The phrase “unwhitewashed” may be a bit misleading. The intention of the segment is to tell the history of those who are not the typical members of historical pantheons. That means, no Lincolns, no Washingtons, no Lockes, no Bonapartes. It means to give history of non-European lands a chance to be known, but also to give women a piece of history’s pie. They’ve been there the whole time, yet very few are typically considered to be influential for broad swathes of what we tell as history. To steal a bad pun, these are a couple of her-stories.
Pirate’s Life for the Wife of Yi:
Hands down, the most successful pirate of all time was Ching Shih. Forget Edward Teach, forget Long John Silver, Ching Shih put them all to shame. Born into a Cantonese village in the late 1700s, Ching’s real name is unknown. All people know is that she was a prostitute who was married to a pirate lord in 1801; her name that we know now Ching Shih, translates roughly to “widow of Zheng”. Zheng Yi owned a fairly successful pirate band and was responsible for forming a major alliance between the assorted groups of Chinese pirates of the early 19th century. When he died in Vietnam in 1807, Ching maneuvered to the helm of the operation and forced herself into the leadership seat of a fleet upwards of 1,800 ships large with roughly 80,000 crew members. She established a set of codes that formed a public pool of money, allowing successful pirates to keep only 20% of the overall booty, and spreading the remainder out to other ships who were less successful. Pirates were forbidden to attack friendly villages and towns along the coasts, forming a soft power structure that allowed Ching to occasionally collect taxes from the villages as a de facto governor of the area. Pirates who tried to hide their loot would be severely whipped for the first minor offense and executed for major or repeated happenings. Any person relaying orders that were not Chings, or attempting to lead without her blessing, would be beheaded on the spot. Women were typically released rather than held as captives, though some would be kept as concubines. Any pirate caught raping would be killed, any women consensually engaging with a pirate would have cannonballs strapped to her legs before she would be hucked into the water. The male on the other end of the consent agreement would also be executed. Because of her codes, Ching’s fleet became a force to be reckoned with because the troops were loyal to her, terrified of her, and willing to die before being punished. When the Chinese government attempted to rid themselves of Ching’s piracy, the conflict was decisive. China’s navy, along with fleets of bounty hunters from Portugal and Britain failed. China offered Ching a total pardon if she would give up her pirating ways. She took the offer and retired from piracy in 1810, at which point she opened a gambling house and lived out her life in leisure, making her one of the very few pirates to ever live to retirement.
The Lady Pope, A Load of Papal Bull:
Pope Joan, while it is now considered widely to be a myth, was a very real folk tale in the early renaissance. She is mentioned several times by assorted chroniclers, though never before the 1200s. The story is that a woman took on the name of John Anglicus and worked her way through higher education (this happens either in the 800s or the 1000s, nobody is really too clear on it, but most believe the story referred to the popes of the 9th century). She showed a knack for theological discussion and blazed a trail through the Catholic ranks before eventually becoming pope after Leo #4 died. Her stay in the papal estates was supposedly roughly 2.75 years, all the while nobody knew she was a female. The story is that her ruse was discovered when she was traveling between St.Peter’s Basilica and another part of the Vatican, when she mounted a horse and suddenly began to give birth right there in the street. The final fate of Pope Joan goes any of a few directions, either she was confined to chambers and did penance for the remainder of her life, or she was tied to a horse and dragged for a half league while angry rabble chucked rocks at her. A French chronicler in the early 1400s wrote that there was a three day long rain storm of blood and a swarm of mutant locusts attacked when Joan was revealed as a woman. Ever since 1601, the Catholic Church has officially stated that the story is a medieval equivalent to an urban myth because of the records of the papal succession after Leo IV died. The lull in the popes between him and Benedict III came from a viscous battle between Benedict and an antipope. Other fun legends are that the next pope in line was sat down on a chair for a cardinal to reach up under his robes to see if he had the stones (“he has two, they dangle nicely” is apparently what he said). Joan was a figure whose mythic story was immortalized in statues and writing throughout the next several centuries and still persists today regardless of papal attempts to quash it as a rumor; and for large parts of time, popes would turn their eyes away from the location Joan was said to have given birth when passing by. Just so nobody walks away thinking this was a real event, a pope giving birth in the streets of Rome would have caused a fair bit of writing, and nothing is found until 400 years later. Compelling, yes; interesting, yes; true, no.
Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different, like how there is an actual job for “pope ball checker”
Citations, otherwise you’d never know Edward Teach was Blackbeard:
Retiring from Piracy is Really Hard to do:
Pope Joan, not real, but quite Interesting:
http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/vatican/esp_vatican39.htm (“he has two, they dangle too”)