May 11th in (Feminist) History

bouboulinaThis day in 1771 saw the birth of Laskarina Bouboulina, a Greek naval commander and a heroine of the Greek War of Independence. Laskarina’s father was Stavriano Pinotsis, a captain from Hydra island, who was imprisoned by the Ottomans for participating in the failed Orlof Revolution. Laskarina was born in prison, during a visit her mother made to her father, who was sick at the time and died shortly after. Laskarina’s second husband was Dimitrios Bouboulis (whose name she took) was a wealthy captain and shipowner. When he was killed by pirates in a battle in 1811, the 40 year old Laskarina took over his trading business and his fortune; she built four new ships with her money, including a large warship named Agamemnon.

The Ottomans tried to confiscate her property in 1816 (because her second husband had fought on the side of the Russians in the Turko-Russian wars), however Laskarina sailed to Russia and sought their protection. She was sent to Crimea for safety, and reportedly was also granted safety by the mother of Mahmud II, the current Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. (Allegedly she convinced him to leave Laskarina alone, which is pretty fun to imagine.)

Supposedly (though there is no proof within the members lists) Laskarina joined the “Filiki Etaireia”, which was an underground organization (pretty much all-male) supporting revolution against Ottoman rule of Greece. She began collecting arms and ammunition (purchased at her own expense), organized armed troops, and provided ammunition and food for all her soldiers and sailors quartered in Spetses, where she lived and worked out of. On April 3, 1821 the people of Spetses revolted, joining ships from other Greek Islands, including those belonging to Laskarina, who took eight ships to Nafplion to begin a naval blockade. She later took part in the blockade and capture of Monemvasia and Pylos, and lost her son Yiannis Yiannouzas (from her first marriage) in a battle at Argos.

Laskarina saw the fall of Tripolis on September 11, 1821, and during the defeat of the Ottoman garrison that followed, she was responsible for saving many of the sultan’s female household. After this battle she met and became friends with Theodoros Kolokotronis, a Greek General, and was seen as an equal by all the other Generals when it came to strategy planning. Over the years that followed she was arrested for her connection to the civil war (and later freed), and was eventually killed in 1825 when she was shot in the midst of a family feud. During her life she spent nearly all her fortune for the war of independence, and after her death she was named an honorary Admiral of the Russian Navy– making her the only woman in world naval history to earn this title, until recently. There is a museum in her former second home dedicated to her, a statue of her in the harbor at Spetses, and streets all over Greece and Cyprus named in her honor.

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