Of course, it's impossible to talk about pirates without talking about gender. As I've written about here before, I was drawn to the topic when I discovered Feridun Fazil Tulbentci's 1948 Hayrettin Barbarosa is Coming, which uses Ottoman history as a site to articulate a "modern" form of male sexuality.
More recently, though I stumbled on a fascinating article by Judith Tucker about gender and piracy in the in the Mediterranean. As with everything in history, it's complicated. You should read the whole thing, but in short, manfully fighting pirates could be a way to perform your masculinity, while being sodomized by pirates could call your masculinity into question. Also the threat that pirates represented to female virtue could, in the 16th and 17th centuries be a means of reinforcing patriarchy by keeping women off the high seas, but then, by the 19th century, also serve as a discourse justifying European colonialism in North Africa.
Alternatively, you can go directly to one of Professor Tucker's most engaging primary sources instead: "The Worthy Enterprise of John Fox, an Englishman, in Delivering 266 Christians out of the Captivity of the Turks at Alexandria, the 3rd of January, 1577." in all its glory, after the jump.
"Among our merchants here in England, it is a common voyage to traffic to Spain; whereunto a ship called the Three Half Moons, manned with eight and thirty men, well fenced with munitions, the better to encounter their enemies withal, and having wind and tide, set from Portsmouth 1563, and bended her journey towards Seville, a city in Spain, intending there to traffic with them.
And falling near the Straits, they perceived themselves to be beset round about with eight galleys of the Turks, in such wise that there was no way for them to fly or to escape away, but that either they must yield or else be sunk, which the owner perceiving, manfully encouraged his company, exhorting them valiantly to show their manhood, showing them that God was their God, and not their enemies', requesting them also not to faint in seeing such a heap of their enemies ready to devour them; putting them in mind also, that if it were God's pleasure to give them into their enemies' hands, it was not they that ought to show one displeasant look or countenance there against; but to take it patiently, and not to prescribe a day and time for their deliverance, as the citizens of Bethulia did, but to put themselves under His mercy. And again, if it were His mind and good will to show His mighty power by them, if their enemies were ten times so many, they were not able to stand in their hands; putting them, likewise, in mind of the old and ancient worthiness of their countrymen, who in the hardest extremities have always most prevailed, and gone away conquerors; yea, and where it hath been almost impossible. "Such," quoth he, "hath been the valiantness of our countrymen, and such hath been the mighty power of our God."
With such other like encouragements, exhorting them to behave themselves manfully, they fell all on their knees, making their prayers briefly unto God; who, being all risen up again, perceived their enemies, by their signs and defiances, bent to the spoil, whose mercy was nothing else but cruelty; whereupon every man took him to his weapon.
Then stood up one Grove, the master, being a comely man, with his sword and target, holding them up in defiance against his enemies. So likewise stood up the owner, the master's mate, boatswain, purser, and every man well appointed. Now likewise sounded up the drums, trumpets, and flutes, which would have encouraged any man, had he never so little heart or courage in him.
Then taketh him to his charge John Fox, the gunner, in the disposing of his pieces, in order to the best effect, and, sending his bullets towards the Turks, who likewise bestowed their pieces thrice as fast towards the Christians. But shortly they drew near, so that the bowmen fell to their charge in sending forth their arrows so thick amongst the galleys, and also in doubling their shot so sore upon the galleys, that there were twice so many of the Turks slain as the number of the Christians were in all. But the Turks discharged twice as fast against the Christians, and so long, that the ship was very sore stricken and bruised under water; which the Turks, perceiving, made the more haste to come aboard the ship: which, ere they could do, many a Turk bought it dearly with the loss of their lives. Yet was all in vain; boarded they were, where they found so hot a skirmish, that it had been better they had not meddled with the feast; for the Englishmen showed themselves men indeed, in working manfully with their brown bills and halberds, where the owner, master, boatswain, and their company stood to it so lustily, that the Turks were half dismayed. But chiefly the boatswain showed himself valiant above the rest, for he fared amongst the Turks like a wood lion; for there was none of them that either could or durst stand in his face, till at last there came a shot from the Turks which brake his whistle asunder, and smote him on the breast, so that he fell down, bidding them farewell, and to be of good comfort, encouraging them, likewise, to win praise by death, rather than to live captives in misery and shame, which they, hearing, indeed, intended to have done, as it appeared by their skirmish; but the press and store of the Turks were so great, that they were not long able to endure, but were so overpressed, that they could not wield their weapons, by reason whereof they must needs be taken, which none of them intended to have been, but rather to have died, except only the master's mate, who shrunk from the skirmish, like a notable coward, esteeming neither the value of his name, nor accounting of the present example of his fellows, nor having respect to the miseries whereunto he should be put. But in fine, so it was, that the Turks were victors, whereof they had no great cause to rejoice or triumph. Then would it have grieved any hard heart to see these infidels so violently entreating the Christians, not having any respect of their manhood, which they had tasted of, nor yet respecting their own state, how they might have met with such a booty as might have given them the overthrow; but no remorse hereof, or anything else doth bridle their fierce and tyrannous dealing, but the Christians must needs to the galleys, to serve in new offices; and they were no sooner in them, but their garments were pulled over their ears, and torn from their backs, and they set to the oars.
