Sayyida al Hurra was an Islamic pirate queen during the early 16th century. ‘Sayyida al Hurra’ is in fact a title marking her out as an independent female ruler. Her true name is unknown.
Born around 1485 in Granada, Sayyida fled with her family to Morocco when that Islamic kingdom fell to Christian Spain. At 16 she was married to a man 30 years her senior, al-Mandri, who was the governor of of Tétouan in northern Morocco. She assisted her husband in ruling the city and inherited his position following his death in 1515. She was the last woman to use the title of ‘al Hurra’, meaning ‘queen’.
Sayyida had never forgotten the indignity of being forced out of her home by ‘the Christian enemy’. To get her revenge she assembled her own pirate fleet and allied herself with the Turkish corsair Oruç Reis, known in Europe as Barbarossa. Together their forces wreaked havoc on Spanish and Portugese shipping lanes, looting ships and ransoming captured sailors. Sayyida al Hurra took control of the western half of the Mediterranean, while Oruç Reis commanded the east. Spanish records describe her as a respected and fearsome opponent who dominated the seas of that region.
In 1541 she accepted a marriage proposal from Ahmed al-Wattasi, the King of Morocco. However she refused to give up her role as queen of Tétouan or even to leave the city for the marriage ceremony, forcing al-Wattasi to come to her. This is the only recorded instance that the Moroccan king married outside of his capital.
Sayyida al Hurra reigned for nearly thirty years, until she was deposed by her own son-in-law in 1542. She was stripped of her property and power, however her ultimate fate is unknown.