which was the Agamemnon, a warship, paid for from her own fortune.

Raising the flag of the revolution

The Ottomans

 

Unfortunately the Ottomans had not forgotten, or forgiven her second husband for siding with the Russians and in 1816 attempted to seize Bouboulina’s property.  Sailing to Constantinople she met with the Russian Ambassador Strogonoff in a bid to win Russian protection for the help her husband had given them.  Strogonoff agreed and gave her a safe haven in the Crimea.

 

During that time it is said she met with Valide-Sultana, mother of the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud ll and persuaded her to request her son not seize her property.  Whatever the truth, Bouboulina returned to Spetses three months later with her fortune still intact, yet with a burning sense of patriotism.

 

The Filiki Etaireia

 

She was believed to be a member of the Filiki Etaireia, a secret underground organisation dedicated to freeing the Hellenic people from Turkish rule. She may have been one of the few or only female participants in a male dominated organisation.

 

Building a navy

 

She financed the buying of weapons and ammunition which she transported in her ships to be hidden on Spetses waiting for the revolution against the Turks.  In 1820 she also finished the building of her own warship, the Agamemnon, which was one of the largest warships in the rebel force.  With corruption rife among Turkish marine officials she had managed to bribe them into ignoring the size of the ship.

 

As well as financing the building, manning and running of ships for the Hellenic cause Bouboulina also recruited and financed her own private army of Spetsiots for the impending war.  She now had a powerful naval force and a small but dedicated army at her command that she was not afraid to use.

 

Raising the flag against the Ottomans

 

Under her command, her flagship Agamemnon raised a Greek flag on 13th March 1821, giving a cannon fire salute.  The flag design showed and eagle with and anchor at one of its claws, representing the navy, while at the other was a phoenix rising from flames, symbolic of the rebirth of the Greek nation.  This was a similar design to that used by the Emperor Comnenos of Byzantine.  

Bouboulina_attacking_Nafplion_19th_c_painting.jpg ‎
Bouboulina_attacking_Nafplion_19th_c_...

The War of Independence

Bouboulina as a war leader

 

A few weeks later on 3rd April the people of Spetses had joined the revolution against the Ottoman Turks.   Their ships joined up with ships from other islands and the combined fleet over 300 vessels strong set sail for Nafplion to impose a naval blockade of the city.   On land Bouboulina commanded her own force against the fort which fell on 13th November 1822.

 

Her forces were also involved with the naval blockade and liberation of Monemvasia and Pylos.  It is said that on September 11th 1821 after the fall of Tripolis to the rebel cause she managed to rescue many of the female members of the household of the Turkish pasha.  

 

As females of the defeated they would have been subject to rape, humiliation and death by the victors.  Perhaps this act was in remembrance of the help the mother of Mahmud ll had given her.  However, to many of her own people, especially women who had suffered savagely at the hands of the Ottomans, this was an unpopular act.

 

In Tripolis she met and became friends with Theodoros Kolokotronis, the revolutionary general.  She was accepted as an equal with the other generals of the revolution and was involved in strategic planning.  Later her daughter Eleni would marry Pano, the son of Kolokotronis.

 

Her son dies a hero

 

Bouboulina took three of her sons with her to fight for Independence.   The youngest was 12 years old.  The eldest, Yiannis Yiannouzas lost his life in the battle for Argos in May 1821, fighting against a greater force of Ottomans led by Veli-Bey, a man with a cruel reputation.

 

Yiannouzas was the leader of a small band of Spetziots who fought alongside the mainland revolutionary force.   It is said that Yiannouzas broke through the personal guard of Veli-Bey, delivering him a mortal wound with his sword, but was shot dead before he could kill his foe himself.

painting
painting
Russian engraving of Laskarina Bouboulina, heroine of the Greek War of Independence
Russian engraving of Laskarina Boubou...

Her legacy - courage, passion and patriotism

After the war

 

With the war finally won the political fighting began as different factions of the Independence leadership struggled for power. Despite her personal and financial support she became a victim of political infighting after the war and was arrested and sent back to Spetses.

 

Death of Bouboulina

 

Tragically she was shot dead when one of her sons eloped with a Spetses girl he had fallen in love with.  It is not known who fired the bullet but it is thought to have been by one of the enraged family members of the girl.  It seems that the girl’s family thought Bouboulina was at least partly responsible.

 

Her legacy

 

The Russians, who had supported the War of Independence, posthumously, awarded Bouboulina the rank of Admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy.  Many streets in Greece are also named in her honour and on Spetses the BouboulinaMuseum celebrates her memory.  As a tribute her image was placed on the 1988-2001 one drachma coin.

 

Without her ships the fight against the Turks may not have succeeded and she spent most of her fortune maintaining them and a small army dedicated to the Hellenic cause.  The courage and personal sacrifice of Bouboulina, along with her passion and patriotism and her effective contribution to the success of the war, marks her as one of the Great Greek women of all time.

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Updated: 09/22/2012, zteve
 
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zteve on 03/21/2013

Thank you for commenting, its greatly appreciated!

Tolovaj on 03/21/2013

Impressive lady! History is full of great people who can inspire all of us and if we would have more articles like this one to know them better, our world would be a better place. Thanks for presenting Laskarina Bouboulina!

zteve on 02/19/2013

Thanks for your kind comments!

cmoneyspinner on 02/18/2013

I love reading about freedom fighters. No matter what country they're from. This article is top quality. Anyone would admire your writing style and presentation. I certainly do.

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