Laskarina Bouboulina was born in 1771 in a Constantinople prison, the daughter of Stavrianos Pinotsis, a sea captain from Hydra island, and his wife Skevo. The Ottomans had imprisoned Pinotsis for his part in the failed Orlof Revolution of 1769–1770 against the Ottoman rule. Her father died soon after her birth, and the mother and child returned to Hydra. They moved to the island of Spetses four years later when her mother remarried.
She married twice, first Dimitrios Yiannouzas, and later the wealthy shipowner and captain Dimitrios Bouboulis, taking his surname. Dimitrios was killed in battle against Algerian pirates in 1811. 40 years old by then, Bouboulina took over his fortune and his trading business and had four more ships built at her own expense, including the large warship Agamemnon.
In 1816, the Ottomans tried to confiscate Bouboulina’s property because her second husband had fought for the Russians against the Turks in the Turko-Russian wars. She sailed to Constantinople to meet Russian ambassador Count Pavel Strogonov and seek his protection. In recognition of Bouboulis’s service to the Russians, Strogonov sent her to safety in Crimea. She also met with the mother of Mahmud II, who afterward reportedly convinced her son to leave Bouboulina’s property alone.
Allegedly Bouboulina joined the Filiki Etaireia, an underground organization that was preparing Greece for revolution against Ottoman rule. She would have been one of few women but she is not named in historical members lists. She bought arms and ammunition at her own expense and brought them secretly to Spetses in her ships. Construction of the ship Agamemnon was finished in 1820. She bribed Turkish officials to ignore the ship’s size and it was later one of the largest warships in the hands of Greek rebels. She also organized her own armed troops, composed of men from Spetses. She used most of her fortune to provide food and ammunition for the sailors and soldiers under her command.
In March of 1821 Bouboulina raised her own Greek flag on the mast of Agamemnon, based on the flag of the Comnenus dynasty of Byzantine emperors. The people of Spetses revolted in April and later joined forces with ships from other Greek islands. Bouboulina sailed with eight ships to Nafplion and began a naval blockade. Later she took part in the naval blockade and capture of Monemvasia and Pylos.
She arrived at Tripolis in time to witness its fall on September 11, 1821 and to meet general Theodoros Kolokotronis. During the ensuing defeat of the Ottoman garrison, Bouboulina saved most of the female members of the sultan’s household.
When the opposing factions erupted into civil war in 1824, the Greek government arrested Bouboulina for her family connection with now-imprisoned Kolokotronis. Eventually she was exiled back to Spetses. She had exhausted her fortune for the war of independence.
In 1823 Emperor Alexander I of Russia granted Bouboulina the rank of Admiral of the Russian Navy and awarded her with the Mongolian sword. Her descendants sold the ship Agamemnon to the Greek state, which renamed it Spetsai. It was burned by Andreas Miaoulis along with the frigate Hellas and the corvette Hydra in the naval base of Poros, during the next Greek civil war in 1831.
Laskarina Bouboulina was killed in 1825 as the result of a family feud in Spetses. The daughter of a Koutsis family and Bouboulina’s son Georgios Yiannouzas had eloped. Seeking her, the girl’s father Christodoulos Koutsis went to Bouboulina’s house with armed members of his family. Infuriated, Bouboulina confronted them from the balcony. After her argument with Christodoulos Koutsis, someone shot at her. She was hit in the forehead and killed instantly; the killer was not identified.
On the island of Spetses the “Bouboulina Museum” is housed in the 300 year-old mansion of Bouboulina’s second husband Bouboulis, where her descendants still live. Her statue stands in the harbor in Spetses. Various streets all over Greece and Cyprus are named in her honor, notably Bouboulina Street in Athens and also in Piraeus and Nicosia.