I will make no mention of their miseries, being now under their enemies' raging stripes. I think there is no man will judge their fare good, or their bodies unloaden of stripes, and not pestered with too much heat, and also with too much cold; but I will go to my purpose, which is to show the end of those being in mere misery, which continually do call on God with a steadfast hope that He will deliver them, and with a sure faith that He can do it.
Nigh to the city of Alexandria, being a haven town, and under the dominion of the Turks, there is a road, being made very fencible with strong walls, whereinto the Turks do customably bring their galleys on shore every year, in the winter season, and there do trim them, and lay them up against the spring-time; in which road there is a prison, wherein the captives and such prisoners as serve in the galleys are put for all that time, until the seas be calm and passable for the galleys, every prisoner being most grievously laden with irons on their legs, to their great pain, and sore disabling of them to any labour; into which prison were these Christians put and fast warded all the winter season. But ere it was long, the master and the owner, by means of friends, were redeemed, the rest abiding still in the misery, while that they were all, through reason of their ill-usage and worse fare, miserably starved, saving one John Fox, who (as some men can abide harder and more misery than other some can, so can some likewise make more shift, and work more duties to help their state and living, than other some can do) being somewhat skilful in the craft of a barber, by reason thereof made great shift in helping his fare now and then with a good meal. Insomuch, till at the last God sent him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison, so that he had leave to go in and out to the road at his pleasure, paying a certain stipend unto the keeper, and wearing a lock about his leg, which liberty likewise five more had upon like sufferance, who, by reason of their long imprisonment, not being feared or suspected to start aside, or that they would work the Turks any mischief, had liberty to go in and out at the said road, in such manner as this John Fox did, with irons on their legs, and to return again at night.
In the year of our Lord 1577, in the winter season, the galleys happily coming to their accustomed harbourage, and being discharged of all their masts, sails, and other such furnitures as unto galleys do appertain, and all the masters and mariners of them being then nested in their own homes, there remained in the prison of the said road two hundred three score and eight Christian prisoners who had been taken by the Turks' force, and were of fifteen sundry nations. Among which there were three Englishmen, whereof one was named John Fox, of Woodbridge, in Suffolk, the other William Wickney, of Portsmouth, in the county of Southampton, and the third Robert Moore, of Harwich, in the county of Essex; which John Fox, having been thirteen or fourteen years under their gentle entreatance, and being too weary thereof, minding his escape, weighed with himself by what means it might be brought to pass, and continually pondering with himself thereof, took a good heart unto him, in the hope that God would not be always scourging His children, and never ceasing to pray Him to further his intended enterprise, if that it should redound to His glory.
Not far from the road, and somewhat from thence, at one side of the city, there was a certain victualling house, which one Peter Vuticaro had hired, paying also a certain fee unto the keeper of the road. This Peter Vuticaro was a Spaniard born, and a Christian, and had been prisoner above thirty years, and never practised any means to escape, but kept himself quiet without touch or suspect of any conspiracy, until that now this John Fox using much thither, they brake one to another their minds, concerning the restraint of their liberty and imprisonment. So that this John Fox, at length opening unto this Vuticaro the device which he would fain put in practice, made privy one more to this their intent; which three debated of this matter at such times as they could compass to meet together, insomuch that, at seven weeks' end they had sufficiently concluded how the matter should be, if it pleased God to further them thereto; who, making five more privy to this their device, whom they thought that they might safely trust, determined in three nights after to accomplish their deliberate purpose. Whereupon the same John Fox and Peter Vuticaro, and the other five appointed to meet all together in the prison the next day, being the last day of December, where this John Fox certified the rest of the prisoners what their intent and device was, and how and when they minded to bring that purpose to pass, who thereunto persuaded them without much ado to further their device; which, the same John Fox seeing, delivered unto them a sort of files, which he had gathered together for this purpose by the means of Peter Vuticaro, charging them that every man should be ready, discharged of his irons, by eight of the clock on the next day at night.
On the next day at night, the said John Fox, and his five other companions, being all come to the house of Peter Vuticaro, passing the time away in mirth for fear of suspect till the night came on, so that it was time for them to put in practice their device, sent Peter Vuticaro to the master of the road, in the name of one of the masters of the city, with whom this keeper was acquainted, and at whose request he also would come at the first; who desired him to take the pains to meet him there, promising him that he would bring him back again. The keeper agreed to go with him, asking the warders not to bar the gate, saying that he would not stay long, but would come again with all speed.
