Sayyida al Hurra (1485-1561) Born in the Muslim kingdom of Granada in the Iberian peninsula, she fleet to North Africa after the christian conquest. She governed the state city of Tetouan and became the leader of pirates in the western Mediterranean, wreaking havoc on Spanish and Portuguese shipping lines. By Ananda C. Arán
Little is known about Sayyida al Hurra – even her real name. Her designated title means `noble lady who is free and independent; the woman sovereign who bows to no superior authority’. Born in Granada, she fled to Morocco as a child after the city was sacked by Christian forces, and she later turned to piracy against them, along with many other Muslims. She allied with Hayreddin Barbarossa as she attacked Spanish and Portuguese shipping in the Mediterranean.
Nobody had more reason to despise the Spanish than the pirate queen of the Barbary Coast, Sayyida al-Hurra. Originally from Granada, Sayyida and her family were forced to flee following the Reconquista in 1492. She married the governor of Tétouan, a family friend, and through him assumed a position of power. After his death, Sayyida inherited the position of governor and allied with Oruç Barbarossa to attack the Spanish and Portuguese – together they controlled the Mediterranean Sea. Sayyida remarried to the sultan of Morocco, Ahmed al-Wattasi, but famously refused to travel to Fez to marry him, instead insisting he come to her.
From 1515 to 1542, sayyida al-Hurra bint `ali ibn rashid governed Tétouan and, with her associate the Ottoman pirate Barbarossa, launched raids against the Spanish and Portuguese. Andalusians returning to Morocco in the late 15th century, as the Muslim control of even Granada slipped away, rebuilt Tétouan. Although sources disagree about whether al-Hurra’s husband was `ali al-mandri, the founder of the rebuilt Tétouan, or if perhaps her husband was his son (another al-mandri), they agree that from 1510 al-Hurra and her husband ruled Tétouan, she initially as prefect and he as governor, and that on his death in 1515 she assumed the title of governor. Spanish and Portuguese sources agree that it was with al-Hurra that their governments negotiated for the release of prisoners and that she was both the ultimate authority in Tétouan and behind the raids on their shipping.
In the late 15th century, al-Hurra’s Andalusian family (banu rashid) settled in Chefchaouen, and it was there that she married al-mandri, who belonged to an elite Andalusian family in Tétouan. After almandri’s death al-Hurra married the Wattasid sultan of Morocco, aHmad bn muHamad al-burtughali, who took the unprecedented step of leaving Fes to go to Tétouan for the marriage ceremony. Although remarried, al-Hurra continued to rule in Tétouan. The unusual degree of acceptance of al-Hurra as a ruler may have benefited from Andalusian familiarity with powerful female monarchs in Spain such as Isabelle of Castille (1474-1504).