Descending from a Hydriot family, she was born inside the prison of Constantinople (Istanbul) on May 11th 1771, when her mother, Skevo, visited her dying husband, Stavrianos Pinotsis, who had been imprisoned by the Turks. The arrest and imprisonment of Pinotsis was due to his participation in the Peloponnesian revolution of 1769-70 against the Turks. This revolution, which is known in Greek history as the Orlof revolution, subsequently failed. At this time Spetses island was almost totally destroyed by the Turks for taking part in the uprising. 

Bouboulina.
Watercolour by Sp. Prosalendis. 

 

   

After Pinotsis’ death in Constantinople, mother and child returned to the island of Hydra, where they lived for almost four years, thereafter moving to Spetses on the remarriage of Skevo to a Spetsiot captain, Dimitrios Lazarou-Orlof.

   


Bouboulina.
Engraving by Friedel 1827.

From childhood, Bouboulina had a passion for the sea and for ships. She played by the seashore for hours and loved listening to the stories of the sailors and their talk of freedom for the nation, which had been suffering under Turkish occupation for four hundred years. She was the unchallenged leader among her eight half-brothers and sisters, thus showing from a very early age her strong, almost stubborn character, her courage and her decisiveness. Dark in colouring, untamed and with a regal stature, she married twice, first at the age of seventeen to Dimitrios Yiannouzas and again at the age of thirty to Dimitrios Bouboulis. Life though was very cruel to Bouboulina, and both her husbands, captains of their own ships, died in sea battles with the pirates who were then raiding the coasts of Greece. 

   

Her husband Bouboulis, a real menace to the pirates, was killed during one of the most heroic naval exploits of the time. He was ambushed by two Algerian pirate ships which he simultaneously destroyed and, as described by a historian at the time 


Old map of Spetses.

 

"... he fell at the last moment of victory, when, looking over his ship’s gunwale at the destroyed enemy, a bullet hit him on the forehead and left him dead. The fallen hero’s command is taken immediately by a fighting relative, who, having kept secret the captain’s death from the rest of the crew, resumed even more intensely the bombardment against the enemy, spreading death amongst them.”

 

 

The year 1811 finds Bouboulina twice widowed and the mother of seven children, but at the same time, extremely rich from the fortunes of ships, land and cash inherited from her husbands. The cash alone which she inherited from Bouboulis, was over 300,000 tallara – Spanish golden sovereigns of those days. She managed not only to keep this fortune intact but also to increase it due to her good management and successful trading. She became partner in several Spetsiot vessels and in time managed to build three of her own. 


19th century oil painting of the mansion.

Among these was the famous "Agamemnon", the first and the largest Greek fighting ship of the 1821 War of Independence, whose construction cost Bouboulina 75,000 tallara.

 

   
Commemorative medal of 1930.    Bouboulina on the last drachma coin.   Commemorative medal of 1991.

In 1816, Turkey attempted to confiscate Bouboulina’s fortune using as an excuse the fact that her second husband had taken part in the Turko-Russian wars, using his own vessels alongside the Russian fleet. Bouboulis, for his services to the Russians, had been highly decorated by them, and was also awarded the title of captain in the Russian navy and that of honorary Russian citizen. In her efforts to save her fortune, Bouboulina sailed with her ship "Coriezos" to Constantinople, where she met the Russian ambassador, Count Stroganoff, a known philhellene.

She sought Stroganoff's protection citing her husband’s services to Russia and produced an official document signed by the Russian admiral Seniar, in which all of her husband’s services were listed. In addition, her ships at the time were flying the Russian flag, due to a merchant treaty between Russia and Turkey which included Greek shipping. Stroganoff, in his effort to protect her and save her from imminent arrest by the Turks, sent her to the Crimea, in Russia, to an estate given for her use by Tsar Alexander I. 

 


Bouboulina. Russian engraving-early 19th century.

   


The Sultan Mahmud II.

 

Before she left for Russia, she had managed to gain an audience with the Sultan’s mother, Valide-Sultana, who was extremely impressed by Bouboulina’s character, personality and her pleas for help. Bouboulina stayed in Russia for approximately three months and waited for the crisis to defuse, during which time the Sultana finally convinced her son, the Sultan Mahmud II, to issue a special declaration by which Bouboulina’s fortune was saved. No longer under threat of arrest, Bouboulina left immediately for Spetses.

 

 

Whilst in Constantinople or perhaps during a subsequent trip there in 1818, Bouboulina became a member of the underground organization, Filiki Etairia (Friendly Society) which for a number of years had organized and prepared the Greeks for the revolution against the Turks. Bouboulina was the only woman who was allowed to join this organization, as they would not accept women in their ranks. 

 


Bouboulina.
Engraving by Friedel-1830.

On her return to Spetses, she began her preparations for the coming revolution. These preparations included the illegal buying of arms and ammunitions from foreign ports, which she brought to Spetses in secrecy with her own ships, hiding them in her home or in other parts of the island. In 1820 the construction of the Agamemnon, her flagship, was completed at a shipyard on Spetses. It was a ship built for war, a corvette 33m long, armed with 18 heavy cannons. The building of the Agamemnon as a warship was brought to the attention of the Turks by some Spetsiots. As there were restrictions by the Turks on the size and armament of Greek owned vessels, Bouboulina was accused of building a warship in secret. However the resourceful Bouboulina not only managed to finish the building of the Agamemnon by bribing the Turkish official who went to inspect the vessel, but also succeeded in having her accusers expelled from the island.

Bouboulina.
Lithograph by Langlumi.

Bouboulina.
Old engraving.
Bouboulina,
by Peytier.

Unfortunately Bouboulina’s flagship, the Agamemnon, had a tragic end, as did her owner. The ship, after Bouboulina’s death, was given by her descendants to the Greek state. It was renamed Spetses and became the flagship of the then newly assembled state navy. The Agamemnon/Spetses was burnt by the Greek Admiral Miaoulis in 1831 at the naval base of Poros during fighting in the civil war.

 

The Agamemnon - by A. Milanos.

  

In 1819, Bouboulina sailed again to Constantinople, possibly to fight off the accusations brought against her for building the Agamemnon. There she met with the Orthodox Patriarch Gregory V and discussed with him the timing of the uprising. During the revolution Bouboulina had her own small private army made up of Spetsiots - her brave lads as she used to call them - which she herself armed, fed and paid, together with the crews of her ships. 

 


Bouboulina's statue on Spetses.

 

This expenditure continued for a number of years, and included large amounts of money for food and ammunition which went to help the Greek armies surrounding the Turkish strongholds of Nafplion and Tripolis. In this way she managed to spend the whole of her considerable fortune during the first two years of the war, a war which lasted nearly seven years.