Charlotte de Berry (born 1636) was a 17th-century English female pirate captain who began her career with the Royal Navy disguised as a man, fighting alongside her husband in battle. The earliest known account of her exploits comes from the publisher Edward Lloyd’s 1836 penny dreadfulPenny dreadfuls, or penny bloods, were cheap popular serial literature produced during the 19th century, typically a story published in weekly parts, each costing a penny. History of the Pirates, published 200 years after her alleged birth.[1] Lloyd was known for producing similar compilations of shocking and gory tales, often plagiarised, including Sweeney ToddSweeney Todd, the demon barber, is a fictional character who first appeared as the villain of the Victorian penny dreadful serial The String of Pearls (1846–1847). and Varney the VampireVarney the Vampire is the main character is a series of penny dreadfuls produced from 1845 until 1847. The stores introduced many of the ideas represented in modern vampire stories, such as Varley's fangs leaving two puncture wounds on the necks of his victims..[2]

The author Laura Duncombe has described Charlotte’s story as “an odd amalgam of the stories of [her fellow female pirates] Mary Read and Anne BonnyA female pirate who operated in the Caribbean during the 18th century.“.[3] Charlotte de Berry is today generally considered to be a fictional character.

Naval career


As a young girl Charlotte dreamed of a life at sea, and in her early teens she began to frequent the docks in her home town, somewhere on the English south coast. Perhaps to avoid being mistaken for one of the many prostitutes who plied their trade in the area, she dressed as a man during her excursions.[4]

One night Charlotte met a Royal Navy sailor named Jack Jib, who at first believed her to be a boy. But when they were alone she revealed her true identity to him, the two were smitten, and soon after were married. About a month later Jack was recalled to the Navy, and to be with him Charlotte enlisted under the name of Dick, pretending to be Jack’s brother. The pair were inseparable, and fought side by side in six major sea battles, before one of the ship’s officers, Lieutenant House, discovered Charlotte’s secret.[5] He propositioned Charlotte, but she refused his advances. The officer then decided to assign Jack to the most dangerous duties, hoping that he would be killed and Charlotte would be his.[a]Mirroring the Old Testament story in 2 Samuel of King David and Uriah the Hittite, in which David sends Uriah to the front line in battle hoping that he will be killed, allowing him to take Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, as his own after having made her pregnant. But Charlotte continued to fight bravely at her husband’s side, saving his life in battle on several occasions. Eventually, tired of waiting, Lieutenant House accused Jack of mutiny. Found guilty, Jack was sentenced to be flogged, and died as a result of his injuries.[6]

But still Charlotte rejected Lieutenant House’s advances, and when the ship neared port, she murdered him and deserted. She dressed again as a woman, and worked as a waitress in a waterfront café.[7] There she caught the attention of a merchant captain, who kidnapped her, forced her to marry him, and had her taken on board his ship, the Normandy.[8]

Pirate career


Charlotte’s new husband, Captain Wilmington, was a cruel and abusive man, unpopular with his crew, and so on their sea voyage to Africa she succeeded in convincing them to mutiny. After decapitating her husband, Charlotte declared herself to be captain of the ship. She persuaded the crew – now outlaws anyway and facing hanging for mutiny – to follow her lead and become pirates. They renamed their ship the Trader, and Charlotte adopted the nom de guerre Captain Rudolph, once again adopting men’s clothing.[8]

The Trader roamed the Atlantic coast from England to Spain and into the Mediterranean Sea, with some success. But eventually storm and battle damage forced the ship into the port of Granada in Spain for repairs. While ashore, Charlotte reverted to her female identity and caught the eye of José Sandano, the son of a wealthy planter.[b]In some versions of the story José is called Armelio.[9] The pair fell in love and were soon married, and José joined Charlotte’s crew.[10]

But the couple’s happiness was short-lived. Back at sea, the Trader sank in a storm, leaving only eight survivors, including Charlotte and José, clinging to a makeshift raft. After eight days with no food or water, the survivors agreed that they should draw lots to see which of them would be killed and eaten.[c]Cannibalism at sea was so common that it was accepted as a defence in English courts until 1844.[9] José drew the short straw, and was promptly shot dead by the first mate.[11] Moments later a Dutch merchant ship appeared on the horizon, and what remained of the crew was rescued.[6]

Ironically, a few days after the rescue, the Dutch ship was itself attacked by pirates. Charlotte and her crew fought bravely and successfully in defence of their rescuers, but while they were celebrating victory Charlotte threw herself overboard with a cry of “José”, and drowned.[12]

Notes[+]

Citations



Bibliography


Duncombe, Laura Sook. Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas. Chicago Review Press, 2017.
Lorimer, Sara. Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas. Ebook, Chronicle Books, 2002.
McWilliam, Rohan. “Lloyd, Edward (1815–1890).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Online, Oxford University Press, 2004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/16831.