Bouboulina, a Greek heroine

Each year on March 25th, Greeks celebrate the Greek War Of Independence of 1821, against the Ottoman Empire (I have posted about this, here). Slightly belatedly, both for that date as well as for International Women’s Day, I thought I’d write about the fascinating life of one of the heroes of this struggle, Lascarina Pinotsis, known as Bouboulina (11 May 1771 – 22 May 1825), a Greek naval commander.

Bouboulina was born in a prison in Constantinople, since her father, Stavrianos Pinotsis, a Captain from Hydra, had been imprisoned by the Ottomans for his part in the failed Orlof Revolution of 1769–1770 against Ottoman rule. Her father died soon after her birth and the mother and child returned to Hydra. They moved to the island of Spetses four years later when her mother married Dimitrios Lazarou-Orlof.

Laskarina had eight half-siblings and when she grew up, she married in a second marriage the wealthy shipowner and captain Dimitrios Bouboulis, taking his surname. When she was 40 years old,  Bouboulis was killed in battle against Algerian pirates, and Bouboulina, as she came to be known, took over his fortune and his trading business and had ships built at her own expense, including the large warship Agamemnon.

When, in 1816, the Ottomans tried to confiscate Bouboulina’s property because her husband had fought for the Russians against them, she sailed to Constantinople to seek Russian protection. Ambassador Stroganov, in recognition of her husband’s service to the Russians, sent her to safety in the Crimea, but, after three months, she returned to Spetses. Construction of the ship Agamemnon was finished in 1820. Bouboulina bribed Turkish officials to ignore the ship’s size and it became one of the largest warships in the hands of Greek rebels. She also organized her own armed troops, composed of men from Spetses.

Allegedly Bouboulina joined the Filiki Etaireia, an underground organization that was preparing Greece for revolution against Ottoman rule, although she is not named in historical member’s lists. She bought arms and ammunition at her own expense, to fight “for the sake of my nation.” She used most of her fortune to provide food and ammunition for the sailors and soldiers under her command.

 

 

On 13 March 1821 Bouboulina raised on the mast of Agamemnon her own Greek flag, and sailed with eight ships to Nafplion where she began a naval blockade. Later she took part in the naval blockade and capture of Monemvasia and Pylos.

She arrived at Tripolis in time to witness its fall on 11 September 1821 and to meet general Theodoros Kolokotronis. Her daughter Eleni Boubouli later married Panos Kolokotronis, the son of Theodoros. During the ensuing defeat of the Ottoman garrison, Bouboulina saved most of the female members of the sultan’s household. When the opposing factions erupted into civil war in 1824, the Greek government arrested Bouboulina for her family connection with Kolokotronis; her son-in-law was killed during the events. Eventually she was exiled back to Spetses, having spent most of her fortune for the war of independence.

After all the danger and the adventures, Laskarina Bouboulina was killed in 1825 as the result of a family feud in Spetses, when somebody shot at her during an argument. After her death, Emperor Alexander I of Russia granted Bouboulina the honorary rank of Admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy, making her the first woman in world naval history to hold this title. Her descendants sold the ship Agamemnon to the Greek state, which renamed it Spetsai, but sadly it was burned during the next Greek civil war in 1831.

On the island of Spetses the “Bouboulina Museum” is housed in the 300-year-old mansion of Bouboulina’s second husband Bouboulis, where her descendants still live. Her statue stands in the harbor in Spetses. Various streets all over Greece and Cyprus are named in her honor, and she was depicted on the reverse of both the Greek 50 drachmae banknote of 1978 and the Greek 1 drachma coin of 1988-2001.

23 thoughts on “Bouboulina, a Greek heroine

  1. it is so easy to believe that women sat at home, knitting jumpers for their adventurous husbands/sons/fathers/brothers. How refreshing to hear of one who was out there making history. Thank you for sharing her story. I doubt too that she was a very cosy person to have around!

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    1. I read another book, in Greek, about a woman from the island of Cephalonia, who ended up in the court of the Tsar! I’m sure there were a few, in all cultures, but it’s difficult to have the info about them. Think of the indomitable Brits who married sheiks in the desert. While wearing Victorian clothing!

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  2. You only have to look at any of the half dozen yia-yias of my acquaintance to know that Greek ladies can be quite formidable, but their scope is normally a bit more limited. It makes you wonder what they’d be capable of if pointed at larger problems! Bouboulina is a true role model.

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  3. Thank you for describing a true heroine of my country.

    PS: I’d like to reblog your post to my blog but I can’t. Do you have the reblog button disabled? If you want can you turn it on? If you don’t know how, follow these steps: go to your blog’s dashboard and then Settings > Sharing and enable the appropriate options. Thank you!

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