Famous Female Outlaws: Pearl Hart

Pearl Hart (born as Pearl Taylor) was born in Ontario, Canada in 1871 and earned notoriety by being one of the only women to rob a stagecoach. She had a fairly ordinary upbringing, coming from a middle class family and receiving a good education. Things changed at 17 when she eloped with Frederick Hart, a bartender, gambler, and heavy drinker. The couple travelled to the Columbian Exposition and Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where Fred had found work as a midway barker. Pearl was inspired by some of the female speakers she heard, including Annie Oakley. Soon after, she left Fred and...

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Famous Female Outlaws: Grainne Ni Mhaille

Grainne Ni Mhaille, also known by the anglicised version of her name, Grace O’Malley, was an Irish pirate during the 1500s. She was from the Western coast of Ireland and came from a wealthy seafaring family and her father, Eoghan Dubhdara O Maille, was the leader of the O’Malley clan. Growing up, Grace preferred the life she saw her father lead – one of travel and adventure – over her mother’s domestic duties, and she sought to join her father on his ship. She proved to be very capable aboard her father’s ship; she could lead the men and she was good at spotting storms before...

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Famous Female Outlaws: Bonnie Elizabeth Parker

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker (1910-1934) was famously known as one half of Bonnie and Clyde, the American duo whose criminal activity and relationship during the Great Depression has been highly romanticised. Bonnie met Clyde Barrow when she was just 19. She was already married when she met him, having married when she was 16. At the time she met Clyde, her husband was serving time for murder. Soon after their initial meeting Clyde was imprisoned for robbery. Bonnie visited him every day, and managed to smuggle in a gun to help his escape. He was soon caught and sent back to prison. When he was...

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Famous Female Outlaws: Elise Eskilsdotter

Elise was a Norwegian noblewoman who turned to piracy during the 1400s. She had a normal Norwegian upbringing with her father, Eskild Ågesen, a Knight from Scania and her mother Elisabeth Jakobsdatter Hegle. Her precise date of birth is unknown, but she married in 1420.  At the time, the average age of marriage ranged from late teens to early 20s. She married Olav Nilsson, a member of the noble Skanke family. Olav was a wealthy landowner in Norway and Denmark, and during the Dano-Hanseatic War served Christian I of Denmark as a privateer. However, problems began when the war ended: Olav...

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Famous Female Outlaws: Anne Bonny

Anne Bonny (c. 1697-c. 1792) was a pirate in the Caribbean. Anne is believed to have been born in County Cork Ireland, the daughter of Irish lawyer William McCormac and his servant, Mary Brennan. The most consistent date historians have for her birth is 1697. Soon after, William moved his family to Charleston, South Carolina and began to rebuild his legal career in a new country, dropping the ‘Mc’ in his name to fit in. In her early teens, Anne lost her mother, and took over the running of her father’s household. There are many rumours about the fiery nature of Anne when she was a teenager,...

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Famous Female Outlaws: The Lioness of Brittany

Jeanne de Clisson, known from history as the Lioness of Brittany, began life as a Breton noblewoman in 1300. Her parents arranged for her marriage at the age of 12 to the 19 year old Geoffroy de Châteaubriant VIII. They had two children before he died prematurely in 1326. She married again in 1328 to Guy of Penthièvre, but this didn’t last long – the marriage was annulled in 1330 by Pope John XXII. Until her third marriage, Jeanne’s life was uneventful, but in 1330 she married Olivier de Clisson IV, a wealthy nobleman with lands in Blain, a castle in Clisson and a manor house in Nantes. They...

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Famous Courtesans: Jane Shore

  Jane Shore (c.1445 – c.1527) was the mistress of Edward IV during the last decade of his life. She was born in London as a part of the merchant class, the daughter of John and Amy Lambert. Her father was a successful business man, and Jane spent many days in her father shop, coming into contact with many upper class ladies. While she was very beautiful, she was also very intelligent and her father ensured she was well educated, a rarity for women of her class. Her great beauty attracted many admirers including those in the King’s circle, such as William Hastings. This level of...

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Famous Courtesans: Veronica Franco

Veronica Franco (1546-1591) was a poet and courtesan in sixteenth century Venice. There were two types of courtesans during this period: the upper class, intellectual cortigiana onesta, and cortigiana di lume, the lower class courtesans. Veronica was one the most successful and popular cortigiana onesta courtesans of her time. Her mother, Paola Fracassa, was also a cortigiana onesta who brought Veronica up to be well educated, and to use her natural assets to ensure she got a good marriage. In her teens she married the wealthy physician, Paolo Panizza, but the couple separated shortly after....

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Famous Courtesans: Madame du Barry

Madame du Barry, or Jeanne Becu (19 August 1743 – 8 December 1793), was the last chief mistress (or maitresse-en-titre) of Louis XV of France. At the high point of her career she was one of the most influential women in France. Although her origins do not reflect this, as the illegitimate daughter of a seamstress she came from a fairly lowborn family. Her predecessor, Marquise de Pompadour, had set a precedent for girls who weren’t a part of the French nobility becoming the maitress-en-titre, although Jeanne had further to climb than de Pompadour. In her youth she had a variety of...

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Famous Courtesans: Harriette Wilson

Harriette Wilson (22 February 1786 – 10 March 1845) was a Regency courtesan. She had many high profile clients including the Prince of Wales; Arthur Wellsley, 1st Duke of Wellington; Lord Melbourne’s son the honourable Frederick Lamb; and the Duke of Argyll. While she was a beautiful woman, part of her charm was her intelligence and wit. She played the perfect balance of feigning disinterest while also keeping the interest of the man. The high class men of the day were used to ladies of polite society and enjoyed the wit and interesting conversation she provided. Her three sisters were...

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