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For the Sake of My Nation: Laskarina Bouboulina
Birthed in a Jail
For the Sake of My Nation: Laskarina Bouboulina
Born in Greece, Laskarina Bouboulina did not have an easy start in life; her father Stavrianos Pinotsis was a sea captain who fought against the Ottoman Turks in the Orlof Revolution of 1769-1770. Her mother Skevo followed him to jail in Constantiople, where she gave birth to Laskarina on May 11, 1771. Laskarina’s valiant father died soon afterwards, and she and her mother moved first to the Greek island of Hydra, then settled on the island of Spestes.
Bouboulina Monument, Spestes, Greece
Favor from the Sultana
As an adult, Laskarina was married married twice. Her second husband was a wealthy ship captain and trader named Dimitrios Bouboulis who was later killed in a battle against Algerian pirates. Refusing to remain passive in the wake of such a tragedy, Laskarina took the unusual step of taking over her late husband’s business, expanding it and adding four more ships to his fleet. In 1816 the Ottomans tried to seize her fortune on the pretense that it was punishment for her second husband’s role in the Turk-Russian war, but Laskarina sailed to Constantiople where she secured the protection of Russian Count Stroganoff who hid her in Crimea on an estate owned by Czar Alexander I. Before departing to Crimea, Laskarina managed to obtain an audience with the Ottoman sultan’s mother, who was so impressed by Laskarina that she pressured Sultan Mahmud II to leave Laskarina alone, to which he acquiesced. The sultan’s mother required only one thing from Laskarina in return for the assistance; if any Ottoman woman needed help or protection, Laskarina would provide that help. Laskarina agreed and immediately returned to Spestes.
War and a Favor Returned
Throughout Laskarina’s life, the Ottoman empire still controlled Greece and its seas, and Laskarina, like her father before her and many other native daughters and sons, hated the dictatorship they lived under and longed for a free Greece. So determined was she to see her country free, Laskarina secretly became a member of the underground revolutionary group Philiki Eteria, “The Friendly Society,” whose goal was to drive the Ottomans out of Greece forever. Using her own money, Laskarina secretly smuggled food, weapons and ammunition to her home island of Spestes in her ships. She even organized her own soldiers and sailors to fight, as she put it, “for the sake of my nation.”
When the Second Greek War of Independence launched in March of 1821, the island of Spestes was the first naval force to join. Having prepared for this moment for years, fifty year old Laskarina Bouboulina raised her own flag of defiance (an eagle with an anchor at one foot and a phoenix rising from the flames at the other) on her 18-gun ship the Agammenon, one of the largest of all the rebel ships which she had built at her own expense and set sail. Known as the Capitanissa, Laskarina and her fleet of eight ships (five her own) attacked Turkish shipping in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, set up a naval blockade, and recaptured several occupied Greek towns, including the heroic effort at Napflion. The historian Anargyros Hatzi-Anargyrou witnessed the battle and later wrote, “Indeed the very rare event in the history of nations, of a woman to take up arms, a very rich woman who decided to offer a sacrifice to the altar of her country –her ships, her money and her sons. This woman was Laskarina Bouboulina, whom the nations of the world saluted as heroine. She was indeed lion-hearted. On December 4th 1821, as I remember, on board her own vessel, she alone gave orders for the boats to attack the fort. … she herself lands with her forces and stays until the fall of the fort on the 30th November 1822, leading her men in battle, spending her fortune.”
Unfortunately, victory came at a price; her son Yiannis died fighting in 1821 at the battle of Argos, after being overwhelmed by Ottoman forces.
On September 11, 1821, the Greek forces broke the siege at Tripolis and Laskarina led her forces into the city where she was met with cheers. Mass slaughter ensued, but Laskarina, receiving a desperate plea from the Ottoman commander Hoursit Pasha’s wife, and remembering the pact she had made with Sultan Mahmud’s mother, forbade her men from raping and murdering any of the women in the harem or harming the children.
Bouboulina Attacking Napflion
For all the success Laskarina had in the efforts to drive away the Ottoman empire, factional fighting within the Greek forces sent Laskarina into exile after arresting her and her family for their connection to General Theodoros Kolokotronis, (who had become a leader in the Greek civil wars and was charged with treason and whose son Panos was married to Laskarina’s daughter Eleni,) and she returned to her mother’s island of Spestes. Having used all of her fortune to fund the war for independence, Laskarina had almost nothing left. To compound the injustice, the new Greek government executed her son-in-law Panos as a traitor.
In 1825, Laskarina’s family discovered that her son Georgias had eloped with a girl, and her outraged father arrived at Laskarina’s house with armed relatives to drag the girl back. As an infuriated Laskarina stood on her balcony and argued with the girl’s father, a shot rang out. A bullet hit Laskarina in the forehead, killing her instantly. No one confessed to the killing, whether it was purposeful or accidental. Laskarina never lived to see her nation earn its freedom, which the Ottoman empire granted four years after her murder.
After her death, Czar Alexander I of Russia posthumously bestowed upon her the rank of Admiral of the Russian Navy, and her home on Spestes has become a museum dedicated to her. Numerous streets have been named in her honor, and Laskarina has been represented Greek drachmae banknotes and coins.
Laskarina Bouboulina works cited:
Women Warriors, by David E. Jones
Warrior Women, by Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles
“Bouboulina Laskarina,” http://www.newsfinder.org/site/more/bouboulina_laskarina/
“Laskarina Boubolina,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laskarina_Bouboulina