Monday, November 05, 2012

David Black Mastro - Swordswomen in History #1 - Maria la Bailadora

Picture used with permission. Please click for larger picture.Maria la Bailadora

Swordswomen in History #1--Maria la Bailadora

By David Black Mastro (aka TrueFightScholar)

Maria la Bailadora (Maria "the Dancer"), was one of thousands of soldiers who fought in the Holy League Fleet, at the great naval Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. Maria was the lover of a Spanish soldier, and when he shipped out to fight the Ottoman Turks, she disguised herself as a man, and went with him. At Lepanto, she served on the Real ("Royal"), which was the Capitana (flagship galley) of the Holy League Fleet, commanded by the young, talented Don John of Austria, the b@stard son of Charles V of Spain (and thus King Philip II's half-brother). Maria fought as an arquebusier at Lepanto, and during the climax of the battle, when Don John's Real locked horns with the Sultana of Ottoman Admiral Ali Pasha, she was supposedly the first Christian soldier to board the Turkish flagship. She actually killed a Turk in hand-to-hand combat, with one well-placed sword-thrust. After the battle, she was rewarded for her valor by being allowed to remain in her regiment, even after her true gender was revealed. Author Jack Beeching suggested that, given the Ottoman penchant for taking female slaves during their raids on Christian coasts, Maria might have joined the fleet and fought not only out of love for her Spanish soldier boyfriend, but also out of a desire to get some "payback" against the "Terrible Turk".
The arquebus (arcabuz) used at the time was a smoothbore matchlock weapon, about 4.75 feet long, that weighed about 10-12 lbs. It fired a lead ball weighing two-thirds of an ounce. Maria's sword was likely a double-edged espada with a straight blade suitable for both cutting and thrusting, with a complex hilt to protect the hand. Being a soldier's woman during a time when the Spanish Empire was at its height, she evidently lived her daily life immersed in the martial culture of the time, which stressed skill with both firearms and edged weapons.

For further reading, I suggest The Galleys at Lepanto by Jack Beeching, and the Time-Life title, The Seafarers--The Venetians.



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