In the mean-season, the other seven had provided them of such weapons as they could get in that house, and John Fox took him to an old rusty sword-blade without either hilt or pommel, which he made to serve his turn in bending the hand end of the sword instead of a pommel, and the other had got such spits and glaves as they found in the house.
The keeper being now come unto the house, and perceiving no light nor hearing any noise, straightway suspected the matter; and returning backward, John Fox, standing behind the corner of the house, stepped forth unto him; who, perceiving it to be John Fox, said, "O Fox, what have I deserved of thee that thou shouldest seek my death?"
"Thou villain," quoth Fox, "hast been a bloodsucker of many a Christian's blood, and now thou shalt know what thou hast deserved at my hands," wherewith he lift up his bright shining sword of ten years' rust, and stroke him so main a blow, as therewithal his head clave asunder so that he fell stark dead to the ground. Whereupon Peter Vuticaro went in and certified the rest how the case stood with the keeper, and they came presently forth, and some with their spits ran him through, and the other with their glaves hewed him in sunder, cut off his head, and mangled him so that no man should discern what he was.
Then marched they toward the road, whereinto they entered softly, where were five warders, whom one of them asked, saying, who was there? Quoth Fox and his company, "All friends." Which when they were all within proved contrary; for, quoth Fox, "My masters, here is not to every man a man, wherefore look you, play your parts." Who so behaved themselves indeed, that they had despatched these five quickly. Then John Fox, intending not to be barren of his enterprise, and minding to work surely in that which he went about, barred the gate surely, and planted a cannon against it.
Then entered they into the jailer's lodge, where they found the keys of the fortress and prison by his bedside, and there got they all better weapons. In this chamber was a chest wherein was a rich treasure, and all in ducats, which this Peter Vuticaro and two more opening, stuffed themselves so full as they could between their shirts and their skin; which John Fox would not once touch and said, "that it was his and their liberty which he fought for, to the honour of his God, and not to make a mart of the wicked treasure of the infidels." Yet did these words sink nothing unto their stomachs; they did it for a good intent. So did Saul save the fattest oxen to offer unto the Lord, and they to serve their own turn. But neither did Saul scape the wrath of God therefor, neither had these that thing which they desired so, and did thirst after. Such is God's justice. He that they put their trust in to deliver them from the tyrannous hands of their enemies, he, I say, could supply their want of necessaries.
Now these eight, being armed with such weapons as they thought well of, thinking themselves sufficient champions to encounter a stronger enemy, and coming unto the prison, Fox opened the gates and doors thereof, and called forth all the prisoners, whom he set, some to ramming up the gate, some to the dressing up of a certain galley which was the best in all the road, and was called "The Captain of Alexandria," whereinto some carried masts, sails, oars, and other such furniture, as doth belong unto a galley.
At the prison were certain warders whom John Fox and his company slew, in the killing of whom there were eight more of the Turks which perceived them, and got them to the top of the prison, unto whom John Fox and his company were fain to come by ladders, where they found a hot skirmish, for some of them were there slain, some wounded, and some but scarred and not hurt. As John Fox was thrice shot through his apparel, and not hurt, Peter Vuticaro and the other two, that had armed them with the ducats, were slain, as not able to wield themselves, being so pestered with the weight and uneasy carrying of the wicked and profane treasure; and also divers Christians were as well hurt about that skirmish as Turks slain.
Amongst the Turks was one thrust through, who (let us not say that it was ill-fortune) fell off from the top of the prison wall, and made such a groaning that the inhabitants thereabout (as here and there stood a house or two), came and questioned him, so that they understood the case, how that the prisoners were paying their ransoms; wherewith they raised both Alexandria, which lay on the west side of the road, and a castle which was at the city's end next to the road, and also another fortress which lay on the north side of the road, so that now they had no way to escape but one, which by man's reason (the two holds lying so upon the mouth of the road) might seem impossible to be a way for them. So was the Red Sea impossible for the Israelites to pass through, the hills and rocks lay so on the one side, and their enemies compassed them on the other. So was it impossible that the walls of Jericho should fall down, being neither undermined nor yet rammed at with engines, nor yet any man's wisdom, policy, or help, set or put thereunto. Such impossibilities can our God make possible. He that held the lion's jaws from rending Daniel asunder, yea, or yet from once touching him to his hurt, cannot He hold the roaring cannons of this hellish force? He that kept the fire's rage in the hot burning oven from the three children that praised His name, cannot He keep the fire's flaming blasts from among His elect?
