Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mary Killigrew - Lady pirate!

The Killigrew family, which lived in Cornwall, had a notorious reputation for seizing ships, appropriating the cargo, and selling both to finance their lifestyle. On the first of January in 1583, the Maria docked at Arwenack Castle where Lady Killigrew entertained them. For several days the Spanish captain and others visited Penryn. On their return they discovered the Maria had disappeared.

During their absence and after a storm passed, Lady Killigrew and her servants rowed to the ship, killed those Spaniards still aboard, and absconded with the cargo. Although many believed her guilty, no proof existed that she had participated in the theft and murders.

Angry at the lack of justice, the Spaniards journeyed to London where they complained to the authorities there. When it was learned that Lady Killigrew’s son, a judge, had tampered with the investigation, she and two of her gang were arrested and stood trial. All three were sentenced to death, but Queen Elizabeth I pardoned Lady Killigrew

Taken from Cindy Vallar's website:


  1. Hmmm. This one was interesting. I can see this woman staying in the shadows of all of this plundering. Who would ever suspect a 'lady' to do such things. She probably played the 'good hostess' and fooled most people. And Queen Elizabeth I, giving her a pardon? I guess she had pity on her because she was a lady. (In a way, she reminds me of The Red Siren, only your lady pirate wasn't evil)

  2. You have quite the imagination, Debbie! Have you ever thought about writing? LOL

  3. This is very interesting.
    I love how they almost got away with it--really tricky. Why were they pardoned?
    -Rebekah xD

  4. You are sweet to say that MaryLu. Short devotions are easy, but long stories? That's your talent! :-)

  5. I don't know, Rebekah, why they were pardoned.. It's buried deep within history!

  6. Wow! She does remind me of The Red Siren. Not the killing and everything, just the way she acts like a lady but is secretly a pirate.

  7. Mary was the daughter of a former Suffolkpirate. Mary's husband Sir Henry Killigrew, a former pirate himself, was made aVice-Admiral by Queen Elizabeth I and tasked withsuppressing piracy. Whenever her husband went to sea Mary engaged in piracyusing the staff of her castle (Arwenack Castle in Cornwall)as crew and possibly with the Queen's knowledge. In 1570 she captured a Germanmerchant ship off Falmouth and her crew sailed it to Irelandto sell. However, the owner of this ship was a friend of Queen Elizabeth whothen had Lady Mary arrested and brought to trial at the Launceston assizes.Some sources say she was sentenced to death and then pardoned by the Queen butthis is due to confusion with another family member. According to sources, herfamily either bribed the jurors and she was acquitted or Queen Elizabetharranged a short jail sentence. Whatever transpired, she gave up pirating andtook up fencing stolen goods until she died several years later.

    Elizabeth Trewinnard, Lady Killigrew
    Elizabeth was also known as "Old Lady Killigrew".
    (b. before 1523- died after 1582), was an aristocratic Cornishwoman and an accused pirate during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. She was the wifeof Sir John Killigrew of Arwennack, Cornwall.She and her husband received and stored stolen goods at their home, ArwennackHouse. In 1582, she was arrested and sentenced to death after she sent herservants to seize the cargo aboard a ship anchored in Falmouth harbour. Queen Elizabeth eventuallypardoned her, and she was released from prison.

  8. There's a lot of confusion here about which Lady Killigrew was the pirate. Mary is my 13 x great-grandmother. The photo you've included isn't her, that's Lady Mary Killigrew, nee Hill, who married the great-nephew of Sir John Killigrew (pirate Mary's husband), Sir William Killigrew and is a Jacobean portrait that was done in the 1630s, not in Queen Elizabeth I's era.

    Another portrait of Mary Killigrew, nee Hill is on this site (type in Killigrew and the portrait will appear)...

    This is Sir William's biography...

    The pirate Lady Mary was nee Wolverston, daughter of Philip Wolverston of Wolverston Hall, Ipswich in Suffolk, a pirate before her. Mary married Sir John Killigrew, also into piracy.

    The Elizabeth Trewinnard (Trewennard) mentioned by Anonymous above was definitely not the pirate. She was the mother of Sir John Killigrew, pirate Mary's mother-in-law. For clarity between pirate Mary and her mother-in-law Elizabeth, here is Mary's biography...

    Cheers, Rachel

  9. Thank you for all the information, Ladies! I appreciate your corrections. Fascinating history!

  10. I believe it was my ancestor Elizabeth Trewinnard married to John Killigrew who took the Spanish ship and had it taken to Youghall in Ireland. Elizabeth's father was a notorious pirate and so was John Killigrew, the Killigrews being a family of courtiers and pirates. My ancestor William Killigrew was first Baron Arwenack in the time of Elizabeth I. I am descended from Elizabeth Killigrew, who married Francis Boyle 1st Viscount Shannon; Elizabeth also had a child with Charles II, who became the Countess of Yarmouth.

    1. Thank you, William for the information. How fascinating! And how cool to be descended from such a fascinating family. :-)