An amazing woman called Bouboulina has a cameo role in my novel, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa so it was a treat to read a fabulous piece about her on Kathryn Gauci’s blog. Kathryn has written an epic tale, The Embroiderer that goes up to the end of the Ottoman Empire. Like many authors Kathryn has a website and blog and has generously allowed me to share the following:
Bouboulina: Heroine of the Greek War of Independence.
On May 11th 1777, a Greek woman, Skevo Pinotsis, entered Constantinople jail to visit her dying husband, Stavianos, incarcerated by the Turks for his participation in the failed revolution of 1769-70. Whilst there, she gave birth to a daughter, Laskarina. After such a humble start in life, Laskarina would grow up to be probably the most famous female figure in modern Greek history. Skevo and Stavianos were Hydriots and well connected among the Greek establishment at the time. When the revolution, which was later to be known as the Orlof Revolution, failed, the Turks took revenge on all those involved, both real and imagined. Whilst Hydra survived the reprisals, the island of Spetses was almost completely destroyed. Stavrianos never recovered from his ordeal at the hands of the Turks and died in jail. Skevo returned to Hydra and after four years remarried a Spetsiot captain, Dimitios Lazarou-Orlof, and she and Laskarina moved to Spetses. By all accounts, Laskarina was a strong and stubborn child, known for her courage and decisiveness. As a consequence she was regarded by her eight half-brothers and sisters as the unchallenged leader. Growing up among a sea-faring family at a time when political intrigues against the Turks were simmering to a head, she would have been well aware of their talk of freedom for the Greek nation which had been suffering under Turkish domination. Whilst the men plotted to rid the country of the Turks, as a Greek girl, Laskarina was expected to do her duty and marry and produce children. Dark in colouring and with a strong regal stature, she was not short of suitors. She was to marry twice. The first marriage was to a young sea captain, Dimitrios Yiannoutzas, when she was only seventeen. Yiannoutzas was killed during a sea battle with Algerian pirates who constantly raided the coast of Greece at the time. At the age of thirty, she married a second time to Dimitrios Bouboulis, also a sea captain and the man from whom she would eventually take her famous name –Bouboulina. Unfortunately, in 1811, Bouboulis met with the same fate as her first husband after he was ambushed by two Algerian pirate ships and which he and his crew simultaneously destroyed. For the second time in her life, Bouboulina found herself a widow., only now she had seven children.
Bouboulina may have lost two husbands but she was now a very rich woman having inherited land, cash and a fortune from her ships. She had inherited her mother’s tenacity and set about increasing her small fortune. Bouboulis had left her over 300,000 tallara – Spanish gold sovereigns which she increased through successful trading. Through her knowledge and love of the sea, she became a partner with other Spetsiot shipbuilders and built three ships of her own, the most famous being the Agamemnon. At a cost of 75,000 tallara, it was the largest Greek fighting ship of the 1821 Greek War of Independence. In 1816, the Turks tried to confiscate her fortune on the grounds that her husband, Boubulis, had taken part in the Turko-Russian Wars. This was indeed so and for his services the Russians granted him honorary Russian citizenship and awarded him with the title of captain of the Russian Navy. Using her illustrious connections, Bouboulina, followed in Skevo’s footsteps and sailed to Constantinople, a journey that one would not have taken lightly at the time. There she sought protection from the Russian Ambassador, Count Stroganov, a known Philhellene, presenting him with papers citing Bouboulis’s loyalty to Russia. In addition, her own ships were flying the Russian flag due to a treaty signed between Russia and Turkey.
She managed to gain an audience with the Sultan’s mother, the Valide Sultana, who was struck by her personality and who had sympathy for her plight. She promised to speak to her son but the situation became tense and to save her from arrest, Count Stroganov sent her to the Crimea where she was given an estate, courtesy of Tsar Alexander I. She was there for three months until the situation died down. In the meantime, the Valide Sultana had managed to persuade her son, Mahmud II, to issue her with a special dispensation allowing her to keep her freedom and her fortune.
When she returned to Spetses, the fearless Bouboulina, the only female to become a member of the Philiki Etairia, a secret organization whose aim was to raise money and arms and to fire up a spirit of defiance in readiness for the revolution intended to free the Greek people of Ottoman domination, immediately began preparing for war. She bought arms from overseas and hid them until the time was right. The Agamemnon was completed at the shipyard on Spetsas in 1920. The Turks had imposed restrictions on Greek ships and the Agamemnon, a corvette 33 mtres long, armed with 18 heavy cannons, drew the attention of the Turks once more. However, it is said that everyone has their price and she bribed the Turkish official who went to inspect it.
On March 13 1821, 12 days before the official start of the War of Independence, Bouboulina was the first to raise the revolutionary flag. Employing her own armed troops, she used her fleet of eight ships to join the blockade of Nafplion.
To read the rest of this feature please click here.