Now is the road fraught with lusty soldiers, labourers, and mariners, who are fain to stand to their tackling, in setting to every man his hand, some to the carrying in of victuals, some munitions, some oars, and some one thing some another, but most are keeping their enemy from the wall of the road. But to be short, there was no time misspent, no man idle, nor any man's labour ill-bestowed or in vain. So that in short time this galley was ready trimmed up. Whereinto every man leaped in all haste, hoisting up the sails lustily, yielding themselves to His mercy and grace, in Whose hands is both wind and weather.
Now is this galley a-float, and out of the shelter of the road; now have the two castles full power upon the galley; now is there no remedy but to sink. How can it be avoided? The cannons let fly from both sides, and the galley is even in the middest and between them both. What man can devise to save it? There is no man but would think it must needs be sunk.
There was not one of them that feared the shot which went thundering round about their ears, nor yet were once scarred or touched with five and forty shot which came from the castles. Here did God hold forth His buckler, He shieldeth now this galley, and hath tried their faith to the uttermost. Now cometh His special help; yea, even when man thinks them past all help, then cometh He Himself down from Heaven with His mighty power, then is His present remedy most ready. For they sail away, being not once touched by the glance of a shot, and are quickly out of the Turkish cannons' reach. Then might they see them coming down by heaps to the water's side, in companies like unto swarms of bees, making show to come after them with galleys, bustling themselves to dress up the galleys, which would be a swift piece of work for them to do, for that they had neither oars, masts, sails, nor anything else ready in any galley. But yet they are carrying into them, some into one galley, and some into another, so that, being such a confusion amongst them, without any certain guide, it were a thing impossible to overtake the Christians; beside that, there was no man that would take charge of a galley, the weather was so rough, and there was such an amazedness amongst them. And verily, I think their god was amazed thereat; it could not be but that he must blush for shame, he can speak never a word for dulness, much less can he help them in such an extremity. Well, howsoever it is, he is very much to blame to suffer them to receive such a gibe. But howsoever their god behaved himself, our God showed Himself a God indeed, and that He was the only living God; for the seas were swift under His faithful, which made the enemies aghast to behold them; a skilfuller pilot leads them, and their mariners bestir them lustily; but the Turks had neither mariners, pilot, nor any skilful master, that was in readiness at this pinch.
When the Christians were safe out of the enemy's coast, John Fox called to them all, telling them to be thankful unto Almighty God for their delivery, and most humbly to fall down upon their knees, beseeching Him to aid them to their friends' land, and not to bring them into another danger, since He had most mightily delivered them from so great a thraldom and bondage.
Thus when every man had made his petition, they fell straightway to their labour with the oars, in helping one another when they were wearied, and with great labour striving to come to some Christian land, as near as they could guess by the stars. But the winds were so contrary, one while driving them this way, another while that way, so that they were now in a new maze, thinking that God had forsaken them and left them to a greater danger. And forasmuch as there were no victuals now left in the galley, it might have been a cause to them (if they had been the Israelites), to have murmured against their God; but they knew how that their God, who had delivered Egypt, was such a loving and merciful God, as that He would not suffer them to be confounded in whom He had wrought so great a wonder, but what calamity soever they sustained, they knew it was but for their further trial, and also (in putting them in mind of their further misery), to cause them not to triumph and glory in themselves therefor. Having, I say, no victuals in the galley, it might seem one misery continually to fall upon another's neck; but to be brief the famine grew to be so great that in twenty-eight days, wherein they were on the sea, there died eight persons, to the astonishment of all the rest.
So it fell out that upon the twenty-ninth day after they set from Alexandria, they fell on the isle of Candia, and landed at Gallipoli, where they were made much of by the abbot and monks there, who caused them to stay there while they were well refreshed and eased. They kept there the sword wherewith John Fox had killed the keeper, esteeming it as a most precious relic, and hung it up for a monument.
When they thought good, having leave to depart from thence, they sailed along the coast till they arrived at Tarento, where they sold their galley, and divided it, every man having a part thereof. The Turks on receiving so shameful a foil at their hands, pursued the Christians, and scoured the seas, where they could imagine that they had bent their course. And the Christians had departed from thence on the one day in the morning and seven galleys of the Turks came thither that night, as it was certified by those who followed Fox and his company, fearing lest they should have been met with. And then they came afoot to Naples, where they departed asunder, every man taking him to his next way home. From whence John Fox took his journey unto Rome, where he was well entertained by an Englishman who presented his worthy deed unto the Pope, who rewarded him liberally, and gave him letters unto the King of Spain, where he was very well entertained of him there, who for this his most worthy enterprise gave him in fee twenty pence a day. From whence, being desirous to come into his own country, he came thither at such time as he conveniently could, which was in the year of our Lord God 1579; who being come into England went unto the Court, and showed all his travel unto the Council, who considering of the state of this man, in that he had spent and lost a great part of his youth in thraldom and bondage, extended to him their liberality to help to maintain him now in age, to their right honour and to the encouragement of all true-hearted Christians.