Although history of piracy is mostly filled with male pirates, some female pirates managed to prove themselves and carve their place in history and legends. During the famous "Age of Sail" that lasted from 15th to 19th century, several women managed to break through the stigma of reduced rights and opportunities and went to live on the high seas. Carried on by the urge for adventure, crime and freedom from land laws they managed to remain remembered even today, but sadly, mostly forgotten behind the exploits of their much more successful male colleagues.
The earliest mentioning's of the female pirates come from ancient Roman Empire, whose fleets and coastal cities became under attack from the fleets of Queen Teuta of Illyria. Under her command her fleets captured even managed to capture main city of Roman province Phoenice (located in the eastern Greece). The first big wave of female pirates came with the advancements of naval technologies from 4th to 10th century, when numerous Viking raiding fleets spread across the northern Europe. During that time several female pirates left their mark on history, most notably Rusila, Stikla, Princess Sela, Alvida (Awilda) and Alfhild. On the other side of the Viking raiding fleets stood Anglo-Saxon noble woman Æthelflæd , who after death of her husband Æthelred took command of his military fleet and destroyed Danish Vikings who threatened her land of Wessex. Female pirate activity in Europe was also marked by the lives of Irish noblewoman and folk legend Grace O'Malley who protected west Ireland from the incursions of pirates and English crown. Apart from her, mysterious female pirate "Red Lady" pillaged the unsuspecting ships by infiltrating their crew under a guise of innocent and fragile woman only to later massacre everyone on board, and Lady Mary Killigrew who raided several Spanish ships before she was caught by English government.
The largest wave of piracy came in 16th and 17th century when maritime technology enabled ships to travel far across the open sea, to the distant continents and eventually all around the world. New discovered lands and lucrative trade routes became popular hunting grounds to the pirates of all nations. Another big factor in the rise of piracy came after Queen Elizabeth's introduction of government sanctioned piracy - privateering. Hundreds of pirate captains accepted the government job, and fleets of English, Spanish, French and Dutch ships fought constantly between each other. As the wars ended, many privateers elected not to lay down their arms, and they went back to their old trade - piracy.
Among thousands of pirate ships that operated in the waters of Caribbean, South Africa and Indian Sea, few female pirates stood out and were membered in the history. The most famous of them all was without a doubt was Anne Bonny, who operated on the Caribbean during the height of the Golden Age of Piracy. She sailed during a time when famous pirates as Blackbeard, Edward Low and Barholomeu Roberts terrorized the sea and filled the hearts of every trader with fear. Anne, together with her lover pirate captain John "Calico Jack" Rackham and another famous female pirate Mary Read sailed across the Caribbean until they were ambushed and caught by the English authorities. Although JohnRackham and Mary Read died soon after their capture, legend tells that Anne Bonny managed to survive her death sentence and live in the continental U.S for 60 years more. Almost 40 years after the end of the "Golden Age of Piracy", another female pirate operated in the waters of Atlantic. She was American born Rachel Wall, who after taking part in American Revolutionary War became pirate, until 1789 when she was caught and executed by hanging.
Asian waters also had their share of female pirates. Piracy in those areas was heavily influenced by rise and fall of powerful Chinese royal families. Numerous pirate fleets operated in those waters, but one of the biggest moments in their history came in the early 19th century when famous female pirate Ching Shih (also known as Zheng Yi Sao) managed to unite them all into intimidating force of 1800 ships and 80-150 thousand pirates. Her strength was so large, that she firmly stood ground against attack of all major naval superpowers of her time (China, England, Spain and others). After her, several other female pirate captains came into prominence during first half of 20th century. Most notable of them were Lo Hon-cho who commanded over the fleet of 64 ships, Lai ShoSz'en with 12 ships, and Huang P'ei-mei who commanded over 50 thousand pirates.
In the modern times, the most famous female pirate was also from China. Cheng Chui Ping (also known as Sister Ping) was in command of the elaborate smuggling operation that transported thousands Chinese immigrants from Asia to Europe and US. After over 15 years of evading authorities Ping was finally caught in Hong Kong, and currently serves her 35 year long sentence with scheduled release date in 2040.