Maria – The Battle-Hardened Ballerina

 In History, Revenge of the Corsairs

Revenge of the Corsairs, coming soon! Revenge of the Corsairs is the sequel to  Captive of the Corsairs is an action packed historical romance. Published through Dragonblade Publishing. Captive of the Corsairs is out now!

This weekend marks the anniversary of a battle few people have heard of, The Battle of Lepanto of 1571, a maritime battle as important as the Battle of Trafalgar in the early 19th century or the Battle of the Coral Sea during the Second World War. It involved more than  400 ships – mostly oared galleys – and is still considered one of the greatest naval battles in region since antiquity.

It was a hard fought battle between various kingdoms of Europe united under the banner of the Holy League against the rapacious Ottoman Empire – a battle of such deadly proportions that the ships of the line of both sides were involved in active fighting rather than directing the battle from a safe distance.

The Holy League were out manned but the victory against the Ottomans was decisive with loss of only 16 Allied ships representing 8% of the fleet compared to the loss of 214 Ottoman ships (76% of its fleet).

Without victory on that day, the Ottomans would have overrun the Mediterranean and would have remounted a land-based campaign to invade Europe (and specifically Rome) which had been successfully defended by Charles Martel 800 years earlier and then in later generations the Europeans pushed back southwards to reclaim their continent and then attempt to reconquer the holy lands in the centuries-long Crusades.

The story of the Battle of Lepanto is enough to inspire poems such literary luminaries as as GK Chesterton and novelists such as Miguel de Cervantes of Don Quixote fame. Cervantes was also soldier on board one of the Holy League ships.

And if the story wasn’t interesting enough, one of the fighting force was a woman simply known as Maria la Bailadora – Maria the Dancer. The lover of one of the officers aboard the Real, the flagship commanded by Don Juan (no, not that Don Juan), a Austrian aristocrat who was rather handsome in his own right.

Disguised as a man and fully armed, she was one of the first wave of soldiers to swarm the decks of the Ottoman flagship, the Sultana. According to military tactician, David Black , this is how Maria would have been armed.

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.

Maria is also credited with one of the first kills in battle – a hand-to-hand combat. Her valor in battle was so renowned that after victory had been won, she was considered a full member of the crew and was paid accordingly.

Also it is likely that Maria was motivated by additional events such as the full knowledge of her fate should the Holy Alliance lose. In the year prior to the Battle of Lepanto, Cyprus had been invaded by the Turks. In September 1570, 20,000 Cypriots – men and women alike – were murdered and about 2000 young boys and girls were sold into sexual slavery to the slave markets of Constantinople.

It was a practice which finally came to an end in the Mediterranean more than 200 years later.

And it was this period of this forgotten history that prompted its exploration in the Heart of the Corsairs series.

Book 2 – Revenge of the Corsairs will be released in November.

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